Bandwagon Season

There’s a strange hue hanging over Northern California recently. And no, it’s not the ubiquitous smoky sky from approximately seventeen thousand wildfires going on simultaneously. It’s August, so we’re pretty accustomed to that visage.

Although did we really need to name one of them the Carr Fire? You know “car fire” has a different connotation, right, media?

“Hey, did you hear the latest on the car fire?”

“No, I took a different route to work today. Is that why you were late?”

But the current strange vision is  a color combination that I’m not used to encountering in the summer. Or really, at any time since the Bush administration. It’s a distinctive shade of green. Bright, unnatural. Maybe it’s called Kelly green? I don’t know. It seems to me that Forest Green is very deep green color, and everything else is Kelly Green. Or turquoise.

But these shirts and hats I’m seeing definitely aren’t turquoise. Turquoise only shows up in this region in April or May of years when the Sharks are both in line for a top playoff seed AND didn’t underperform in the playoffs the season before. So, basically never.

“Never” is also when I assumed I’d see this garish green-and-yellow again, but it’s the summer of 2018, and it’s back. When I first moved to Northern California, in the early 1990s, it was everywhere, the unofficial color of spring and summer, after which it became garnet-and-gold season. Then it disappeared, only to have a brief resurgence in the early aughts, coming up for breath once per decade like the Nessie above the surface of her Scottish loch. I’m wracking my brain for what that precise confluence of events, which stars and constellations have aligned, to bring out the blinding combination once more.

Wait. Could it be… Let me double check the standings just to be sure and… Yep, the Oakland A’s are holding the wild card. If the season ended today, they’d be in the playoffs.

At least the Giants aren’t in contention, so we don’t have to worry about the green-and-yellow clashing with the black-and-orange that is usually seen around these parts this time of year. Of course, you could never have both teams being represented at the same time. Because the people wearing the green this year are the exact same people that were wearing the orange two years ago.

You see, Northern Californians are horrible sports fans. When a team is losing, they are either afraid to represent it, or more likely, they simply stop rooting for that team. Ignore it like Janet Jackson asking, “what have you don for me lately?” And then, when that team starts to win, they all of a sudden come up with these wonderful stories of how they’ve been lifelong fans, busting out clothes that looks either twenty years old, or freshly purchased this week.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not just NorCals. ALL Californians are horrible bandwagoners. Northern Californians are just much more obvious about it. The SoCals’ fandom expands or contracts based on the viability of the team at the moment. A decade ago, Dodger blue was only noticeable in the Valley and LA proper. Now it’s the unofficial color of the Southland. At least it was until LeBron signed with the Lakers, and then my Facebook feed looked like it was 2010 all over again.

But the SoCals don’t swap allegiances quite as fickly as thee NorCals. Now, maybe that’s because Southern California teams rarely change position. The Clippers, Angels, and UCLA aren’t competitive enough to do a true control experiment. The Angels won one World Series, but usually underperform. The Clippers gave us a little test run, being a better team than the Lakers for most of the past decade. And while I saw more people checking in at Clippers games, and many people saying “Hey, good for the Clippers,” nobody was changing their profile pictures to suddenly claim their lifelong Clipper fandom. If the Clippers and Lakers played in San Francisco instead of Los Angeles, there would be a whole lot of people shuffling past their red-and-blue to find their antiquated purple-and-gold the moment LeBron signed. (See Below: Kings, Sacramento; Warriors, Golden State)

Southern California does have one sport with two different champions. And I give them credit for sticking by their hockey guns. The level of excitement for the two Kings championships was equaled only by the general level of ho-hum, oh-wait-there’s-another-hockey-team-here apathy the two times the Ducks won it all. And most of my friends live in Orange County. However, most of them became hockey fans before the Ducks existed. Oh, and they hate Disney. Still, if Orange County gives more of a shit about the LA team than the one in their own backyard, they’re not bandwagoning.

Back to Northern California and the impending return of “A’s Country.” Northern Californian teams swap places on a more regular basis, and boy howdy, do those fan allegiances give me whiplash. Fifteen years ago, when the Sacramento Kings came within one compromised referee game of winning the NBA championship, everything north of Fresno might as well have been washed over in purple. You couldn’t go anywhere without proudly showing your allegiance to the basketball team-du-jour.

