World Cup fever has reached rheumatic proportions: at noon last Saturday, I found myself not at the beach, working on my tan; nor at Anthropologie, casing the sale racks, but waiting outside the Press Room, Santa Barbara’s pretty-much official World Cup headquarters, along with a handful of other sweaty suckers, hoping for a dose of luck that might allow us entry. The U.S.-Italy match had just begun, and the little bar was packed to capacity — this according to Charles Kirkby, who occupies the unenviable post of World Cup door guy, often rising at 6 a.m. to manage the crowd. And so I leaned against the bar’s exterior, in the heat of midday, angling for a peek at one of the TVs, wishing I had it in me to be just a little bit pushier.
My personal relationship with soccer is somewhat conflicted. I’ve always been small, but size didn’t matter much to my coach, who’d steal me away every halftime, walk me down the field, and instruct me to knock somebody down. I’d suck on my orange wedge, nodding vigorously, only to rediscover my manners as soon as the time came to pull the trigger. Later, I refereed younger kids’ matches; being yelled at by crazed parents as their 7- and 8-year-olds charged mindlessly up and down the field helped me sympathize with the whistle-blowers of the world. All of these memories remain largely dormant, except during World Cup season.
That Saturday, waiting outside in the sweltering heat, I thought of my coach, wondering if I should attempt to elbow my way in, but knew I’d never do it. So I waited, figuring halftime would be my window, and, sure enough, when the masses began filing out for the break, I made my way inside. Whatever the temperature had been outside, inside it was easily 20 degrees warmer. Kelly Dunne and his posse — the Press Room’s self-proclaimed Board of Directors — led me to the owner, “Raff,” who posed with his World Cup replica before sending me on my way. I wandered around, hurriedly grabbing shots of the multinational peeps before the second half began, as I felt pretty sure if I dared asked some of these fútbol fanatics to smile for the camera during the action, I’d likely get tossed out on my peeping patootie. “Born in the U.S.A.” blared from the jukebox repeatedly, and, when a cold Stella appeared in my hand, I settled in for the second half.
The crowd piled back inside just in time to catch a questionable call, and then the chanting began. “The ref’s a wanker,” they sang, quickly segueing into, “I’m blind, I’m deaf, I wannabe a ref!” For the fleeting moment when it looked as though the U.S. had broken the tie with another goal, the crowd — save for the two Italy fans in the house — roared, only to offer a collective wail at the replay. And so it went: cheers, jeers, toasts, and more toasts, but, alas, nary a goal; the game ended in a tie. I wandered back out as “Born in the U.S.A.” began again, said my goodbyes, and headed home, craving an orange wedge.
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