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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Why did it bite me? What did I do? Here’s what happened.
I guess McDonald’s in Moscow is a bigger deal than I realized, because by the time I’d been pushed from behind through the surging mass of leather-jacket-wearing cell-phone-talkers, there was barely enough light left for me to see the letters I didn’t understand on the menu I couldn’t read. It was lit from within, fortunately, not that it made any difference. I forcefully pantomimed my desire for coffee and hot apple pie to the nose-ring people behind the counter, and the sun was in a late stage of dying as I fought my way back through the crowd, treasure in hand, and inhaled sweet carbohydrates in the shadow of this enormous statue of Pushkin. He was kind of hunched over and had one hand in his shirt, on his stomach. I think he was hungry. Hungry for McDonald’s, I bet.
Anyway, it was dark out. This was one of my no-hotel-room nights, so I paid someone (a cab driver? I can only guess) a weird number of roubles to take me to the nearest park. I think he said it was called “Sokolniki.” The sign said “Соко́льники,” and I just spent 35 minutes trying to figure out how to type that.
I really had the wrong idea about what the Champions League scene was going to be like here. I had this notion that all the parks were going to be these kind of huge outdoor slumber parties full of English fans in sleeping bags, not even that removed from the surrounding city, maybe just separated from traffic by a low chain and a line of ceremonial cannons. I was picturing jolly tourists making the best of it, guy over here sleeping one off, guy over here roasting marshmallows on a quasi-illegal campfire, cops totally looking the other way.
Yeah, well, in Соко́льники, it was not like that. Соко́льники was basically a deserted amusement park in the middle of a dense black forest. You were connected to nothing in Соко́льники. I don’t know if I missed some kind of sweepthrough where the friendly Соко́льники park rangers rolled past and told all the everyday citizens to leave, but I didn’t see a soul as I wandered beneath the abandoned Ferris wheel of Соко́льники and watched the shadowy Соко́льники-birds cruise among the spokes. I just heard menacing forest noises and the occasional quiet cackle of far-off junkies and huffers and freaks.
My cab was gone, and I couldn’t see any way back, so I figured my only play was to hide there till morning and hope transportation would start again then. The trees seemed safer than the evil-clown movie set I was currently walking on, so I headed into the woods and started looking for a decent place to stretch out. There was a spot where you could sort of see some electric lights through the trees—a long way off and at an obviously different and hard to understand elevation, but still a lot better than nothing.
Horrible Соко́льники solitudes flowed into me.
Only what happened next but that a pack of wild dogs came along and one of them bit me! I think they were German Shepherds or something, but given the ominousness of the setting it felt like a coven of werewolves. Just these huge, death-muscled, Hound of the Baskervilles shadows. At first they just snuffed around, and I was trying to keep my cool, lying there in my little leaf-pile, but when I reached out to offer them my leftover apple-pie sleeve (I thought they might want to lick the grease that had soaked into the cardboard) the leader did this shoulder-lunge Cujo slice and gashed me right on the hand.
I think it freaked them out as much as it freaked me out, because I made this speared-boar sound and they all kind of skittered away. I couldn’t see anything, but I could tell my hand was bleeding pretty hard. I was not loving Moscow at this point, I can say that. Anti-rabies sentiments were spilling over in all kinds of directions in my head and just tainting everything they touched.
Anyway, it’s possible that Соко́льники wasn’t as deserted as it felt, because a minute later this guy came running up to me. I guess he heard my bite-scream and rushed over to see what was happening. He spoke partial English and said his name was Mike, which was weird, because he definitely came off as Russian (motorcycle jacket, way too good-looking for his mullet). I think he was some sort of pimp or something? Anyway, he brought me over a short way to where there were some steps I’d missed leading down into this paved area where people were milling around next to motorcycles. Mike indicated the motorcycle that was his, and told me to get on the back. He wanted to drive me to this special nightclub where he said they could “fix me up.”
It was strange, after Соко́льники, to be in that blue pounding room where the riot models were dancing. It was strange to hear the bass music and see the ice shining out of a glass. I think I was getting woozy from the lack of nutrition and sleep (also the minor blood loss). But Mike took me off to this harshly lit back-office-like room where two older mustached men in cable-knit sweaters got out a first-aid kit and did gauze-like things to my wound.
I don’t know if I passed out, or what, but I woke up in the hallway outside the office and everyone was gone. You’d think this story ends badly, but I still had all my stuff (laptop, bag, money, match ticket). My hand was really throbbing, but it was wrapped in a clean-looking bandage. In retrospect, it maybe didn’t seem like the most promising situation, but I really owe a lot to those underworld men and their medicine.
Oh, and when we first came into the club, I saw three guys in Chelsea jerseys! One of them was the bouncer, and one of them had some sort of secondary job behind the bar. I feel like I’m getting closer to the Champions League for sure.
I still can’t figure out why that dog bit me, though. I don’t know if I broke some kind of wild dog/human custom in Moscow that I don’t understand, like some sort of treaty that everyone’s learned to abide by over time, or if it was a sort of state-of-nature moment where there are no rules and no one could possibly anticipate what might happen. It’s bothering me. I like dogs, and the homeless ones are everywhere around this city.
I’m going to find some breakfast—today I eat regular meals: this is my vow—and hopefully some edge-of-human-science painkillers for my hand. Then, sightseeing. I’ll check in again once I’ve, you know, “done” the Kremlin.
by Vandal-prone · May 17, 2008[contact-form 5 'Email form']