Yesterday at 9 am, my dad roused me from bed. That in itself was the first of the day's small miracles, since to venture into my domicile before noon is generally suicidal, and to actually succeed in waking me up at such a time is next to impossible unless the house is on fire or you have something really, really, really cool to give me, and I can't get it later.
On this particular morning, the situation fell into a third category: my dad was taking me to see the Patriots play Buffalo at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. I don't think there'd be a time too early for me to get up for that.
Before I knew it, I was sitting, bundled up, in the front seat of the van sipping coffee with my dad, watching one of the tailgaters in front of us smoke a fat joint. Two men beside us passed a flask of something that made their faces screw up in a painful wince after each swallow--I surmised it was whiskey. The joint-smoker was also eating a bratwurst sandwich. The whiskey-drinkers were also drinking beer. Shudder.
The parking lot was its own mini-carnival of excessive and often conspicuous consumption of substances of various shades of illegality. Another party a few yards away had paid $25 for an extra parking space, the better to set up a big square tent that looked to be made of blue tarps. If the tailgaters in front of us were smoking reefer out in the open, I can only speculate as to what would go on in the relative privacy of the tent. My dad and I just watched.
Finally we set off against the parking lot ("parking field", or perhaps "parking plantation" would be more accurate--"lot" doesn't really do the expanse of asphalt we had left our car in justice) toward the gleaming monolith of Gillette Stadium. Halfway through, my dad started walking funny. Finally I asked him if he was ok. It turned out there was a bit of a problem with the long-johns he had put on under overalls. "Christ," he kept muttering. "Goddamned things keep slidin down my ass, here." We enjoyed a chuckle over the terrible long-johns throughout the afternoon, but he made me promise not to mention them in the blog. Ooops. Of course, I know where I get that from--before leaving, my mother had narrowed down her usual pre-departure reminders to a single six-word order to my father: "Stay. Out. Of. The. Pro. Shop." Once we had made our way into the stadium, you can probably guess the first place we went.
An obscene amount of pre-Christmas Christmas present dollars later, the original Diamond Jim and his chip off the old rhinestone huffed and puffed our way up a long ramp to level 2 and found our seats. We'd gotten them from my mother's coworker, Amy. The tickets belonged to her father, who wasn't able to make it that day. I knew they were on the second tier of the stadium, but I didn't expect the view to be so good. I figured we'd be up in nosebleed-land, with the 300-pound men below reduced to tiny insects on a square of green, but the view from our seats was actually a commanding one, at a high enough remove that plays and formations looked as clear as they do from the aerial shots on TV, but close enough to read the numbers on the jerseys, and, with binoculars, see the expressions on faces.
I beamed at my father when we got settled. It had been his idea to take me to a Pats game for Christmas, and so far it was proving to be a fantastic gift. He and I have had a difficult relationship at times, but that has eased as I've grown from a teenager into a young adult, and my recent (inexplicable) love affair with football in general and the Patriots in particular has helped tremendously. At a stormy seventeen, I would never have been able to picture myself taking in a sporting event with my father, and now, here we were. I was especially grateful that, as his Christmas gift, he had chosen to give me an experience, not just an object. It meant so much to me on so many levels. But, being us, a lot of overt communication of things like that is generally not done, and even my simple smile prompted my father to respond by sheepishly handing me the binoculars and pointing out, "Drew's on the field." Drew Bledsoe! I yanked the binoculars out of his hand and was soon watching Buffalo's Number 11 do warm-ups on the field.
"He's pretty big for a quarterback," my dad commented.
"Who's number five?" I asked him, spying an even taller man behind Bledsoe, also throwing a football to the receiver.
"Backup quarterback," my dad answered after thumbing through the program.
"He's even bigger than Bledsoe," I said, handing him the binoculars so he could see.
"Oh yeah. Wow."
The whole time I was saying, Dad, thank you. And he was saying, well, I love you. Sometimes what's not spoken is more precious that way.
All talk, verbal and nonverbal, ceased, however, when No. 12 jogged out onto the field to begin his warmup. My binoculars, ratcheted to their highest magnification, were pinned on him instantly. I kept jamming my index finger against the magnification lever, hoping to get just a little bit closer as I gazed on none other than Tom Brady, no more than 100 yards from where I sat. Maddeningly, he didn't take his helmet off for what seemed an eon (while Drew had trotted out helmetless to begin with, pausing to pose for reporters and cameras before even throwing the ball around once), running drill after drill with receiver David Patten. Oh well. It's good that he's still humble, I suppose. And eventually the helmet came off. He donned a knitted cap and went through a stretching routine with the rest of the team. Let's just say, he had his back to me, and he did a lot of lunges. It was a good time.
Finally he turned around and, grasping his helmet in both hands, raised it over his head. Here's where we cue "Dreamweaver" and the slo-mo. Raising it over his head and tossing his knitted hat to an aide, he shook out his honey-brown hair and tilted his head back, bringing the helmet down like a king crowning himself. That was enough to make my Christmas, right there.
But it wasn't over yet. My Dad bought me beer (!!). During one particularly heated play series, I spat a whole mouthful of popcorn all over myself, forgetting in my excitement to yell that I had been chewing. My dad guffawed over this. We shared a chuckle at Amy's boyfriend, Lee, who by the fourth quarter and his ninth beer was more mesmerized by an enormous formation of cackling seagulls circling overhead (no doubt stimulated to a frenzy by the thought of the feast of trash game-goers would leave behind) than the game. "Holy Shit," he kept mumbling to himself. "Lookit tha fuckin birds..." A woman appeared on the Jumbo-Tron wearing a Yankees cap. The whole stadium, including us, booed heartily until someone who was with her snatched the hat off her head. And, of course, the Best Team in the Universe won, 21-17. It would've been 42-17 if the refs hadn't been shitty (I know, I know. Allow me my biases and denial). But oh well. That frustration was negligible compared to the wonder of it all.
Thanks, Dad. Merry Christmas.