Even the squirrels were still tucked in bed last week when I backed out of my driveway in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I headed west in the early morning drizzle along Route 276, towards Ohio, instead of north for Massachusetts. The journey to throw darts at the Witch City shoot would have been half the ten-hour haul to the Buckeye Open but, well, they don't have Skyline chili dogs or White Castle cheeseburgers in Sturbridge.
Besides, my parents live in Columbus. And so does my daughter, Jami.
Darts. Hot dogs. Burgers. Family. Except for one small detail, my decision to head west instead of north was right on the money.
The detail? Well, that would be my father. His name is Saul Seigel. He's amazing. He used to judge beauty contests. He has a friend in Seattle or somewhere who is an exotic dancer. In 1974 he won something called the Ohio State Alumni Distinguished Service Award. What this means, I think, is that someone at the Alumni Association wants my father's little black book. I'm hopin' he wills it to me.
"Darts! What are you, nuts? Tomorrow's the game. I've got great tickets."
"DAD, how many times do I have to tell you, I don't CARE about Ohio State football!? They're nothing but a bunch of fat boys. Besides, the team's sucked ever since Woody Hayes got fired."
"We can get our pictures taken with the cheerleading squad."
"Yep. I make donations."
We left for the game at six o'clock the next morning.
And then, for damn near twelve hours, as the likes of Wade Wilcox and Darin Young and Tom Stewart and Charlie Forrester and Mary Jo Chesney and Deb Lewis and hundreds of the other folks (who I saw only briefly at the Luck of the Draw the night before) toed the line down at the Radisson, I found myself immersed in a ritual that only the most avid of Ohio State football fans can appreciate.
My father's version of the ritual begins approximately seven hours before kickoff, with a doughnut. Just one. Always glazed and always purchased from the same small doughnut shop in Worthington, the town where he lives north of Columbus. My father's been hittin' this joint for years. My guess is that the lady who owns it used to be an exotic dancer.
But there is a twist to this first step, and it's important: we are forbidden to actually eat the doughnuts. At least straight away. We are required by the unwritten (until now) rules of the ritual to carry them around in little bags like girlie-boys until we find a place to park. Since we left for the game so early we were able to beat many of the other 104,000 fans to the best parking spots. We got a really good space in an alley behind a convenience store in Dayton.
We trudge to a place called the Fawcett Center for Tomorrow, where my father used to work. We find a small table and settle in with the sports page from the Columbus Dispatch. We begin to formally eat our doughnuts.
"See that lady over there?" my father asks.
"For Christ's sake, Dad, there are thousands of people in here."
"That one there, with the white hat."
"She was Homecoming Queen in 1938."
"Really? She's got a sweet little walker."
We walk across campus to the parking lot of a Holiday Inn, the site of what is called Hiney Gate. We push our way through the burgeoning crowd to a makeshift stage where we listen to a group of aging musicians, called the Danger Brothers, play songs like "Louie, Louie" and "Surfin' USA." I have to admit, I kind of like this stop. The girls wiggling around to the music are much younger then the ones at the Fawcett Center. Perhaps this is why the thing is called Hiney Gate?
We walk some more, this time through the hordes of vans and busses that comprise the tailgate party along the east side of the stadium. Most fly the scarlet and gray Ohio State colors and blast game music like "Hang on Sloopy," which apparently has something to do with football. The good thing about this step in the ritual is that literally every single one of the thousands of party vehicles has FREE beer.
We stop at the Grossman Industries tailgate party. Here some 40-something millionaire with curly hair (who used to have the hots for my sister, Rita) offers us a couple of hot dogs. But then a MAJOR problem arises.
He has no mustard. My father HAS to have mustard on his hot dog. So, being the man of action that he is, my father yanks out his cell phone and punches in a number. Marvin Grossman, the retired founder of Grossman Industries, answers the call on his yacht somewhere off the coast of Florida. "Hello?"
"Marv. It's Saul. We've got a situation. I'm at the game here. Your son just gave me a hot dog. Marv, there's no mustard. What are we gonna do?"
A hard-nosed businessman who raised a fine son who should have known that a hot dog without mustard simply ain't fit for eatin', Marv is apparently astounded. He takes swift action. His advice to my father: "Shove the damn hot dog up your ass."
We wander through the tailgate parties for a couple of hours. I meet some guy they call the Neutron Man. His real name is Orlis, which I suppose explains why he prefers to be called the Neutron Man. In real life Orlis owns a successful restaurant called the End Zone in Newark.
