About an hour before I was supposed to be at Afrim’s, I texted Sherri and Skip to find out the best way to park in that crazy parking lot. If you are blissfully unaware of what Afrim’s is, I would advise trying to remain that way; it’s that sports monstrosity for kids of all ages near the traffic circle of Albany-Shaker Road. Up until now, it was a site I avoided at all costs, for obvious reasons. But when your nephew is playing in his final soccer game of the season, an Uncle has to make a sacrifice and take one for the team. (Andy claimed to have last-minute shopping to do, so I was on my own.)
Sherri and Skip said to park in the back and walk, to avoid any crazy soccer parents looking for a fight. ‘What land was this?’ I wondered as I found a spot relatively close to the entrance. A messy mix was still falling, and as I stepped out in my L.L. Bean Rubber Boots (all the better to blend in with this slice of suburbia) I noticed that I was walking on a slushy stretch of astroturf. In the parking lot. Forget Kansas, I didn’t even think we were on this planet anymore. I looked back at the Ice Blue Show Queen and waited for further info from Sherri and Skip. (For instance, are flasks outright banned at this kids’ place, or merely frowned upon?) Alas, there was no flask for the driver, so I trudged through the snow and ice in sober fashion.
Inside, a nightmare beyond my wildest imaginings unfurled. Kids, kids, and more kids. Kids of all sizes and shapes, of all ages and stupidity levels, and in every decibel known to the human ear. I knew they would be there, I just wasn’t expecting so many. Roaming in packs or singly stalking the halls, they were everywhere, and I sent up a single prayer to the Sweet Baby Jesus right before his birthday: that I would escape without contracting pinkeye.
There were signs advertising beer – something to give certain parents a glimmer of hope I suppose – but no one was drinking so I wasn’t about to be the poster guy for Bad Gay Uncles (my boots were already bringing down my people). A slight stench permeated the place, not quite as bad as a gym, but not far from it either. An enormous wooden box of ‘Lost & Found’ items, including a whole section of used water bottles, lined one wall. Judging from the contents, they could have dropped the “& Found” portion and called a nasty spade a nasty spade.
Just as I was about to give in to overexposure to kids and holiday exasperation, my nephew and niece bounded in and gave me a quick hug. I saw Noah’s eyes light up when he saw me, and suddenly realized that it mattered that I was there. When a little lesson like that comes at Christmas-time, it means a little more. Noah was gone in a flash, but Emi stayed in the lobby area with me for a bit.
Soon it was time for the game to start. I knew nothing about soccer other than it was what David Beckham did. My brother explained that here the clock didn’t stop like it did in football, and the 20 minutes up on the board would run down regardless of pauses in the game. Finally, something I could really cheer about! Amen to that! My relief might have betrayed more than I wanted, but I didn’t care. Emi complained about how bored she was, but I reminded her that certain people had sat through a six-hour dance recital for her not too long ago. She smiled and went back to watching before the first of a few trips to the bathroom.
The game was actually interesting, even if I was starting to get the sense that their team wasn’t very good. (My brother confirmed this in no uncertain terms.) I was a bit taken aback by how seriously some people were taking it – these are six and seven-year-olds, right? And it probably would have been better in a tiered stadium with beer and hot dogs, but by half-time, or the fifth inning stretch, or whatever the hell they call the damn thing in soccer, I was getting into the groove.
Noah scored two goals this time out, and though I’m biased I also have it on good authority that he is always one of the strongest players. He did his team proud, and afterward I took them out to lunch at Chili’s. Their choice.
On Wolf Road.
On the Saturday two days before Christmas.
Because that’s what a good Uncle does.