June 26, 1996. England, Germany, Euro semi-finals. I’m at work. My “office” is a former supply closet, hemmed in by a men’s room, and a women’s room. But for this day only such a perch is good I’m cocooned (if by bathrooms). Safe—no one can get me. At home, the VCR is whirring peacefully; I even thought to set it to run long, just in case. I can do this; I know I can.
I had been in the United States for 18 months and had become a black belt at avoiding soccer scores. You learn quickly, with so many big European games being played while America heedlessly goes about its workday. But this is a big one: England-Germany, semi-final, in London. We have Gazza; we have Sheringham; we have Shearer. This is a good England team.
Germany has Kuntz.
The game is over; it’s 5.30p.m. in America. The day has gone well—my brother knows not to email me, my real friends at work don’t even look me in the face. My mother is silent.
M___ calls in the late afternoon, just as I am getting ready to leave the office. (I worked for him, briefly, a few months earlier; he thinks we’re friends.) Why I answer the phone, well, who knows? Self-loathing comes in many forms, especially when you look like I do.
“Did you hear what happened?” he says, without preamble.
“M___, I’m avoiding the score. Please don’t tell me!” I am frantic.
“Oh, so I shouldn’t tell you it was 1-1 but we lost on penalties then?”
The world spins. Did this really just happen?
“M___?” I say.
“Yes?” he laughs.
“Kunt(z),” I say. Then, “I shall never speak to you for the rest of my life.”
(And so it has come to pass. Not a word all these years. Dead to me, as they say.)
Fast forward 16 years and I’m still avoiding scores. The England France game today? Can’t watch it—at work. England-Sweden, this coming Friday? Same. Ukraine game a week from tomorrow? Yup—missing the whole thing. The first two quarter finals fall on a Thursday and a Friday; the semis are played on a Wednesday and a Thursday; I’m unavoidably out of town for the final on Sunday, July 1.
I bring to mind the World Cup semi final 2002, Brazil-Turkey, avoiding the score all day high up in an office in Times Square. But I work a block from 46th Street in Manhattan, aka, Little Brazil Street. After work, I brave the walk to the subway, fingers in my ears, singing “la-la-la” as loudly as I can, but there’s no missing the darting yellow flags, the dancing salsas, the horns and whoops. Or else the day a few years later I got a text saying, “Well done, mate,” Man United having just won the league (I was, at the time, in a forest in New Jersey, using tweezers to remove a tick from a friend’s neck—sadly, the denouement of every EPL season coincides with migration time, and I was writing a book about birds).
Now, there are so many more ways to inadvertently learn the score: Facebook status updates and Twitter, of course. Honking cars in Greek-Astoria, or silent cars in Greek-Astoria. There is a diner one block from my apartment in Brooklyn—the guy has all his massive TVs tuned to every soccer game on the planet. (I walk a different way home, now.) But it’s also true that so many more people are into soccer here in the States, and everyone wants to discuss it. In 1996, it shouldn’t have been that hard—soccer was something ulterior, even two years after the US World Cup. But now? Everyone has an opinion about Beckham’s abs or the MLS being crap or “that little chap, what’s-his-name, the one who scored all those goals this season for that Spanish team, what are they called?” (This, verbatim, from my kids’ softball umpire two days ago.)
Perhaps I should give up, embrace people’s interest, become an ambassador for this wonderful sport. Perhaps I can learn to know the score and still enjoy the spectacle of the game? But we’re talking England, here, so no spectacle...and in any case, the great joy of soccer, for me at least, is the moment a ball gets hoofed into the box, and it careens off some center back’s knee into the path of your center forward, and that split second where you think, “he can’t miss,” only for Andy Carroll to put it out of the ground and half way to Jupiter.
I wouldn’t miss that feeling for the world. (Oh, wait.)
So yes, I’m avoiding the score today, and most days hereafter. Be a doll and don’t email me, or say anything on Twitter, or update your Facebook status either way. Don’t call me, don’t text me, don’t even remember you know me; if you see me in the street, look right through me.
Don’t be Kuntz.