Signals Get Crossed

I can’t help but think of the great coliseums of Rome after going to an NCAA college football game. In Clemson, SC, take out the marble and replace with bricks, take off the togas and replace them with orange clothing. After a maybe 25 year gap in time, I returned to the autumn days of my youth when I drove my mother and niece to see the Tigers take on the Georgia Tech Jackets this past Saturday.

For the tens of thousands of fans trudging through traffic to arrive and tailgate before the game, this version of Rome floats in a sea of an orange utopia. This is IT for many of them, the ultimate place to be year in and year out. When these dedicated fans find their reserved parking space, they pull out the food and drinks, the satellite dish and wide screen HDTV, and get into some serious football pride. And they haven’t even gone in to see the live action yet!

My uncle Erwin was the cheerleader captain when he attend Clemson many years ago. I asked him how long he’d been parking in the same lot right down the hill from Memorial Stadium, and he pointed over to a big-canopied tree. “You see that  tree?” he asked in his Chester drawl. “That tree was a twig in the ground when I started parking here.” That tree, like hardcore sports fans across the USA, stood as a hardy symbol of humans’ dedication to some One Thing in their lives. Roots deep, branches out, and all about the home team!

Another tree brought back many memories for me, and stood as a reminder of my connections to objects past. In this case, the tree stood tall and wise inside Clemson’s Memorial Stadium. Part of my childhood is a blur of memories at the football games in Death Valley: running on the field at the end of the game, touching Frank Howard’s magic rock on the hill, running around and playing pick up games, and rolling down the tree-lined hills by the end zones. The hills have been replaced by seats (except for the student hill by the Howard’s rock), and only one tree still remains. My cousin Stuart, who I played with at many childhood Clemson games, couldn’t recall a tree inside the stadium. So when I finally saw it, I had found an old friend. A symbol of those idyllic days inside the sports spectacle utopia.

I called my pupeteer friend David after the game, as I walked past the packed frat houses to hunt for stencils in downtown Clemson. When I tried to describe the Tiger utopia, I could only blurt out “Babylon! I’m hunting for stencils in Babylon!” In a sense, millions of Americans see the “American Dream” as being partially filled by huge amounts of time spent with sports. Sports is not a connection I have with David, so placing him in my nostalgic utopia just didn’t work. I muttered “satellite dishes, unhealthy food, alcohol over consumption” with the words “two wars, major economic meltdown, climate change.” The sheer screen of my personal matrix has shorted out. What year was it? Decade?

I have written before about the amazing potential every citizen of this country has to make the world a better place. Everyone should have play in their life, but all the time spent following One Thing could be used to change the planet. Do I think this because I see sports fanatics as making work out of following the team? Is work really the issue: the fans work hard so that they can go to the game. Maybe there’ll be a bowl game to go to around New Years? Why do I see sports as a waste of time, at least for the people who live it and breathe it?

After coming home from the game (Clemson lost, again), I drove into the country side to see my old friend Daryl. He had settled down at a friend’s country house, not to make art (his friend is an artist), but to watch the Carolina Gamecocks vs LSU game on ESPN. “You watch football!?” I texted him. His reply later was “I don’t follow it, but I do enjoy the sport of it. I follow martial arts, kick boxing, and would love to learn how to play cricket.”

Daryl’s a smart guy, and his creative friend is a huge football fan, so my thoughts on sports may be faulty. Maybe sports does have a valid, enriching place in USA’s culture. Carolina lost the game, but I enjoyed watching exciting moments on the TV. Wow, over 12 hours of football in one day! That time suck has beat recent time sucks on Face Book.

Maybe the answer burns in a bathtub.

I want to spend time doing other things instead of following sports. I do enjoy sports here and there and have been to many major league baseball games over the years. But the time put into being an avid fan, basically a sports over consumer, takes away from other amazing things I like to do with my life. I guess I think different from most of the USA and my utopia lies elsewhere. When I left the farm after the Carolina game, I asked the owner if he had winter bonfires on his property (30 acres of rolling fields). “I have a tub over there that we build a fire in.” I laughed, replying “ah, there must be a metaphor somewhere for that!… I just can’t think of one right now.”

So being that 9-year-old boy, playing in the Clemson stadium, I hold one palm out and see a tall acorn tree with falling leaves. In the other palm sits the tub. Orange, blue, and yellow flames shoot out of the white object, throwing contrasting shadows across a field. I stop for a moment, and close both of my hands into fists. I open them and rub them together. I glance over to my cousin and uncle, and some boys we don’t know. I see my uncle holding the wadded paper football. Three on three, so we take a break from other distractions and the pick up game is on!