Thursday, November 10, 2011

Of Pittsburgh And Manic Episodes

This evening, I was reminiscing about my trip to Pittsburgh, Pa. in September 1999  to see the Steelers play the Seahawks. In those days the boys from the ‘Burgh were, in a word, awful. We lost, 29-10. Losing a regular season game was no big deal. Ask anyone except my family, who still suffers post-traumatic stress disorder from my tantrum-throwing days when the Steelers would lose a game, and I’d lose a screwdriver to the backyard by heaving that sucka hard. Watching a favorite sports team lose on TV is frustrating. There was enough spackling putty and fresh paint on one of my walls to verify the point.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I have occasionally prayed for the Steelers to win. I know it isn’t fair to expect God to favor a given sports team over the others, but for me, being at this stadium is the culmination of a twenty year odyssey filled with thoughts of “someday” and “when I can afford it”. Now I’m finally in the hallowed halls of Steelers tradition. For me, this is it. This is it! I’m about to begin my first acid test of being a true sports fan. I’m still as nervous as the game is in doubt.

On the other hand, Gertie, the 70 year old retired steel mill worker sitting right behind me in Row ZZ, seat 57,535 with her cigar-smoking daughter-in-law and her 280 lb son nicknamed “Tiny” seem at ease, discussing Scriptural lessons learned this morning at early mass. They're waiting patiently for the signal to begin cheering for the hometown heroes. I think nothing of this; they’re natives of this part of the country. I’m a guest in their house.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You must put a visit to Pittsburgh via the Fort Pitt Tunnel on your to-do list. Normally, one would be quite taken by the view of the Steel City from The Tunnel; after an indeterminate period of time, first light emerges at the end, and suddenly the city literally EXPLODES into view. “There it is!”, I shout excitedly to our already-nervous bus driver who’s now doing his Mario Andretti best to keep the bus from plunging into the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers. Looking to the left, I see Three Rivers Stadium. Thanks to my alertness and shrill voice, so do my fellow Steelers fans, now fully awake whether they want to be or not.

Anyway, it happens: the signal -in today’s case, the theme for the Chicago Bulls, begins playing, and I join 57,000+ Pittsburghers in a collective manic episode. I’m an old hand at this. In fact, my manic episodes are so good, I’ve perfected the far-eastern art of tantric mania. The cheering begins, especially Gertie's -not all that loud, at first. But it IS building, and really gets loud. “RIP THEIR (quite rude vulgarities) HEADS OFF!”, expresses Pittsburgh’s daintiest in the best warrior’s cry I’ve heard since the boot camp scene in Full Metal Jacket. Am I the only one who heard her? Why am I afraid?

Our collective manic break from reality would have raised the eyebrows of those who penned the Journal of American Psychology. In Pittsburgh, my contribution to the mania merely ensured that I was lost in the crowd of fellow Steelers fans. For a guy who once chased down a car filled with four gang members -on foot- through rush hour traffic because they hurt my feelings, getting lost in a crowd while amidst a manic episode can mean only one thing:

I had finally come home.

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