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Following World Football

My buddy Joey is living in Paris right now, lucky fuck, and I’m in L.A., but that doesn’t stop us from ordering up tickets for the 2006 World Cup to take place in Germany. It’ll be our 4th World Cup.
1) 1994 Los Angeles, USA
2) 1998 Paris, France
3) 2002 South Korea/Japan
4) 2006 Deutschland
Christ, that’s a pretty exhaustive list, and in between was all the other world trekking. All in the past 8 years.
I’m 36 years old and I’m fucking tired, or, at least I was until now. Summer 2005. Getting the itch. Trying to come up with a last minute ticket to Europe.

Something for $500 would be great (but something closer, it turned out, was $1,000). I’ve already reserved my favorite hostel in Paris (24 hr reception, no lock outs, bar in its belly), and no I’m not telling you which one it is because that’s my fucking place, and I’m ready to go at a day’s notice.
In the meantime there’s Germany to worry about. A global lottery took place this past spring and for some goddamn reason 80% of the tickets ended up in German hands.
191 countries applied, nearly 8 million fans, and goddamn Fritz has a ticket in 1 out of every 4 households. Hmm, something ain’t right about that. Lottery my ass!
Our only chance now is to wait until December and hope our U.S. Soccer Federation gets its 4,000 or so allotment of tickets. Then, it’s every man for himself.
But at least it’s in Europe this time. Thank-fucking-Christ. At least they speak fucking English.
Most signs around town are in English, or, some German actually reads close to English, and I’ve already been through Berlin, Munich, Potsdam, Hanover, Dresden, so, there will already be a familiarity factor to lean on. The sound of the language, culture, foods, prejudices, and hot spots are all on the mainframe and ready to be called up.
Note to Self: Find the goddamn Kit Kat Club in Berlin.
Going into South Korea for that last Cup, though a hell of an adventure with enough booze, women, and merriment to have gladly taken 2 years off my life, experiencing the land and culture was like being on another fucking planet.
My God, the holy hell I would raise at the train stations because of the various answers I’d get from the over abundance of useless clerks standing not inches apart from each other.
Or wanting to go postal on a cabbie because he couldn’t read the map we showed him written in Korean. Good God!

But Deutschland, with its notorious history, with its continued clashes of past and present, sometimes on the same fucking street, especially in “Mitte” Berlin, or “Center”, where they have a McDonald’s up one road and a bombed out yet to be rebuilt church from the war down the other.
It should be another romp across the boundaries of reason; for licking the flames of madness awaits those foolhardy to partake in the journey the way it was meant to.
Sitting here, checking out the FIFA website (a sketchy bunch of jackals if there ever was), I remember standing between trains in South Korea, maybe 1am, jungle hot, steam bath muggy, on our way back from God knows where, could’ve been a match in a neighboring town, and we were looking forward to the rooms.
Joey and I had latched onto pipes sticking out from the walls in this little walk-thru that connects cars. The bathroom is here too and the floor is uneven and shaking violently as we Klick-Klack over the crappy tracks of a poorly maintained rail system.
Every so often the train jolts and it feels like the links are going to explode and disconnect us.
There are many more men cramped into this space, the only room left on the last train of the night.
Men from Korea, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, England, the U.S., and a few others sleeping it off that I can’t place.
It’s silent except for the klackety-klack. The heat is stifling, but, after 17 days in-country, we’re almost, but not quite, used to it.
Shirts open, bloated bellies exposed, we’re unshaven, sunburned, drenched in sweat, reeking of the horrid local booze and cigarettes, our bodies are near complete mental and physical collapse and suddenly two young men slam open the sliding door to our section and careen through, tripping over bodies beaten down by the trek and one of the boys runs into the toilet while the other continues and hops into the next car. Two seconds later a porter tears open the door, flashlight in one hand, a can of mace in the other and he yells something in Korean at me and I shrug my shoulders as if to say, sorry, pal, I didn’t see anybody and he pushes on.

