My friend Jesse flew to South Africa a few days ago with nothing but a backpack full of underwear and tickets to five different World Cup matches. Having quit his job and sublet his Brooklyn apartment, he plans to spend the entire month of June and much of July traveling around South Africa, watching soccer and spending time with a few similarly unencumbered friends. The night before his flight, as we sat in his barren, vacated apartment drinking bottles of beer from his otherwise empty fridge, Jesse told me, “People feel envious, because they know I’m a dilettante—I don’t normally follow the sport.”
Unlike Jesse, and despite the fact that I’m an extremely well qualified soccer spectator, I’ll be staying close to home this summer. My wife and I are expecting our first child in early July. Before the baby is born I will watch as much of the tournament as I can, but it’s easy to imagine how my experience of the 2010 World Cup will be radically different from my backpacking, world-traveling friend Jesse’s.
What follows is an extrapolation, based on my wife’s July due date and the actual match schedule of the 2010 World Cup.
June 11—I carry my laptop into the room we are preparing for the baby. I go to ESPN.com, tune in to the first-round match between Uruguay and France at Cape Town Stadium. As I pin strings of paper butterflies to the walls, the announcers’ excited British voices draw me back to the screen. Occasionally, when the camera pans over the stadium crowd, I think I see my friend Jesse shouting in unison with a cordon of Uruguay supporters.
June 12—I am at home, watching the USA – England match with my wife. I’m giddy with excitement and dread. She is exhausted and hot as she reclines on the couch. Now and then I look over and see the ripples and shapes that our coming child presses into her swollen belly. I stand to adjust the rabbit ears on top of the TV.
June 15—Brazil plays North Korea. I wonder how to explain the strangeness of Brazil playing North Korea to a child.
June 16—The night before he left for the World Cup, Jesse told me about an article claiming that 40,000 prostitutes would be traveling to South Africa to pick up some overflow business from soccer tourists. As I sit at the table with my bowl of cereal, watching today’s early game (Honduras vs. Chile), I ask myself if my unfettered single friend has talked to any of these sex workers in South Africa. I ask myself: Would he ever—? But no, of course he wouldn’t. Would he? No. I mean, I highly doubt it.
June 18—I go over to my friend Jordan’s apartment to watch the USA – Slovenia match. Jordan and his wife both grew up in Slovenia; Jordan’s wife is pregnant, too. His wife and my wife go swimming together once a week at a local middle school, seeking relief from the summer heat and the heaviness of their bodies. I imagine what it’s like to see our wives at the pool together: They step carefully in their maternity bathing suits, pregnant friends seeking relief from the drag of their swollen bellies. How do they feel as they enter the water?
June 19—Today is our fifth wedding anniversary. My wife is having Braxton-Hicks contractions. Or are they real contractions? Wait, are they real? They’re real! No: Braxton-Hicks, pretty sure.
June 22—Mexico plays Uruguay. When the Mexican side scores a goal, I hear a muffled roar of ecstatic soccer bloodlust rumble through my neighborhood.
June 23—The USA plays Algeria. For my wife’s sake, I refrain from shouting during the match. I can see how uncomfortable she is, she doesn’t need shouting, so I’m quiet. I keep quiet as I watch. During the game, the Radiohead song “Idioteque” echoes in my head. I can’t get rid of the lyric-scraps that float through my mind: Here I’m alive. Everything all of the time.
June 30—Before he left, my friend Jesse let me take anything I wanted from a huge box of books he was about to put out on the street. I grabbed Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles because I always loved the title. Today I start reading Murakami’s 607-page novel. I know that, by the time I finish the book (if I ever finish it), my life, the whole thing, will have changed.
July 2—Contractions begin just before the quarterfinals. I try to help my wife with her breathing, but the different patterns of deep breaths and shallow and slow and fast breaths are hard to remember. Who was supposed to play in the quarterfinals today? We grab the bag, call the car service. The Radiohead song re-enters my mind. My wife is breathing. The car service guy is courtly. We’re on our way. Somewhere in South Africa, tens of thousands of people pack themselves into a stadium to chant and cheer and cry and scream until they’re hoarse, screaming alongside strangers, passionately disoriented like the day they were born.
Brian, I hope the USA aren’t playing in the quarterfinals when Eden goes into labor, or, I mean, I hope they are!
— Austin Jun 8, 02:07 PM #
What a nice article. I thought I’d envy the friend, but then I didn’t.
— Thom J Jun 9, 10:59 PM #