Friday, November 14, 2008

November 14 2007.
I head out of Chambers the back way, down the stairs out to Richardson Plaza, past the library to Belk, struck by the trees’ shades of orange that definitely were not this vivid before today. One of the trees on the way to the Union, surrounded by its green neighbors, has changed overnight into a blast of red crispy leaves, the fiery crimson pushing boldly up into the dazzling Carolina blue sky. I stop and stare at it for a few seconds, so different from everything else around it. Small but powerful. Hm.

We have to rely on the autumn colors for proof that it’s actually November, because with the drought’s unwavering sunshine it feels like Thanksgiving transplanted to early April, thankful for the bathwater-y warm feel of the breezy winds. Normally I would be mad at the weather gods for faking us out (as they often do in the South), but today they have done it just right.

The bookstore is busier than usual today, with hoards of students clutching soft red t-shirts as they stand in line at the cash register. There’s unspoken tension that seems to jitter with bodies, but no noise yet. I can almost feel hearts pounding with what could be tonight, what will be in a matter of hours. The pleasant crispy air exudes all the energy of a Friday instead of a Wednesday, and jumps with plans being made, tickets being pushed into pockets, homework being pushed out of the way.

After all, we’ve been waiting for two months.

Em and I pop in and out of the room all afternoon, getting ready. I pull my head through my WILDCAT PRIDE t-shirt, firmly tie my ribbon into my hair with purpose, and blot lipstick onto my mouth—all red, of course. I jump up and down, up and down in front of the mirror.

It could happen, something could happen, what could happen?

I open our door and blast “Hey, HEY BABY (Hoo! Ha!)” into the hallway. A basketball day deserves basketball music and nothing else.
I wanna kno-o-o-o-o-o-o-w if you’ll be my girl…
My head fills with the image of burly football players—out of uniform, black-shirted (Too Wide Out, they might read) but football players all the same—arms around each other, big (possibly, probably intoxicated) smiles on their faces, swaying their hips and belting it at the top of their lungs, a spectacle I’ll see in just a few hours.

I check my pockets obsessively a couple of times, turn off the light, and Emily and I race all of five feet to the lobby at 3:30 sharp. Mike and Tory, grill masters and organizers of our tailgating extravaganza, come tumbling in, clutching the carpool lists and bags bursting with buns, tomatoes, onions, cups, plates, utensils.

“Where is everyone?”
We start yelling and people start appearing.

“Got your ticket? Got your ticket?”
“Yes!”
“Yeah.”
“Mike, where are you parked?”
“Belk.”
“Damn, I’m in Tomlinson, I’ll go get my car and meet you at Rich…”
“Tickets everyone?”
“Where is Brian? He cannot be late.”
“Jeez, guys, stop freaking out!”
“I said I—oh, crap! Wait a sec.”
“Where’s Calucchia?”
“In here!”
“You ready?”
“Rieti? Where’s Rieti?”
“He’s meeting us at Rich Circle in ten minutes, let’s go to CVS—”
“Jez—hey, JEZ! Where’s Tory right now?”
“He’s on his way to Rich—”
“Patty?”
“Bathroom, hold on!”
Anyone seen Brian?”
“No, but we can’t— we’ve gotta go…”
“Maybe he’ll meet us at Rich.”
“Does everyone have their ticket?”
“YES!”
“—does everyone’s ticket say UNC?”
“Oh man that would suck.”
“Okay, we’re going!”
“Hey! We’re going!”
“Why are we walking this way?”
“It doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter, let’s just go!”
“Oh my god, I AM SO EXCITED!”

Tory’s group traipses down the concrete path toward Tomlinson parking lot, while those of us with Mike run straight to his car that bears his proud Cubs license plate. We pile in, Becca and I clamped snugly in the back, Sam and Patty in the middle row, and Emily up front.

Mike is all business as he revs the engine, turns up the music, and checks his watch. “Okay, CVS, then back here for Rieti.” Our bubbling energy fills the car as we turn onto Main Street of our little adopted town. We’re about to be a part of something that will pinpoint us… after tonight, we’ll either be the over-confident David that gets blown laughably out of the water by the number one basketball team in the nation, or…

The or is what’s making my heart pound.

Slam. Mike pulls smoothly into CVS’s back parking lot and Patty, Sam, and Emily jump out of the car and race in to buy supplies, leaving Becca and me in the back. “Wow, I feel like a chauffeur,” Mike chuckles, glancing at us in the rearview mirror. We laugh back, we’re giddy, this is insane, we bought these tickets two months ago and it’s finally here...