But nobody knows any of this. Ohio State football fans know this Butterbean shaped wild man only as the fanatic who waves his arms and dances in the nose bleed section during half time. I suspect he could throw some pretty mean darts.
En route to our next formal stop, at St. John's Arena, we chat briefly with my father's friend, Norman Burns, to arrange to have our photos taken during the game. Norman's a dentist. Norman has to take snapshots of drunken football fans to make ends meet. I feel guilty for using Crest.
The purpose of the visit to St. John's Arena, which is where the basketball team plays, is to listen to something called TBDBITL. In Ohio State football fan lingo this translates to: "the best damn band in the land." However, if you are at all good with anagrams and play around with the letters for just a few minutes (and add a few and delete a few) you will find that they can be arranged to more accurately capture this experience: "watching a bunch of dweebs play horns."
Finally, just about an hour before game time, we arrive at a grassy knoll by the side of the stadium. Shots ring out! NO! Wait. Not really.
Here a crowd is gathered, comprised almost exclusively of males with foaming faces. After trekking miles back and forth and around in circles from doughnut to hot dog to beer, from Hiney Gate to tailgate, from Neutron Man to TBDBITL, I have finally made it. In front of me, somersaulting around in little red skirts and little red underwear, is the Ohio State Cheerleading Team!
I am introduced to someone named Judy Bunting who is the Director of Cheerleading which, believe it or not, is actually a real job. It appears to me to be a very good real job. She quickly arranges to have the promised photograph taken.
"So Dad, can we get out of here now? We can beat the crowd and I can still make it to the tournament in time for the 501."
You have to know my father. He's a calm sort of guy. Steady. Decisive. His response is the same one he's given me for over forty years, each time I have posed what he considered to be a stupid question.
He doesn't say a word.
What he does is begin to walk. Through the crowd, across the grass and parking lot to the stadium. Up to our gate. Then, he begins to walk around the stadium. PAST our gate. Around again. Past the gate again. And around again. It's a weird thing. I decide it's probably best not to mention that I have my darts in my pocket.
The next to final step in the ritual, commonly referred to as "the game," begins exactly seven hours after we buy our doughnuts. We make it to our really great seats on the ten yard line just as one of the smallest fat boys is kicking off the ball. Word in the stands is that Ohio State's quarterback, a not quite so fat boy named Steve Bellisari, will not be playing because he was busted the night before for DUI. The rumor turns out to be correct. Just before half time Norman the dentist snaps our photograph. Orlis does his dance. Little more than an hour later Ohio State goes down to defeat.
"Dad, I told you they sucked."
The final, and most challenging component of the ritual, is called: "getting home while we listen to the endless recap of the game on the radio." Even though my father lives just ten miles from the stadium, this takes approximately two hours.
Now, I'm just a simple darts person. I lead a pretty uncomplicated life. But even I know that there's a direct relationship, proven by mathematicians centuries ago, between a few beers and the need for a toilet. Many times I have had to disappear between handfuls during league or at a tournament to use the facilities. The physical demands of the sport of darts are so often underestimated.
However, the need to take a leak during a darts match pales in comparison to the need, and the corresponding complications, to take a leak while stuck in traffic for two hours, after drinking beer for ten hours. This is the most demanding physical challenge known to man.
This is also something that my father just doesn't understand!
I'm SORRY, Dad! I COULDN'T help it! You COULD have let me OUT OF THE CAR!
Surviving the final step of the ritual without the aid of something like, say, a Biggie-sized drink cup from Wendy's, was simply not within my physical capabilities. I may be able to take out the double on occasion. I may be able to perfectly peel the sticker off of a cold bottle of Budweiser. I might know a good set of hooters when I see 'em. But when it comes to takin' a piss I'm a weak, weak man. I gotta do it when I gotta do it. And there wasn't a paper cup to be found anywhere in my father's car. That's NOT my fault!
So I did it.
In my way of looking at it, what I did wasn't entirely a bad thing - not that my father agrees. It was a good thing. Seriously, doing what I did, in the middle of a massive after-game traffic jam, proved - with absolute certainly - that there is a design flaw in the ash try of the 2000 Chrysler 300M. They leak, baby! They leak bad. Chrysler should get this fixed.
And that's not all that I'm absolutely certain about. I'm flat-out positive that the next time the Buckeye Open rolls around my father will ENCOURAGE me to attend the tournament.
From the Field,