Playing Soccer con los Carnales
I went for a night run tonight. My route took me up one block and down another through the neighborhood, and I eventually found myself on the back end of the Brentwood park. The giant, puddleglum-like flourescent lamps hanging over the adjacent tennis court cast just enough light to make the grassy field visible. There in the field a group of Mexican guys were playing soccer.
Running for me is a spiritual discipline. I run because either I need to pray or I need to emotionally equilibrate or I'm working on a play script and I need to "find my way" through the story away from my desk and notepad. Tonight I needed to pray; lots of cobwebs in my spirit. But when I saw those guys playing soccer I suddenly felt an urge to join them. I ran by them and away from them, thinking this was just a whim, but when I saw that it was a 3 on 3 and that another guy was sitting alone against a tree, I thought, "I want to play soccer; I really, really want to play." So I stopped and walked back. I asked the guy in Spanish if I might join them, make it 4 on 4. The others congregated and said yeah, sure, no problem--in Spanish. "Si, esta bien, si, vengase." They began to address me in English, but when they saw I persisted in Spanish they relented.
I played for 50 minutes, running up and down, scoring once, missing repeatedly, and wondering why the heck it's taken me two years to play soccer again. I grew up in Guatemala playing soccer every afternoon, every weekend, every moment possible. Anything round would do, leather, plastic, rubber, aluminum. Anything that remotely looked like a ball became an occasion to play out our fantasies of futbol glory: Pele, Maradona, Zico, Beckenbauer, Paolo Rossi!
As I sit here I'm ridiculously sore. But I'm happy. I'm deeply, contentedly happy. I love soccer. I love speaking Spanish. I love laughing in Spanish. I love those Mexican guys, most of them working construction, landscaping or in a kitchen, all of them young, low to the earth, gentle: Isaias, Naum, Carlos, Victor, Jose, Milton, y Graulio. The entire time I heard not a single curse word. They invited me to come back--any time, they said. Me the only gringo. They the carnales playing soccer on a Saturday night at the back end of the neighborhood park. I said I would.