I arrive at Uncle Boomer’s house. He doesn’t appear to have obtained any new furniture since 1989, except for a TV approximately the size of an Olympic pool that has been mounted to the wall. His house has five bedrooms and a kitchen/dining room combo large enough to host a moderately-sized wedding reception. He lives alone.
UNCLE BOOMER: Come in, here’s a chair. Christ, my crotch itches this time of year.
Taking in this traditional Boomer greeting (offering of both seating and a personal health issue), I perch myself on the edge of one of his filthy recliners. I am cognizant of mummified Cheetos still trapped in the creases while he settles his bulk deep into the other one. I’m here to watch a Seahawks game with him. He says he hasn’t watched a football game since “Terry Bradshaw was passing the ball around the way the Lord intended,” whatever that meant, but he would like to know what all the fuss is about in today’s game.
UNCLE BOOMER: This pregame show is horri- Oh, the flag!
The broadcast has elected to televise the National Anthem. The screen is showing a giant American flag being unfurled on the field. Uncle Boomer stands straight up and energetically salutes it before demanding I do the same. He tries to sing the National Anthem, but flubs most of the lines.
UNCLE BOOMER: Caught off guard, almost missed it! The National Anthem is my favorite song. I respect the troops, one hundred percent. You young people today, you didn’t have to fight in places like ‘Nam like my generation did, you don’t understand the sacrifices.
I inform him that I can’t believe he had never mentioned serving in the Vietnam War.
UNCLE BOOMER: Well… I didn’t, not as such. I was too young. Also, I have flat feet.
UNCLE BOOMER: But I would have otherwise! Unlike my daughter… She didn’t want to join the military despite having no such foot issue, she wanted to be an artist. Art! Bah! Your aunt left me because I didn’t support her art career. What was I supposed to do? Libby didn’t want to get a real job!
Uncle Boomer makes a disgusted sound. I did recall the drama surrounding my aunt’s departure from the marriage and how it centered around Cousin Libby, but I was not there to rehash old family wounds. Mercifully, the game is set to begin before he can go on. The Seahawks get the ball first, and my uncle catches a glimpse of Russell Wilson.
UNCLE BOOMER: He doesn’t look like how quarterbacks looked like in my day. I can’t quite put my finger on why, though.
I bet he can’t. As the Seahawks get ready to start on offense, we listen to the announcers prepare us for the game. Charles Davis prattles on about establishing the run, punching the other team in the mouth, and how the winner will likely be whoever wants it more.
UNCLE BOOMER: At least the announcers sound the exact way I remember. No changes there. I like that. Who does want it more, I wonder?
Seattle begins the game with a pass play, but pressure on Wilson forces him to evacuate the pocket. He evades three separate rushers before zipping a perfectly placed ball on the run to Tyler Lockett down the sideline for an 18-yard gain. It’s an amazing play, but Uncle Boomer is furious.
UNCLE BOOMER: What the hell was that? He could have thrown a damn interception! Just find the tight end, get a good, honest five yards, and live to fight another day.
I attempt to explain that the pass rush had arrived before the routes developed and Wilson turned a likely sack into a big play.
UNCLE BOOMER: Bradshaw would have found the safe throw to the tight end while taking the hit! Pass rushers are like bears, you see. If you run away from them, they can feel your fear. Best to stay in there, let them slam you to the turf, and prove you can’t be intimidated or rattled by them.
I am very unsure about this strategy. Biting my tongue, I do not tell him that Terry Bradshaw threw many more interceptions than Russell Wilson has in his career, bear survival tactics notwithstanding. The next play is a two-yard gain on a handoff to Chris Carson.
UNCLE BOOMER: There you go. Pound that rock, how else can you tire the defense out? Pound it. Pound it! Actually, speaking of pounding it, one thing I miss about your aunt is…
Not okay, Uncle Boomer!
UNCLE BOOMER: Fine, fine, geez, back in my day we could say things like that!
His laugh is a horrible and deep hacking sound, like a demon with chronic bronchitis. It wasn’t always like this, was it? I try to turn his attention back to the game, where Wilson has just finished off a touchdown drive by scampering in from seven yards out.
UNCLE BOOMER: Humph. Bradshaw would share the touchdown with a teammate. He’d never run it in himself to hog the glory like this. Won four Super Bowls that way, you know.
Whatever. I already don’t care about what he thinks anymore. The Seahawks are on defense now. Quandre Diggs flies in from free safety to lay a hit on a receiver that has caught a pass for a short gain. The hit is clean, with no head contact, but physical. The receiver remains down on one knee for a moment to recover.
UNCLE BOOMER: What a wimp! Should’ve gone for the head and made him see stars. Concussions are as fake as climate change! In my day, we’d get hit with a love tap like that and we’d be getting right back up.
Against my better judgement, I ask if he played football when he was younger.
UNCLE BOOMER: Well…no, I had an irregular curvature of the spine and the doctor wouldn’t let me.
UNCLE BOOMER: But if I *had* played, you can be sure I wouldn’t have pulled this prima donna crap and acted like every hit was the end of my life!
By now the “prima donna” has already gotten up and walked off. Two more plays have been run.
UNCLE BOOMER: This is not anything like I remember. Where are the real, bone-jarring hits? Where are the damn fullbacks? Why are there so many passes? Why did they just go for fourth down instead of playing for field position? How much time is left? Feels like this has been on forever.
He isn’t kidding, it has felt like forever to me as well. I explain that there is still 8:43 left in the first quarter, as he could’ve found out from the convenient clock that is always shown on the screen.
UNCLE BOOMER: You have to have everything handed to you without any work, don’t you?
Um, no? It’s just the clock…
UNCLE BOOMER: We used to have to wait for the announcer to tell us how much time was left, and we didn’t complain! No sir, we appreciated all that we had, limited as it was. Clocks during a football game? We knew we were lucky just to be alive! You kids are so soft you need a clock to always be there for you, telling you exactly how much time is left and how great you are?
Excuse me, what?
UNCLE BOOMER: Does the clock hand out trophies to everyone, too? Does it tuck you into your safe space at night while telling you who to cancel next? Unbelievable what this country is coming to.
I barely comprehend what he is saying. I realize this rant is no longer actually about the persistent clock on the screen. Uncle Boomer has just decided to start saying things again, bloviations of the sort that caused the family to stop inviting him to Thanksgiving dinners. Dying a little inside, I realize that the vast majority of the game remains. I do not, at this moment, feel very lucky to be alive. I am saved, however, as Uncle Boomer waves his hand in dismissal of the football game.
UNCLE BOOMER: I’m not watching all that. Can you turn it back to the REAL news? My limited worldview with me at the center of it hasn’t been validated in the last thirty minutes and I’m starting to get the shakes.
I do not agree to help him change the channel on his TV; he has the remote. I get up to leave, feeling like I’ve wasted my time. Right before I go, Uncle Boomer offers what I initially perceive as a small moment of weakness.
UNCLE BOOMER: I’ll be alone again when you leave. I miss your aunt sometimes.
UNCLE BOOMER: Yeah, I sure miss our constant arguments. Or when she brought her weekly bridge group in and banished me to the den. Miss her? Ha!
Dammit. He’ll never be willing to show any sort of real vulnerability. I’m out the door, my exit haunted by his coarse, wheezing laughter.