There was another NBA team in Northern California at the time. Not that you’d know it. They were called the Golden State Warriors. I doubt you’ve heard of them. Their colors were… dark blue? Or maybe grey. I seem to remember they had some sort of ninja on their logo. With lightning-bolt lettering?

I’m being serious here. I don’t remember what their colors were in 2002, because NOBODY owned any Warriors gear. Or if they did, they wouldn’t have had the audacity to show it in public.

I know what the color and the logo look like now. It’s blue and yellow, with a picture of the Bay Bridge in a circle in the middle. I know that because the Warriors are good now, so everyone is wearing their gear. And a hell of a lot of these “Lifelong” Warriors fans were so decked out in purple a decade ago that their own children might not recognize them.

Nowadays, if you  wear a Sacramento Kings hat in Sacramento, you will be mocked incessantly. This is Warriors-county, baby!

Does this bleedover happen in other markets?  I imagine that, even when the Dallas Mavericks were very good, the predominant gear worn in Houston would still belong to the Rockets. Am I wrong here?

The good news is these Warriors fans can’t claim they bought their gear twenty years ago, because the Warriors have changed their look so many times. And yeah, their current look is a bit of a throwback, but the Bay Bridge has been torn down and rebuilt since the 1980s logo.

We went through the whole bandwagon with the San Francisco 49ers, too. Again, when I moved here, you could barely go out in public between August and February without sporting a gold Starter jacket. But by the time Y2K rolled around, you couldn’t find Niners gear everywhere. And I know these fans still rooted for their team. They would come into work on Monday morning rehashing every play of the game. Even in shitty Candlestick Park, the team was still selling out games. But there were no hats or jerseys or Starter jackets.

It got to the point that I forgot I lived in Niner Country. Then Jim Harbaugh showed up and they started winning again. All of a sudden, people who I had worked with for ten years started showing up in Niners polos and jerseys every Friday. I even mocked some of my students (“Oh hey, you Niners fans finally found all that gear at the back of your closet”), which was mean and probably a bit errant because the Niners had never been good in their life, so if they had gear, they probably were legitimate fans.

Although, in my defense, last year I taught the younger sister of the girl I mocked. I asked her if her sister still wears a lot of Niner gear. She said no.

Northern California fans feel this is absolutely normal. They simply believe the way the world works is to stop showing support for your team when they are losing. Clearly they’ve never been to Chicago, where people were wearing Cubs and White Sox gear when neither team had won anything in fifty years or more. Or Boston before 2004. Hell, I’ve never been to Cleveland, but I bet there are still a lot of people wearing Browns gear during football season there.

And this says nothing of international destinations, where people still wear shirts for their teams when they drop down to the minor leagues.

At least Niners fans didn’t put on silver and black when the Raiders got good. If there’s one sport where NorCal fans don’t just jump to the currently successful team, it’s football. But when you talk to a Giants fan who thinks it’s perfectly fine becoming an A’s fan overnight, and you ask them if they should do the same thing with the football teams, they will look at you aghast. That’s fucking crazy talk.

It should be for baseball, too. Browns fans are still Browns fans, even after years of being horrible. They wouldn’t jump ship to the Bengals just to save face. Nets and Knicks fans don’t have to look at the standings to know which team they like that day. I have a White Sox friend who says, “I’d rather my sister be a whore than my brother be a Cubs fan.”

Of course, I always told him those weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

And I guaran-fucking-tee there is no New York equivalent of this monstrosity:

20180810_074941

I’m not saying you can’t root for a team other than yours. On any given day, there are usually 14 games that do not feature your favorite team. It’s not a bad thing to prefer one team over the other. In 1986, when the Mets were playing the Red Sox in the World Series, I assume that Yankees fans wanted the Mets to win. But I doubt they started spouting off about how long they had loved the Mets and started wearing Mets gear instead of Yankees gear.

That’s what puts California fans apart. They are proud of switching their allegiance on a dime. Again, look at that atrocious hat. People are PROUD to own that hat.

