Saturday, November 12, 2016

How I Picked My Team

            I hated football when I was little. I hated it less and less over time, but it wasn’t until a few years ago, when my nephew started playing all the sports, that I actually started to like it. For the life of me I couldn’t understand how anyone could just sit and WATCH other people play a game. It was about on par with watching bugs fly around a light bulb. I felt this way about most team sports, but football was the worst because but no one in my immediate family watched it, and it was the one sport that everyone else seemed to be obsessed with. So, inevitably I’d get stuck watching it sometimes, and I’d have no idea what was going on.

            It was especially bad if we went to visit my aunt and uncle when a game was on. My uncle was a huge Ohio State fan. He lived and breathed Ohio State. Ohio State, money, business, and politics: those were, as far as I can tell, the only things in the world he truly loved. God forbid any of us kids stepped in between him and the TV when a game was on. We’d have been better off killing each other or blowing up a small country (as long as the explosion didn’t cause breaking news to interrupt the game). It wasn’t exactly a situation conducive to cultivating a love of the sport, and I was ok with that. I liked to read and write. I got good grades. I did ballet and rode horses. I didn’t need to align myself with bullies and dumb jocks, which is how I perceived most people involved in athletics.

            But as I got a bit older there was constant pressure to pick a team. Michigan or Ohio State. It didn’t matter that I hated football and never watched it. The rivalry is a big deal in Northwest Ohio. Since we’re geographically closer to Ann Arbor, but located within Ohio, people are split pretty evenly, and for some reason having an opinion on the matter is really important to a lot of people, especially when you’re in middle school or junior high and not dealing with many real-life issues. At first I based my decision on colors, mascots, and light-hearted rivalries with friends (I didn’t really understand the point of rivalries, but I was told it was more fun when you had people on both sides, so I went with it). None of it meant anything to me. It was simply a fun way to pass the time with my friends. So even though I picked a team, it never really felt like they were MY team. I had no emotional attachment like the real fans had, and despite the way my uncle treated us, I really didn’t care if Michigan or Ohio State won THE GAME.

            All that started to change (slowly) when I was about 15. I was riding in the car, my mom driving, my baby sister (around two years old at the time) in her car seat. I don’t remember where we were going, but we had to drive through Columbus to get there. When I say “through” Columbus, I don’t mean we went into the actual city. We were just on the expressway passing through. My sister was playing with a little Michigan flag her dad had given her. Other than that little flag, about five inches long, that a two-year-old in a car seat was playing with, there was nothing identifying our car as being affiliated with the University of Michigan, or anything else in the state of Michigan. I learned something that day that I wish I hadn’t.

The gestures, looks, and obscenities Ohio State fans will hurl at a two year old are pretty sickening.
            The thing that was even worse was that it wasn’t just one or two people. It wasn’t just five or six people. It was seemingly every person that saw her. They made obscene gestures, they glared, they yelled things out their windows that should never be yelled at a two year old. They even used a word I hadn’t heard before. If you have ever heard my mom when she’s angry, you know this is an incredibly surprising statement. Even though we didn’t have internet and cable back then, I knew most of the expletives. My first full sentence included the word “damned”. My mom used all the words, and she used them regularly. Except one. Since this post is about football, I’ll just say it rhymes with punt. That’s right. These people yelled that word out the window of a moving vehicle on the expressway at a tiny little girl in a car seat. Because she was playing with a Michigan flag.

            Even after that second-scariest car ride ever (it doesn’t win first-scariest because one time my dad and I got lost and ended up driving through one of the shadiest parts of East L.A. at night), I still wasn’t fully committed to having a team. If people asked who I was for, my answer was still some variation of “I don’t care about football, but Michigan I guess.”

            Later on, in college, I had another experience with sports fans. This time it was in Michigan. When a friend of mine graduated high-school, he went to the University of Michigan, and a group of us went up to visit him and see a hockey game. I didn’t like hockey either, but I did like doing things with my friends so away we went. It was cold (as it often is in Michigan during hockey season), and the only coat I had was red and dark gray. Not exactly Ohio State colors, but pretty close. My friends were worried, and remembering that drive through Columbus, so was I. After all, I was going to be on campus, without the protection of an enclosed vehicle moving at 65mph. What if someone attacked us? Sports fans can get kind of crazy. I thought about not wearing a coat, but it was really cold outside, and hockey arenas aren’t exactly known for being warm. So I wore it and hoped for the best, but I was also on edge and prepared for the worst.

I got the best.

            Not one person was mean to me. No one threatened me. No one called me a cunt. I don’t think I got as much as one dirty look, and everybody had a great time. That was when I changed my answer from “I don’t care about football, but Michigan I guess” to simply “Michigan” or “Go Blue.” However, it was still a few years before I acquired an understanding of the rules and a love of the game.

