Ra-Ra, USC V. UCLA (50-0)
Editor's Note: "Ra-Ra, USC V. UCLA (50-0)" is part of Michael Juliani's poetic series, "From Young Rooms."
Whenever I’m anywhere that seems about to be set fire by human beings—which isn’t often enough—I feel a mirage of the tribal spirit in the urban animus, my heart, a hope that darkness will flame. The campus had the orange light that dances on people’s heads on fervent nights. You don’t need to like people to want to be near them that way.
The word I like best about the game is “cleansing.” Drunk and unfocused as I was I could enjoy the fibers that our comeback had sewn into the general loosened happiness of the university community, who for two or three years up till now’s been sort of holding its breath. It was the kind of spiritual weather of rock & roll, the kind that would make a hardworking man let his daughter have a shotgun wedding with the kid who pumps gas and has a lot of potential. “Aw go ahead, take my keys.” In short, it gave me hope! A delirious cracked-open-world hope. What a joy it is to watch a bunch of black guys from Carson and Fresno and a couple Orange County Bible-believing white-toothed jocks have a carnival under our energy.
I almost kissed the empty Jack Daniel’s fifth some gentleman stuffed into the cashed-out side bin of those little placemats you set down on the Coliseum toilet seats that are scratched up by keys in zigzags and arcane urban aboriginal lingo. It was there at eye level. The rim of the backless porcelain seat had the dregs of red puke. Security almost kept me from going back to my section. They close in on the wanderers right before the game starts. Food tents on each side with their clowns and con men stirring vats of caramel and rice. “My friends are there, I’ve got a wristband, come on.”
My friend Dean grew a dark face by the end of the first quarter. He studies Comm and Cinema in Cardinal & Gold but keeps his thoughts with that limp baby blue. He’s a lifer, a true fan. Knows more about Bruin shit than you know about your parents. The Bruins were like zoo animals born and bred in captivity with their best feet caught in steel traps. Dean’s girl threw her thin hands around his neck and brushed his white cheek with acrylic fingernails, a soothing gesture that brought a reluctant baby smile. All we could hear were the bands, shouted clever insults, and that booming electronic voice from somewhere above: “Barkley at quarterback…”
Suffice to say we left at halftime. Dean found an old friend who’d just gotten out of South L.A. jail earlier in the week (another UCLA fan). He told me the hidden pride and fear of his story in front of the television, which still wasn’t showing them any favors about the game. I’d retell it here but that’s against my soft spots. If I ever spend a night in South L.A. jail at a deadening end I don’t want anyone stealing my story. He wanted out for Thanksgiving. There’s a “1.5-percent chance” he’ll do San Quentin time. He was mostly pissed he drowned $50 on a shit seat for that bad a whipping.
I love that older dude who plays saxophone (fight songs, other tunes) outside the Coliseum. I had no idea he got there so early and played throughout. Campus looked like the bottom of a dead ocean—primordial wreckage. It was like pirates had been there. Garbage trucks and modest Hispanic families combed through everything on the ground. “By morning all this shit will be gone, huh,” Dean said, coming out of his angry blankness. “Like new,” I said. His girl was silent, holding his hand and leaning on him for warmth, his bare arms in a gray t-shirt. We scuffled along like young people do in tennis shoes. A Raider-nation type thug had gotten himself handcuffed to a parking meter in front of the ambulance by a parking lot. His eyes were complete glass and rolling around like gimmicks. His brother tried to reason with the cop who was speaking complete street right back to him.
We were back in front of a television in time for more goal-line stops and passing yards. It seemed neither early nor late out. It had been night forever. A boy and a girl were fighting on the tiles outside our room. She was wearing boots and black tights with white socks that formed a lip above the boot. I named her “Bootsy Collins.” They’d run away from each other and the guy would stop at our door out of breath—“Have you seen a girl…(pant)…wearing boots…” “Bootsy? Yeah, man. She just went down to the garage. Better hurry.” I met about three more people who’d gotten arrested and given the police fake names. Someone gave me a funny nickname I don’t want to repeat.
In his post-game interview Lane Kiffin had all the physical excitement of a Botox patient—“I’m really happy for these kids.” Barkley hugged a bunch of girls and had that Christian beam of his wielding the Trojan sword on that unsafe ladder in front of the band. The field on television looked covered with warm wintry people in scarves and J.Crew coats. Neuheisel and his team left the field like they’d been spit on by much more deliberate men. I love Marqise Lee, that lean speed—Robert Woods’ TD celebration like he’s spooning cereal into his mouth (whatever it is, it means something to me).
I felt this searing orange paradise growing between my muscles and I nearly welled up with all the comparisons to better times. College football in the 21st Century is like the story of a demented nation. Only in America. The creeds of the country, the popular ones, seem to seep into everything. The teams are all families perversely confused and desirous under a secretly criminal government (the NCAA, the “1%” if I’ve ever seen it). I think that those of us who feel this team as an extension of self crawl with the creepiness of that authoritative Paul Dee-psycho-hypocrite thumb. I feel the romance of being the dark horse. We’ve been dark as it gets, as hated as racists.
We’ve been taking a sad sympathetic anger in watching Reggie play on Sunday like the kid who got recess taken away for everybody. His empty Heisman case in Heritage Hall. His name spoken as if he were the dead drunk brother. The world has all this pathos for the Penn State team who drew the grossest straw while the worst we dealt with was cars and money at (I hope) a myopic level (if…allegedly). Tyrants, police states, jails—they create new codes of humanity. Crime and punishment is a psychological debacle. It’ll turn people into pigs and gods.
Art and athletics applied to life from their structured, contained arenas transcend the normal form and human content of life. Time’s dispelled. They’re love, religion, the untouchables. Greek theater.
I’m dehydrated listening to the Rolling Stones, fantasizing. I’ve got a bunch of caffeine and water. Trees here are now brown, red-brown, fake looking, beautiful. Everything within America relates. This fractured fat wealthy drunken debilitated homeless empire. Life means putting up a good clean fight.
So now, on the cover of the Sports pages and on at the top of the hour, we’d really like to have Matt Barkley back. But he’s temporary as Achilles. Soon everyone will hate us again. Jail's still a metaphor away. Football's a sport the way Christianity's just a religion.
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