They sat at a table on the periphery of a healthy afternoon bar crowd. The World Cup was on TV. JJ had a ginger ale and it felt like a betrayal to the natural order, like a polar bear in the tropics. Carl had a Coke to honor JJ’s awkward sobriety and watched the game with interest. It was Italy vs. Paraguay or Uruguay or Ecuador. JJ could never keep those South American countries straight. “I’m not sure I should be in a bar,” he said.
“It’s ok, I’m babysitting you. We’re just watching the game.” There was a plate of nachos on the table and Carl ate with relish. JJ picked a bit and watched the people watching the game. Tuesday afternoon and all these people watching soccer. Didn’t they have jobs? Carl still worked nights at the bagel bakery and JJ…well JJ worked at staying out of his own way. Carl said, “This is one of those start and stop games. Typical Italy. Small fouls, big fouls, complaining, gesturing.”
Sure enough, players in blue surrounded an officious referee, jostling each other for the right to be ignored. The referee scurried from from the rabble and produced a red card from his pocket, held it in the air, and gestured off the field. One of the Italian players looked astonished and started pleading, hands clasped in supplication. The referee shook his head with an emphatic “NO!” and again pointed off the field. The player turned and walked away in shame.
“What did he do?” asked JJ.
“Took the other guy’s leg, studs up. Didn’t try for the ball. He was warned.”
It all looked the same to JJ but the crowd at the bar was loud and gesticulated much like the players. “South Americans are shit,” one guy yelled. “That was nothing!”
“That’s rich,” Carl said. “Italy’s the dirtiest team there is. Sneaky dirty. The dark arts.”
The game continued, scoreless, into the second half, growing more intense. At some point, a Uruguayan player actually bit an Italian player on the shoulder. It wasn’t apparent at first but replays showed a clear and intentional bite. The biter, a cunning-looking squint-eyed player with prominent teeth, then fell down as if the Italian had shouldered him in the mouth. “He really bit that guy,” JJ said. “He really bit him.”
“He’s going to get suspended.” The Italian player pulled aside the neck of his shirt and was showing the teeth marks to the referee who hadn’t seen the bite. “That was the third time he’s done that.”
“Three times in this game?”
“He’s bit three people in different games. Over the last few years.”
The crowd at the bar was braying for a red card but play continued. Then Uruguay scored a goal and the injustice was complete. The people at the bar were now screaming, “NO!” and “Bullshit!” and all the other things we yell after being fucked by sports and life. A guy bites someone and no one sees it, then a goal for the biter’s team. An uproar, a celebration, then the ball is returned to center, and they start playing again. You win some, you lose some, and you move the best you can. That’s the way of the world.
“I’m starting to like this,” JJ said.
Carl looked at him. “And this isn’t even a very good game. But, yeah, you would like all this other bullshit. But that’s soccer. The bullshit and beauty run parallel and make it great. Like life.”
“Yeah, I kinda get that,” JJ said. “I’m not sure about the beauty part, but I have been know to get waylaid by the bullshit of life. Still, I haven’t bitten anyone. Yet.”