Night of the Banana
When the opposing team scores their seventh goal, I observe to my husband that things aren’t going so well tonight. He stares into the murk. The downpour is torrential now, and we are wet as otters. He has draped himself in a ludicrous blue poncho from which rivulets stream. The home crowd continues to taunt our bedraggled and defeated team. The student cheering section in the bleachers are in costume; some are pirates, some convicts. One is a giant banana. It is not even Halloween. The be-costumed students barrack, insult, abuse. It is both surreal and Warholian to be hectored by a giant banana.
“Who are these people?” I ask, reasonably. “What is their problem?”
My teenage son comes to the touchline to take a throw in, his face ashen. The bleacher crowd will not give the ball back. They mock him and make violent and obscene gestures.
“Why don’t their parents intervene?” I ask. “That’s what I want to know.”
My husband has decided the trauma will be character forming, that the boy will be the better for this experience, learning more in defeat than victory. Why, it’s positively Christian, his ability to turn the other cheek in such trying circumstances. But what species of lunatics are these before us, furious and snarling like ocelots at a high school soccer game, acting just like those demented English hooligans? I shake my head sadly, deploring such reprobate behavior.
My son snatches a ball from the grasp of a mean and recalcitrant ball boy. The bleachers cascade boos. None of his teammates make a run into space to receive the ball because no one wants it. They all only want this game to be over, to climb onto a warm bus out of the chill rain and far away from this terrible place. My son looks around, pleadingly.
“Help him,” my husband hisses.
The baying mob questions his intelligence, legitimacy, sexuality, and humanity.
“Hey ya stupid-ass bastard, gay monkey-boy, throw the ball will ya?” cries the banana.
“Oh that’s classy,” I say. “Can you imagine the parents of that?”
My son backs up toward the bleachers, winding up for a long throw. He takes three paces forward and suddenly the ball is somehow propelled backwards at great velocity into the crowd. The speeding projectile strikes his abuser flush on the forehead, causing the banana to slip on the metal catwalk where, struggling awkwardly to regain its balance, like a baby deer on ice, an ensuing domino effect topples a French maid, Darth Vader, and two cheerleaders who collapse in a scrum amid flailing light sabers and pompoms.
Paper cups and the liquids therein and vicious expletives also rain down on the pitch now. Vuvuzelas wail like distressed jungle creatures. Players scuffle. Angry coaches remonstrate. My son stares at his hands, feigning perplexity as to how the ball slid from his grasp. The hometown parents beside us are apoplectic. To think, a few hours before these people easily passed as lawyers and bankers and college professors.
“That little sonofabitch could have maimed someone!”
“Why did he do that?” I whisper. “Where does he get that awful temper?”
The referee flourishes the yellow card.
“That should be red,” yells the man in the fashionably distressed baseball cap.
My husband offers him a smile like a surgical wound.
“Don’t get involved,” I say. “These parents are insane.”
“Send that animal off, referee,” shrieks a woman with hair like frosted fur.
“Say, why don’t you all shut the hell up?” I inquire, shrilly.
An uncanny silence descends on the sideline of a high school soccer field in Peoria, Illinois, the great Midwest where everyone is pleasant and so very nice.
“Eh? What yougoing to do about it, lady?” asks a stocky man with mallet-like fists, the type that looks, so my husband will observe later, like he could easily go three MMA rounds with Behemoth.
“I’ll kick your ass is what I’ll do,” I find myself snarling at him.
Some months later, my son’s college application essay was titled, Hitting the Banana, or A Lesson Learned. He asked me to proofread the essay for him before sending it. The major claim in this opus was that the event had proven to be a very significant learning experience for him. He had gleaned many important things that raucous and rainy night; he had learned not only how to cope better with adversity and how to control his temper, but also to how to maintain equanimity (not his word, which was ‘chill’) and grace under pressure.
“Like a Hemingway hero?” I offered as a potential edit.
“Who’s Hemingway again?” he asked, never having been required to read a book all the way through since Harry Potter.
“Remember how you finished fourth in state running track relay your junior year?”
“And how you talked and talked about how your team would medal at state senior year.”
“And how it turned out you couldn’t run at all senior year because you failed the stupid-ass drug test for marijuana use in the spring?” I could hear my voice spiraling up an octave, recalling the trauma. “Wasn’t thatthe high school learning experience you shouldbe writing about in your college application essay? Wasn’t there a reallesson in that?
“Yes,” my son mumbled, under his breath. “But I didn’t learn anything about my family that I didn’t know already from the experience. And you all didn’t learn anything. You just wandered around the house giving me these looks that made me feel super guilty.”
My son graduated college two years ago. Despite nearly failing math his freshman year of high school, he is now, inexplicably, an accountant. He comes home to regale us with tales of how shifty casinos seek to evade his eagle-eyed audits. I suppose it goes to show that you never can tell how someone will turn out, or which of many life experiences will shape them.
In retrospect, my son was right to go with the banana story. After all, he did learn something about his family from that experience. Indeed, his narrative concluded with an entertaining report of how, chagrined and embarrassed, he glanced nervously over to where his parents were standing moments before only to witness a developing melee. An individual wearing a ridiculous poncho seemed to be attempting, albeit ineffectually, to restrain an irate and madly-gesticulating woman by wrestling her onto the muddy turf.
But she learned her lesson.
Barbara Jean Tannert has published essays in many online and print magazines. She is an Associate Professor of Children’s Literature at Knox College in Illinois.