But when two teams share one media market, dammit, those are supposed to be rivals. I grew up an Angels fan and I absolutely hated the Dodgers. The typical sports news in Southern California was eighty percent Dodgers and twenty percent Angels. We were the red-headed stepchild of SoCal.

Then the Angels won the World Series and the whole Southland was smothered in halos. Not only did the Orange County Register remember there was a team in Orange County, but the Los Angeles Times did, as well. It was unnatural. I felt uncomfortable. I actually felt a little sorry for the Dodgers fans who stayed true, because I knew how they felt rooting for the forgotten team in the market. Just like those Golden State Warriors fans.

Even worse, the Angels started selling out their games. I was like the fan of the indie band that hits it big. For two or three years, I couldn’t get tickets.

Of course, the Angels only won once and within a few years, the Dodgers were back on top in SoCal. Now I can get any ticket I want in a stadium that’s only forty-percent full. All is right with the world. Until we lose Mike Trout…

Which brings me back to the Bay Area. I thought we had finally gotten to an equilibrium a la SoCal, with the A’s as the permanent underclass. They haven’t been competitive in over a decade, and they usually have to trade away their entire team every year. Even worse for them, their decade of crap was also a decade when the Giants won the World Series three times.

And some of the A’s fans that switched to the Giants actually acknowledged it. They say it’s tough to root for a team that will never sign good players and will always trade away their stars. The irony, of course, is that it’s the Giants fault. Back in the early nineties, when NOBODY went to, or watched, Giants games, they threatened to move to Florida. To entice them to stay, the commissioner made it so that the A’s would never be able to move out of very-heavily congested Alameda County. So then the Giants built their brand new stadium and everybody started going to their games. The A’s tried to follow suit and the Giants blocked them. The Giants are literally the only team in all of sports that can control the ability of a rival to make money.

And that power was given to them because the A’s were too popular in their market.

Now, or at least up until this year, the Giants have the fancy new ballpark and the world championships and all of the fans. Fans who say, “I just love the black-and-orange color scheme. That rustic, intertwined SF Logo. I mean, the A’s logo is just so gauche and doesn’t really match with anything.”

Until 2018.

In Sacramento, our AAA team switched affiliates from the A’s to the Giants, thinking this would bring in more fans. Not only did they switch, but they went Giants all the way. When they were the A’s franchise, they marketed themselves as “Sacramento’s team.” Since the switch, they reference Sacramento as little as possible. All of their giveaways are Giants players who never played in Sacramento. The bobbleheads all wear Giants, not River Cats, uniforms. They even put the fucking Golden Gate Bridge on our hats and uniforms.

It’s sucked for attendance though, because they forgot that Northern California fans are fickle. The year after the World Series? Yeah, gangbusters in Sacramento. But since then, it’s been dismal. Plus the team has tanked. The A’s usually have really good minor league teams, a result of that whole “trading their entire team every other year” thing. But the Giants don’t really build through the minors.

So now the River Cats are horrible and the stands are empty. The only time fans show up is if a major leaguer is rehabbing, and then they only pay attention when that particular minor leaguer is at bat. Then they talk over the rest of the action and check their phones and just generally don’t give a shit about anybody else on the team.

When Madison Bumgarner was rehabbing, tickets were being sold on eBay for over $100. Fifteen-thousand fans showed up. MadBum  pitched into the third inning. By the fifth inning, there were only about four-thousand fans left. The following week, MadBum was back up in San Francisco. The stands were half-full. Those Sacramento fans probably could have seen him for substantially less than $100, even after paying for gas and bridge toll.

Hey, at least playing in Sacramento is preparing those AAA guys for what it’ll be like to be a real San Francisco Giants, where nobody will come to their games or bother knowing who they are unless they’re winning a World Series or are named Barry Bonds.

The Cacophony of Memory

Here’s what I personally feel is the best flash fiction I’ve written for the current contest. It still didn’t win. Didn’t even rank in the top five. Well, fuck a duck.

The prompt required no dialogue whatsoever. So I went uber personal.

