by Barry Grass
Because your integrity is at stake. Because you pride yourself on knowing what you know, on knowing what they don’t. It’s not a compulsion so much as it is an obligation; you have a duty to inform. You stare at thick pages jammed into a three-ring binder, you squint at the arcane glyphs inkjetted onto them. Symbolic language. Practical meaning.
You post on an internet message board about your favorite football team. Your significant other draws parallels between the sport you talk about and your posting behavior. How twin forces are in opposition to each other, how there is a contest with intangible benefit. Your significant other is calling you to bed, but you have a mission. An anonymous person, whom you know only as “The Freak 90,” whom you can picture in your mind only as that poster’s avatar — a photo of the sinewy wingspan of Jevon Kearse — has called you “a ****ing idiot” (the message board’s language filter turning offensive letters into recognizable symbols).
You cannot abide this. The Freak’s claim has no merit. You know that you are right about this, that you are right about how to defend against a spread offense, that you are always right about these things. Doesn’t The Freak know your reputation around here? The night brings chill, your bed is warm. But your blood is hot. Your fingers trace the triangles on the pages in front of you. You found this playbook somewhere online, had it printed onto cardstock at Kinko’s. The sheen of industrial ink splays out in patterns that few can make sense of. You think about when townships had only one Bible. You think about medieval scholars, about documents only they could read, about trust. You think about gatekeepers, about being a gatekeeper. You have a mental image of yourself with a monocle. Your Dr. Pepper tastes better. Tastes like confidence. You type and you think about symbols and you type.
Solve for ‘X.’ Four of them. You think of symbols in terms of other symbols. Three Xs split wide left, arranged in a gradient, like cell phone reception bars. The Xs, you explain, will be sent on crossing patterns. The fourth X marks false treasure; it will be going deep, it will want to confuse your Free Safety. The Xs will try and confuse your team. They must be covered, you tell The Freak. But covering the Xs will not stop the other team. A defense must do more than negotiate Xs. Look at those ovals. Four eggs, four eggshells to crack. They are called Guards. They are called Tackles. Theirs is the language of combat, of desperation. They have something to protect, too. What is a sword without a shield? You convey meaning through metaphor. You convey metaphor through simile. Look at that square in between the ovals. The Center. Like a watchtower. Look at the splits, the gaps between square and oval and oval and oval. You know what this means. Your defense has power up front, has mountains and the strength of an avalanche. The other team’s offense spreads your energy out. Takes you horizontal. East-to-west. You have work in the morning.
You are in Microsoft Paint. You are drawing lines on a bitmap. You have run out of Dr. Pepper and you are dragging the electronic pencil across the play design, demonstrating defensive strategy. Demonstrating what the circles in the backfield are going to do. You switch to the spraypaint tool. You switch the color to Carolina blue. You shade in with rough circles where your CBs must apply zone coverage. You shade your LBs towards the flats. You do not type out explanations of “zone coverage” or “flats.” You don’t have to relate native language to native tongues. This is the difference between English and Old English, between counting money and theoretical economics. You upload your picture to PhotoBucket. You click “submit” on the message board. You have figured out the spread offense and they will all know it and The Freak 90 can be silenced and you can pass out for an hour and forty-five minutes right in your thick leather chair.
Your cat knocks your empty glass — favorite football team logo screenprinted on the side — onto your thigh. You yawn. You check the message board. People have sent you three personal messages. You are their hero. You have given them knowledge. You are feeling charitable, and you click into the thread where you gave your defense. They are misreading you, some of them. They do not understand you, some of them. Some of them have drawn their own pictures. Some of them say that two of the ovals are going to pull, that the innermost X is going to block. Some of them say that you didn’t read the play. The Freak 90 says this, says that you are blind, that you are illiterate. You spend your morning as you spent last night: speaking through symbols and metaphoric language about language and shapes and meaning. Of course you have the best understanding. Why wouldn’t you? You shouldn’t have to defend yourself.
Your significant other casually makes a thud as your breakfast plate is set down. Your significant other doesn’t say anything to you. The toast is burnt and broken, the butter spread unevenly — lazily in some places, aggressively in others. You don’t notice. You don’t notice what some symbols mean.
Barry Grass is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at The University of Alabama. His work has been published in The Kansas City Star and the journal Medium Weight Forks. He was delighted to discover that Tuscaloosa, Alabama has a similar number of barbecue-restaurants-per-capita as his native Kansas City, Missouri.