“What’s the most American thing you’ve ever done?” an Israeli journalist asked me last week. I had no answer. What’s American, anyway? Or, more to the point, what’s not American? What should I tell him – eating a hamburger? Or maybe a burrito? There’s plenty of those here and I’ve started to like them, but they’re Mexican, or at least they purport to be.
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I didn’t want to disappoint the nice reporter, whose editor asked him to add some color to his story, so I started to ponder replies that focused on the downside of individualism. I’ve become hooked on commercials, the myth of the American dream and its immersion in the culture of shopping. But that’s no longer American – in fact, the myth of the American dream sometimes seems to be stronger outside the United States.
“I don’t know,” I finally told the reporter, feeling a little guilty.
Afterward, I scolded myself for having forgotten Thanksgiving, which has become a regular ritual, watching the Super Bowl with friends, and taking part in Fourth of July parades and gaping at the sky when fireworks go off.
As it turns out, if I’d waited a little longer, I would have had a terrific answer to the question, because everything else was dwarfed by the American experience I underwent on Sunday, when I drove my son to a game of his children’s soccer league.
“Sure,” I replied when he told me about an away game in Bloomington and asked if he could go. “It’ll be a great experience,” I promised him, mussing his hair like I see dads do on TV.
“What time will you be leaving?” my wife asked on Sunday morning. “Bloomington is about an hour away, and the coach asked the kids to be there an hour before the game for a warm-up.”
“What do you mean, ‘be leaving’?” I asked, not having understood that, in contrast to the children’s league in 1980s’ Tira, in America, the town doesn’t charter a minibus to take kids to games. Here, on top of having to pay $150 a month to participate in the soccer club, parents also have the assignment of driving their offspring to the games.
I took a deep breath. It’s not so awful: Just an hour’s drive, not so awful, and it will be good for father-son bonding. After all, when was the last time I spent one-on-one time with my son? It’s not so bad. An hour’s drive, an hour of warm-up, an hour-and-a-half of game, an hour and 45 minutes including the halftime break – then another hour to get back home? Not so awful, it’s okay, I promised myself. Everything will be fine, father-son time and all that, even though deep inside I was hoping that kids’ league games in America are shorter, that this one would last only half an hour, please God, amen.
“You have reached your destination,” the navigation device informed me when we arrived at a vast compound containing maybe 10 soccer fields, laid out next to the local airport. It was an incredibly flat expanse with lines delineating fields and goalposts at the ends. No bleachers for the audience; not a single wretched, solitary tree offering some shade, on one of the hottest early-September days ever.
We found area C 1, where my son was supposed to play. Experienced parents were lugging picnic coolers, jerricans of water, folding chairs and sunshades. I’d come with a wallet and a cellphone. I looked around for a stand selling popsicles, drinks and sunflower seeds, but all I saw was a mobile toilet at the far end of the incredibly flat fields. Not so awful. Kus emak, not so awful. An hour of warm-up, an hour-long game (I’d asked one of the parents) and we’d be homeward bound. Father-son’s the thing.
I sat on the grass next to American families who smeared sunscreen on one another as part of the soccer-picnic, whose customs no one had told me about, and cheered on the kids enthusiastically – “Go, Blues!” “Great job, Blues!” – even when the halftime score was 4-0 for the Whites. Happily, my son wasn’t to blame: He’s the new kid on the team and he didn’t budge from the bench until five minutes before the end of the game, when the coach had already stopped counting the goals the other side had chalked up. When the game was over, I saw the parents line up in a row and stretch out their hands to high-five each player. The parents told the children, “Good work, you were great, terrific game, superb.”
“Yallah, honey, let’s go,” I said to my son, dying for some water and some shade to ease my skin, burning in the sun. “But there’s another game,” my son informed me. “An hour’s break, and then another game at 2 o’clock.”
What?? Have you lost your mind? Can’t you see that I’m frying out here like an idiot? And anyway, you didn’t even leave the bench – but you know what? It’s not your fault, it’s your mother, with her ideas about getting you out of the house and making friends, and doing physical stuff. But when it comes to driving you, she’s busy – as if I’m free, as though I have time and energy to spend six hours in the sun watching kids who aren’t mine not succeeding in kicking the ball properly even once! And the other parents here, just look at them, did any of them offer me even a sip of water? Did anyone say, “Hey, how are you?” Nothing. With all due respect to soccer and father-son stuff, I’m going home now, and you can decide whether to come along or stay here by yourself, on the bench. This is it. Forget about soccer, it’s not for you. What’s wrong with chess? You were good at that.
That’s what I said to myself.
“What do you say,” I replied to my son. “That’s great. Another game? Sababa, sweetie. I’ll just run to the car to get some water, okay? There’s gotta be a gas station nearby. Wait here with your friends. Great game! Go, Blues.”