They return hurriedly, clutching red poster board and ribbon for Em and Becca to tie in their hair. As we wait at the longest stop sign ever to pull back onto Concord Road, Mike turns up the speakers and blasts the song we’ve got to sing.

Where it began… I can’t begin to know when… but then I know it’s going strong…

“Roll down the windows,” I call to the front. Our theme song needs to be blasted, our red shirts need to be shown off, destination known, for all to see…

The wind blows breezy and mild in our faces as we wait and wait and wait, the song marking us for who we are— We’re Davidson basketball fans! Do you see our red shirts? Yeah, we’re going down to the game three hours early! I feel like we are sharing something with this town that is bigger than any one of us, yet it belongs to each of us at the same time.

As we curve back around through Sophomore Apartments, Mike’s speaker phone beeps.

“Where the hell are you?” Tory’s Cape Cod accent slaps our ears with impatience.

“We’re coming, Jesus, calm down!”

Rieti is waiting for us as we pull through Rich Circle, but Mike pulls past him in front of Tory’s car, making him run to catch up. “Thanks,” he says, rolling his eyes as Sam scoots over to the middle seat.

Mike revs the engine. “Everybody buckled?”
“Yeah!”
“Wait, wait… okay, yeah.”

And our fearless driver waves to Tory behind him as we take off, barreling around the roundabouts and careening onto the interstate, praying that we’ve beat rush hour by at least thirty minutes. Tory’s smooth little black car zooms behind us, and I can glimpse Tory, Liz, Shields, John Allen, and Calucchia through the glossy tinted windows.

“Tory’s car just looks like a mean car,” Mike says, peeking at his rearview mirror. “It looks like it’s gonna chase you down and cut in front of you.”

We speed into downtown—as the son of a longtime Chicago cop, Mike claims to know exactly how fast he can drive without getting pulled over— through the streets of Charlotte. It always looks bright and beautiful to me, especially compared to useless, uncooperative downtown Atlanta—clean sidewalks, lots of people, and sparkling skyscrapers that still allow room for green trees and an open view of the blue sky. Mike’s following signs and trying to use the directions John Bryant gave him to get to the tailgating parking lot.

The beep of Mike’s phone grates on our ears again.
What, Tor?”
“Hey Mike, you see that big sign that says Bobcats Arena? Maybe we should be heading that way.”
“I dunno, we’re following JB’s directions.”
“Well, maybe they’re wrong.”
“You know what—”
“Yeah, Allen says—”
“Okay, okay, I’ll call JB.”
Beep—beep—beep—
“Hey Mike.”
“Hey JB. Where are you exactly?”

John Bryant’s husky, easy-rolling Alabama voice repeats directions that I don’t need to pay attention to. I look out the window at the fall sunlight hitting the outskirts of the city. I hear the chattering of everyone around me. God, when did I not know these people? I feel like I’ve known them my entire twenty years, but it’s only been a little over a year that we were thrown together in this small little place. Unbelievable.

We finally pull into a parking lot downtown, and spot red shirts scattered throughout the cars. Becca and I are the last ones to climb out, and when I step into the warm air and look around, I realize that we are facing Bobcats Arena; we only have to cross one street to get there. JB and the rest of what must be the Fijis are gathered around a grill in the far corner of the lot, laughing uproariously. It’s quiet except for the soft hum of chatter and downtown traffic, and even that doesn’t sound so bad amidst all of these glittering buildings that darken with the lowering sun. I have my camera out as usual, taking pictures of anyone who will stand still, and some who won’t—I even get all of our boys together for a group shot. Zach, Tory, Mike, John Allen, Shields, Sam, and Rieti…

“Hey, Shieldsy!” Zach yells almost as soon as the picture is taken and they scatter, antsy, “Wanna throw?”

As Mike and Tory carry the food over to the grill, the others toss the football around in the middle of the parking lot, only warned of cars by approaching headlights. More and more people appear, some fellow students, townies and alums wearing red, and whenever we see a car or a person with any hint of baby blue, the boys start booing loudly. A few times, people in red pass us on their way in, and yell, “Go Wildcats!” as we roar back. Trucks with logos and numbers on them start pulling up across the street from us, toward the back of the stadium, and soon big tall poles are rising up in the air…

Television stations.

Whoa.