The toilet opens and of course it’s a Brit, about 20, and he’s giggling and he asks, “Is he gone?”
“For now,” I say.
And he steps over the boys on the floor of this mid-carriage, opens the door he came in through and scampers in retreat.
“Bastards,” a man says, laughing, “Always the same with the lads.”
He’s huge, had his back to us and only now turns. Late 40s. Beet-red from too much sun. Thinning blonde hair. White T-shirt. Blue shirt open over that, sleeves rolled up. Beige cargo shorts. Nike trainers. 6’4”. 270 pounds. All muscle and beer gut at the same time. Looks like he can handle himself if the need really arose. And probably has. He’s English.
“You boys from the States then?” he asks Joey and me.
“Los Angeles,” I say.
“Think I was there once.”
“’Think’?” Joey says.
“Too much time on the road. But, no regrets. I go for the football. No trips to the States then. Mostly there for holiday. But the way your team’s been playing…been talking to the lads back home; you’re getting a lot of respect all over. Talk of the tournament so far.”
Up to that point Team USA had kicked Portugal’s ass 3-2 (three first half goals thank you very fucking much against the then 3rd ranked team in the world), then we went on to play to a tough 1-1 draw against South Korea in a stadium with 65,000 drunken SKs screaming bloody murder.
It was a glorious time to be an American on the road, well before Herr Bush fucked things up for us and the rest of the world by invading, conquering, and dividing a people, a race, a religion, and a culture.
“It’s the conditioning,” Joey said. “We’ve got a hell of a manager in Bruce Arena. He got our boys ready.”
The train then jerked suddenly and we had to shift our balance and grab the walls to avoid being thrown across the men at our feet.
The heat also seemed to have been turned up. No, not the heat, it was the fucking humidity. That’s always the killer. Christ!
“Been to South America too,” the Englishman continued. “Now that’s a place where they take their football seriously. A little rough and tumble though, especially if you’re the only white man in the stadium, but, you know, if they know you’re a supporter, they’ll leave you alone, or they won’t. Depends.”
“Goddamn, man, you’ve been in the shit,” I said and nodded my head in respect.
“A bit, yeah.”
Again the train shuddered. We grabbed for the walls. Men turned over in their sleep.
My eyelids began to close. Too much booze and not enough sleep. Never enough sleep on these treks. Too much running around, it’s always the same. I do so much damage to myself, but God help me I love it so much! I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Though waking up screaming at times does put people off. Wicked drink. Dancing on the streets with teenage girls, banging local whores, these people never saw an American before standing his ground while sucking back on their infamous Soju wine at 5am. Some other American joker staggered by and yelled, “My God, man, you’re sick! How can you drink that shit?”

And then chasing taxis at 8am, falling into them, coming to at 5pm and looking over at Joey at on the floor, watching his chest, to see if it rises, to see if he’s still alive, and then waiting and waiting and waiting, Joey not actually breathing, then, thankfully, finally, seeing him take a breath and I pass out again and then I find out later that Joey pulled the same death-watch on me.
So late now, so hot. Klackity-Klackity-Klackity! All I want is somewhere to lie down. Joey is sleeping standing up, leaning against the toilet door. The Brit is curled into a ball on the floor. No daypack. No water bottle. No hat. Just what he has on, like he stepped out for the morning paper on his front porch. Is that me in ten years? Will I get that far?
How long had we been on the road? And what’s the weather like in Germany come June next year? It can’t be this bad. Nothing can be this bad. This gruesome. The punishment does not fit our crimes.
But whatever it is we’ll be there in about 300 days. You know that. We’ll pull into Germany on a handcart, fall off the back of a truck hauling manure, or dragging the body of the dead mule that got us half way there.
As our train rolls into the station we shuffle off like zombies, moaning, swaying side to side, the Brit tipped his hat and quickly disappeared, the boys that were chased earlier walk off silently, nobody in any mood to interact, survival the most basic instinct prevailing the air; get back to the room, get back to the room; Lord, get back to the motherfucking room…

More by this man at 1)

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