It was finally Thursday. In a week that Dave couldn’t recall the beginning of and believed would never end. Dave got out of his car and assessed his parallel parking job. The sun peeked through the spaces between the buildings as it set and a chill started to settle in. It was the kind of day that wouldn’t be happening for much longer with summer around the corner. Dave walked a little fast even though he wasn’t late. He was actually on time. He was always on time. It was almost a superstition of his to never be late but he didn’t know if it was because he was anxious to get to his destination or anxious to get it over with.
He had always been like this. Asserting certainty wherever he could. If there was one thing Dave was scared of, it was the unknown, the undetermined outcome of events. It was impossible to know if he would get the new job or get a second date, but he planned and arrived on time. If those were the only things he could guarantee, he would make sure they happened.
Dave walked down the jagged sidewalk. The neighborhood was buzzing. There were more people out than usual which made Dave’s routine walk a little more frenzied. It wasn’t rush hour anymore but he learned that it didn’t matter in this city. As he approached the corner, he realized he had taken Broadway without even thinking. Dave usually took Stinson because it was mostly apartment buildings and it had less stoplights. But he also found that his meetings went better if he didn’t passed the bar on Broadway on the way.
A while back, if he had a bad week or maybe even a really good week, he’d take Broadway to see if he made progress. If he could walk by the sports bar without turning his head and looking in, he would walk the remaining 3 blocks with more confidence. He’d feel like maybe he could be like everyone else. It took a few tries. It turns he couldn’t turn off his peripheral vision. The first time he tried, he was thinking about it too much. The only thing his senses recognized were the neon lights reflected in the puddle in front of him, the familiar sound of Joe Buck’s voice being drowned out by the roar of the crowd on TV, and the inflections of conversations happening inside.
After he mastered not acknowledging the bar as he walked by, he started to deliberately look into it and see if he had the strength to keep walking. That one was more difficult. And now he takes Stinson instead of Broadway.
The meetings hadn’t ruled against going to bars but the group leader, Mark, had suggested members not return to places with bad memories or locations where they had an incident. Dave understood Mark’s point, and he agreed to it.
But Dave didn’t even mean to walk by the bar this time. It was by accident.
The sound of muffled cheers and glasses clinking as the door closed made his ears perk up and before he realized what was happening, he was glued to the window like a kid looking at a toy display. He immediately caught the bartender’s eyes and Dave flicked his head up to avoid the discomfort but his heart had already pounded into his throat when he saw the basketball game on TV.
This bar had been his favorite place. He claimed it when he first moved to Los Angeles as a college freshman and it became a sanctuary. When he was inside, he was back home. It was a bar dedicated to Dallas sports. The Cowboys were its main attraction of course, but he knew if he went to the bar, they’d be showing the Rangers and Mavericks too. Rich, navy blue stars were dispersed whichever way Dave looked, countless jerseys from legendary Dallas athletes were framed and littered all over the walls from Emmitt Smith to Pudge Rodriguez. There were even helmets from almost every Texas college lined up on a shelf along the hallway leading to the bathrooms. Dave was in awe the first time he walked in. It was right in his neighborhood and just down the street from the gym he was a member at. That year would be the first time watching games away from his family and friends, away from his city. But this bar fostered the delusional and arrogant Cowboys fans that he was so fond of back home. This would be his place.
Dave’s eyes were locked on the basketball game as he stood outside and started to think about what happened the last time he was here. He hadn’t thought about it for a while and still hadn’t talked about it thoroughly in his meetings.
“I just didn’t think it would end like this, ya know?” Dave yelled at his friend Joe through the side of his mouth, his head tilted up at the TV. Joe hadn’t been responding for 20 minutes now. Dave was letting his thoughts uncontrollably slip from his mind and he suddenly wasn’t talking to Joe or to anyone. By this time, he was several beers deep and didn’t plan on stopping soon. He was rambling and muttering to himself just like every other nervous fan hoping for a rallying comeback. The small space was packed with a sea of blue and red jerseys and caps. Everyone was standing, beer in their hands looking up at the TVs that surrounded them.
“We got ’em right where we want ‘em!”
“This is where we’re comfortable. We only know how to be underdogs!”
The Rangers had made the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Dave watched every playoff game at the bar, each time a little more despondent as the series slipped away.
