ANYWHERE, USA –
Dust spirals behind the car, then rolls into a ditch just before a right turn onto a two-lane blacktop toward one of those towns where a sign put up by local churches welcomes you and no telling if they really do and it likely doesn’t matter as we roll on toward that place in town where floodlights are visible from far fields.
This night of all nights is different. It’s Friday night in America and laid out before us on a rectangular 100-yard field in town after town is the same high school football game, a Venn diagram of entire populations, where similarities trump differences, a homemade, cacophonous homecoming complete with beautiful queens and moms wearing mums like simple corsages at senior prom when they were thinner and dads watching their boys on the field and wishing beer was available at the band booster food stand.
Kickoff follows kickoff and dust and detritus-imbued pink-orange clouds to the west above the American flag fade to gray, then to black, and then for a brief moment Neil Young is singing something about a harvest moon because there it is and it all begins to make sense, this hometown-inspired nonsense that for a little while narrows the focus to something tangible and available because, despite its faults, it’s who we are, who we were and who we want to be.
On this night we don’t know from Aleppo killings and Syrian heat and misery and it’s OK, we’ll catch it on the news later. The presidential campaign is not discussed with the person next to you on warm aluminum bleachers because, well, just because. Someone might mention surprise at the choice of a homecoming king or royal escort or whatever he’s called these days.
A band marches onto the field at halftime and oh my gosh Prof. Harold Hill should be here because a rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is funereally dirge-like and no one is smiling, except perhaps the elementary and middle-school kids on the fringes laughing because it’s what one does at that age and my I miss it. In a few years they’ll forget that they were idiots drunk on just being children. Mortgages will come soon enough. The local team is down by a thousand points and it’s hard not to worry, let alone be happy.
The American-ness of the whole thing is breathtaking if one pays attention; just ask Willy Loman’s wife who knew a bit about such notions, about paying attention to things often overlooked as inconsequential, mundane, someone else’s happiness. This is important and don’t forget it.
Poems and love stories spring from this stuff, these nights, perhaps from a sweet-breathed, blonde clarinet player in the band who adores a halfback on the bench, or from a middle-school knucklehead punching his buddies, unable to sort out his feelings about anything at all.
The aroma of Autumn drifts across the field by the end of the third quarter, all pumpkin-spiced, apple-fresh and short-days decay, and sweaters are pulled a little tighter on the shoulders and for a brief time a whole bunch of folks are on the same side, cheering, hoping, wishing it would never end because one day it will.
And if this doesn’t interest you then stay home, feel superior, but my friend you’re missing out, you’re really missing out.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County, Iowa.