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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Where was the player who would score? Everybody said he’d score. Dave thought he’d have scored by now. At least based on what other people had said. Dave thought intensely. He was in his kitchen. He had gotten up early and tip-toed into the kitchen. He had carefully hid his laptop in a bag, entered the kitchen, taken the laptop out of the bag, placed a freshly cleaned and lemon-scented towel on the granite kitchen counter top, placed the laptop on the towel, turned on the laptop, and found a pirated stream of the soccer game. He could have heard a pen drop. The game was on mute. The others must not know. The others can never know. Secrecy was essential. He was a Real Madrid fan. However, Real Madrid was not playing in the game. Dave glanced around. The kitchen was a desert of cleanliness. Normally, Bacteria filled hard to reach crevices. Bacteria hid. Bacteria multiplied. But not in this kitchen. Not in his kitchen. During waking hours, Dave nonchalantly scrubbed with regular sponges and Lysol. But at night, long after the others had fallen asleep, Dave brought out the acid. And the gloves. Dave knew the truth. He knew that regular cleaning items were useless. Lysol had no interest in consumers definitively killing Bacteria. Lysol needed Bacteria. Lysol derived meaning from Bacteria. Lysol depended on Bacteria. But not Dave. Through diligent online research, trial and error, and more trial and error, Dave had created an acid-based cleaning Liquid that decimated Bacteria. Lysol slapped Bacteria. The Liquid threw down Bacteria, beat Bacteria within an inch of its life, and stood over Bacteria with its foot firmly on Bacteria’s throat. The Liquid could not kill Bacteria though without burning a hole in the kitchen granite counter top. The Liquid also burned holes in regular plastic gloves, so Dave obtained special strength gloves from a relative that worked insulating nuclear reactors. At this very moment, the gloves sat inside a cupboard, alongside a special tin container of the Liquid. Their presence soothed Dave. Few knew of their existence. Visitors attributed the clean kitchen to Lysol. Or sponges. They knew nothing of the Liquid. Or nuclear insulator gloves. Secrecy was essential. Bacteria was clever. If others used the Liquid, Bacteria may adapt. Dave needed the Liquid to decimate the Bacteria. Dave derived satisfaction from the Liquid decimating Bacteria. Dave was not Lysol. Quite the opposite, actually. Dave focused on his laptop. The player who was supposed to score loitered off screen, alone. The camera cut to the face of another player. The player’s eyebrows were immaculate. They had been plucked. Recently. Carefully. Some men felt threatened by a man donning immaculately plucked eyebrows. Dave was not one of those men. Dave respected the player. And his eyebrows. Dave himself had never plucked an eyebrow, but envisioned a meticulous and careful exercise in exuberantly joy-free destruction. The world raved about lasers. Dave preferred doing things with his own two hands. And tweezers. Dave speculated that each morning, the player stood before a mirror and removed each stray hair near the eyebrow region. The crucial step, of course, was the accurate identification of a stray hair and then the correct categorization of stray hairs as distinct from non-stray hairs. Naturally, some ambiguity embedded the enterprise. Some hairs would not fit neatly into the boxes of “stray” and “non-stray.” In these instances, either an outside consultant would be contacted or, if absolutely necessary, the player would have to use his own good judgment. Plucking the wrong hair entailed great risk, of course. The immaculate image of plucked eyebrows required, demanded, necessitated perfection. One mispluck would undermine the entire enterprise. Caution had to be used. Caution was necessary. Caution was essential. Dave knew this. The player knew this. The eyebrows knew this. The sun’s rays in the early morning normally filled the kitchen with warmth and light. But black sheets had meticulously been hung over the windows. Using duck tape, masking tape, and force of will, the sun’s rays were repulsed. Secrecy was essential. This was a private moment. The others could not know. The early morning sun light would have helped to wake Dave from his Saturday morning grogginess, but Dave preferred to jump from one altered state to another. Hence, the Yerba Mate. Also essential. He carefully opened the Taragui Yerba Mate plastic bag. He feared the crumpling of the plastic would awake the others. It did not. He then set water to boil, also fearful that the sound of the stove top’s click would awake the others. It did not. Dave was proud of himself. A counselor had once told him that the greatest risk sometimes was not taking a risk at all. Dave had pressed very hard on said counselor to identify any and all times when that was the case, so that in the future Dave could accurately asses the risk of not taking a risk at all versus the inherent risks of taking a risk. The counselor’s immediate oral rebuttal had been unsatisfactory, but the prescription proved handy. This particular plastic bag of Taragui Yerba Mate was “sin palo.” Palo in this context meant “stem.” In his youth, Dave had preferred Taragui Yerba Mate “con palo” or with “stems.” His preference was not because he enjoyed the taste of stems. Rather, he would carefully pick through the bag with gloved hands and throw away each and every stem. Dave estimated between 5-10,000 stems came in each 1,000 gram bag. A close friend had once seen Dave perform this ritual. The friend had asked why. Dave lied and responded that it abhorred him to think of some bare-handed person doing this task in another country. His friend suggested that the person in the other country may also have gloves. Dave got defensive at probably being wrong, but hid it and scoffed at his friend for assuming that in another country Taragui would provide gloves for their workers. Naive. Still, Dave concluded that Taragui Yerba Mate was one of those risks in not taking risks situations. From that day onward, he ordered Taragui Yerba Mate sin palo and never looked back. He also resolved that secrecy was essential. He didn’t need his friends doubting him, not in moments such as these. Dave now prepared to drink enough Yerba Mate to kill a small horse. The