I was still a bit frumpy when I woke on Saturday morning. I couldn’t get over this guy that tried to rent me a bike with flat tires and was a bit frustrated at the difficulty in finding a decent used pair of wheels in a city so large. Sigh.
Outside, Vicky and Nico were sitting in the sun. It was 10am. She was enjoying a cup of coffee and Nico was working on his usual mate with the paper. He liked the paper and surrendered to going out to get it every morning, as I would learn the delivery boy began charging “What ever he wanted..”, thus Nico 86′d it right quick like. I suppose that is yet another example of what Nico likes to call “Argentina’s plethora of pandora’s box..”
I sat with them. I thought about giving in a bit the night before regarding my desire to play footy. I thought about not having cleats..and no shorts..and no proper socks..and no mouth piece (..and getting my 2 front teeth knocked out a couple years prior)..and my achy back (..and back surgery 2 years prior)..and that it was suppose to rain all day..and whining about the fucking bike..i laughed to myself that I sounded like an old man..grumpy old man..
Nico said he thought I should just go and I’d figure it out. Of course I would, I thought to myself..
Before I could solidify my protest, Edu, Nico’s brother, send me a text stating he’d be round in 30 to pick me up. ”Bring a change of clothes so we can party afterward.”, he added.
What was I to do..He was driving 30 minutes out of his way to come get me. I couldn’t say no at this point..I also felt as though Vicky and Nico wanted me out of their hair for a bit as I’d been home most of the time since I’d taken my room. After living, alone, for many years, I would imagine that having a house guest 24/7 can be a lot…especially at first. I consider myself a good guest, but it’s never the same as living alone..left to one’s own devices..
Edu rang me right on schedule and I hurried down to the street with my bookbag containing a change of clothes and a borrowed pair of rugby shorts. The drive was nice and he explained the club, why it was 35 minutes out of town, and why he choose to play for them. All of which, was noteworthy, however that is his story and not mine to tell.
The grounds to Club Champagnat were like nothing I’d ever been a part of before. We entered off the highway from a rather industrial section of town. Edu would explain that the Club used to own quite a bit more land surrounding its current span, however had sold off quite a few parcels to companies who would ultimately build factories surrounding the campus on 3 sides. We parked in a large dirt lot and slowly strolled past the gates and maintenance buildings, which had cars and tractors and what looked like living quarters for at least a few people inside. Beyond these initial structures were a couple pools and lawns..and then a sprawling common area with a cafe and dozens of picnic tables, half under a roof and half not..and a small kitchen..and a couple offices. Beyond this complex I could count at least 5 fields, ready for play. Close by were kids, probably 5-8, playing a sloppy game of pick up rugby on a patch of grass that reminded me of half an outfield of the local park I grew up near.
I was walking lightly on the grass as we passed the kids toward the teenagers and men that were congregating 100 meters away. Edu made a light introduction, “Team, this is AD..AD, this is the team” I went round shaking hands a but the language barrier reminded me of itself again and soon I was kinda standing around..
I needed to find a ball..and I did. It felt good in my hands. I jogged a bit with it tucked under my arm. I smiled as I trotted around a bit, passing the egg into the air and jumping to catch it several times. I kicked it and jumped on the floor to feel the earth on my body. The grass smelled good, as did the dirt and I rolled around a bit.
My body felt like it could play a bit of footy. You see, I have always had the notion in my mind that if I ever question myself when preparing to play, I simply will not. To play rugby requires complete focus and be to half stepping and questioning whether or not my leg feels ok or if my back hurts or whatever during play can be catastrophic. Not only can you easily get hurt if you’re not paying attention, more importantly, you can let down your mates, which is unacceptable in any circle.
I only needed a pair of cleats that fit. Right.
After asking every person above 5’10″ (there about 8 in total) no one would have anything. I would settle on Edu’s 12′s. I would be running around all day on feet that were positioned as if I were trying to hang upside down on a pencil with my toes. That sucked.
The sky was darkening. The guys were clearly talking about the impending weather. And the rain began. And the rain continued. And continued some more.
A couple times I would venture into it to throw the ball to myself and feel the rain. I would jump in the puddles and run around in circles and laugh out loud. I loved it.
There were 8 teams, with the players mixed between the men and a few U17 teams. It was the club’s way of socializing the guys in the off season. 7′s is always a lot of fun in the summer time and today would be no exception. We were team 3 and we would play team 4 in the first match of the day.
I played well. It was a draw.
Game 2 would be an hour later. More rain.
We won, by a landslide. We were starting to come together.
My feet were killing me. I knew I’d lose a couple toenails, no matter what, at this point. I said under my breath once “I don’t really need to play..” And Franco, my scrum half said “But, we need you, AD”..I had too 🙂 I’ve always gotten on pretty well with my scrum halfs over the years. Short, fast little buggers always needed my help in the lineouts and scrums and rucking..if they kept me happy, I’d break my ass to make sure they were safe…and Franco knew what he was doing and a twinkle left his eye when he saw me begin to lace up those fucking mittens on my poor feet again.
Game 3 would be hard, and we sub’d more frequently than before. It was my best game. I tackled hard and even had a try. We won, narrowly, and were going to the finals!!!
Our opponent was lead by one of the organizers of the day’s festivities and had clearly stacked his team to win it all..or so my team mates said.
We won it anyway. We won..really..the boys were cheering and laughing and jumping around. I was trying to but my feet were so beat up it was a joke. Combine those kid shoes with my dog’s having been soaking wet for 5 hours and having played 4 games and you’ve got a desire to sit down. For a while!
While the losers sulked..we grabbed hands, our entire team..and ran and dived face first into a puddle that was about 8″ deep in the middle of that patch of grass those kids were playing in when we first arrived. The water was warm against my face and it was all good.
In the locker rooms, we laughed and high fived and poked fun at the 1st losers (2nd place) of the day. Glory!
In the club house, we had beer and burgers and gatorade and bread and water and smoked cigarettes and the club president gave out awards. The winner’s each got a mug that was etched with the club coat of arms. The young boys were recognized for their spirit and effort. The oldest man of the day was given a round of applause for his fortitude to the organization. I was even given a nod as being the only foreigner to participate in the day’s festivities. True joy was shared amongst the men that occupied that space.
Guys began to leave within the hour. It was 7pm. By 9 there were only 10, or so, of us left. Edu said “Are you ready for some fine Argentine cuts now?”
More steak. They were fine, alright. Melt in your mouth, fine. No veggies, beyond salsa, and little bread.
Pure. Red. Meat.
Beer. Wine. Water.
Small. Warm. Rolls.
I listened to the guys, all of which were relatively close to my age, talk and nag and laugh with each other.
I didn’t get most of what they talked about. In fact, most of what I got for the day was a lot of “odo” and “ada” and “AD”. When you’re playing rugby, its hard enough to catch your breath, so I was correct when I assumed they’d be speaking in spanish on the field and in short order. Out of all my new mates were saying, I got “odo” and “ada” more often than not.
I loved it though..
They’d brought me into a very special place. These were friends of nearly 25 years, and then there I was. American. Bare foot. No Spanish. Yet, they treated me no different. In fact, they didn’t even give me sympathy for my situation, which I preferred. I didn’t want to stick out any more than I already did.
For one of the first times in my life, I just sat there and listened. I didn’t say much of anything for several hours. I couldn’t and it was great. I found the way they spoke to be amazing. It seemed as though each of them would take turns telling stories, spending quite a bit of time telling their piece, before passing the proverbial conch.
I wouldn’t be home until nearly 1am.
I was full. Completely.