Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Toilet Bowl 2007: A Short Story

(This was originally written by Side Bar. Also, make sure to check out the hysterical video LJT posted below.)

To be read in the voice of that guy who did the voice-over on The Wonder Years. Minor liberties have been taken with the facts, but they are all true to the heart of the story. Please hit play on the video below to put you in the proper frame of mind.

Teaneck, New Jersey. Sunday, December 23, 2007.

The rain whipped the cracked, leaf-covered driveway. I looked out from our living-room window. Little daggers of water were spearing the ground relentlessly, bouncing off the pavement like hot oil sizzling in the frying pan.

"No chance." I said to my brother, MMG, flatly.

"I think you'll be surprised," he replied evenly, ever confident in his skills, which include both the power to forecast (and affect) the weather on hope alone and the ability to summon six other people telepathically.

As we hurried to the car, the rain somehow seemed to pick up, daring us to continue with this fool's errand, mocking our efforts to preserve not only a 20-year-old tradition, but a piece of our youth. A piece of ourselves.

"There is just no way anyone is going to be there," I said. "I mean, do you really think Andy B is even allowed out of the house in this weather? And Open Bar? It's not even 10 o'clock -- I'm not sure he's even gone to bed yet."

"I really think you'll be surprised," he replied -- still evenly, but with (maybe?) the slightest trace of uncertainty.

There were few other cars on the roads. Doubtless they were last-minute holiday shoppers cursing the weather, and perhaps themselves for waiting until December 23rd to make those final Christmas purchases.

Fortunately, we were not in that boat. Rather, we headed out to fulfill a tradition of many years. Every Christmas Eve, we played football -- a game we brilliantly titled the Toilet Bowl. As kids, we played full-tackle. Now, a bit older, we play (rough) touch. But it's the tradition that counts. No matter the weather.

As we turned the corner onto Windsor Road, approaching from the South, I glanced West. We used to go sledding down that big, sloping hill (though it seemed rather small today). Straight ahead we could see a few people standing in the parking lot at Benjamin Franklin (BF) Middle School. For a brief moment I wondered if we would have to find another spot, or if we would have to share the field with others. Curiously, it was not until we got even closer that I realized these were our people, our friends -- laughing at the rain, the hour, and the sheer ridiculousness of the situation -- who had come for the same reason we were there: to have fun, and to be 8 years old again, even just for a few hours.

Almost everyone who said they would be there was there. Walt Clyde was there, and his brother, Beer-on-the-Girl. Open Bar was present, accounted for, and wide awake. Chuck had driven all the way out from Queens. And Andy B was there, wearing six pairs of gloves, two sweatshirts, and insisting that he not be tackled.

As we started tossing the football around the parking lot, we laughed about the condition of the field, all of us wondering if we could make a game of it. Someone (Open Bar) complained that there was no beer. (Which was reasonable, considering that at the previous year's Toilet Bowl, a 30-pack of Miller Lite eased the pregame/halftime/postgame conversation.)

We walked the short distance from the parking lot to the North playing field. (BF has two fields, a North and a South and, for some reason, we've always played on the North field). At this point, it was Open Bar, Chuck, MMG, Walt Clyde, Beer-on-the-Girl, Andy B, and myself.

The field was a mess. Pools of standing water, patches of ice, all of it surrounded by and filled with slippery, slush-like mud. Basically, swamp-like conditions. Even the few who were smart enough to wear cleats could barely get any traction; those of us in sneakers could barely stand upright for more than a few steps. It didn’t matter. Or maybe it did. But probably, it was better this way.

We "borrowed" a few cones from a public-works truck parked nearby and sketched out two end zones and sidelines. Same rules as always: First-down marker at the midpoint of the field, no hand-offs, one blitz per four downs, five-mississippi before you can rush the QB. (Or was it seven?)

We chose up sides as we always do: the 1978 birthdays versus everyone else. Someone from had to play permanent-QB to keep the teams even, as there were only three 1978s and four non-1978s. But as fate would have it, just as the first drive got underway, Diesal D -- a proper 1978-er -- arrived (along with Danny G, who was carrying a small bag with an even smaller dog inside. Seriously.). Danny G took care of Gia (the dog), and Diesal joined our team, making it a true 1978-team against MMG, Andy B, Walt Clyde and Beer-on-the-Girl. For the 20th (or 21st? 22nd? 19th?) year in a row -- without ever missing a year -- on the day (or two) before Christmas, we all gathered in Teaneck for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

The Toilet Bowl was underway.

The game itself proved to be quite a matchup. We (the 1978s) scored early and often, but the non-1978'ers hung in. But after consecutive interceptions by Open Bar, Diesal, and myself -- and, on offense, Diesal conjuring a Super Bowl XXI Phil Simms, as he relentlessly picked apart the non-1978 secondary, aided by the elusive receiving abilities of Chuck -- we began to pull away.

