On the Bleacher
pia z. ehrhardt
Posted on September 12, 2012
On the last night of the DNC I want to hear the President’s speech but for the next few days I’m watching my sister’s two sons, ten and twelve, in Mandeville, an enclave across Lake Pontchartrain that’s twenty-five miles from my house in New Orleans. My nephews have soccer practice. My husband and son and I lived in this community in the nineties until we fled back to the city. Our son, now twenty-two, played on these same fields. I miss him more lately than usual. Maybe because he’s a senior in Austin and about to be released from sixteen years of school that held him not still but in its grip. What will he do next and how far away is he moving?
Leftover storm bands from Isaac have been ghosting us, but tonight the weather is clear and muggy, cooler, with soft air that’s filled with the familiar, fresh smell of long leaf pine. I grab the top bench on the same rickety bleacher where we parents used to sit and chat each other up for the ninety minutes about what was going right in our lives, the incessant amazingness of our boys. It was exhausting, but I never tired of watching my son, a defender, run down the ball.
My nephews are early and wait their turn. They play on adjacent fields. I’ll give them equal time, buy them Sno-Balls on the way home like I used to do with my son. They’ve made themselves scarce around the convention coverage I keep on in their house, and I’m guessing they’ve been taught to stay out of the fray, or am I talking about myself? They’re in Catholic school. My sister and I dodge around politics and religion, and I figure she wouldn’t appreciate me infecting her kids, but an aunt’s role is to be an inversion of the mom, at least my aunt was, so I’ve fallen short on this visit not making them listen to the speeches, but there will be other chances.
The afternoon sun rim lights clouds and it’s a beautiful sight, a Turner painting. I’ve got a book, my phone and bug spray. The love bugs are in season and they bumble around, connected, distracted, easy to swat away. Giant mosquito hawks hover over the grass, too ungainly to fly higher. I want to call my son at college and tell him I miss him especially right now, but what would he do with that?
Three dads gather low on the bleacher, the one, buffed out, Hulk-big, in a T-shirt and fatigues, the other two, still in their ties. The buff guy launches an opinion, presuming he’s got takers.
“Glad I’m here instead of listening to that mess. I hate what’s happened to my country.”
A tie dad: “Wouldn’t surprise me if there’s another civil war.”
The other tie dad: “Or an assassination.”
The buff dad: “Nah, that would make a martyr out of him. Better to catch him with a dead boy.” (This is a misquoted half of an old joke about our rascally governor, Edwin Edwards, whom the pundits said could only lose to the Republican if he was caught with a dead girl or a live boy).
“Or get him that other way,” a tie dad says.
I take this to mean lynching, not beating Obama at the polls. I want to punch him in the face, use my fists not my words. I don’t know how to suffer tea partiers, how to argue with them, change them, what to think good of them. Their anger is intractable, blind fury jammed into hate, imperial, and it’s striking close. Steady she goes, I think; I stare ahead at practice, not wanting a caught eye to be mistaken for a Romney vote. The buff dad is imposing with a shaved head. He drinks from an oversized water jug with a rubbed away sticker that says USMC. “He’s your commander in chief, motherfucker,” I don’t say. Also: “What if your wife or kid thinks different? How’s that going to go over in your house? Or does your family take their orders from you?” Bullies always make me flail. Inside, I’m road rage without a getaway car.
I consider leaving, but hold my ground. They lower their voices to do what? Say what they really mean? The coach whistles that practice is over, and the dads break up to gather kids and drive home. My young nephew slingshots onto the field, dribbling back and forth with a teammate, warmed up and ready to learn new moves. Their coach is from Trinidad with bowed soccer legs and dreads, and the boys follow his every word: quick to the ball, one touch, pass, pass, stay onside, toe down when you shoot, back of the goal, brilliant!
After forty-five minutes, I gather my stuff. On my other nephew’s field, there are no bleachers and parents stand on the sideline, talking in clusters. The sun has set. The air’s even thicker with love bugs, and mosquitos are finding the spots I didn’t spray so I sit in my car in the A/C and dial up the President on the radio. There have been vivid, unwavering speeches by mothers, veterans, a nun, by the children of immigrants, Michelle. I’m grateful to be in the same room with these people.
Better than a wish, my son calls, and in a rush I tell him about the dads. “Mom, I hear that all the time,” he says, “not in Austin the town, but from Houston and Dallas kids at UT.” He’s interning for a state legislator, a woman, and the day before he sent his dad and me a letter he drafted asking the legislature to fund health clinics for women now that Planned Parenthood has lost its federal funding. “Obama’s gonna win,” my son says. “Those guys see it coming and they’re pissed and I can’t wait.” He’s at the grocery store and wants to know the ingredients that go into chicken cacciatore, the way my Italian grandmother used to make it – olive oil, chicken thighs, garlic, onion, celery, plum tomatoes, fresh rosemary – and before practice is over, he’s texted me thanks and that it turned out almost as good as hers.