A couple of rows away, I see Big John grilling up a storm and Zach and I bounce over to say hello to him and meet his wife. It wouldn’t be a Davidson event if John wasn’t here—the man who swipes my card for meals, who knows that I want Fritos with my sandwich for lunch, who chats with me about basketball and asks me about my day—he is as much a part of this community, this team, this anticipation, as we are. “Gonna be a heck of a game!” he says in his soft enthusiastic way. We nod excitedly, the sun keeps going down…

Mike and I decide to roll down his windows and blast more music from the car, and as soon as the remixed “Sweet Caroline” comes on we are surrounded. The bass pumps through the open windows, through our veins, pushing our adrenaline levels as high as they can go. The Fijis finish grilling the hot dogs and sausages, and we all lean on the open trunk and munch on our dinner, quiet and jumpy as the music keeps pounding and the bluebird sky grows darker and darker, April blends into November.

“Hey, you guys want any face paint?” Katie and Ellie, who came with the Fijis, approach us with silver tubes in their hands. Patty and I step forward almost immediately. After standing patiently for a couple of minutes, feeling their cold, paint-clumped fingers on our cheeks, we admire each others’ glistening wildcat paws. Zach, Sam, Rieti, and Mike decide to go with the half and half look—Katie and Ellie start working, spreading red paint all over one half of their faces. Zach holds back his shaggy black hair, staring straight ahead, serious, preparing for battle. Sam, being Sam, just grins, pure and toothy.

While the war paint is being daubed on, we stand in a circle trying to come up with a clever ESPN acronym that would be worthy to write on a poster and hold up for all of the primetime sports crowd to see. E…S…P…N…

Tory strokes his chin, thinking out loud… “Electric… Stephen… Pounds… North Carolina.”

We giggle slightly, but murmur in agreement (can anyone really come up with anything better?), and someone races to the trunk and spreads out one of the pieces of poster board we got from CVS. It is nearly completely dark by now, as everyone takes turns coloring in the words with black sharpie so they’ll be able to be seen.
ELECTRIC
STEPHEN
POUNDS
NORTH CAROLINA

And now a noise reaches our ears, a beautiful noise as the last of the sun sets behind the skyscrapers—cheers, chants, “DAAAAAAV-ID-SON, DAV-ID-SON!” Across the street, we spot crowds of red lining up next to the arena screaming their hearts out.

The buses have arrived.

“LET’S GO, WILDCATS! LET’S GO, WILDCATS!”

We join the line, yelling unceasingly, overtaking Carolina blue, and soon we are inside the arena, warm and jolting with energy, running into red shirted familiar faces at every turn, and we peer into the arena itself, see the huge court where NBA players normally play, and—and—what?!

“Heyyyyy!” We get enveloped into the row as we make our way down, hugging, nodding, yelling to every friendly face we see, and a huge aching grin spreads over my face. This is what I need. This is why I love this. Everyone is chattering and yelling, the pep band plays its opening round of songs that sound so familiar to me and yet so strange in this massive, professional space. Everywhere I look I see people that I see every day, friends and acquaintances that have all driven the half hour for the same reason. I swear, everyone is here! Joe and Nathan and the 08 boys right behind us, Lindsay and Elizabeth and the Little Girls, Aimee, Katie Miller, even Emmaline who graduated last year… Dear redheaded Sarah Mac with a fabulous DAVID(son) vs. GOLIATH sign, Jeff Tolly clad in what appears to be a very Jeff Tollyish red and black ninja suit…? Ahad, Allison, Dalia, Jessica, Abby, Jesse, Andy…

In the midst of the energized greeting and conversation (what we have to do/what we should do/what we should not do/what we could do…) and cameras flashing, a buzzing reaches my ears. I hear familiar guitar chords straining to be heard over the enormous speaker system. It travels through the student section slowly, making people stand up and start yelling like crazy, while the blue sea across from us sits there, complacent in their confusion. They think they’re better than us. Sure.

“Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadies and gentlemen—”

A familiar voice, one I could probably recognize anywhere if he opened his mouth loud enough—

“Here come your WIIIIIIIILDCAAAAAAAATS!”

It’s always amazing to be surrounded by this energy, but tonight when there is such a huge audience, so many people who don’t know who we are, making this much noise so that we drown everything else out, so that they don’t know what to think, maybe they’re even a little scared…

Blaring rap music signals the start of the starters, and we keep jumping, our feet pounding.

“And now, please welcome the starters for your Davidson Wildcats!”

It’s disconcerting to hear our normal announcer in this much larger space, always the same intonation, always the same professional excitement in his voice, but in a way that sounds like he knows us, always rooting for us. He is our announcer and we are his team… somehow...

