I lived the last few weeks of June and first few weeks of July in a persistent state of anxiety after the launch of the daily paper where I am managing editor.
Each day, I managed to take at least a little bit of time to watch soccer, even if that meant squeezing it in at odd moments — through an office doorway in City Hall while Argentina played Croatia on a wall-mounted television that no one paid attention to two minutes after running into Vince from Entourage testifying about staws. Or while waiting to get an x-ray at an orthopedist’s office.
That was okay, though. I was disappointed, but it wasn’t until after the tournament ended that I began to learn a few things about myself
For the final weekend of the tournament, my wife and I decided to spend some time at the Jersey Shore. We chose to watch the final at the Asbury Park Yacht Club, a calm boardwalk bar that used to have a small surf shop in the back. I was glad to be back.
In 2014, my wife, brother, friends and I visited APYC for the consolation game between the Netherlands and Brazil. At the time, I wrote:
I’m still trying to figure out Asbury Park’s soccer culture. I hope someone from Asbury Park F.C. will enlighten me. I’d like to watch some meaningful games down there soon.
Back then Asbury Park F.C. was a brand new clothing company with a tiny social media presence. I didn’t know that though because I thought it was a real club. And that’s the joke.
They are a real club. They just don’t have any players. They’re forever undefeated.
Since 2014, the APFC clothing brand has been featured in the New York Times, earned a place on Know Your Meme and amassed “endorsements” from rock legends like the Bouncing Souls and soccer stars like Gianluigi Buffon and Alexi Lalas.
APFC set up a pop-up store in the back of the bar, where the surf shop used to be. The place got pretty crowded but was ultimately calm on a rainy Sunday morning. We had no problem getting a seat on a wooden bench and the little kids nearby played FIFA for the first hour of the match.
The game was fun but anti-climactic; the bar pleasant, but forgettable.
At halftime, I bought a t-shirt and posed for some photos at the step and repeat. After France won, we drove back to Queens without hitting traffic.
I didn’t think the World Cup would turn out the way it did. Not the tournament itself, but the experience of watching. It didn’t go as planned for me. Nothing really did this summer.
A few months have passed since France beat Croatia and the experience has helped me to see that I can’t expect something to go exactly as it did four years ago.
That’s been happening a lot lately. Stuff that was fun or fresh a few years ago isn’t so great anymore even if I try to pretend it is. I didn’t really make that connection, or at least admit it to myself, until now.*
The last tournament occurred at a special time for me. The 2014 World Cup Tour of New York was the first writing project I ever committed to after struggling with false starts and a lack of confidence. It was also the first time I finished something cool and the first time I ever put myself in a position to get attention for my work.
Though it took me a few more years, that project helped give me the confidence to pursue a career in writing and reporting.
There was no I way I would match that formative experience and maybe that’s why this year’s project felt a little stale to me. I did it already and it wasn’t challenging. I have new challenges to take on.
So it makes sense that it wasn’t until after the tournament ended that I had my most memorable World Cup-related experience.
Like I said earlier, we got home to Queens in the mid-afternoon and I headed out to play soccer at the park a few blocks from my apartment. A few guys in athletic clothes sat on the curb outside the Spanish-speaking evangelical storefront church on the corner. I always say hi to the people I pass there and they’re always friendly and smiling, but this time they started talking to me more than just quick hellos.
I was wearing a Spain soccer t-shirt and they asked if I was Spanish. I said no so they asked if I was Croatian. I said no, but they seemed convinced that I was Croatian and so they started apologizing for the loss.
Next, they asked if I was going to play soccer. I said yes.
So come play with us, they said. The van will arrive soon.
By this point we had switched to speaking Spanish so I wasn’t sure I understood them correctly.
Yes, the church van. El Pastor would pick them up and bring them to a field for practice. Would I like to come with them?
Last week, they came in second place at a tournament in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, they said, showing me the photos of the team with the trophy.
I agreed to play with them and, after a few minutes, El Pastor picked us up in the conversion van and drove us to another nearby park. He stopped at a bodega and one teammate hopped out to buy a pallet of waters and a sack of oranges.
At the field, he split us into 3 teams and we played 6 v 6 for a few hours. The players included teenagers and 50-year-olds, fat guys and fit guys. During the games, many of their families showed up.
This was a unique experience for me because, though all of these guys were strangers, they were strangers who I have heard singing gospel songs in off-key Spanish 6 days a week every week for the last 18 months. I was happy to meet them and I felt included.
Now our conversations last longer than quick hellos and they still invite me to play with them.
I enjoyed my post-World Cup picnic among the Central American born-agains.
*I started writing this in July and stopped. I finished it on Oct. 1, 2018 and that time certainly gave me perspective on the changes I’ve been experiencing. I’m also not so anxious about my job.