Total pandemonium, total chaos. We are jumping up and down, high-fiving in that
way where our hands actually wrap together so that, really, we’re just holding hands— men and men and men and women and women and women—and the extended
hand holding is turning into hugs and even multi-person-combo-hugs and our feet are doing little unseen River Dances of Joy or else they’re doing Tigger hops. We’re screaming, screaming indiscernible elongated vowels right into each other’s faces, faces flush with booze and triumph, everything a red, white and blue blur. And then, from somewhere— from me, actually, I think, though it doesn’t matter—comes the low simian chant, which takes hold. But it’s not the three letters—U, S, and A—that matter, but the sounds: those resonant repeating outbreaths, breathing as one, fists pounding the bar or the air, air that’s heavy with evaporated beer and pheromonal perspiration and chanted breath. People are literally wearing tribal war paint and they’re wearing star-spangled flags as bandanas or as scarves or as capes and they’re wearing tri-colored uniforms, too, and it’s important, here, to remember—to remember that “uni” means “one” and that “form” means “body.”
We scored. “We” being the U.S. soccer team and thus—through the magic of collective delusion—also me and the several friends I’m with and everyone else here at Argus, the (by-the-way-great) drinking establishment on 2nd Street, which is packed to fire-code- stretching capacity. We scored. We scored and we are beating Portugal and its evil pretty boy, Ronaldo (properly pronounced with a rolling R and a disdainfully elongated “a”).
When Chico State soccer star Chris Wondolowski is subbed in toward the end of the game there’s another round of jubilation and cheers and, unbeknownst to me at the time, tears.
But then, with like two milliseconds left in stoppage time, stupid Ronaldo and his fluttering fancy-feet executes a perfect pass over to some other stupid Portuguese player’s stupid feet, and he scores.
It’s as if the entire bar just collectively loses Who Wants to Be A Millionaire at the exact same time. Maybe worse.
You can pretty much see the joyous hormonal cocktail everyone’s been high on drain right out of them. We’re stumbling around, mumbling feebly. We’re dumbfounded, slack- jawed, bloodless. We’re still breathing as one, but now it’s a collective gasp.
Out on the back patio, Robby Busick is using his t-shirt to wipe tears from his eyes. Robby played with Wondolowski from 2001 until 2004 at Chico State and served as co- captain with him. The shirt has a picture of Wondolowski on it and reads “One Nation/ One Team/One Wondo,” and is of Robby’s design. Thirty-odd members of Wondo’s family are wearing the shirt in Brazil as we speak, Robby tells me.
Though there is stinging disappointment about that last goal in Robby’s tears, they’re about much more than that.
“It’s just…it’s every kid’s dream to play in the World Cup. And to see him out there…” Robby slumps back against the wall and buries his face in his hands.
Robby is co-owner of the excellent Italian food truck, Truck-a-Roni, which is pulled into Argus’ back patio, hooking-up some amazing bacony mac-and-cheese and meatball subs. “I got married. Stayed in Chico… But he… A lot of people who went through what he went through would have given up… It’s a true testament to what hard work can do.”
Yes, we’re talking about grown men chasing around a little ball. Yes, the instinct that leads us to chant is the same one that leads us to war. Yes, sports fandom is a form of tribalism; arbitrary, conformist and sometimes even cruel. But as a friend of mine recently pointed out: we just are tribal. Humans, that is. We just are.
And yes, Trail of Tears, Slavery, Abu Ghraib, Vietnam. Yes. And yes, we’re five percent of the world’s population but use 28 percent of the non-renewable resources and create 40 percent of the waste and have 25 percent of the prisoners and 100 percent of the Kardashians and Black Friday stampede deaths. Yes, yes, I know. So chanting “USA” seems complicated, to say the least. But, in this case, we’re lovable underdogs!!! In this case it’s totally cool!
Question: What word should we use to describe the man who weeps with joy for a friend’s success? What word for the crowd that suffers and succeeds together, that clasps hands, that embraces? What verb—for such things are not, in the end, stable—to describe when hearts and lungs and fists truly (as in physically) beat as one; synchronized, like birds, like fish, and we are bound together and yet boundless?