March 28, 2010

Moral Dilemmas Involving Hooligans


My old pal Grinch and I have gotten a lot older since those evil and eventful days in the mid-eighties, when we were starting fires, stealing things, breaking other things, ingesting assorted substances and founding domestic terrorist outfits disguised as bands. In spite of what seemed to be an obviously doomed path, he’s done okay for himself in the ensuing years. Better than I have, certainly. He married a lovely woman, had a couple of lovely kids, became a big mucky-muck in the wine industry, made lots of money, bought a house and a couple of cars and a dog. He’s also become one of those rare American soccer hooligans, and often regales me with tales of violent and drunken tomfoolery at assorted Major League Soccer matches. (Pop quiz: How many of you were even aware that there was such a thing as “Major League Soccer” here in the U.S.?)

            A few months ago while I was in the midst of teaching and assorted other hoo-hah, Grinch called to let me know he’d be coming to town sometime around the end of March. That was cool—I hadn’t seen him in years. Thing is, he wasn’t just coming to New York to pay a social call or take in the sights—truth is, Grinch hates New York, or at least the bland, family-friendly replica calling itself “New York” these days. No, this visit was different—there was wicked business afoot, and I was to be a part of it.

            See, now, Grinch lives in Chicago, and so the soccer team he supports is called the Chicago Fire. It turns out New York has a soccer team, too (though you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone around here who knows that). While the Chicago team was named after an historic tragedy, the New York Red Bulls, in contrast and par for the course, were named after a consumer product.

            Now, I wasn’t aware of this, but it seems as part of a major effort to revitalize the city’s economy, Newark, New Jersey, has built a sparkly new soccer stadium—not surprisingly called Red Bull Stadium—right outside the city limits. Read that however you wish.

            Anyway, it seems the inaugural match in this brand new stadium was scheduled for March 27th, 2010. and it was between, yes, the New York Red Bulls and the Chicago Fire. It was an event Grinch and a bunch of his yobbo friends from Chicago intended to destroy in some way. So the whole drunken, ornery lot of them got plane tickets and made hotel reservations.

            Best of all, Grinch was going to bring me with him to the match. It had been a good long time since Grinch and I had caused some real, life-threatening mayhem, so it sounded like something that needed doing.

            This was all, again, something Grinch mentioned essentially in passing several months ago. After that, there was silence about soccer match mayhem. And since then, things here in Brooklyn became more frenzied and complicated, and I forgot about it.

            Then about a week ago, the note arrived with Grinch’s complete itinerary for the last weekend in March.

            Okay, I figured, all would be well. I was closing in on the end of this book I was working on, and everything else also seemed to be coming together. I began to gear myself up, not just for the prospect of participating in a riot started by Chicago soccer hooligans, but also for simply sitting through a professional soccer match just outside, um, Newark.

            On Saturday evening, Grinch, I, and a bunch of thugs were going to get on a PATH train to head into Jersey. Lord knows if we’d ever get home alive again.

            “Will I need to bring my own cudgel?” I asked him. “Or will one be provided for me at the gate?”

            A few days later, another note arrived. There might have to be a change of plans, Grinch told me.

            It seems the soccer players union (who knew?) was in contract negotiations with MLS, and things weren’t going so well. Things were going so badly, in fact, that it was quite likely the players were going on strike, and that first game at that fancy new stadium was going to be cancelled.

            I’ll ask you the same thing I asked Grinch.

            What in the hell do soccer players have to complain about?

            And who, exactly, will this strike inconvenience (apart from Grinch, that is)? I mean, the New York team has been around for ten years now, and I have never once heard them mentioned on the news. I didn’t even know they had a new stadium going up. And lord knows no one outside that world is aware that there’s a strike coming.

            Here’s where the moral dilemma began to arise.

            Grinch was still coming out with his family. They had plane tickets and hotel reservations. Several other Chicago Fire, um, “enthusiasts” were still coming, too. But with no game and no new stadium to wreck, what were we going to do on Saturday night?

            Within their local hooligan network, they decided to go to the proverbial Plan B. Given the culture, the only thing that made sense was meeting at a bar. That was cool by me. It meant being inside, having something other than Red Bull to drink, and not being in Newark.

            They even had a bar in mind, and one not too far from my apartment. I wouldn’t say I frequented the place, but I did spend many a pleasant afternoon there, years and years ago.

            But then I got to thinking. There were any number of soccer bars in town, and quite a few of them could be pretty goddamned obnoxious, packed to puking with loud and skinny hipsters trying with all their might to pretend they give a rat’s ass about soccer. Even my home bar could, at times, become a soccer bar, and I did what I could to avoid it when it did.

            So if I were to make an alternate suggestion (given that I live here and all) which one would I choose? Upon which soccer bar would I willingly inflict an invasion of drunken and loutish visiting soccer hooligans on a Saturday night?

            Not my home bar, of course, as Grinch had promised there would be trouble and property damage.

            There was a place a few blocks from my home bar that used to be my home bar, until the increasingly unbearable crowd and all the strollers forced me out of there. It was tempting, but I still liked the staff there, and they likely would still recognize the blind guy.

            There were certainly places in Manhattan, but I had no interest in going into Manhattan on a Saturday night.

            No, it had to be a place where I was not known, a place I knew I would likely never (or never want to) visit again, and a place that deserved some trouble.

            That still left me several hundred to choose from.

            As I narrowed the list to the most loathsome choices, it occurred to me that this was not a “moral dilemma” at all, given that moral dilemmas by their very nature involve at least some element of potential good somewhere along the way. This was simply devil’s work, what I was doing.

            It also occurred to me that what I was doing was contemplating an evening when two middle-aged men—one of them blind—would go out and try to raise some hell the way they had a quarter century earlier.

            Yes, yes, yes, I was going to die. But probably not as quickly as I would have at that soccer stadium.

            Of course the joke was on me. Moments after settling on a bar, resolved and comfortable with the whole idea, I got another note from Grinch informing me that the strike was off, and the game was on.


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