Monday, June 30, 2014

World Cup Fever

(Photo by Trey Ratcliff)

Have you caught it yet, #WorldCupFever? I’m all in. Each Cup, I get pulled in deeper. It probably has something to do with the fact that I ditched soccer for baseball as a kid. Believe me I’ve made up for the lost time. I don’t just get gaga every four years. I watch Copa Mundial, English Premier League, MLS, and friendlies at Citi Field when the Mets are out of town.

As much as I enjoy the matches themselves, and witnessing a #DempseyGoal or a #Messigoal, I am completely enamored with the fans and the pageantry. As a recovering anthropologist, I cannot get enough of the fans and the flavor they add to an already spicy game. I’m quite fortunate to live in Astoria Queens, which is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the universe. Spiciness off-the-charts. Flags of competing nations (past and present) can be found, dangling off car windshields, hookah bar awnings, stapled to takeout menus. Astoria is jackpot for the consummate Futbol fan, a movable feast for the feverish. You can catch a game in any number of bars, diners, pizza joints, chicken shacks, social clubs (if you’re member). I prefer the Studio Square Beer Garden while soaking in the Cup during the 30-day binge.

Wherever you go you’ll be elbow to cramped elbow with checkered-ball zealots. It’s contiguous, unbridled euphoria, sans Budweiser or Audi commercials. No trips to the john or you’ll lose your seat or standing post or, more likely, the cherished goal. Swill in the range of emotions, jouncing with the pitch as the plumber, the landscaper, and the mortgage banker crane their necks toward the zipping ball on the giant plasma screen. The neighborhood dentist, who has cancelled a day’s worth of root canals, gobbles beer nuts. The mailman almost leaps out of his wrinkle-free shirt as Tim Howard deflects the impossible. Who needs another L.L Bean catalog anyway? The laser beam focus on that screen is both marvelous and disconcerting something we 3rd generation gamers know oh so well. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have tickets to the extravaganza in Brazil then an over-sized beer garden will do. The writhing amplification from the speakers and the fans blowing into their vuvuzelas suggests tsunami or some other seismic treat.

I see the Cup as a way for grownups to relive their “Spider-man” or “The Lion King” dreams. And why not? There’s enough electric joy in the game to pry Buddhist monks away from their prayers, to allow warring nations to extend an olive branch for 90 minutes of bliss. As the striker lines up for his penalty kick, there’s that brief (inertia-stifling) moment as if Superman or Zeus has stopped the globe from spinning. Then the striker zips to the ball and, once the ball has been struck, your heart leaps.

On the surface, it’s about trophies. Yeah, it’s about pride, but really it’s about connecting. It’s about connecting to something deeper than wins and losses and bicycle-kick goals. The true pulse of WorldCupFever is reconnecting to one’s childhood, tying shared cultural experiences of kicking cans in the street on the way to school, blocking balled-up socks from whisking into your open locker. When you watch a game, myriad memories fuse together and you chase the ball of nostalgia. There’s electricity not because of the glowing lights, glinting on the grass or because you feel a glimmer of excitement being among the crowd, but because wherever you are there’s a crowd and another crowd and another crowd of crowds. The exponential charge dwarfs DC and rips into AC.

It’s more than a game. It’s about feeling that electric charge and reeling in the indescribable.