The Pine Barrens League

The Pine Barrens League, part 4: Battling doubt and the Middle East

Editor’s note: For your offseason pleasure, PSP is happy to present a multi-part fiction series entitled The Pine Barrens League. In part four, with events outside of the team threatening, will Schnauzer be able to  remain focused on the game at hand? Look for each new installment on Monday mornings through the end of January.

Anne gave me the cold shoulder before the game. The last time she did that we broke up for a few months. And if that wasn’t enough, Knees told me that if we were caught “aiding and abetting” gambling, we would be committing a federal crime. There was also a chance I would be charged for Kel’s death. Add the fact that the heavy field over the last two games had taken a toll on our bodies (I couldn’t walk for two days after the first game), and I was slowly starting the think the unthinkable: if I would just give up the game, all those problems would be solved instantly.


Our van stopped behind the main building of a nicely decorated small Catholic School that was closed for the holidays. Turf! We were all relieved to find a regular field with straight lines and no rabbit holes. The field’s lights weren’t on because that would have alarmed the people in the area. Instead big glowing orbs were placed around the field like giant lanterns.

When we arrived there was a huge party going across the field behind the bleachers. I tried to look for moving bodies, but it was hard to distinguish them in the weird light. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the lady in white, but she was nowhere to be seen.

“What’s on you mind?” Win suddenly stood behind me, he lit a cigarette.

I didn’t want to tell him  I wanted to give up the game, so I went to the next best thing, the existential question. “Why are we doing this coach?”

He took a long drag from his cigarette and looked up into the sky. “Did you read Chris McDougall’s book? Born to Run?” I shook my head. “He says that we, Homo sapiens, are engineered to catch our prey running, in groups. My coach, back in the day, would release a hare in the middle off the field and tell us to drive it into the goal. It took us a few attempts, but we did it. We do this,” he emphasized the word while gesturing at the field, “because we are wired to do this.”

He pointed with both hands at his skull. “We are the keepers of an ancient trade. If, for some reason, we have to rely on our own physical bodies again to gather food, we will survive.” He looked up at the sky again. “Imagine, two hundred thousand years ago, two competing tribes trying to catch a deer. The strategies they developed are still in use—amazing, don’t you think?” He flicked his cigarette into the dirt, away from the field. He looked at me with a triumphant smile on his face. He put his left arm around my shoulder, “See it,” he said, pointing with his right hand. “If you work as group you can beat any team in this world. Remember, it’s easier to keep the hare away than pushing it in the opposite goal.”

The other team arrived late, a mélange of Egyptian and Israeli soccer players. Jericho exalted, “The forefathers of these people were there, when it happened!” We looked at him, confused. “The birth of Christ!” We shrugged, put on our uniforms and started our warm up.

They came in hard, angry and irrational. We had the kick off and their forward took Pope down in the third second of the game. Just ran over him like a freight train. The ref called it immediately and told him to relax. He had a shaved head and fury in his eyes. Instead of yelling in the ref’s face—like every normal player would do—he grabbed him and pushed him down. Now there weren’t any red dots to warn him. Pop-pop-pop-pop, it sounded from the trees. We heard the rubber bullets fly by. Furious Bald Guy went down screaming while grabbing his ass. Now his whole team was about to jump the ref, who, calmly, and without losing his composure got up, straightened his hair and put his hand on the sidearm strapped to his belt. Their captain had a red dot on his shirt, as did their goalie, who was huge. He probably could pop a ball with his hands. They froze and one of us interceded.

“Why?!?” Bunga Bunga mumbled to himself. “Look at this field. It’s beautiful. Let’s play the fucking game. It’s ungrateful!”

A few minutes later play resumed with a drop ball—believe it or not, this was a ref with a sense of humor. The furious bald forward was taking a break and icing his rubber-bulleted ass. Minotaur won the ball and touched it sideways to Bunga Bunga—we were on our way. The Epyptian-Israeli intimidation strategy had failed miserably and they were now quietly chasing the ball. We, on the other hand, were used to a heavy field and this turf made us feel lighter.

If the ball was a hare, we were certainly not ready to kill it. The ball went all the way up to Sandler who didn’t go to goal but touched it back hard to Slim, who was able to keep it in play. He sent it to me and I tapped it to Doc. He waited with the ball at his feet for the other forward, a guy with greasy hair and a potbelly, to show up to pressure him. He, however, stayed back.