Still, I think I might try to shop this one. So it might not be up on the website for too long. Unless y’all hate it. Good news is I could tweak it to add some dialogue now. Although I don’t think I’d add much. If anybody has thoughts, leave me a comment.

 

The Cacophony of Memory

BEEP. BEEP. Breathe in. Breathe out. Circular pattern. BEEP. BEEP.

 

David remembers seven years ago. Cynthia wouldn’t remember. She was high as a kite on Demerol, rotely following dictated directions. Breathing, pushing, breathing, pushing. Circular pattern. David almost dropped a deuce himself, holding his breath and clinching his sphincter every time the OB instructed his wife. Sympathy pushing of some fecal matter, but fortunately nothing came out of the father.

What came out of the mother was perfectly healthy, just like babies had been doing for centuries. Mother and father gasped, wiped sweat from collective brows. Baby gasped like a normal one-minute old. His eyes opened and shut, looking left and right, seeing only light, but light was plenty to see after nine months, an entire existence, behind the uterine curtain. One member of the delivery room was ready to seize the world, the other two were ready to seize a bed.

But Bengie was a healthy baby boy. Cynthia was a healthy mother. The equipment and protocols of the delivery room stood as reminders that this was not always the case. The doctor and nurse performed their usual postpartum duties with a casual air. The critical stage of this particular operation had passed. This was down time, when they could concern themselves with cleaning and organizing, before being called into the next delivery room for the next critical stage.

Forty-eight hours later, a constipated David wheeled a tired Cynthia and a healthy Bengie out to the car and to their new world together. A world of opportunity.

 

BEEP. BEEP. Breathe in. Breathe out. Circular pattern. Through the tube. Assisted breathing. No motor functions. Just breathing. And BEEP. BEEP.

 

Cynthia remembers six years ago. Baby Bengie’s first step.

Not that there’s ever an official first step. There’s side stepping. Hands on a table or a couch or a wall, the baby maneuvers his wobbly little legs in a lateral motion. Once or twice, he pushes off from his support. He hovers, wavers, maybe even moves a leg to keep himself upright a skosh longer before plopping back down onto his diapered behind. Not really a step, moreso an early physics lesson. Widening one’s stance. A tripod keeps the camera steady.

Cynthia is not remembering these. She is remembering his first bona fide step. His first intentional movement forward, moments after his first free stand. They had been at a park. Wide open expanse of green as far as an undeveloped eye could see. No tables or couches or walls nearby, even the trees were too damned far for an eleven-month old to contemplate traversing on hand and knee. Mommy and Daddy were closer so, like the member of the Lewis and Clark expedition who took one look west of the Mississippi River and decided that St. Louis was a perfect place to stake a claim, Bengie’s internal combustion engine decided that this was the time to take a stand.

Cynthia watched in fascination as Bengie pushed himself up off of his knees. A wounded rhinoceros rearing back, preparing a lion’s roar in slow motion. The look on baby’s face switched from concentration to surprise, then to confusion as he looked at his parents and realized that they were still no closer after his Herculean feat. Sisyphus with the rock. He tottered one leg forward, wobbled his wounded rhino wobble, then right back down onto his diapered bottom.

But Cynthia saw the intent and the triumph on his face.

 

BEEP. BEEP. There is no triumph on Bengie’s face. There is no intent. No consciousness. Only breathing into a tube. And BEEP. BEEP.

 

David remembers five years ago. Another hospital. An emergency room that turned out to be no emergency at all.

The baby book doesn’t have a first hospital entry. David doesn’t wonder why. Bengie’s first hospital visit was after a tumble down the stairs. One look at his Daddy, then one step over the stair. Ass over tea kettle over ass again. Right in front of David’s horrified eyes, his treasure of a child somersaulted down into the distance. Left to right to left again, head hitting the wall on the left, arm wrapping around the banister on the right.

Screams. Intense screams like the incessant beeping of a heart monitor. David was convinced that Bengie’s baby body was wracked. There would be broken bones, bruises, and contusions. Probably a slew of CPS paperwork, because Daddy had been three steps away. Only six feet, and a chasm of responsibility, between father and son. The government would never believe that a two-year old can toddle an amazing distance in the time it takes a very cognizant and responsible father to react.

