The city is all riled up because there is a big game being played today between two very important teams. On days like this the crowds are notorious and the shut-ins like myself stay inside, we do not leave the house at all. But every time the game comes to town I still find myself wandering outside of my house, into the heart of the city, wrapped up in my coattails with my dog by my side. I only go when the game is going on, for then is when everything is eerily still and quiet, when there is trash on the streets and no one around to clean it all up, and the thundering roar of excitement can be heard from the stadium where ten thousand people are packed to watch men compete for a ball for three hours. Although I am always careful to come to town while the game is going on (a span of several hours sometimes referred to as the eye of the storm) and I have downtown to myself, I still find my path drifting towards the football field, to the nucleus of the excitement, the pathetically small park where people from all over the country come, camp, and party for 24 hours straight. As I get closer to the game, the dog succumbs to the buzz in the air and goes wild, running in circles and acting uncivilized. I wonder why I am doing this, I who so loudly condemns all this, but my thoughts mean nothing to me anymore, and I simply keep on walking.
I walk through a shady residential area for several blocks. I am in Faulkner country now, the streets that Faulkner walked and the houses that he looked at every day, so boring and plain and eternal. I look at them, too, and they are unremarkable. Bill wasn’t such a good man, they say, and I believe it. Like Salvador Dali – who would want to live like that? What kind of man treats people so? It is contemptible how these people lived. I will never be like they were. This is such a nice neighborhood, it almost never has a broken window, and the property values have never gone down, not even in this grand recession. How dull it all is to me. As I complain to myself how dull it all is, I pass a house with a large fenced-in yard, and in it the most beautiful brown hound I have ever seen comes running up to me and meets my dog. They try to sniff one another through the fence and their noses touch through the crevices. It is then that I notice the miniature pony walking towards us from across the yard (was it in the doghouse?) and I shake my head in disbelief. “Wait a minute, this is not usual,” I think. The pony is rather curious and introduces itself to my dog. I want to ride it. It looks friendly. My dog likes it, too. I would like to lift my dog over the fence and let him play with the hound and the pony but such behavior is largely looked down upon in this part of town, so I do not risk it. Instead, concerned by how strangely things are starting to proceed, I pull the dog away and continue walking. Some things are better left in the past, I think, such as miniature ponies. But that was an astoundingly beautiful hound, I could almost have stolen it.
Several blocks later I come to the edge of the park by the stadium and witness, in all its color and splendor, the wonderful party taking place. The thriving mass of people, the bubbling morass of colored tents and the tight, the treacherous smell of liquor spreading thin through the air – everything is as it should be, completely overwhelming, and weird. I do not even mind the excess anymore, but everything is weirder than ever. They have strung crystal chandeliers from the thin metal frames of their tents. They have grown their own cottage industries which they conduct all in cash, a sweet and unsustainable commerce. The people have really built a village for themselves, just for one day, inside which they are one, everyone dressed as one, and in which everyone lives in open defiance of the law, drinking in a dry county, children getting drunk and sexually assaulting each other, ticket scalpers slipping between the crowds counting their money, and all of it both astounds and compels me.
There are many hundreds of very large trash cans strategically placed within 3 square yard distances, one on every corner, and they have trucked in gigantic port-a-potty complexes that line the once-quiet streets in a thick, impenetrable wall of waste disposal. But no waste none of the waste is really disposed of; it sits there, growing heavy, in every single trash can, in fact it overflows, it is flowing down the sides, it puddles up in the bottom of every single toilet, which in this case is no more than an ergonomic pail, and maybe some of it even flows into a reservoir on some other truck parked around back – yes, that hose you gingerly step over in your lovely high heels, perhaps that hose is pumping thick, chemically scented human waste away right from underneath you, as you so carelessly pumped waste into it –
It is easy to get disgusted here. Most days I don’t even bother, I simply stand on the edge of the park, the whole great party laid out before me like a panorama, and then, overwhelmed by it all, turn around and disappear back into the empty town, where I eat dinner all alone and then softly disappear. But today, for some reason, I walk straight into the thick of it.
It is madness, and it is clear I don’t belong here, although I have been here all my life. These people are having too much fun, enjoying themselves, indulging in their widely acclaimed vices with too much health and zeal. I feel a pang of regret for the fun I used to have, like these people, when I was, so to speak, alive in the world, so many years ago now. I walk the dog around the perimeter of the park and watch the people watch him jog, everyone seems to love him. Women watch him with trailing eyes. He is mostly oblivious, his snout to the ground as he scoops up pieces of chicken and bread. The women here are beautiful, and I outright desire some. I watch them as they watch my dog. Outright desire feels wicked and I somewhat revel in it, but I still do not really indulge it, because I know it has nowhere to go. I smile politely, let enterprising women pet my dog, and try to make my way to the other end of the park as quickly as possible. I am starting to wear thin, my veneer of calm is disappearing.