Doc then dribbled the ball up to their left midfield to challenge a woman with a picturesque stern face—she looked like a young Golda Meir. She suddenly came in fast, forcing Doc to quickly pass to Bunga Bunga, who then was attacked by their left midfielder, a tall guy with glasses and a piercing look in his eyes. Bunga Bunga chipped it to Jericho who sprinted for about 15 yards to find two defenders in his path. He stopped, turned, and kicked the ball to Knees. She dribbled beautifully, with her chin up and the whole field in sight. She is proof that 500.000 years ago men and women hunted together. First she went right to get the attention of their central defender, a guy with a square-face and goggled bright blue eyes. As soon as he was tailing her she went right again and took him with her, thereby creating a small hole in their defense. Duke came in hard behind her while their right defender, a goofy looking guy, who looked like he was dreaming of sunny beaches. She heeled it hard to the incoming Duke who pounded the ball in the top left corner of the goal. Their goalie, by far the biggest guy on their team, had no problem grasping the ball out of the air. With the ball in his hand he ran towards the goofy defender to give him hell for not paying attention

“Goaliath,” Hung dead-panned before his attention was drawn to the touch line. The furious forward stepped across the line. He looked a little less furious for a moment, but it didn’t take long to get him fired up again. Goaliath rolled the ball to the goofy guy he had just chewed out. His name was Randy and he wasn’t a bad player. He took a few quick steps, looked up and kicked it to Golda, who was immediately pressured by Hung but she was able to get away from him. The ball moved to their left midfielder, with the piercing eyes. He looked up and called, “Joe!” He crossed, as expected, for a header. Like a flash in the dark, Joe, the furious forward, flew to the ball to head it in hard, but not hard enough to make a dent in Doc’s defense.

Bunga Bunga ran up to furious Joe. “See?! That’s how you fucking play the game,” he yelled in his face. “Stop with the fucking bull shit, OK. Let’s play the fucking game.” Joe smiled sheepishly, he knew Bunga Bunga was messing with him, but he was able to keep his cool.

Whether it was Bunga Bunga’s spell or our defense, the other team wasn’t able to create any scoring chances. We, on the other hand, were chasing the ball around confidently. In other words, we didn’t get close to the goal either.


At half time Win took me aside and grabbed my arm like an angry grandmother. “Right now, you are losing us the game,” he said. “You’re not focused. We need a leader who is ready to make the kill. I know you are suffering, but losing will make you worse. Play! Finish them! They stink!”

They had the kick off. “Let’s finish these guys,” I yelled at the top of my lungs, while clapping my hands. Nobody responded verbally, but I saw how their bodies suddenly relaxed somewhat, like group of hooligans who were waiting to trash a bus stop.

Furious Joe was on the ball with Potbelly. This time it was Pope who was ready to submerge Joe. Joe thought about taking him on, but kicked the ball back to Golda. She wanted to pass it to the toothless guy on the right but  Slim had read the play. He intercepted the ball and took off, straight towards the goofy looking right defender who came in much too hard. A fake was enough to get him off balance. Slim looked up and saw Jericho on the other side coming in with plenty of space. Pope and Sandler were on the 18, drawing their defenders away. The ball flew across to Jericho, who yelled “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord.” He took the ball to the goal line, looked up, saw that Sandler was about a head taller than his nearest defender, and hit the ball straight to his head. He just had to keep his face still, in the right angle, for the ball to bounce in. 1-0 in the 46th minute.

About ten minutes later their team collapsed. Everybody was yelling at each other. Golda was the only one who tried to organize something, but it was in vain, the cohesion was gone. Our second goal, ten minutes later, was from a rebound off a hard shot from 35 yards out by Knees. Goaliath had to use his fists to deflect the ball but, instead of punching the ball up and over the offensive line, it went down and landed in front of Sandler. He quickly dribbled around two defenders and kicked the ball as hard a he could in the left bottom corner. 2-0.

From that moment on we controlled the game. Although we had a few more shots on goal we decided to slow down play in order to prevent injuries. The Egyptian-Israeli coalition stopped playing in the 80th minute or so. They were mad at Joe for messing up the game in the beginning, they were mad at Goaliath for not being good enough, and they were mad at the goofy defender for not being able to keep up with Slim. They were mad at their coach for sitting down on the bench and shaking his head. They were mad at the audience, the ref, and the linesmen. We passed the ball around for the last ten minutes or so. The audience was leaving, they seemed annoyed.


The lady in white was standing on the touch line. After the ref ended the game she signaled me to meet her. The Egyptian-Israeli alliance was shaking hands, and hugging with everybody. They were almost apologizing for not being good enough. Pope, Bunga Bunga and Joe were cracking jokes, and Goaliath was having a serious conversation with Jericho while they were walking off the field.

She wasn’t smiling when I was standing in front of her. “Terrible game,” she said. She had a slight accent.

“Thank you,” I replied, not knowing what else to say.

“My team will play the last game,” she said, her coat fell open to reveal a pair well-heeled muscular legs.

“So is mine.”

She smiled now, but not the friendly inviting smile she had before—this was the smile of an executioner. “If you make it,” she said while turning her back to me.

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