The speakers blare rap music in the midst of the voice, and we jump up and down like crazy. D-Block rocks and rolls, this whole place is humming energy— waving signs for ESPN, cameras flashing, my feet bouncing up and down to the bass pumping through speakers, I can barely hear myself screaming, can barely hear the announcer as the tide rises in front of me and I feel it rise behind me…

“At guard, a 6’3 sophomore from Char-lotte North Carolina, number thirty, STEPHEN CURRY!”
Our arms are waving, this is it, the beginning, here we go—

“At guard, a 6’6 junior from Mont-real Quebec, number fourteen, MAX PAULHUS-GOSSELIN!”

Max energetically hops, skips, jumps, chest bumps with Steph as we scream. Ha, my mouth is dry from shouts and the game hasn’t even started—great.

“At forward, a 6’8 senior from Cin-cinnati Ohio, number fifteen, THOMAS SANDER!” The announcer always roars his name like he’s some kind of gladiator, it’s just a good one to roll off the tongue, they’re all good in their own way…

“At forward, a 6’8 senior from Par-is France, number five, BOOOOOOOO-RIS MENOOOOOOOOO!”

It’s classical conditioning at its finest when we all raise our arms and tomahawk chop, chanting over and over, “BOOOOOO-RIS, BOOOOOOO-RIS!”

“And at guard, a 6’2 senior from Barr-ington Illinois, number two, JAAAAASON RIIIIIIICHARDS!”

“YEEEEEEEEEAH JRICH!” I shriek, knowing that no matter what else he is to the world, he is the heart of this damn team and now he jogs up to join them as we keep yelling, keep yelling, nothing to do but scream and jump for our boys, our little tiny school, roaring to the high rafters.

There’s just a thrill of something different in the air, something past what I felt in the Union exactly eight months ago, because at that point so much had already happened, so much had already been determined. Tonight, who knows what could happen, anything could happen really—and we know it. And it’s about to start and it’s so scary!

“The Wildcats are coached in his nineteenth season by BOB MCKILLOP!”

And now I’m looking at them from below and above, on the court and on the jumbo screen all at once, brothers clumped together, hands on top of hands, heads bowed like they’re praying, maybe they are, and saying god knows what, what do you say to each other at a moment like this? Do you say anything? Does it scare you, energize you, empower you, to hear us screaming for you and for what you could do tonight?

Bob paces the sidelines, watching them piercingly, like a father pretending not to be anxious when his son gets behind the wheel for the first time—or maybe his first driving test. Or maybe the first time he goes out alone, after he has been practicing, waiting for a long long time. His face is set in his customary line of what looks like anxiety but is really (he knows better) just stoic determination. I think I’ve started to figure out that Bob McKillop is really not that anxious about anything. My memory flashes back to the 900 Room, to Maryland, when his grin appeared as if from nowhere, and his smile lit up the entire East Coast, from Buffalo to Davidson College and we screamed then too...

But that was eight months ago, and tonight it’s the beginning again, the start of something.

Something that could be anything.

Sure, these are all unclear, imprecise words—but as I watch them un-clump, watch the five take their places on the court as my voice screams and my ears ring, I know that nothing can be clear at this moment, the first second of the first important game of a very important season. In a way, it all hangs on this, doesn’t it? What we do with it?

“Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh… oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh!” The spaces between our song chant are filled with sweaty teenagers and not-so-teenagers jumping up and down, grunting, Two—three—four—in the otherwise silent arena, pulsing with expectation and anticipation. Pump up, get ready, here we go!

And it goes and we go with it, not lagging, keeping pace, and within my tense muscles I realize that the big bad team is really not so scary. We could do it. We are good enough to do it. Every time they pound one home and the bluebird tide rises all around us, reminding us that they exist, we somehow answer back—back and forth, we scream, we imagine… Possibility builds energy builds possibility. “LET’S—GO—CATS! LET’S—GO—CATS!”

I feel like a magnet, the way I keep turning around to look at Joe, shaking my head, incredulous as I watch him shake his head back and laugh quietly to himself, bouncing softly on his heels. “Holy shit,” I say to him over and over, every time, can’t stop, but only because I know he gets it. “Look at what we’re doing. Look at this.

Becca, Sam, and I miss the first few minutes of the half because we’re still in line for water, but there’s a tv right above our heads, which reminds me that the entire country is seeing what we’re seeing in person. So when Boris misses a dunk, it looks worse because of all the invisible eyes that just saw it too. “Damn it!”

