Superbowl Reflections: What I learned from a Cheerleader
Superbowl Sunday.The day of florescent cheese dips and smoky pigs parts. The day of cursing at irregularly shaped men sprinting in taut clothing. The day of “where have they been?” stars reappearing on expensive commercials, vying for our share of mind. They day of jersey camaraderie, hive fives, and booty dances.
For me it was a different day. For me, it was ‘the day after’ a heartfelt goodbye. It was the day of dueling feelings, fencing to the death. It was the day of overripe rain bursting on the gray pavement. It was the day I longed to dodge pigskin parties and swim in puddles down the sidewalk gutter. It was the day I had no idea what I was doing with my life. It was the day of self-indulgent melancholia.
I left the super bowl party right as the shiny coats appeared on stage to sing their half time melodies. Seattle was winning but I felt defeated. My mind, infused with regrets, concocted time altering, clock undoing, fantasies…including reversing my multiple bites of 7 layer dip. After an aimless walk, I went into a no name bar in the outer mission.
Split oak, a set of antlers, and five wobbly stools made up the interior. Behind the bar was a woman with breasts so ample I wanted to lay my head on them and sleep. Her face was leathery as if she had once won multiple bets on the “who can stay in the tanning bed the longest” game.
“Makers,” I ordered. ”Neat.”
Her garnet ringed hand poured me a generous helping. Five coats of mascara blinked through bleached blond bangs.
“Why aren’t you superbowlin’ ?“ she asked. Her blue eyes sparked and I wondered if she had been beautiful before UVB rays got the better of her.
“Lost interest after an hour. Contemplating my life decisions. Found the game trite.” My own importance swelled.
“Guess I can understand,” she said. “I used to be real into the NFL. Even cheerleaded in Chicago. But now that scene gives me the chills. Left that path a long time ago.”
“You were a cheerleader? A real one?” My own importance shrank like deflated rubber.
“NFL real, sweetheart. Well, real except for the boobs. The 80’s were an interesting time for cheerleadin’. Silicon breasts and gymnastics entered the game ’round the same time. Jumping sky high with stationary boobs was quite a revolutionary concept. I was an early adopter.”
“How does a past NFL cheerleader end up serving whiskey?”
“How much time you got?”
“How much whiskey you got?”
“I was only in it for a season. Life happened fast. Everything you set out to do in your 20s changes shape and sprints away so quickly you can’t catch up. I thought I’d start as a pom pom girl, get famous, marry a player, get discovered by Hollywood, and win an academy award while having five children with my football husband.”
“Did you marry a football player?”
“Nope. Just had a few flings, which ended up costing me my job. Not that it was much of a job. Back then I was paid about 20 bucks a game. Had to stay in tip-top shape to earn a poverty line salary. But for me, a girl from white trash Detroit, cheerin’ was a fast path to glamour.”
“Were you in love with the football players?”
“Love? In hindsight I’d say lust. Starlust. Even though they were kinda full of themselves it was sure a high to be with ‘em. Inter-dating between the players and cheerleaders was heavily discouraged though. ‘Look don’t touch’ was the policy. The poorly followed policy. I fell for one, a linebacker, and had my heart crumpled.
Best men I ever met in the game were the water boys. They were so kind and eager and had this hungry puppy look in their eyes. One, a boy named Charles, was super sweet to me. I was going through my sad breakup and he offered a shoulder to cry on. Of course, the shoulder ended up getting me naked.“
The bartender laughed. “I was a looker back then you know. Remember my ‘early adopter’ breasts? Can’t blame the boy. But later I found out I was pregnant. What a crisis. I was 22 and lost. What to do? Fork in my road. First of many forks.”
“What did you do?”
“Well somehow someone found out, gossip spread and I was let go from the team. I had to find a new job and a new life and I had to decide if a baby from a waterboy was going to be part of it. I’ll never know if I made the right choice. But I did the best I could at the time which was to find the cleanest abortion clinic and a one way ticket to New York. One thought carried me through—at each fork in the road you do the best you can.”
My regrets stopped swimming in my own brain. Had I done the best I could? I leaned in to listen.
“Why New York?”
“All my cheerleadin’ traveling earned me friends everywhere. One had a bar that needed busty girls in Brooklyn. Thought I could leave all my dead baby thoughts after I left the midwest…but, of course they followed, haunting me. I changed jobs 18 times in four places—Chicago, New York, Las Vegas, and then here to San Fran. Probably did about everything one could do. Speakeasies, hotdog stands, sex store cash registers, dice inspecting, bourbon pouring, two failed marriages. Every job, every man, every city, a new fork in the road. And after a long jerky path, here I am. 51 years old, two ex-husbands, no kids, and a sorry lookin’ dachshund named Charlie. But I can still do the splits and got a great rack to boot. No point in feelin’ sorry for myself, right?”
“What about all those forks in your life?” I asked.
“Well, a fork in the road is hard, but it sure as hell is better than a knife. At least every decision was mine.”
“What if you think you picked the wrong fork?”
“Trust me-both my husbands were the wrong fork….but once you make a decision, you can’t look back. You gotta just keep walkin’ for a bit and see what happens. Another fork will appear. Maybe it’s the same fork, maybe it’s a different fork, but it will appear. You’ll have more clarity that time around.”
I sipped my whiskey in thought, my melancholia affliction gone.
Superbowl Sunday. The day of human connection. The day wisdom scored more touchdowns than sadness. They day I learned to appreciate forks. The day I grew respect for the voice of cheerleaders.
Apologies are pointless, regrets come too late. What matters is you can move and you can grow.