            Now, it’s definitely possible, maybe even likely that these incidents have caused a bias in my perception of the two teams over the years, but it seems like this is the norm. Sure, there are truly wonderful people who are Ohio State fans. I’m lucky enough to count many of them among my friends and family. There are also Michigan fans who are complete jerks. But my guess is that if anyone were to conduct a study—Ohio State fans would be shown to be statistically more negative, mean, and violent than most other college football fans.

            Would I feel this way if the circumstances had been different? Probably not. Would I be bleeding scarlet and gray right now if my uncle was a kind and loving person, if my sister had dropped her little flag before we got to Columbus, and if my friend had gone to Ohio State instead of Michigan? Maybe.

            But as I see the world now, based on my experiences, the things I’ve read and seen on TV, and the experiences of friends and acquaintances, here’s where I stand.

It’s safe to walk through Ann Arbor wearing scarlet and gray. It’s not safe to walk through Columbus wearing maize and blue.

That’s why I say “Go Blue.”

I want to thank my nephew for playing football and tricking me into loving the sport, and my husband for semi-patiently explaining the game to me, even when I ask the same questions repeatedly. The cats don’t thank either of these people. They hate when I yell at the TV

Monday, October 10, 2016

In Celebration of All Hallow's Read

This post is in honor of All Hallow's Read. If you're not familiar with this brilliant tradition, check out this link The abridged version is this: Award winning author Neil Gaiman came up with the fantastic idea to give people scary books for Halloween. This of course is in addition to candy, not instead of. Instead of candy would be far too scary, even for me, and I'm an 'every day is Halloween' type of girl. 

If I had unlimited funds, I'd buy books for everyone I know but, unfortunately, that's not the case. I do however, have unlimited crazy thoughts inhabiting my brain, so I wrote a scary story to share with everyone instead. My hope is that it's reminiscent of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which as a kid I read until the cover fell off, and then read some more), only a bit more grown up. I hope you enjoy it!

Also, when I started this blog, I promised cute animal pics, since that's why the internet was invented, and we must appease the internet gods. My kitty, with her favorite Halloween ghoul, will make an appearance after the story. Hope you enjoy that as well! 

Campfire Stories
by Veronica Schultz

Millie casually walked up to a group of costumed party-goers standing around a cooler filled with beer. She was dressed as a punk version of Medusa, with an assortment of life-like snakes styled into her black hair, and her face covered in blue-green iridescent scales. Real scales, donated by a friend who saved the skin shed by his pet python. She inhaled the crisp autumn air, intermingled perfectly with smoke from the bonfire. She wondered if someone added something to it. The scent was different from other fires; sweeter, more intoxicating. It triggered a faint memory that she couldn’t quite place. Maybe something from Halloweens past.
Halloween was Millie’s favorite holiday, her time to go all out, even if that meant gluing snakeskin to her face. She was shy and quiet by nature, the kind of girl people forgot about as soon as she was out of sight. But not on Halloween. As long as she was wearing a costume, she was the most confident person in the room. Or in this case, the most confident person in the back yard of an acquaintance she barely knew.
A usually cute guy dressed as a not so cute zombie was the first to see her approach. “Holy shit! Is that you Millie? Damn!”
“In the flesh. Or scales, I guess.” She beamed, which looked just a tiny bit evil with her green lipstick.  “How have you been, David?”
“Oh, you know—dead, eating brains. The usual.”
 Millie laughed and grabbed herself a beer, even though she usually she hated the taste and rarely drank. She wasn’t sure how she knew it would be different tonight, but it was. The beer tasted crisp and clean, like the night air, instead of bitter and gross like it usually did. She looked around at all the costumes, excited for a night of being able to proclaim her love of all things horror without being seen as a freak. She spent the next hour talking to people about costumes, much of the time explaining how she got the scales to look so real.
After a while a tall blonde woman in a sexy devil costume joined the group she was talking to. “Hey friends!” She had obviously had enough to drink that everyone was her friend. “A bunch of people are going to tell scary stories at midnight when the fire dies down a bit. You guys should come. It’s gonna be so much fun.” Alina’s sultry, albeit rather slurred, voice matched her costume perfectly.
For the most part, the night remained lively and quite enjoyable. There was talking and laughing and drinking. There were a small handful of minor, likely alcohol-induced, altercations: the most notable being the Cane brothers duking it out over who got to ask the pretty mermaid for her phone number. No one could tell how or why the fight ended, but neither of them talked to her, or to each other, for the rest of the night. It was a bit strange, but no one thought much about it once the main event was over.
By midnight, there were only a dozen or so people left, and all of them were sitting around the fire, which over the course of the night died down from a raging bonfire to a comfortable sized campfire. Richard, the host of that night’s festivities and a goliath of a man, looked like a real werewolf by the light of the fire and sliver of a moon.
“Thank you all so much for drinking my beer into this late hour of the evening.” Then he howled, a bit louder and more menacing than should have been possible, making everyone jump, then burst into laughter. “It just wouldn’t be a Halloween party without scary stories. Who’s up first?”
Alina volunteered to tell the first story, which turned out to be a not-so-veiled attempt at getting a handsome vampire to ask for her phone number. A few others took their turns as well, with classics involving murderers with hooks for hands, and hitchhikers who were never really there. Nothing terrifying, and most involved laughs instead of screams; although everyone was a bit disturbed when Grace, who typically spent most of her waking hours trying to get people to go to church, or at least pray with her, told a story about demons—in which the demons were the good guys and religion was invented to oppress them. No one spoke for a few moments after that. They just looked into the fire or exchanged inquisitive glances at the person next to them. Grace seemed just as confused as everyone else, and wouldn’t look anyone in the eye. A sudden gentle breeze pushed the smoke so it spiraled around Millie and those closest to her, and the almost-memory that she couldn’t reach earlier came flooding back. It was a story from her childhood, but she couldn’t quite place where she had heard it. She didn’t remember reading it, or seeing it on TV, or anyone telling it to her, but it was there in her mind, as if she’d heard it a million times.
“I’m next,” she said, and the group stared in shocked silence. Millie wasn’t the kind of girl who told stories, wasn’t the kind of girl who spoke out to bring attention to herself. She smiled, knowing what they were thinking. She looked behind her, and into the woods off to her right. She didn’t know what she was looking for, and couldn’t see very far past the fire anyway, but something on a subconscious level forced her to take stock of her surroundings before beginning. 