But we don’t mess up, seven down, no, we come back, five down three down two down, we take over, by one, by two, three—what? What?—and the energy builds, breeds possibility, a dream unspeakable and yet washing over us as the minutes tick down, as the score goes back and forth and back and forth, like the ball can’t quite decide who it likes better… turning around and around, I see faces and sense excitement identical to mine—we could do it… we could…our murmurs grow, a prelude to the explosion that could happen, might actually happen…Sweet Caroline amps it up— Jeff is dancing around, punching the air with his fists, going wild Jeff Tolly style. Ahad stands majestically on his seat, and baseball cap backwards turns around to grin at us, conducting us with flourishes, reaching out… touchin me… touchin YOU!!!!!!! And we jab fingers at the other side, to the blue shirts sitting like stones while we dance (just dance little underdog, dance like there’s no tomorrow, no end to this…), D-Block hoisting a cut out of The Rock in the air... (I don’t know.) The music stops but we keep going, echoing through the caverns, something to prove—

SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!


“Sing it, Suich!” Jon Kass yells as we finally fade out.

Singing fades out, focus returns, and now Steph has free throws to shoot. Before he bends, lets it fly, I see him look up at the crowd with clear eyes, like he’s seeing us for the first time. Us, his classmates, our arms raised in salute, as if our concentration instead of his skill will put the ball through the net. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s this look of amazement on his face that hits me hard in the gut—like he’s just realizing—and it makes me want to yell YOU ARE PART OF US WE ARE PART OF YOU AND WE CAN DO IT WE CAN WE CAN IT’S YOU IT’S US.

“This is not the time for screaming, just pray!” Dalia turns around and shrieks at us, her eyes blazing.

Praying, yes ma’am, praying… praying as it starts to slip, which only makes our roars louder, makes us more determined to fix it. But soon the roars are triumphant, coming from the other side of the arena, the ranked team ahead just enough, the clock running out too fast, and it’s gone.

Four points. Four! And yet we still sing and we still dance, best old college in the east or west, gather our posters and sweaters and water bottles and pad out of the arena, murmuring sleepily, disappointed but—we did something. We did something tonight. And it’s the beginning. Not the end.

As we cross through the lobby, blurred into the crowd with red and blue shirts, a loud voice suddenly echoes through the mumbling:

“DAAAAA-VID-SON, DAVIDSON! DAAAAAAA-VID-SON, DAVIDSON! DAAAAA-VID-SON—”
It takes over because we all know it, because the Carolina fans don’t know what to do, because even though we lost we proved, we proved

“DAAAAAA-VID-SON, DAVIDSON!”

We exchange glances as we scream, grins passing the message, look what we did! No noise except us, I don’t care what the scoreboard says, my heart is full and we just sealed it, this game was ours.

A UNC fan passes us as we walk toward the parking lot, still jumpy with adrenaline. “Well, y’all will beat Duke!” he says matter-of-factly.

My heart quickens. “Thanks!” I say excitedly.

“Uh, that’s an insult to them,” Mike points out.

Oops, forgot. But still—WE CAN BEAT DUKE!!! WE CAN, WE CAN, WE CAN! OH MY GOODNESS!

On the drive home, we blast “Sweet Caroline” and roll down the windows, hoping that everyone on the Charlotte streets can hear us. But as we pull onto the interstate, gazing out the windows, we grow quiet, and Steven Tyler screams it at us in the airtight silence, pounds it deeper and deeper into our heads…

Sing with me, sing for the year, sing for the laughter, sing for the tear,
Sing with me, just for today, maybe tomorrow—the good lord’ll take you away…
Dream on, dream on, dream on, dream until your dream comes true…


Dream on… dream on… dream on…until…

Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world,
She took the midnight train goin anywhere…
Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit,
He took the midnight train goin anywhere…

Our eyes glaze over, cars blaze past us, exhaustion seeping into our bones.

Working hard to get my fill—everybody wants a thrill…
Playin anything to roll the dice just one more time
Some’ll win, some will lose—some are gonna sing the blues,
But the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on…

Don’t stop believing—hold on to that feeling…
And later, deep in the night, red paint scrubbed pink on my cheek, I write:

OH MY LORD. THANK YOU. FOR EVERYTHING, BUT ESPECIALLY NIGHTS LIKE THESE.

(CWA2008.)

2 comments:

amybugg said...

Claire...this is excellent. Makes me wish I had a team to root for...

Caroline said...

My dear, you are a wonderful writer. What a great reminder of how lucky we are to be students at a school with a team as wonderful as ours.

GOOOOO WILDCATS!