Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dear Tom Paine,

The Flyers are in the Stanley Cup Finals, and they're huge underdogs. The last time they won it all was 35 years ago, in our country's 199th year. Nicknamed the Broad Street Bullies, that 70s team is remembered for its gritty, aggressive, balls-deep approach to the game. Philly prides itself on those kinds of teams, which supposedly reflect the city's character. We like to imagine ourselves as perpetual underdogs by celebrating ourselves as working class, as the foundation of all that is great in this world, as the very roots of an attitude that makes America America--indeed, we see ourselves as the embodiment of freedom.

I watched Game 2 in Big Charlie's with my friends. They (we) lost, 2-1. But I don't care about hockey. I think it's boring. Sure I want to see them win it all so that the whole city fills the streets again and I can highfive strangers for a few hours and watch people flip over cars and dance around fires and generally assert their masculinity as if it were the cause of freedom worldwide. Sports is the only thing that ever unites this city. But hockey?

The last Flyers game I went to was in 2001. It was preseason, an exhibition game. My friend Rudy had gotten us box seats, so premium beer was brought to us in these comfortable chairs and everything was nice. We watch a little hockey, we talk, we make jokes, we drink beer. During the first intermission, George W. Bush is broadcast on the big screen. He is making a speech. Everyone goes wild, then pays attention as if a goal were being replayed. Suddenly it's time for the second period to begin, so the speech is shut off as the players skate back onto the ice. Everybody boos. Everybody continues booing. So Bush comes back on. Everybody goes wild. We listen to his speech: America, the underdog, will rise from the ashes by bombing the shit out of Afghanistan, a poor, war-ravaged country that nobody cares about. We will smoke the terrorists out of their holes. We will show the cowards who's boss. Ravenous applause. The speech concludes to ravenous applause, ravenous applause, ravenous applause. U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A etc. And then . . . the game is called. The game is called . . . . for patriotism.

Really. That actually happened. The game. was called. for patriotism. The players, who were of course mostly Canadian and Russian, skated off the ice after 20 minutes of play followed by this absurd speech, and the chanting, invigorated masses funneled out of the arena, which was then called the F.U. Center (after First Union bank)--officially the FUN Center, but nobody called it that. Angry and therefore afraid, I was careful not to make eye contact with anyone on the way out. I mumbled a few quiet complaints to Rudy, who couldn't care less, against the tide of U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A.

Games are called for bad weather. Is there any comfort in thinking of patriotism as just a form of precipitation, as something that comes and goes? Recalling that event, specifically how alone I felt in the middle of that crowd, makes me feel sick. Can bad weather make you sick? It's actually bacteria, right? It's living things. Which our bodies, as true underdogs, as hosts at gunpoint, will try to resist without question, without meaning.

I don't hope that we lose. No. I hope the series goes 7 games and that Game 7 goes on and on and on in an endless tie until everybody gets so fucking bored they go home and shut off their TVs while the players skate back and forth, back and forth for days, unable to score in the big empty silent arena, and the game is finally called for boredom.