Three hours later the city of Dallas collectively wept when the Rangers lost the World Series for the first time in franchise history. And Dave joined them hundreds of miles away.
Dave and Joe were two of the last people left in the bar. They met at one of Dave’s first trips to the bar and discovered they were both from Dallas. Having Joe meant that Dave had someone to make the highs sweeter and the lows less steep. Now that he thinks about it, if it weren’t for what happened at the end of the night, those couple hours he spent talking to Joe about crushing defeat and his inability to give up the addiction that fed his psyche was like his first productive meeting.
“I jus don’t understand. Josh Hamilton is our MVP. How does he just disappear like that?” Dave slurred. He could feel himself sinking deeper into the alcohol he had been drinking for hours. Joe nodded his head and took another sip of his beer.
“They’re not a baseball town you whiny bastard! Don’t worry, the Cowboys season will feel worse than this!” Someone wearing a Dodgers cap yelled from across the bar. A raucous round of laughter and pounding of fists on the table ensued. That was the difficult thing about this place. People knew they could come and antagonize Dallas fans when they inevitably lost.
“Ya know, I really thought they could win it. I know we weren’t the better team. But it just felt right,” Dave said, ignoring the laughs that thundered behind him. This was the lowest it had been for him. It was difficult for him to explain the agony in watching something he loved so deeply, something he could never separate from his identity, lose on the biggest stage in front of millions of people.
Dave had since come to realize that there were indexes of losing and he experienced one of the worst ones. The Texas Rangers have a long history of failure and disappointment. In their 50 year history in the league, more than half of them are losing seasons. Before the season began, on their way to the first trip in franchise history to the World Series, their manager admitted to cocaine use and the team owners declared for bankruptcy. Two weeks before this, Dave watched them win their first playoff series ever. With history on the verge of remaining in its vicious cycle, the Rangers somehow pulled off a miraculous Cinderella sports story. They raised Dave’s hopes in spectacular fashion and made him believe. He wished he could go back to simpler times when he wondered if the team’s manager may or may not go to prison.
He had never experienced the euphoria of watching them win anything meaningful. But he wondered if he’d rather have spent the rest of his life never experiencing defeat at this level even if it was at the expense of the thrilling journey to get there. Mediocrity might not be satisfying, but nothing stings more than defeat, he thought.
Joe was fidgeting in his seat, his head on a swivel constantly checking back on the group behind them. The guy who was heckling them all night stood and walked to the bar with an almost empty beer glass in hand. He downed the rest of the drink and positioned himself between Joe and Dave.
“Hey guys, listen. I’m sorry about that. We’re all having fun,” he said with a smile on his face. “Here, let me tell a joke. This is a good one I promise,” he said. The guy was older than Dave, maybe thirty but the thinning of his hair gives reason to doubt. He looked bigger standing up.
Joe and Dave shot a look at each other, confirming they were on the same page. Dave wasn’t sure what page it was, but he knew it was usually his responsibility to do the talking.
“We just wanna finish our drinks and get going. We heard you all night, I think we’re good,” Dave said without even looking at him. The guy had chased out almost every other person in the bar, presumably all Rangers fans who felt they’d suffered enough and didn’t need to be taunted about it. It was almost as if this guy wasn’t going to be satisfied until he got rid of every last one, and Dave and Joe were the last men standing.
“Why doesn’t anyone answer their phone when a Texas Rangers player calls them?” he said, ignoring them. He looked pleased with himself before delivering the punch line. “Because they don’t have a ring!” He said and burst into laughter, both hands extending onto the shoulders of Dave and Joe.
Dave let the man laugh, hoping he would feel smug enough to leave and said “Good one. Alright take care man.”
“No, no wait! I have one more. Josh Hamilton and Ron Washington are on a road trip. Who’s the driver? A cop! Those sons o’ bitches are going to jail f-”
Joe interrupted him before he could finish, standing up and pushing the guy’s hand off his shoulder.
The guy pretended to looked shocked but this was the reaction he hoped for. “Don’t tell me you guys actually thought the Rangers would win? Aww. That is just getting sadder.”
Dave doesn’t remember who put hands on who first, but he does remember getting tied up with the guy before he could laugh at his own joke. They looked like two sleepy bears trying to dance together on their hind legs. Stools were screeching, insults were flying, and people started to run towards them to break it up. Dave was burning with anger. I wish I had stayed home he thought to himself.
