Everything depends on this football flying toward you. Everyone’s watching. You go for the catch … will glory slip through your hands?
With your fingertips … caught! … touchdown! The crowd goes …
…. back to its chimichangas.
This is because we are not on a football field or in a park. We are playing catch on the rooftop deck of the Rio Grande. It is only a matter of time before we knock over a margarita and are asked to leave.
For the past six months, I have been bringing a football everywhere I go. Libraries, sub shops, family dinners—everywhere. This is part of my continuing quest to get my exercise the way a dog takes it’s pills—covered in peanut butter so he won’t notice. You can tap your foot under the desk, shun escalators, park at the back of parking lots, and, one day, hope to be surprised by a slimmer you.
Throwing a football in the city as a way to get a little workout is fun, but it isn’t always easy. Especially because, as is usually the case, you won’t have a friend around to be your go-to receiver. You’ll have to seek receivers out, which means tossing a football to strangers you run into on the street.
Wait, what? Isn’t that awfully personal? Aren’t we asking for a lawsuit? Didn’t Sonny Bono teach us that this is a very bad idea?
Maybe. Not so far.
You want to see a stranger smile? On a city street, pump a football near your ear and point your index finger. Once you make eye contact, nine out of 10 guys will instinctively put up his hands and make a little juke move to break free from an imaginary defender. It doesn’t matter if he’s with somebody, if he’s carrying a drink, if he’s pushing a stroller full of infants he has to let roll toward Boulder Creek—no words will pass between you, just the ball, out and back.
I am suddenly beloved by men. Having a football in a city is like what it must feel like to be Jessica Alba. Guys stare; their entire focus shifts to this thing they cannot wait to get their hands on.
That look makes it obvious who wants a catch, even without that pump fake. Usually, it is anyone in a baseball cap or a sports jersey; any homeless person; any valet, parking attendant or bouncer; or anyone intoxicated. Their eyes flash wide, like a Lab who just spotted a tennis ball.
Almost no one … no American … not even in the People’s Republic, will refuse a football toss. Even on busy Pearl Street, the bouncer at the Lazy Dog will not hesitate to hit you on a slant route. The beggar near Old Chicago whose cardboard sign says “Lonely!” will connect with you on a buttonhook. The dirtiest hippie will hit you on a quick out route around the didgeridoo. The only route that was refused to me by a receiver was when I barked to a college kid, “Go down to Broadway, get on the Skip bus, have ‘em open the doors at Spruce Street—I’ll fake it to you.”
The joy these guys—and a few girls—feel when you toss a football their way, I believe, has something to do with the incongruity of a football in a city. Cities are concrete, uniform, they are a place of rules. A football is out of time. It knocks you out of your normal, head-down straight-ahead city rhythm, back to your childhood, street football days: picking teams by rochambeau, four-Mississippi rush, and … CAR! …