The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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MLS Playoff Report: Kansas City, There I Went

On the plane I sat next to this tiny little miniature old lady who had one of those 5% helium granny voices that are somehow really comforting even though they could also be used to cut sheet metal. “Oh, deeearrrrry,” she would croak. She kept giving me Starbursts out of her purse, so by the time we landed, I was on kind of a sugar high, which made me twice as determined to find the perfect barbecue place in the two hours I had before the Wizards-Crew playoff game.

I got the rental car and followed my Google Maps out to what Citysearch had told me was “the crown jewel among Kansas City’s few remaining untouristed barbecue districts.” The neighborhood was unbelievable. Just brick storefronts with low awnings and neon buzzing in the windows like something that had gotten really angry, but knew how to keep it to itself. It was dark, the pavement was shining, and it looked like a scene out of one of those Prohibition movies where the boss jerks his pelvis in a different direction every time a bullet hits him at the end. I settled on a place called Count Pork.

The neon sign in the window of Count Pork showed this sort of sly-looking pig playing a piano, and sure enough, the first thing that hit me when I went in was a wall of low-down jazz. Actually, that’s a terrible metaphor, because it wasn’t like walking into a wall so much as it was like slipping into a hot tub, only instead of bubbles, this hot tub had the concept of Jack Daniels and groans.

I sat down at the bar and ordered the Count Pork Special (slow-cooked pork ribs with thick-cut French fries and their special molasses sauce). While I waited I watched the band, which was made up of three young-ish guys on horns and drums who were obviously there to orbit this old, old piano player who was kind of hunched over the keyboard in a black suit, a black tie, and an absolutely destroyed old pork pie hat.

There were only three or four other people in the place, one woman in personal-emergency makeup and a couple of guys playing what looked like a full-time game of pool. When the band finished its song, nobody really clapped or looked up or anything, but I sort of caught the piano player’s eye and nodded in a way that meant, I appreciate that. I appreciate that burned-down dirty sad all-night thing you’re doing.

I finished and paid and went back to my car. I only had just enough time to make the game. That’s probably why I was so unhappy when I discovered that my car wasn’t there because I’d parked in a street-sweeping zone and gotten it towed. “That happens all the time. All the time,” the guy behind the bar at Count Pork said when I went back to ask for his phone book. “That tow truck must pull by here sixteen time a day.”

“Look,” I said, “I’m supposed to cover a soccer game. Is there any way you have a TV or you can help me get a cab that drives nine hundred miles an hour?”

“Well,” he considered. “There’s a TV back in Pork’s dressing room. It’s fine with me if he wan’ let you use it. Huh. I don’t know ’bout no soccer, though.”

“Wait,” I said, looking over at the pianist. “You mean his name is actually Count Pork?”

“How you think we got the name for this place?” the counter guy asked back. “Hey, Pork! Pork!”

It was okay with Count Pork for me to watch the match in his dressing room. Actually, Count Pork was between sets, so he took me back there himself, with his sort of pajama-shuffly walk, while his bandmates went outside to smoke and flip off the tow-truck driver (my request).

“How’d you get the name Count Pork?” I asked him.

He cleared his throat, and said: “My mamma was the Countess of Pork, and my father was mind your business.”

“Okay,” I said. “Well, thanks for letting me watch your TV.”

To my surprise, Count Pork fixed himself (not me) a drink, loosened his tie, and sat down with me to watch the match. We both sort of leaned back in our folding chairs, because the TV was mounted to the ceiling.

ME:  Are you a…are you a soccer fan or something?

COUNT:  You know your history, son?

ME:  History of what?

COUNT:  Shiiit.  When I was a boy we had Lips Page at the Plo-Mar Ballroom.  Now we got these green grass, minivan, Alpha Delta Mu individuals runnin’ around bein’ floppy.  Do you hear me, son?  This shit looks like a UPS commercial.

ME:  I think it’s kind of a jazzy game, if you know how to look at it.  I mean, if you’ve got time—

COUNT:  Son, I got time to fly a kite on Sunday. That don’t mean I fly it.  My bones ain’t in the process of youthifyin’.

After a while, he kind of whistled and said, “That cat Gomez sure can run, though.” And when Gomez got sent off, he threw his hat on the floor and made a completely indescribable expression of disgust.

The match was fine. Columbus deserved to win (because THAT’S HOW THEY DO THINGS IN COLUMBUS) but they still have about a 200% chance of getting through in their home leg after they got the equalizer at the end. I couldn’t see a lot about tactics or anything on that tiny high-up TV, and I think the commentary was in Portuguese, but it looked like Sigi Schmid had most of the right moves down. I mean, at least he made it to the game, which is more than you can say for some people.

As for Count Pork…I’m going to level with you. Part of me thinks he’s a closet soccer fan. He was totally outwardly dismissive except for the brief display of frustration over Gomez, and when I left he said, “Happy kickin’,” in a super-dubious voice. But he watched the whole match. And I mean, he watched it, he didn’t just sit there while it was on. And on some level I had the impression that maybe he was glad for some quasi-knowledgeable company.

Anyway, next time I make it back to Kansas City, I don’t think I’m even going to get a ticket. I’m going to find a legal parking space in the secret film-noir barbecue district and see if I can’t crack Count Pork.

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MLS Playoff Report: Kansas City, There I Went

by Vandal-prone · November 3, 2008

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