One woman is reaches out for my dog as we pass. He does not pay her any attention but I push him with my foot towards her. He sees her and tries to get away but I push him again and she purrs as she pets him, cooing and having a ball. His tail is between his legs. I suddenly feel bad for the mutt and disgusted with the girl, so I pull him away and he breaks free from her into a run. A path opens up cutting into the park itself, between the tents so tightly packed, and I take it. I immediately realize it is the central avenue of the park and I have walked right into a sort of promenade, the very heart of the machine, where all the men and women, immaculately dressed and half-drunk by high noon, walk in full sight of the most prestigious tents, with everyone watching, and you watching everyone, and everyone judging in spectacular abundance, or entertaining lascivious thoughts, or maybe thinking something entirely different at all.
Because the game is going on right at this moment, the park is not even operating at half capacity, but it is still so full of people I feel perpetually ill at ease, as though I have to be absolutely careful or else something will go wrong, I will misstep. It happens all the time, after all. It could happen anytime.
Most of the people who have remained in the tents are the housewives, the immature, and the infirm, and they are all so drunk they can hardly even sit upright. The sober people have long gone home, to watch the game in peace and silence, resting sweetfully with their families in their super shiny condominiums, or townhouses, or lofty hotels, or, if they’re locals, home. I could go home too, if I wanted, this very minute. I think I will, I decide. I definitely will. All I need to do is leave. I will get out of here.
But I am distracted by a very beautiful girl and I follow her for a few yards, thinking lascivious thoughts. I almost recognize her, and am relieved to discover I don’t. I recognize more people than I care to and am careful to pull my hat over my face and look away when I do, but some of them still spot me, and I am forced into soft conversation. It is all so rushed though, these staid conversations, pithy and dry, so painful, as though no one is really listening to anyone, but just going through their fast, repetitive pleasantries in chaotic unison, just summoning noise to assert their communicative context, as all sound is context; so, with each conversation, the instant the dog starts pulling the leash in impatience I run away with him, apologizing over my shoulder as I disappear among the tents without properly even saying goodbye.
I stop into a particularly grandiose tent to catch my breath (I am not meant for running these days) and I notice a rich, full spread of food on a table, along with a bowl full of ice, beer, wine, and soda. Like usual, I am not hungry, although for some reason I want to take part in this feast. A crony old woman sits by the table, watching me with a half smile, and I ask her, with my most accessible accent, if I may enjoy a small bite, because I am terribly hungry. She says of course, and my heart races warmly as look among the food, pleased to attain such a bounty. Normally I would only take a cookie or a piece of cake but for some reason I decide to do it as the others would, and I get myself a plate, and I go one-by-one among the foodstuffs, taking a little bit of everything. Chicken, sausage, cheese, ham wraps, potato salad, noodle salad, chicken salad, pimiento loaf, potato chips, pretzels and peanuts, fruit medley, chocolate cake, pecan pie, oreos and brownies, cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, all of it so rich and varied. I put a beer in my back pocket and thank the woman, who has not taken her gaze off me the entire time, and then I leave. I should have liked to sat and dined with her, but then I would have had to eat my food.
Whatever my intentions are, it is not to eat any of my food. Once I am out of sight I sit down in another tent, this one totally abandoned with a TV attached to a generator left on, playing the game that is taking place a few thousand yards away from me, and I try to sort myself out. I make the dog sit down and I set the plate beside him on the ground and he greedily devours it. I open the beer with a key and I put it to my lips, but the smell of it nauseates me, and I pull it away.
I notice, a few tents away, a sluttishly dressed young woman looking at me, and I wink at her behind my sunglasses, and I put the bottle back to my lips and I drink it. I drink it all, it tastes like sweat and hops, and a surge of sickness passes through me in a flash. I drop the bottle in the grass and stand up, and my head swims. I think about what Garrison Keillor just said on the radio, that it is all very romantic, but romance is no part of happiness. People are still obsessed with the romance, though, it is as though they’ll never learn. The romance, they go on romancing, they are bred it and they, in good turn, breed it. They are sick with it.
Having cleaned the plate, the dog promptly gags, shudders, and throws up, and I drag him quickly away from the scene before he can eat it back up again. I move hurriedly this time, running this time, although it hurts my feet and back to do so, and I get the hell out of there as fast as I can.