“What do you think, Carter?” my friend asks from across the table.
It’s a few days before the Super Bowl, and we’re with two other friends in the Mexican restaurant where we meet for lunch once a month or so. Our meals haven’t arrived yet, and the table is littered with salsa-speckled papers covered with charts and graphs and lists.
The three of them had been joined in a very intense conversation re-hashing their fantasy football season, but I’d entered that special place in my head I retreat to when the people around me are discussing topics that have absolutely no bearing on my life . Talking animals wearing funny hats live there, and there is endless pie, and the animals call me “Your Excellency.”
I blink myself back to awareness and my friend asks the same question again, this time with an overt smirk on his face indicating he already knows my opinion of their “fantasy football” league and professional sports in general.
“I don’t care,” I tell him. “It’s pointless and it’s sad, and when you’re dying, you’ll wish you hadn’t wasted all of that time on your fake football teams.”
My friends shake their heads and exchange “Well … bless his heart” looks with each other as if saddened my life is so much less than it could be if only I would share their obsession. I’m used to it, though. These are the same guys who have, over the years, mocked the fact I can name the Kingdoms of Westeros from “Game of Thrones” and all of the noble houses — the lesser houses, too — and have read all the books and awaited the beginning of each new season of the show with the same anticipation of an 8-year-old only days away from Christmas morning. They also think it’s weird I am, still, infatuated with “The Walking Dead” and have several caches of weapons hidden around my house for when the inevitable zombie apocalypse happens.
My friends, along with a bunch of other football types I am acquainted with — one who even paid a lot (and I mean a whole lot) of money for an official, sweat-stained, game-worn, Peyton Manning jersey, and who admitted to me during a beery, weepy round of confession that he sleeps in it sometimes — have actually described on occasion my chosen sources of entertainment — reading fantasy and horror and science fiction novels and playing D&D-type board games — as being “kind of gay” compared to their own manly, leisurely endeavors.
I don’t get it but have absolutely no problem with their description of my pastimes and will even refrain from pointing out the obvious ironies in how they view what I choose to do, except to opine that certain subcultures like, um, I don’ t know, maybe groups of guys who never played football but really, really wish they could play football and love to talk and talk and talk obsessively about football players and “fantasize” about those football players a whole bunch and have pictures of those football players tacked to the walls of their man caves and buy used clothing those football players wore are sorely lacking in self-awareness these days.
Obviously, I’m not a sports guy. While I admire any professional athletes’ talent and dedication and the unimaginable amounts of time they have obviously put into their chosen activities, organized sports and the people who play them have just never been a big part of my life. I know the names of only a few college and professional teams of any sport but couldn’t, for money, even, name any of the current players. I have no idea what a two-minute warning is, don’t know how “the draft” works and the only professional athlete I would recognize on sight if he walked into the room would be Muhammad Ali, and then I would be terrified and wet my pants because I know he’s dead.
The only personal “sports moment” I can remember having was when the Atlanta Braves won the 1995 World Series, and I was excited about that because they were my dad’s and my grandma’s team, and my brother was at my house when it happened, and we jumped up and hugged each other and then attempted a high-five. It was ugly and spastic because we are both uncoordinated as hell and our hands never connected. We’ve never spoken of it since; the memory is still too painful.
Another thing I don’t get about fanatical sports people is how they insist on re-hashing a game the day after as if they, personally, could have done a much better job. I believe firmly that if you don’t vote, you have no right to an opinion on politics. The same rule should apply to sports. Before you’re allowed to comment on a poor play by a highly trained football player, you must first lay down in the middle of an open field in a stadium with 50,000 people watching and allow 11 330-pound sweaty guys wearing helmets to sit on your head, grunting and squirming (calm down, fantasy football-leaguers), and do all of the things obscenely paid professional athletes do every Sunday. Then, and only then, will you have earned the right to go to work Monday morning and complain about how crappy your team is.
Here’s another sports-fan rule I just made up: You can no longer complain about the perceived shortcomings of any highly trained, perfect-specimen-of-a-human-being athlete while your lips are wrapped around your fourth Hardee’s sausage biscuit of the day, if your belly enters a room three seconds before the rest of your body does or if you run out of breath walking across the room to flick your cigarette butt out the door.
“Seriously,” says my friend, waving a hand over all the papers piled on the table, “I’d like to know what you really think about all of this.”
“I think y’all should be more concerned about zombies,” I tell him.
“You’re so gay,” he says.
Maybe so, but that won’t make a damn bit of difference to the zombie that feels the cold steel of one of my spears entering its brain.