Friday, October 05, 2007

St. Louis Public School Football

In the warm dusk the cars glide in one after another. Five hundred dollar cars and hand me down cars packed tight with students in new clothes. Trunk lids rattle and holey exhausts pipes cough and spit grey smoke. Groups of students walk from the bus stop. On the field, the lights are on and buzzing even as the setting sun is still two fingers above the horizon. The security guards wear reflective vests over their well worn uniforms. A white uniform shirt and handgun differentiate the supervisors from the regular guards, gun-less in their blue shirts. At the ticket booths teachers make change for crumpled and soiled $5 bills.

The field aspires to be a rectangular oasis of manicured green in the surrounding desert of cracked concrete and litter strewn parking lots. It falls well short of oasis. It is mostly green and free from litter, but even so, it's decidedly at home in its surroundings. A dark-red running track surrounds the football field and fence surrounds the track. A sidewalk follows the outside of the fence around its wide oval. It is heavily trafficked at every moment for the next three hours. Young people walk back and forth on parade. They walk in both directions, in groups, alone, running, dancing, cussing and eating off-brand snacks from the concession stand. The grandstands are this parade's judge's box. Anyone sitting on one of the light blue plank seats is a judge.

On the field the game has begun but only about half the people seem to notice. Occasionally the clap of hard plastic, or the screams someone who is paying attention, draw eyes to the field. For every one of the 22 stout, sweaty teenagers on the field, another 3 stand on the sidelines. They stand behind coaches in khakis and polo shirts with clipboards and headsets. Who are they talking to on the headset? Is it anything more than a prop to convince the crowd that they are in fact the coach? Everyone on the sideline seems to be employing a prop. Three students from the EMT training class are wearing dark blue work pants and polo shirts with snake and 6-point cross embroidered on the chest. Their prop is the stethoscope draped casually around their shoulders. The cheerleader have their short skirts and pom poms. In the grandstands handful of girls carry their own version of a prop, a baby, and bags of diapers and formula.

The game and parade march on. The sun is down now and everything looks vaguely dreamlike bathed in yellowish artificial light. Mosquitoes are hovering and landing all over everyone. The result is the sporadic of clapping of hands on arms, legs and necks that can almost be mistaken for applause.

Two police detectives sit casually in the back row of the stands. They are dressed in t-shirts and jeans but their too recent hair cuts betray their purpose here even more than the radios and handcuffs sticking out the bottoms of their shirts.

On the field it is a never ending string of touchdowns and kickoff returns, interceptions, fumbles and kickoff returns. Occasionally there is an end zone dance every 12 minutes on the clock, they switch sides.

At halftime the parade on the sidewalk around the track swells to include 90 percent of the crowd. For some unknown reason the marching band does not play tonight. Instead, in the stands, there is a leaderless 8 person drum group that seems to be made of of middle school kids. They are wearing black jeans and black t-shirts, drums hanging from dirty white leather straps. The no-show marching band has made these kids the stars of the halftime show. There are no baton twirling majorettes or trombonists in tall plumed hats too steal their thunder tonight.

The second half is more of the same. Kickoff returns and fumbles. Touchdowns and interceptions. When a player is injured everyone on both sidelines takes a knee. The three EMT students run purposefully onto the field. A cheerleader runs onto the field. The player's mother comes to the fence. After a minute, he limps off the field flanked by the EMT students and their stethoscopes. They crowd hardly seems to notice.

The teams switch sides one final time. The line for the concession stand grows shorter. In the parking lots around the field, a few cars with rattling trunk lids and holes in their exhaust pipes start to come back to life. Tail light bulbs illuminate red plastic and packing tape.

The parade is suddenly less aimless, it has become more purposeful. It now moves in only one direction; toward the parking lot.


Blogger colin loughlin said...

Maybe you'll write as well as my poems one day. Perhaps we should do a road trip around Ireland, you writing and me clicking.

3:08 PM  

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