Except that Bengie had been fine. No broken bones, no bruises, no contusions. No CPS paperwork. No beep, beep, beeping. Toddlers toddle down stairs sometimes. Toddler bodies are made to compensate for toddler actions.

 

BEEP. BEEP. Bengie’s not a toddler anymore. A seven-year body doesn’t have as much cushion. The doctors rush in and out, not the leisure of the maternity ward, nor the focus of the emergency room. This is ordered chaos. David thinks the doctors should be talking. Maybe they are, but it is hard to hear them over the steady sound of the breathing tube, and the clamor of the din. And the BEEP, BEEP.

Nothing to hear over the cacophony of silence. The cacophony of memory.

 

David and Cynthia should be talking, too. But there is nothing to say. And talking requires breath.

Cynthia remembers four years ago. The new house, the new life for the family of three, with an extra bedroom in case a fourth family member came on its way. Bengie had been sleeping in his own bed for six months before the move. His old crib sat expectantly in the shed.

Potty training had been a bit brutal, as it often is for a boy. The sprinkler effect was bad enough, but the lack of sphincter control was far worse for parents. From an adult’s perspective, a bowel movement comes with longer lead time. For a child, it is quite the opposite. Bengie had mastered the art of holding in his number one, usually quite literally with his hand clamping down on his penis just long enough to pee-pee dance his way to the potty. The bowel movement was always sneakier and there was no body part to hold onto.

Cynthia thought about potty training while she painted Bengie’s room in the new house yellow. Very fitting. Yellow was a gender-neutral color, because the bedroom might belong to a brother or a sister in the next few years. She also had brown on her mind during the potty training time, but she refused to paint a child’s room brown, no matter how gender neutral the color might be. Paint a child’s room brown and that child is doomed to have a lava lamp as a teenager.

 

BEEP. BEEP. This room is not yellow. Nor brown. It is white. Everything about it is white. White for cleanliness and sterility. And white for heaven in the clouds and angels with their wings. But not at this moment. At this moment, it is just silent breathing. The silence of a continuous sound. BEEP. BEEP.

 

Bengie isn’t able to remember anything. But when he was able to remember, he remembered three years ago. A family camping trip. His earliest memory.

Most people’s earliest memories are tragedies. Tumult hits the save button. A burnt hand, a broken arm, a fight with a friend. But not Bengie. Happiness triggered his personal recorder.

The whole family had gone out on the lake in a kayak. That was what Bengie remembered the most. The feeling of floating on top of water under a perfectly blue sky, a smattering of soft clouds floating above, like the marshmallows that they hovered over the campfire later that night.

A day of riding his bicycle around on a road that was equal parts pavement and gravel. Training wheels popping in and out of potholes that might as well be craters on the moon.

And the stars. So many stars. Stars in a number and brightness and ubiquity that a four-year old mind could not comprehend, but not for lack of observation.

Bengie usually remembered it all. And much more since. Kindergarten. Disneyland. Family dinners around the kitchen table.

 

But right now, Bengie isn’t remembering anything. He can’t hear the BEEP, BEEP, nor can he see the flurry of activity going on around him. Activity focused on him. On trying to maintain a pulse. On trying to supplement the oxygen that he is not processing on his own. On keeping the steady rhythm of BEEP. BEEP.

Cynthia and David feel like they should talk to fill the void. But talking requires breath. And what would they talk about?

 

They both remember two years ago. Bengie’s fifth birthday. They remember it for different reasons.

For David, it was the year of “Paw Patrol.” It marked  the culmination of an entire year during which Bengie was obsessed with the civil service canines. A blue centerpiece featuring the police dog, Chase, clashed with the yellow streamers for the construction bulldog, Rubble-on-the-Double. Every inch of the house had special meaning to Bengie that day.

