What better opportunity than to watch the Big Match between our rugby Barbarians and, well, those other guys? Maybe they are right. I haven’t been to even one of the games and the Barbarians had a shot at the championship, quite a difference from last year. We don’t want to talk about last year. I think that’s the official story.
|Victorian Trade Card Tarot|
(c) 2010 Marcia McCord
It takes a lot to manage the field and keep the rugby team going. It’s not just the financial part, which is substantial. I’m the “silent” partner in this although I think the title is just an honorific. I do like to tell people that I’m the quiet one in the family so they get an idea of just how extraverted an extravert can be. This is also a labor of love for my husband. Oh, true, he never played rugby and still hasn’t. He had never seen a rugby game before a few years ago. When Lani asked him if he could help find a place for the Tongans to practice rugby, John couldn’t resist helping. Then Ben came on as head coach. He’s originally from Fiji. Both Lani and Ben fit what I think of as the “typical” rugby persona: big enough to fill a door, laugh loud enough to fill a room and a handy delayed reaction to pain.
That delayed reaction to pain is a good trait. It’s not that rugby is in itself dangerous. But except for the mouth guard to keep your teeth in relatively the same place they started and for some a cap that keeps ears attached to heads (worn by only a few), it’s an elegant, unpadded, fast-moving match typically between two teams of 15 guys who should be able to qualify for the winning team of any cartoon Gothic combat game. It’s a contact sport, perhaps something of an understatement. Sometimes the contact results in arms or collarbones broken. Sometimes there’s a cleating incident. Usually if someone gets hurt, unless there are bones visibly sticking out or a lot, not just a little blood, the game is played around the downed warrior in a gentlemanly fashion. The clock doesn’t stop though. The men address the referee as “sir” and only one player per team is allowed to talk to him. The fans, of course, are free to speak their minds from the sidelines. They do.
Rugby is played in the winter which in California usually means cold mud. They seem to like it that way. One game ended with both teams the same mud-color although they started out with different colored jerseys. In spite of the rain we have in the winter, we have to keep our field watered year-round to make sure there is grass on it when winter rolls around. And there’s a bit of electricity for the lights for the night time practices. And there’s the washing of the shirts, shorts and socks. Usually the uniforms have to be sent through the wash cycle twice to get the ground in stuff, mud, blood, whathaveyou, out. A lot of teams choose dark colors, a practical choice after I’ve seen what it takes to wash after a game. Large commercial washers are best. You don’t really want to put all that in your own washing machine; most of them weren’t built for rugby.
Yesterday’s Big Match seemed like the ideal outing. It was going to be nice, in the 70’s at most, partly cloudy, breezy. I found my sneakers and my Barbarians t-shirt. No question, we were taking the dog. Quincy goes to the field with my husband for every practice, runs up and down the field with the team, collapses in the shade and follows John around like shadow. I know the popular dog among the barbaric nowadays is something more ferocious, but our cocker spaniel is loyal to his “boys.” No question, we were taking the dog.
We drove down to Morgan Hill with our travel cups of tea and forbidden donuts. I had my sugar high and crash and by the time I woke up, we were there. I hadn’t been to Morgan Hill in a long time and remembered that was where I had had my first steak quesadilla, still a favorite.
We paid for our parking at the sports complex, grabbed our stuff and jumped out to find our field. We sat at the picnic tables for a little while waiting for the rest of the team to show up and then started towards field B. A young man stopped me.
“You can’t bring your dog in here unless you carry him. We have a policy. No dogs on the grass. It’s either carry him or leave him in the car.” John and I looked at each other, shifted our loads and he picked the bewildered Quincy up. We got to our pitch, found that there were two metal staircases to a trailer office on the sideline and made sure Quincy’s feet never touched the grass. We were a couple of hours early and the boys started to practice.
I should mention that our boys are not just boys. Oh, sure the team is made up of mostly young men built like fighter robots in a sci-fi movie. But then there are a couple of guys you would not call young. Lani and Ben are on the far side of 40 and one guy reminds me of one of my favorite San Francisco Giants’ catchers named Santiago, a guy who could be knocked down and get back up again and again, a guy who looks like he’s made of barbed wire who is past 50. And then there’s Lovina. She’s Lani’s daughter, in high school, and one of the best athletes I’ve met in a long time. She has an incandescent smile and beautiful long hair. She plays too. She knocks the other team on their uniforms so fast they don’t know what hit them.
Just before the game started, another man associated with the field came up to me. “We have a policy about dogs.” “We know,” I smiled. “We carried him in. He won’t touch the grass. And I understand, sir. We have a field too. We have bags and paper towels to clean up if there’s an accident.”
He puffed up and showed himself to be the bully he had hints of being. “You can’t carry that dog!”
OK, I am only 5’1” and of an undisclosed weight and a certain age. Let’s say I’m older and I have more insurance, OK? But I did have the dubious honor of being the arm wrestling champion of the junior high two years in a row and in spite of my obvious physical decline into the uncertain age thing, I can still lift 100 lbs. pretty easily. Jerk, I thought. I thought other uncharitable thoughts. But being blonde can help and I have been accused of having a firm grasp of the obvious.
“My husband can,” I pointed to John who is over six feet tall and not of a willowy nature. The rude man grunted and I explained that the young man at the gate had said we could bring the dog in if we carried him. We carried him. He wasn’t touching the grass. We were good. Mr. Rude was not happy but went away. Other people and their dogs arrived in various modes of transport.
The match started, the running, the yelling, the ruck, the scrum, the goals by the other team. And another employee of the park came up to me. “We have to ask you to remove your dog.”
John turned the videotaping over to Lovina and carried Quincy out. Since it’s cruel to leave your pet or your child in a car if the weather could kill them and since this was the Big Match and since we had driven two hours to get there, John and Quincy sat two fields and several fences away in the picnic area outside the grass while I videotaped with my camera too. Kenny went down a couple of times hard but got back up again. Lani took a tremendous hit from several of the other team’s players simultaneously. It was a hard game.
At half time, I switched places with John, but not before meeting another woman coming to watch the match carrying her fox terrier. They had apparently let her through. I saw other dogs. It looked like the dogs from our team were the ones sitting in the picnic area. It didn’t seem right somehow. I started to steam. I’d paid thousands of dollars to see this team to this point and even if they were losing, it was the championship. I mentioned the other dogs to the management and asked that in the future they make their policy better known to occasional users, like rugby championships. If I had known there was such a policy, we would have left him at home.
They thanked me for being so nice. Apparently they were grateful I didn’t pull a knife on them. Cocker spaniel owners are known for that in the south bay, perhaps. Or maybe it was the word Vallejo on my shirt. I had a knife in my desk drawer at home. Oh, there are some in the kitchen too. I really had little sharper than my wit to pull on them. And I felt that was a waste of time and wit.
Lovina played. The only injury was a concussion on the other team. We scored a kick at least but lost. When the match was over, we headed for the car. I was warming up to the after-match verbal explosion of the things I would have told the rude man if I too had been rude. But Quincy said it all for me. On the sidewalk in front of the parking lot, well outside the fence and the grass, he sniffed a lamp post base rising out of the concrete walk and relieved himself. Not a drop was on the grass.
“Good dog.” I smiled and walked to the car.