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The Pine Barrens League, part 7: Fishtown Hipsters

Editor’s note: For your offseason pleasure, PSP is happy to present an multi-part fiction series entitled The Pine Barrens League. In part seven, Schnauzer and company battle it out with a team of bearded hipsters. Look for each new installment on Monday mornings through the end of January.

Fishtown Hipsters, kicking in the balls. I have to give it to the Russians, they know how to make surprise moves, even Bobby Fischer wouldn’t have seen this one coming. We all were anticipating a team of skilled bullies in order to break us physically, to get at least one of us hurt. Instead they went the other way. The wanted us to lose, but from ourselves.

 —0—

They all wore black , probably the colors of some Siberian team.  Most of them were in their twenties. Skinny, muscular, and nimble like dancers. A couple of them maybe were in their early thirties.

So far, we had only played against teams who were better than us. Although these guys were in good shape, and had skills, they weren’t as good as we were. I knew that, as a human being, establishing your own superiority is immoral. As a sports team it can be disastrous. The problem is that it happens subconsciously, resulting in painfully low levels of adrenaline.

Win quickly gave a run down of the other team. He called them by their tattoos, because they all had goatees or beards and similar hair. Their best player was a guy he named “Tits.” He was a fast, healthy living, technically-skilled right defender. Their weakest player he called “Babe,” a midfielder with a tattoo of girl on his arm. “Two Babes” had a good foot. There was a guy with hinges tattooed on his arm who also looked good. The goalie had rubber rings in his ears and wasn’t all that bad, according to Win. I had the feeling he knew what was going on but didn’t want to say “We got this.”

We were playing on a freshly mowed field of an abandoned turf farm. The field was a little soft, but the ball rolled like a billiard ball on heated felt. We played slow, uninspired, automatic. We had a few shots at goal, but there wasn’t any fire. I include myself in that assessment; I sucked as well, I couldn’t help it.

There wasn’t much of an audience this time either—maybe last week’s experience was too much excitement for them. My friend wasn’t there either. Maybe she was practicing with her team of super stars. Maybe she was pissed at her Russian friends trying to get us to lose the game.

  —0—

At half time I questioned Knees about the police investigation. She said they came too late last time, but that they were preparing a big raid for the last game. Bunga Bunga, Slim and Hung were chatting about which car they were going to buy with the prize money we were all going to get after the final. Jericho was explaining to Pope about the building plans for his new church and Win… Win was smoking a cigarette. When he finished he slowly got up and ground it into the turf with his foot.

“I think this is it guys,” he said. “You won’t win this without scoring goals. They are up for it, we have to start doing something.”

“But they’re not even that good,” Sandler interjected.

Win just stared at him and then at the score board, as if to say, need I say more?

Doc jumped up. “He’s right, we have to do this guys, we can’t let it slip away like this. Let’s put it in!” He stuck his hand out, drawing us together into a circle. We hesitantly put our hands in. “Go Tigers on three,” Sandler said. “Tigers?” Bunga Bunga, asked, looking appalled. “Raptors!” Slim yelled. “Kings!” Jericho suggested, hoping we would all agree. But every name incited some sort of agitation. Win left the circle, shaking his head, pulling out another smoke.

 —0—

A few minutes later, they had the kick off, Doc was hollering to Duke and Knees, “Make this happen!” He was close to the 18 and not paying attention to the restart. Their right forward, who was covered in Celtic motif tattoos, didn’t have to think twice. The ball sailed over our heads and into the back of the net. Doc was in shock. He looked like he wanted to rip his own head off. The hipsters lost their cool and piled on top of the Celt. 0-1.

The Russians on the platform were beaming. Probably proud of themselves, because their plan was working and they were about to make a good deal of money.

 —0—

There was a brief moment of defeat, and then mayhem broke out. After weeks of playing in blissful harmony our team was falling apart. Everybody was yelling at everybody else, blaming each other for everything. The clock kept ticking and by the time the Hipsters were back on their side we were still arguing.