David was fascinated by his son’s own fascination. That he could become so enmeshed in a pasttime, that the fictional world could be so real to a child. Bengie fixated on every detail, most of which were completely superfluous to David’s untrained, adult eye. The child hovered over every individual facial expression on a gift bag, even Skye, the girl pup, trying to pinpoint which episode or which season this gift bag represented. The debate went on for hours. David spent a good portion of that day wondering if five was a good time to get his son into “Star Wars.” Time to share his own fictional fascination with his progeny.

For Cynthia, the fifth birthday had a different connotation. Her oldest child was leaving the nest. Maybe not moving off to some faraway university yet, but kindergarten was merely a gateway drug to the dangerous world of education that might someday pry her precious prize away from her.

And so fresh on the heels of the miscarriage, her oldest was likely to morph into her only. And all the “Paw Patrols” of the world wouldn’t change the fact that he wouldn’t be watching “Paw Patrol” much longer. Even if he wanted to, school meant hours away from the home every day. School meant homework. School meant growing up.

She had at least been comforted during that transition by the knowledge that high school was still nine years away, and there was still plenty of time to enjoy some time with her oldest, her only, child.

 

BEEP. BEEP. Time is running out. There is no time left. The beeping, the oxygen mask, the whirlpool of white smocks. They are bringing out the defibrillators. The defibrillators are just a precaution, because BEEP, BEEP. The sound is both a blessing and a curse. Each beep means that Bengie is still with us, but each beep also means not safe, not out of the woods of a camping trip yet.

 

Everybody remembers one hour ago. Not just David. Not just Cynthia. Not just Bengie, if he is able to remember anything at all.

Everybody who was at the pool remembers one hour ago. The lifeguard definitely remembers. But so do the bystanders who, mouths agape at the spectacle, didn’t bother to dial 911 until vital minutes had passed. Psychiatrists disagree whether it should be called bystander apathy or bystander inhibition. Whatever it is, nobody sprang into action to save a seven-year old’s life.

Except for the lifeguard. At least he did his job when the life of a seven-year old boy was floating on the top of a blood-soaked pool.

The day started out so well. Bengie (or Benjamin, as he now wanted to be called, but his parents were not quite ready to start calling him) was looking forward to a rare day outside, one of the first sunny days of the season. He had been a swimmer for as long as he could remember, although David and Cynthia knew the proper number would be ten months old. Each summer, Bengie became a little bit stronger of a swimmer. When he was three, he could float on his back and get himself back to the side of the pool without help. At four, he was able to swim up the increasing distances between his parents as each one continued to take one step back.

Last year, the pool became one of Bengie’s favorite spots. By the end of the summer, David and Cynthia could stay outside the pool, looking on in comfort and in pride as their only child graduated from Crab to Alligator. The first moment a parent can turn their back on their child in water is a milestone that rivals any discarded diaper pail. One hour ago, David and Cynthia were facing forward, diving into the pool with adrenaline and horror.

What excited Bengie today was the diving board. He asked about it in the past, but everyone felt that seven would be a good time to try it. The first jump, an awkward, forward tumble that was destined to become a belly-flop before Bengie’s instincts dropped his landing gear for splashdown. The second attempt was more graceful, a plunge that coalesced into a downward arc, breaching the surface with a splash that implied the Olympics were still a long way away.

Then came the third attempt. A step forward, then another step toward the end of the board. Then the third step of the third dive. Bengie planted his heel instead of his toes. His momentum faced the wrong direction. Gravity pulled backward, not forward. The seven-year old frame tried to pivot in mid-air, like a video game character lining up above a pipe. His body successfully missed the board. His head did not.

A thud. A watermelon splitting open. A crack. A neck snapping forward. It was the last sound Cynthia or David had heard. A sound they were still hearing now. A sound they would continue to hear for the rest of their lives.

Their baby floating in the pool. The water pinkening, an oil-slick of scarlet emanating out from a limp form. Two parents in shock. A crowd in wonder. A lifeguard doing his best.

 

BEEP. BEE-

Their baby lying in a hospital bed. The doctors in chaos. The defibrillators out. Charge, rub together, clear. CHUNK. And again.

BEEP.

A chance. Hope. Vitals to check.

BEEP.

But no breath. No circular motion. All in stasis, waiting for another sound.

BEEP. BEE-

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.

Silence.