Charlie was already wasted. It was nine AM on a fall Sunday morning. It was a home game and so, of course, everyone was at Blair Winslow. It was the third home game of the season, and the fifth game in total. The Bull Sharks stood at 3 and 2, and were tied for first in the conference. Everyone in Chili was pretty excited. It had been a long time since the Bull Sharks were any good–15 years, actually, to be exact, the current extent of the Bull Sharks’ playoff drought–the longest playoff drought ever in AFL history–the second longest was held by the Acorn Settlers, and that drought had lasted only ⅔ as long. The verdict was still out, though, as to whether or not the Bull Sharks were now god. I tried be optimistic, but was more cautious than not.
15 years can seem like a really long time, especially when you have to see it through. The effects of them being terrible had gotten the best of us. Fans could sometimes (and by sometimes, I mean, most of the time) be a bit fanatical, sometimes obsessed. Charlie, for example, was most definitely obsessed. In fact, Charlie was the most obsessed Bull Sharks fan I had ever met. I used to wonder sometimes what Charlie would dream about–it was like wondering what a dog would dream about–I’d just envision Charlie, running down the gridiron in Blair Winslow Stadium, with all the fans cheering, chanting “Charles in Charge, Charles in Charge” and, ending with charlie diving into the endzone, which of course, would be made of green and red jello. Charlie probably dreamt about other things, too, but, that description had to at least be one of them.
“Yo, Tony Danza, go long!”
That guy right there, the one who screamed Tony Danza, that was Gerald. Gerald was just one of the guys who would tailgate with us. There were lots of guys who would tailgate with us. Tony Danza, as Gerald said, was Charlie. The reason being, was that Gerald had basically just refused to ever call Charlie by his fondly known nickname, which was “Charles in Charge.” Everyone else, though, loved to call Charlie “Charles in Charge,” and even Charlie, as well, had loved being called “Charles in Charge,” but Gerald, though, hated just merely to hear “Charles in Charge,” and so, Gerald called Charlie Tony Danza–most of the time. Sometimes he called Charlie “The Garbage Man,” which was homage to The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon, a direct-to-video Disney movie starring none other than Tony Danza. Sometimes, though, Gerald would just call him Tony and keep it simple. I tried once telling Gerald that Tony Danza wasn’t actually the actor in Charles in Charge, and that the actor he was thinking of was Scott Baio, but Gerald, though, just grumbled and kept yelling Tony Danza. Two seasons later, Gerald was still yelling Tony Danza.
Charlie ran into a small group of people after catching that long pass from Gerald. They seemed to be a bit scared of him. It was just a small family, being just one child too many from nuclear by definition. They were seated in a circular fashion behind an Astro Van. Charles was now in the center of them, grumbling and drunk, warming his hands just inches above their fire. None of them said anything. They just sat there and watched him. Looking at each other occasionally. One of the kids was laughing, but the rest had plainly been stunned by the audacity of Charlie.
“Aye, Bull Shark Song on three” screamed Charlie to the father. The father looked at his wife and then back at Charlie. Charlie began to sing the Bull Shark fight song, “Yeahhhh, Yeahhh, Yeahhh, Yeahhhh” screamed Charlie at the top of his lungs for the opening notes. He was bent down, standing only inches away from the father’s face. The father was getting defensive. He looked pretty pissed off. He was about to stand up. Everyone in my group was watching from afar. Everyone was pointing, just laughing. I had knew then that I needed to intervene.
“Hey guys, how you all doing” I said. The father was looking at me, as if asking me, is this yours?, and so I nodded, as if telling him, yes, yes, he is. Charlie was still screaming out lyrics–“Yeahhh, yeahhh, yeahhh, yeahhh”–the only four lyrics that he’d even care to sing. “Hey, Leland, chest bump, chest bump” Charlie said to me. He was swatting down both his hands, and shaking his head, planting his shoes in dusty gravel of the parking long. I shook my head no. I said, “Charlie let’s go back, let’s funnel some beers.” The mother then looked me, as if to say, what the fuck is wrong with you people? So I looked her back, as if to say, many things. Before I knew it, Charlie was running at me full speed–albeit drunkenly, winding zigzag a bit–as I turned my head, I saw him, just a foot away from me. He was leaped into the air, with his chest thrusting forward, crashing into my shoulder. I was shoved back about a foot or two. He had pushed me out of the circle. I laughed. I pulled out a cigarette and lit it with my Zippo. I was a bit drunk myself. We walked back to our group.
The parking lot at Blair Winslow was massive. It was like Disney World maybe bigger I thought to myself, as we walked. “Are we starting Scranton today? Did they say yet?” asked Charlie. “Yeah. I heard on the radio” I said. “Awe, man, fuck Scranton. That bum” said Charlie. “Well, I guess we’ll see” I said. Charlie was shaking his head, “fucking bum” he said, again, “bump on the dog” he then added. “Bump on the log, you mean” I said, correcting him. “Na, man, bump on a dog” he insisted. I nodded.
Everyone applauded Charlie’s return, chanting “Charles in Charge, Charles in Charge, Charles in Charge.”
“Tony Danza,” said one voice, butting in. Charlie was pretending like he was walking down a stairway–like he was Charles. He fell on his ass. Everyone laughed. Some of them even clapped. It was like Charlie’s own touchdown dance I thought to myself. Ruth approached, “Leland, break out the funnel” she said. I nodded. I was like the funnel guy. If charlie was Charles in Charge, which he was, then I was Mr Funnel, just no one ever called me that. Thank god. I retrieved the funnel from my car, and we started to get into it. “Every day I’m funnelin, Every day I’m funnelin” sang Charlie, parodying the lyrics of a popular song that was playing on the radio: Everyday I’m Hustelin.