The two men were pulled off each other. Dave’s ears were ringing and couldn’t make out what the guy and his group of friends were yelling at him. As the guy turned away laughing with his group, Dave yelled, “I can’t believe what a little shit you are. Actually I can. You’re a Dodger fan! You’re either one of those that rolls up to games in your Benz 3 innings late or you beat the shit out of fans rooting for the other team because the Dodgers sure as hell aren’t gonna beat anyone, right?”
Dave knew what he had just done and he knew what was going to happen because of it, and prepared himself. The only thing that mattered to Dave was that he won, and got the last word. The guy walked over and in one punch, Dave was on the floor.
Dave had not been inside the bar since. His family talked about him getting some help. It was the worst episode he’d had, but it wasn’t the first. It usually never devolved into drunk fighting but he would get impassioned and animated. It was his drug. He took a step back after the fight and the meetings helped. Dave tried to embrace blissful ignorance but it was like he couldn’t escape.
Back outside the bar, he could feel the vibration from his heart pounding against his ribcage. The Dallas Mavericks were on the verge of sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals. The bar was swarmed with Mavs fans high-fiving and screaming. Dave felt like there were weights attached to his shoes as he turned to keep walking.
He had distanced himself from sports after the World Series loss to make things easier. LA sports teams dominated the air waves which meant Dave could avoid talk about Dallas teams, too. As he sped up on the sidewalk, almost at a run now because of the adrenaline, Dave couldn’t help but feel regret for not savoring the run that the Mavericks had been on. He hoped he wasn’t too late.
Dave finally arrived at the gym 8 minutes before the meeting was to start. It wasn’t busy on the weekdays but he could hear a basketball bouncing in the distance and metal clinking as he turned down a hallway away from the courts and weight room. He approached the door with a piece of paper taped to it and the words “Sport Group” written across it in black sharpie.
Dave swung the door open and as always, saw Mark sitting with his laptop in his lap. The room was spacious and it looked even bigger because of the mirror covering the entire wall behind Mark. Its day job was a room for exercise classes but now in the center were 9 or 10 chairs arranged in a circle. Off in the corner was a table with a plastic platter of stale cookies and a large, orange Gatorade water dispenser with a stack of cups next to it. The light above the table was flickering and the reflection of its blinks in the mirror were going to make this meeting even more uncomfortable.
“Hey Dave. How’s it going?” Mark said looking up from his laptop.
Dave walked to the table and picked a cup from the top of the stack. As he dispensed the water into his cup he looked over his shoulder and said, “Good. Weather’s heating up. Nothing like summer in LA.” Mark’s eyes followed Dave across the room and watched as if he were waiting for a child to realize that there was a piece of candy in front of them.
“So um, how’s it been? Everything okay?” Mark asked again. Dave took a sip as he walked over to the chairs.
“Yeah. I just said everything was good. Why?” Dave knew what Mark was referring to but was hoping Mark would leave it alone.
“Nothing, nothing. Just checking.”
People started to fill and Dave’s heart began to race. He was in Los Angeles. He knew someone was going to bring it up.
Dave slumped down in one of the chairs arranged in a circle and waited for the meeting to begin. The usual’s rolled in and Dave nodded as they sat down. There were a few new faces that he didn’t recognize. He felt like a trainer on New Year’s Day watching fresh meat flood in to the gym.
After a few minutes when everyone nibbled on the corner of dry cookies before throwing them away and sitting down, Mark cleared his throat. “Alright everyone welcome to Sport Group. I’m excited to see that we have some new people in for the meeting tonight. In light of what’s happened today, it comes as no surprise. I just want to remind everyone that this is a safe space to talk about shared experiences and of course our love for something that may have hurt us. And as I always say, let’s not compete to decide who the biggest loser is. Does anyone want to start us off?”
The room was silent. Everyone’s heads shifted across the circle, legs tapping up and down, no one daring to make eye contact. Dave sat with his arms crossed staring at the light flickering on and off in the corner. It felt as if hours had passed before someone a couple seats to his left stirred and said, “I just can’t believe of all teams the Mavs ruined our chance at a threepeat and to finally put this Kobe and LeBron debate to bed!”
Dave smiled, still watching the light flicker. One month later, he watched the Dallas Mavericks win the NBA Championship. Four months after that, he watched he Texas Rangers lose their second World Series in a row.