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#75 Saving the World and All That
I've been watching soccer games at a pub. It's on 4th St and is named The Pub. Named as if the proprietor consciously chose not to mythologize it. Most local spots in America want to be remembered. They sit around a table and come up with similar-sounding names, with a dash of local flavor and a sprinkle of familiarity - Backlot, Lonesome Rose, Barflys, etc. They hang up local art and hold objects that tie them to a place and time. Not The Pub. I remember reading somewhere that there is a Chinese company that manufactures components for Irish Pubs and ships them to America. Everything at The Pub probably comes from there. No one has bothered to fiddle with the factory settings either. The premier league games happen at 9 in the morning on weekends, yet The Pub has not bothered to buy a few coffee mugs. They serve me coffee in a long-stem glass with a handle, the ones used to serve Irish coffee I suppose. The coffee is terrible, so they always offer me whiskey to add to it. I'm always perturbed when they ask. They are always surprised I don't say yes.
The Pub is not loyal to any sport. As the Premier League match winds down, you can catch grown adults wearing t-shirts that loudly proclaim the name of a college walking in. Some of them have pictures of college athletes on their shirts. I find that rather disturbing - the picture of a 19-year-old college kid you don't know on your shirt. In any other context, I imagine that is a crime.
I go to The Pub to watch Manchester United, an English soccer team that was once the best in the world but fell on hard times around the time I graduated college. I have followed them for 20 years. In the 2007 docu fantasia movie My Winnipeg, Guy Maddin laments the teardown of the Winnipeg Arena, where the Winnipeg Jets, an ice hockey team, played until 1996. As footage of the dilapidated arena being torn down rolls across, the narrator says, "Everything that is male about me. I owe it to this place". That is how I feel about Manchester United. I have listened to former Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson more than I have to my father. My mother would sign that statement. He's a grumpy man with an anger problem. That probably felt familiar. The Scottish accent added the necessary distance.
The local chapter of the Manchester United fan club gathers at The Pub on match days. I had never talked to any of the others until that fateful day. United played the best team in the world in what was sure to be a drubbing. The Pub was busier than usual. The loud Englishman who complained all throughout the games was quiet. That probably had something to do with his wife being there than the game itself. My regular cup of coffee in a long stem glass was delayed. There was an unusually large number of Indian men in United shirts scattered around The Pub - a sign that my interests and how I arrived at them were not so unique after all.
The scoreline was a respectable 0-1 at half-time. Not embarrassing. While I stood at the bar waiting to refill my long-stem glass, a man approached me and said, "Hey I saw you last week. I'm Michael." He said something about the game and followed it up with, "So, what do you do for work?". When someone asks me that question, I assume it falls in the same category as asking about the weather - conversation fillers until you find something slightly more remarkable to talk about. I told him I work for a tech start-up and begrudgingly awaited follow-up questions. But I soon realized that Michael wanted the conversation to get to him, to talk about what he was doing, even though I never asked him.
"I'm a venture capitalist," he said
"oh, that’s interesting"
"Yeah, you can follow the main guy, the CEO, on Instagram. He has a lot of cars."
A pause in the conversation ensued as Michael noticed that this tidbit failed to pique my interest.
"I don't do it for money. I do it for altruistic reasons you know, saving the world and all that," he told me.
I wondered if my lack of enthusiasm about how many cars his boss owned somehow came off as a disinterest in making money. "Saving the world and all that:. I contemplated that line, and I told him I had to go to the bathroom.
"Saving the world and all that," I thought while I stood at the urinal. The Pub has TVs in there too. One TV in front of each urinal. Once upon a time, this is the type of thing that relatives visiting India from the US would tell you to underscore how prosperous America is. They have a TV at every urinal. A voice to my right interrupted my stream. "Sorry, I don't mean to look. I just want to see what they are saying about that penalty," it said. I spoke to the voice about the game. Every time I have to make a comment about a world-class athlete, I am embarrassed and ashamed. So, I was glad to be talking to a voice at the urinal, away from everyone else. Once the formalities (peeing) were done, I saw that the voice belonged to one of the regulars I had seen around for several months. We introduced ourselves after washing our hands. He asked me where I was from in that tone that implied, "What type of brown person are you?" I obliged even though I was sure to regret it. Once they have this information, the "where are you from" people usually want you to explain something to them. Blake, that was his name, wanted to know how different the different Indian languages were. I told him I don't know. He thought I was serious, so he said, "That complex, huh?" and moved on to the next question, "What do you do for work?". I told him I work for a tech start-up and then posed a question to him before he could ask more about my job. But Blake was smart. He came back to it. He asked in a sly voice, "So, do you mind telling me what kind of start-up you work for." As I was about to answer, Blake interrupted me, "I only ask because I.." he paused and lowered his voice in a way that indicated he wanted to let me in on a secret, "..I always wanted to be a venture capitalist." he finished with quiet confidence.
I told Blake that he should meet someone and turned around to face Michael. They shook hands. I left. Manchester United lost the game 3-0. I still go to The Pub.
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