game on his laptop had not progressed as anticipated. Ten minutes had elapsed, and the man whom others said would score had not yet scored. If Dave had had 5-10,000 stems of Taragui Yerba Mate to sift through and throw away, it would not have been so bad. So he prepared the Yerba Mate with its promise of high doses of caffeine and diuretic properties. He did not actually believe that the quantity of Yerba Mate he prepared to drink could kill a small horse. Or even a pony for that matter. Ponies are distinct from small horses and often confused for miniature horses to the untrained eye. But not Dave’s eye. Regardless, the Yerba Mate at Dave’s disposal would kill neither. Dave detested animal cruelty and would never allow such a thing to occur. If Dave ever learned of an individual that planned to kill a pony and/or small horse by forcing it to ingest unnaturally high doses of Yerba Mate, Dave would file a police report and/or contact the appropriate authorities. If an online petition circulated to put an end to the practice of killing small horses and/or ponies by forcible ingestion of large quantities of Yerba Mate, Dave would sign it and possibly email the link to the online petition to end the practice of killing small horses and/or ponies by forcible ingestion of large quantities of Yerba Mate to close friends and family. But probably not casual friends or extended family. Dave filled his Yerba Mate gourd with stem-less Yerba Mate potentially handled by glove-less hands in another country. He then carefully filled the gourd with hot water. He felt the warm gourd in his hand and lifted it to just below his nose, savoring the rich odor. It was tragic, he thought. How could somebody even think of using something so beautiful and pure even when handled by glove-less persons in other countries to kill a small horse and/or pony? He took a sip. The caffeine entered his mouth, then the esophagus, and within minutes his brain told his body to release endorphins. He smiled. He noticed one of the teams had scored, but not the player. Twenty six minutes had lapsed and still no goal from the player he had been told was going to score. Dave was glad that Yerba Mate was a diuretic. And a damn good diuretic. He pretended to feel the Yerba Mate enter his large intestine. As a young child, Dave had suffered from chronic constipation. His doctor had misdiagnosed the constipation as resulting from chronic stress. The reality was quite the opposite. Most children feared the space under the bed and the closet at night. Dave dreaded the bathroom during the day. He associated sitting with defeat for the first two decades of his life. Constipation was not anticipation. Constipation was not trepidation. It was not a delayed buildup, but an exercise in hopeless patience. His bowels conspired against him. The problem only worsened with adolescence. He grew to hate the straight-shitters that ever so briefly sat in the stall next to him in public restrooms. “Straight-shitters” was the term used in online constipation-support forums to describe individuals that sat on a toilet and pooped within five minutes, and were normally finished within ten minutes. Dave loathed public restrooms. Yet one of the tips he gleaned from his internet support group was to sit in stalls in public restrooms and draw inner strength and inspiration from the impervious straight-shitters. It was so easy, the straight-shitters were supposed to remind him. Relax, the straight-shitters were supposed to remind him. Dave tried it a few times, but only felt resentment slowly building up and filtering out from within. And the stalls were disgusting. Still, he continued to regularly read the support forum, if only for the solidarity. It was at the forum that he first leaned of Yerba Mate. And Yerba Mate changed his life. Fabricated in Argentina, the Taragui brand tea cleansed his colon like a hot herbal tea through a dirty colon. It was essential. The caffeine was only a plus. But Dave thought nothing of his colon or Yerba Mate’s diuretic properties as he gazed at the screen. He saw the player with the immaculate eyebrows pass the ball to the goalie, and then to a defender. The other player still loitered off screen. Then, Dave detected danger. He glanced at the window. The duct and masking tape held firm. He honed in with his ears. He heard nothing. And then he saw it. A Stain of ketchup in the corner of the granite kitchen counter. One of the others must have done it. Dave could feel the festering Bacteria. He tried to avoid his eyes, to imagine it away, but couldn’t. He had to act. Immediately. Of course, this entailed risks. Dave dared not open the pantry cupboard and put on gloves. Dave dared not open the pantry cupboard and take out the liquid. The cupboard squeaked and may wake up the Others. Secrecy was essential. He would have to use a conventional Towel. Without gloves. The Towel would wound but fail to fatally kill the Stain. The thought of the Towel absorbing but also dispersing the Bacteria repulsed him. The thought of the Bacteria touching his hands repulsed him. He took a sip of Yerba Mate and prepared to take those repulsive risks. His therapist would be proud. He set down the Yerba Mate gourd and leaned near the Stain on the granite counter top. He nonchalantly grabbed the roll of paper Towels. Dave then noticed that his pirated stream of the game had cut out. Flustered, he set down the Towel, grabbed the gourd, and took a sip of Yerba Mate. He closed his eyes and waited for the endorphins to kick in. He secretly wished he had 5-10,000 stems to sift through and throw away. If he had had those stems, then he would have had decent gloves at that very moment. Those gloves would have inspired the confidence to kill the Bacteria. But there were no stems. Nor gloves. The earlier doses of Yerba Mate had completed their journey from the mouth to the esophagus and through the large intestine. Potentially untouched by un-gloved hands, they neared the end of the small intestine. Only the colon remained. Dave set down the gourd, played with his laptop, and found a game ticker. The other team now led 2-0. And the player had scored.

Elliott blogs about soccer at He is the author of “An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish”, available on the Kindle and Nook.

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by Elliott · September 12, 2011

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