It was nine AM. Sunday Morning. Charlie Payne was already drunk. He was not residually drunk. Charlie started a bottle of Gentleman Jack two hours ago. Possibly he was buzzed when he awoke. “Veni vidi Vici! Seize the day!” Charlie said. His rationale. Gentleman Jack was Charlie’s signature drink for special occasions. Such was today. The third home game of the season.
Charlie and I owned season tickets, and had for the past three years. Per season this costed us each four hundred dollars. A considerable sum for two young men who were full-time students and who worked part-time menial jobs, but to us this was an investment more than worth its weight in empty wallets. As Charlie’s Gentleman Jack, a bottle of whisky that prices twice the price of regular Jack, and which he’d reserve for special occasions which was every occasion, certain things had seemed to us unquestionably more important than eating three meals a day, paying bills on time, tipping 20% at restaurants, etcetera.
As this was a home game, the site of the occasion was Blair Winslow Stadium. The Bull Sharks were now five games deep in their season, and their record stood at 3 and 2. Which had tied them for first in their conference. In the city of Chili, this made many of us optimistic. Fifteen years had passed since the team was any good. This made for the longest playoff drought in AFL history. The second longest drought, achieved by the Akron Settlers, a rival in the conference, had lasted seven years; many years ago. The Bull Sharks were now the worst franchise in the league. Naturally, the verdict was still out on them, as to whether or not the Bull Sharks had turned a corner. I tried to be optimistic, as many implicitly were, but this was not so easy for me.
Fifteen years will seem like a long time. Especially when seen through from its start. Year after of performances so honestly terrible had gotten the best of us in Chili. A city of modest population, located in the rust belt, and that was once quite large but now less relevant to the nation’s interest. The resilience of its football team through decades that had seen so much industry crumble, caused its fans to sometimes be a bit fanatical, sometimes obsessed. Charlie Payne, for one, was most definitely obsessed. In fact, Charlie Payne was the most obsessed Bull Sharks fan I ever met.
I used to wonder what Charlie’s dreams were. This was like trying to wonder what a dog’s dreams were. I envisioned Charlie on the football field in Blair Winslow. The stadium packed full of fans. As they cheered, and chanted “Charles in Charge, Charles in Charge! Charles in Charge!” Charlie would dive into the end zone and it’s made of green and red jello.
“Tony Danza. Go long!” Gerald said. Charlie ran for his pass. Gerald was a guy we tailgated with. We used to tailgate with a group. Gerald had used to call Charlie, Tony Danza, because he refused to call him by his fondly given nickname, Charles in Charge. Everyone else loved to call Charlie, Charles in Charge. Charlie himself loved equally to be called Charles in Charge. But Gerald hated this, and he was as well not fond of Charlie. There were times when Gerald would call him, The Garbage Man, which was allusion to The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon. A Disney movie that stars Tony Danza. Other times Gerald might have simply said Tony, and kept it simple. I once tried to inform Gerald that Tony Danza was not the actor who played Charles, in Charles in Charge, and that the actor he was thinking of is Scott Baio, but Gerald only grumbled, said Tony Danza and pounded his beer.
In catching Gerald’s pass, Charlie had run into a small group of people. A small family. They were seated in chairs in a circle behind a minivan. Charlie ended up in center of them. I found him warming his hands over their fire, only inches above the open flames. From the distance where I stood, it had seemed they were advising him to do anything otherwise. None of them said anything though after about a minute, while Charlie remained hunched frozen over their pit, apparently oblivious to them. They simply sat and watched. And looked at each other as well. One of the children in the family started to laugh, while the rest were plainly stunned by the audacity of Charlie.
I started my way over to retrieve him, and I was about fifteen yards away when Charlie snapped back from whatever world he was in and spoke: “AYE! … Bull Shark Song on three!” He addressed this to the father. The father looked at his wife, back at Charlie, and Charlie sang the Bull Sharks fight song. “Yeahhhh, Yeahhh, Yeahhh, Yeahhhh.”
His voice was horrific. Drool streamed down his chin. His eyes had rolled to the back of his head. I stood behind the family, and watched unnoticed by them, as they were all transfixed on this incredible mess that was bent knelt down before them, and whom by now had stumbled into inches of the father’s face. Who was now defensive. I could tell by this man’s posture, he was ready to confront Charlie. He stood from his chair.
“How you all doin’,” I said. The father turned around. He indeed was pissed. He looked at me as if to say, take him away from me, to which I nodded, as if to tell the man, that’s why I’m here. Charlie was screaming out lyrics. “Yeahhh, yeahhh, yeahhh, yeahhh.” One, single word. Over and over. His eyes had rolled again to the back of his head. When Charlie noticed my presence, he stopped singing. “Leland, chest bump.”
Charlie stepped outside the circle, and he planted his feet. He slapped the sides of his head. I was not exactly, overcome with excitement. Charlie kicked the gravel like a bull. I glanced over for a moment to our group to see if they were watching. Which they were. I turned back to Charlie. Before I knew it, he had run full speed at me. As I turned my head, I saw him. Leaped in the air, and he crashed into my shoulder. He had shoved me back inside the family’s circle. I laughed at this. Pulled out a cigarette and lit it with my Zippo. I myself was quite a bit drunk at this point. “Charlie let’s go back, let’s funnel some beers,” I said. The mother looked me, as if to say, what the fuck is wrong with you people. I looked her back, as if to tell her, many things.
Arm and arm–yes, at his insistence, Charlie and I walked back to our group.
The parking lot was massive, like Disney World, I thought, as we walked. “Are we starting Scranton today — DId they say yet?” Charlie asked. “I heard on the radio,” I said “we are.” Charlie lit a cigarette with a safety match. “Awe, man, fuck Scranton. That bum,” he said. “I guess we’ll see,” I said. Charlie dissented, “fucking bum,” he said. And “Fucking bump on the dog,” he added. “On the log, you mean” I said, to correct. “Naw man, bump on a dog,” Charlie insisted. I nodded.
Everyone applauded, upon Charlie’s return. They chanted “Charles in Charge! Charles in Charge! Charles in Charge!”
“Tony Danza,” a lone voice butted in.
Charlie played the part. As if he were Charles In Charge, he pretended to walk down a stairway. Lowering his gait in three steps he fell on his ass. Everyone laughed. Some even clapped. Charlie’s stair routine had become as if his own touchdown dance.
“Leland, get the funnel,” Ruth, a member of our group said. I gave her a nod. I was the funnel guy. If charlie was our Charles in Charge, and he was, I was Mr Funnel. Just no one ever called me by that. Thank god. I retrieved the funnel from my car, and we all got into it. “Everyday I’m funnelin’, Everyday I’m funnelin’,” Charlie sang in parody of a song that played on the radio. Everyday I’m Hustlin’.