 —0—

Given how we were playing, the Hipsters enjoyed a comfortable lead and I was convinced they’d go into defensive mode. Smart players, all of them. They knew how to position themselves, they knew our speed, our direction. Their coach, a tall, balding guy with thick rimmed glasses and a goofy face, looked like someone I’d expect to be at a laptop all the time, but he wasn’t. He was sitting, relaxed. The only thing he did was point, like an experienced orchestra conductor. He only had to play to the tipping point, that was the point in time when panic takes over in a team and irrational decisions threaten a positive outcome. I knew we still had some time. On the other hand, there was about $300,000 on the line, which meant the tipping point would come sooner than later. It was the 62nd minute and I was getting nervous.

 —0—

“Hey!!!!” I yelled at Hung, Minotaur and Bunga Bunga, who were in a shouting match with Slim. The looked up, surprised. “I’m going up,” I said, “We have a game to win.” Pope and Sandler were surprised to find me at the ball for the kick off. “Shut up,” I said to them while pointing at their feet. “If you want to say something, say it with your cleats.

I was yelling at the top of my lungs, clapping my hands, doing everything I could to distract the team from eating itself. “Let’s gooo!! Lets’ do this!! Let’s wake up!! Let’s clean up these hipsters!!”

The hipsters gave me an odd look while Duke and Knees started grinning. “Come on!!” Knees yelled,”Let’s step it up!!”

Pope tapped off and I kicked the ball to Bunga Bunga, who touched the ball to Jericho. He immediately started reciting from Hebrews 11, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for…”

He took the ball up through center field to find himself double teamed by Maori and Leo. Good, they were on the move. Jericho risked a dangerous pass to Pope, who brought the ball down with his chest, but was overpowered by Two Babes, who was able to push him off the ball. Two Babes quickly passed to Dragon, who received the ball but lost it to Knees, who took him down from behind.

This give and take in the midfield went on for about ten minutes. The play was hard, but the tackles fair. In the 75th minute Duke was able to send Sandler through their defensive line towards the left corner flag. He received the ball with his outside right, brought it towards his left and hammered it towards the six. It was Knees, one of the shortest players on the field who was able get her head onto the trajectory of the ball. When she landed I saw a lot of pain in the way she arched her body, but when she saw the ball in the back of the net she jumped up in joy. 1-1.

We were slowly, slowly, climbing back to our previous level of play. The tireless Hipsters, however, were adamant in keeping us at bay the rest of the game.

The audience was excited, they all yelled to encourage us to score. The Russians were starting to look worried. I knew that we needed a clean goal; if they wanted us to win the ref would never give us a last minute PK or free kick.

It was the 81st minute, the Hipsters were standing their ground but showing signs of fatigue. By now we were controlling the game but we weren’t able to put the ball near the net. I gestured to Doc to come play offense. He immediately  sprinted down the field. “I thought you’d never ask,” he said with a broad smile on his face. In the next minute Slim shot from left field. Rings caught it and instinctively kicked it towards our empty goal instead of trying to keep the ball in possession. Their offensive and midfield players stepped up, while their defense stayed behind—they probably all expected their keeper’s punt to go in. Bunga Bunga, sprinting like a cheetah, retrieved the ball, waited for the Hipsters to move up a little more, he then passed it to Jericho—still on Hebrew 11—who touched it to Duke. He took Hinges out with a sweet double stepover. Rings never had a chance. 2-1.

 —0—

Doc was going crazy, obviously relieved his earlier lapse hadn’t cost us the game.

The audience was ecstatic, but the Russians furious. I couldn’t help myself, I had to point at them and call them out. “Next week comrade, don’t forget to bring that suitcase!!”

For the remaining minutes we kept the ball in the midfield in order to prevent the ref from calling a free kick close to the goal. The Hipsters were toast by now, and, when the whistle was finally blown to end the game, for the first time in the series we actually shook hands with the other team. They were good sports and wished us luck for the final game.

Win was out of cigarettes. “That was a close one,” he said wryly when I was taking my cleats off. “They are gamblers, that’s what they do,” I replied. “I guess.” Win said. After a pause he continued. “They don’t want to give us that money,” he said. “We’ll see,” I replied. “Let’s focus on the game first and all the other bullshit later.”

I can’t wait—it will be that once-in-life-time game—I have to win.

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