            “A long time ago an evil man lived in the woods not far from here. A really evil man. Decomposing bodies in the basement evil. Everyone knew he was strange, and pretty rude, but no one had any idea of the atrocities he was committing until after his death. His family found the bodies, some fresh, others skeletal, and everything in between, as they were cleaning out the house. He had never been close to his children, and his ex-wife shed no tears over his demise, but they were shocked and obviously disgusted nonetheless. Needless to say, there was no funeral, but the man’s oldest son still felt obligated to at least take his father’s ashes from the crematorium to the cemetery, since his father had already made the arrangements and payments.
“He felt obligated, but about halfway through the drive he freaked out. I mean, full on panic attack. He couldn’t stop staring at the urn, and nearly swerved off the road. Without even thinking, as if something else were completely in control of his body, he threw the urn out the window and sped away. The cremation technician had a very similar reaction while disposing of the body, and thus the urn wasn’t sealed properly. It was a windy day, and the wind spread the ashes around for miles. Animals that breathed it in instantaneously became violent and savage, attacking anyone or anything that came near them; leaves, cars, people…it didn’t matter. The local authorities blamed it on rabies when they could, and found other excuses when they couldn’t. Eventually, the ashes settled, and rain soaked them into the ground so the animals didn’t breathe it in so often, and things returned to normal—most of the time. But people around here love fires, especially when the weather starts cooling down.”

Millie paused for a moment, staring into the fire. Those around her shifted away just slightly, though they weren’t sure why. Maybe it was the way she looked at the fire, like she could see something they couldn’t, something that made her smile the way vampires smile when they know you have nowhere to run. But the man dressed as a vampire wasn’t smiling, just staring, his heart racing. Millie continued.

“Sometimes huge bonfires, sometimes small campfires like this one, perfect for toasting marshmallows and telling scary stories. The problem is, fires make smoke, and smoke spreads ash. If one of these fires that people love so much were to be built on the ground where the ashes soaked into the earth, or if it were built with wood that had absorbed the ash, or from a tree that grew from the ash soaked earth, the evil would rise again. This time it wouldn’t be confined to the woodland creatures, and it’s different when people breathe it in. The effects take hold a bit slower, almost imperceptible at first. It starts with little things, someone who doesn’t drink suddenly loves beer, or two brothers get into a fight over a girl neither of them even likes that much. Things that no one would notice at first, unless they knew what they were looking for.
“But then it escalates. Maybe a fake howl is filled with not so fake rage, or the most religious person you know suddenly finds themselves questioning God. Or maybe, just maybe, the quiet girl, the one who only speaks when spoken to, decides to make herself the center of attention, telling a scary story, holding everyone’s attention just long enough for the evil to take over completely.”

The End

Tinkerbell and Ghoulie hope you liked the story.