15 October, 2009


Each year, around this time, something is unloosed that causes everyone in my vicinity to lose his mind. That something is football, and we might as well have it out in the open right now: I don't care for it.

I don't hate the sport, mind you. Saying I hate football would be unfair — an overstatement on par with claiming I abhorred the existence of, let's say, monosodium glutamate. While it's true I'm no fan of MSG, and generally request the cooks not sprinkle my Chinese take-out moo goo gai pan with it, I won't die (not right away, at least) if they do. Recognizing this fact, I don't give a lot of thought to MSG unless I'm studying a menu bordered with the signs of the Chinese zodiac. So too with football; out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, football is more difficult to avoid than a box of General Tso's chicken.

The season starts unexpectedly, usually when I am profoundly lost in a book or writing project. All at once, out of nowhere, the entire wing of inmates — all seventy-one of them, my cellmate included — erupts into a violent cheer that startles the hell out of me. My train of thought is derailed every time.

It so happens I have a neurological condition that meshes poorly with the sort of chaotic outbursts football elicits in the guys here. They reach a certain pitch and fervor, and I will feel in my teeth a sharp tingling, bordering on pain. Unpleasant. All it takes is that initial evening's exposure to pigskin-induced psychotics for me to invest in earplugs. Some say I look ridiculous, going around all day with OSHA-orange plugs jutting from the sides of my head, shouting, "Huh?" at everything. Feeling like I have just chomped down on a wad of aluminum foil every time the Kansas City Chiefs gain a few yards — that's no way to spend half the year. Injury to my already questionable image is preferable.

The Superbowl is especially trying, thanks to the frisson it invokes in others. There are, however, a couple of good things about it. One is that it marks the official cessation of my football-related discomfort for another eight or so months. The other is nachos.

Longstanding and widespread penitentiary tradition holds that, if one has any money, one must stock up on fixings from the canteen the week of the big game. Groups of inmates pool their resources, potluck-style, beginning late Sunday morning. They gradually assemble gargantuan spreads of tortilla chips with all kinds of artery-beplaquing toppings — most popularly, chili from a pouch, summer sausage, squeeze cheese, and ranch dressing. By nightfall these heaps of junk food have been wolfed down and are being drowsily digested.

What I have found is that, if you throw in a couple of dollars' worth of ingredients during the preparation phase, the die-hard fans are willing to overlook that you're not remotely interested in their sport of choice. Bring a few cans of soda to the table and they'll likely even forget about your bulky, fluorescent ear accessories. Go, local sports franchise!