The non-1978s battled back, though, coming within a score or two of tying up the game. With third down and a long field to go, MMG dropped back to pass, looking for Walt Clyde deep. I was covering Walt Clyde on this particular play, and he flat-out burned me. The combination of his speed, my lack thereof, and the poor field conditions were no match; I had blown the coverage, and Walt Clyde was wide open. MMG heaved the ball deep, way too far over my head for me to do anything but watch Walt Clyde score. Then, just as Walt Clyde was about to haul the ball in for the touchdown, he lost the handle, and the ball fluttered to the soggy turf below. Rather than stopping, however, Walt Clyde just kept running. He never broke stride to curse his hands, or the weather, or the slippery ball that eluded his grasp . . . He just ran North along the tree-lined field, farther and farther out of view. It was hilarious.

On seeing that, we all agreed: Halftime. After a short break for water, wringing out our socks, and (in a few cases) a smoke, we reconvened. (But without Walt Clyde who, it may as well be said, had continued running all the way back to his home in South Jersey. Just kidding, Walt Clyde was forced to leave, much to his chagrin, as he had left it all out there on the field.)

Upon restarting, the 1978 squad continued to dominate (with Diesal now serving as all-purpose QB for both sides). As the 1 p.m. Giants kickoff drew closer, and our mud-soaked clothes beginning to weigh us down, both teams drove up and down the field, scoring on some hilariously executed plays. (Stunningly, the 1978s executed the Holy Grail of the schoolyard/pickup-football game: a double-reverse flea-flicker touchdown pass. Yes, dear reader, anything can happen.)

Naturally, a game like this delivered the funny, too. At one point, Diesal found the Brett Favre inside him and hurled a pass so amazingly fast that Andy B didn't even notice that it passed within 6 inches of his head. Had the pass fluttered a little bit to the right, this post would be an "R.I.P. Andy B's face," rather than this delightful retelling. (Oh, and at a different point, Andy B just missed a reception, slipped, and then -- before even hitting the muddy field below -- let out one of those classic screeches you only hear when one is in real fear. Seriously, he yelled before he even hit the ground. Sweet.)

About 20 minutes into the second half, on a seemingly innocuous play, Diesal dropped back and spotted Open Bar running down the left (East) sideline -- with a step on MMG. Diesal tossed a picture-perfect spiral that (would make Eli Manning cream in his shorts) seemed to hang in the air for an eternity . . . from Bryant School, to Lowell Elementary School, to our days at BF . . . The ball hung in the air and landed in Open Bar's waiting arms. A perfect pass and catch. Montana to Rice.

Open Bar never broke stride, but MMG was too close to give up. He pursued, Open Bar fled . . . Two grown men, sprinting after a youth spent playing football with friends. Open Bar neared the end zone, but didn't slow down, for MMG hadn't slowed his pursuit. Open Bar looked back, spotted MMG a few feet behind, and, with the widest shit-eating grin you'll ever see, flipped MMG the bird, and and continued running into the end zone for the score. MMG continued to pursue, wanting that final tackle, but Open Bar stayed just a few strides ahead.

The chase extended beyond the end zone. About 15 yards after the touchdown was clear and both men were well off the field of play -- but still running full-steam -- Open Bar (who was wearing cleats) came to a dead-stop, stepping just a smidge to his left. MMG (who was also wearing cleats) streaked past Open Bar and made one final bid to even the score. He slid into the mud, attempting to wipe Open Bar's feet out from under him. However, he missed, badly, winding up about 10 feet past his target. His slide through the mud, though, was tremendous.

There was Open Bar, holding the football in glory, while his pursuer dealt with the massive amount of new mud his clothes had just acquired.

Back on the field, Diesal, Beer-on-the-Girl, Andy B, Chuck, and I collapsed in laughter. Not only at the site of MMG on the ground (he claimed it was an intentional dive), but at Open Bar still flipping the bird. However old we all are now, in that moment, we were all just kids. Football, lots of mud, someone falling, a middle finger.

Soon after, we sat at the bar at Vinny O's, devouring sliders and hot wings and pitchers of sweet, sweet lager. Our legs were numb, but we all knew of the inevitable soreness to come -- something we never had to worry about years ago.

The cold rain from earlier in the morning had stopped. In spite of the conditions, we had played. Against the odds, we had met up once again to fulfill a tradition.

It used to be we would meet up in my basement after the game to play some Nintendo. Twenty years later, we simply moved over to Vinny O's to drink together. The camaraderie was still the same. And as every pitcher was emptied and drunk, the brotherhood was refilled and restored.

All was well.


Joe Grossberg said...

"he claimed it was an intentional dive"

Oh, man, that is quintessential MMG.

Man, this story was fantastic. I literally spit my oatmeal all over the keyboard when I read the part about Andy's scream.

Side Bar said...

Open Bar was generous in the intro . . . I recounted the facts, but his revisions and additions made it a great story. Well done.

Anonymous said...


ChuckJerry said...

Could we get a hold of those pics MMG took?

Good story, except I also had an interception. Fucking with my stats.

And I don't want to hear about Dave and the vacation. That's my teammate. That's my quarterback. We lost as a team.