17 May 2013

The loneliness of the long-distance blogger

Caution: a bit of navel-gazing lies ahead.

I have a confession to share. I feel safe making it here because I'm among friends. I can count the Arsenal fans I have met in person with one hand. I know more Chelsea, Man U, and Spurs fans than I know Arsenal fans. I've never watched an Arsenal match with anyone except my children, whose only real interest in staying in the room is to see me hit my head on the basement ceiling if we score or collapse to the ground if we concede. No, I'm not a leper. I manage to bathe regularly. I brush my teeth every night. People seem to like me. However, I'm all alone in my own Gooner universe.

There have been brushes with fellow Gooners. Up until I tore my ACL and MCL a few weeks back, I played on Sundays with one. But that's about it. Here's how bad it's gotten. I was in the hardware store bickering with my wife about a folding table she wanted to buy. I noticed a guy walk past with the Gunners logo on his shorts. Breaking away from the argument with my wife of 13 years, I said, "come on, you Gunners." He didn't hear me. My wife glared, and I ended up buying the table to salvage the day, if not the marriage itself. Driving home, I saw a guy walking his dog while wearing an Arsenal jersey. Before I could roll down the window to call out, he had turned a corner.   For a moment, I seriously considered rounding the block for a second chance. Pathetic, aren't I?

Before you feel too bad for me, I've still enjoyed some exquisite moments, some ecstatic and some agonizing, when I do get to watch a match. However, as the prospect of another St. Totteringham's Day grows more and more likely, I think about how I might celebrate. The games will end late enough on Sunday here (somewhere around noon) that I could quaff a beer or two, whether it's in celebration or despair, but again, it will most likely be alone. I even checked the map for Arsenal supporters' pubs and was sad to see that the Globe Pub had disappeared from Chicago, further deepening my misery.

Alright, alright, enough of the melodramatic horse manure. I'm proud to be a Gooner and I loudly and repeatedly get in the faces of men twice my size and bigger when I see 'em wearing the wrong jerseys out on the town (first problem--you're wearing a jersey out on the town? really?). I do it real-friendly, of course. I did point out that they're usually twice my size. This size-ratio happens a lot when you stand 5'6" (183cm).

One of these days, I'll get to the Emirates and get properly drenched in the blood, sweat, tears, and beer of fellow Gooners as we yet again lay waste to the hopes and dreams of some other London club. That's part of why I'm here writing. Once I earn enough for the plane ticket, the game ticket, and the beer money (it has calories, so I figure I won't need food money), I'll be there. I'll be the short American who's drinking, shouting, and cheering enough to become entertainment for those around him. I wish I could be there on Sunday to cheer our boys on against Newcastle--yet another team whose fans I've met more of. I gotta move to a new neighborhood or something.

There's something of a tribe when you root for a club, a clan to which you can belong. After 30-odd years of rooting for this club, I still don't feel like a full member. I'm a vagabond, a rōnin wandering the wilderness alone. Yeah, I could switch to Man U or Chelsea or something and be welcomed as some kind of prodigal son, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I might be on my own,  but I wouldn't have it any other way.