Let's start off the day with some light-hearted humor surrounded by the backdrop of a violent Steelers/Ravens game from yesteryear. Some great description of pre and post game activities in and around Heinz Field, and the downfalls of turning 25 the night before a game. - nc
It was the morning after my 25th birthday. Still a swaying drunk from the night before, I found myself racing down the Parkway towards the city with my friend Peter. We were on our way to the Rivers Casino to meet his friends from law school. From there, we would make our way to Heinz Field to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens in a classic late December brawl. Little did I know that I was only hours away from Peter teaching me an important life lesson of how to "Dip it in the Sauce."
We rushed through the parking garage and into the casino. Peter's friends greeted us at the entrance, just beyond the security post. Without being in the building for more than three minutes, Peter disappeared into the roiling sea of black and gold, only to reappear with four Coors Lights in his hands. He handed them off to everyone, firing off a fast insult at each of us in the process. Something to the extent of "You're all a bunch of paper-back reading moms." I truly can't remember. The time was 10:30 AM and I was running on, at most, 50 minutes of sleep. After scoping out the room, Peter led the way towards the slot machines.
As per usual on game day, Rivers Casino is stock full of hundreds of Steelers' fans drinking the morning away instead of freezing outside with the thousands of other tailgaters. On each of the slot machine screens are smaller televisions, the majority of which are showing the pre-game hype and other news from around the NFL. Peter sat down at the Wheel of Fortune themed slot machine, which was his favorite. I know this because he told me so, right after he disclosed (loudly, I might add) how he makes more money on slot machines each year than I do from working full time. While he gambled, I decided I wanted to make friends with the other guys going to the game.
As we nursed our beers over small talk, John, one of Peter's law school friends told me stories about his career. As it turns out, John did not follow the same career path as Peter. Instead, he now worked as an accountant in the Adult Film industry and north of Pittsburgh is quite a large Porno distribution center. He told me how standard and dull the office appeared to outsiders. That is, until, outsiders would enter the board room and usually see a large breasted woman being "manhandled by three roid raged monsters" on the flat screen TV.
"Michael" Peter snapped from the slot machine. "I'm going to get more beer. Sit down and use my credits. Whatever you win, you keep. I guess I'm just that nice of a guy!"
So without a word, I sat down and gambled away. The comfort of the chair combined with the constant wave of noise coming from the casino floor, was lulling me to sleep. That is, until a crazed Pat Sajack shouted to me that I won! It was then, I realized, that I more than likely playing the best Wheel of Fortune that I could hope to ever play. In all, I was to close to $250 in winnings, at which point Peter returned and immediately noticed my sudden luck. He handed me another beer and commented, in a snide tone "Well, I guess even the ones without money have to win sometime."
Four beers later, we decided that it was time to go. When I cashed out, I took the remainder of my winnings and shoved them into my coat pocket. Peter, his friends, and I joined that long black and gold snake that was moving its way towards the stadium. We were now among the other drunken tailgaters all blood thirsty and strung out from a morning of drinking and binge eating. As sporadic "Here We Go Steelers" chants echoed through the corridors, Steeler Nation made its way through the gates and up the ramps to the seats. Peter has season tickets on the first level, so we did not have very far to go and could make a quick stop at the concession stands for more beer. By this point, I was almost unable to walk without making a drawn-out heel to toe motion. Peter handed me the draft beers from the vendor and made some comment about my blood shot eyes.
Now, I've known Peter for a long time, but I hadn't seen him in a while. He showed up to my birthday party the night before unexpectedly and insisted on an after party at his house. The party lasted until 5:30 AM at which time he handed me a ticket to the game. The last memory I have of the after-party, before passing out for 50 minutes, was Peter screaming and violently shaking a framed diploma in the midst of a legal debate with a friend. This vision had been swirling through my head all morning.
For the scant few of you unfamiliar with American Football, The Steelers/Ravens game is usually the most viscous match of the year. Years from now, journalists and fans will look back and will compare the rivalry with that of the Yankees and RedSox or Walter White and Gustavo Fring. These are two hungry teams about to paint a gritty masterpiece and most likely, in the eyes of many, play the game of the year. Meanwhile in the stands, I was beginning to hallucinate and become hypnotized by the rhythmic patterns of Peter's screeching insults, which seemed to be growing louder and more ferocious with every plastic cup of beer. We watched the kick-off, the masses lost all reasonable control, and the game commenced.
Throughout the game, Peter was relatively calm, devoting most of his attention toward the field, with the occasional slight towards me or one of his friends. About every half hour, a beer vendor would pass, and time after time I would find myself with a new beer placed in my hands. There is something to be said for a guy who verbally assaults you all day, he is usually more than willing to buy you a beer or five. At this point in the day, though, it was becoming a challenge to finish any beer handed to me. I would pull the cup to my lips and just let the ice-cold brew run down my cheeks and stream through the mesh holes of my James Harrsion jersey. Of course, I would do this without Peter noticing. God forbid.
The game moved by quickly with a well earned Steelers victory and great placement in the playoffs sealed. I suppose the game moved by so quickly because I was half slouched in my seat complete with a sagging jaw and my inner conscience telling me that if I had another drink it would hereby give its letter of resignation. Peter's friends all seemed to have the same drunken and emotionally vacant look like that I did.
Leaving the stadium, I noticed that the mass exodus of a Steelers game is not much unlike a scene out of "Soylent Green." Delirious fans all charging for the parking lots in hopes of getting there first. The only thing that was keeping me on my feet were the shoulders of other people, all pressed up against me. At one point, it even felt as if I was on a long conveyor belt dragging me forward.
Peter's friends had all departed at this point, so once again it was only the two of us. Out of nowhere I hear his voice. "We're going to gamble and after we've won some more money, we're going to a strip club and blowing it on champagne rooms. Deal?"
I opened my mouth to object, but before I could get a word out, Peter snapped back "Of course it's a deal! I'm your ride home, and you owe me the time since I gave you the ticket!"
I suppose what I wanted to say was along the lines of "Peter, I am running on less than an hour of sleep, have been drinking like John Bohnam since dinner time yesterday, and just witnessed one of the most brutal football games in NFL history. There just isn't any emotional juice left for me to function in the casino!"
Three hours later we left the casino, and found ourselves in the same sports bar where I held my birthday the night before. The bartender looked at me pitifully, as I threw myself into a stool at the bar.
"Michael!" shouted Peter, "Order 5 or 6 appetizers. I'm going to piss."
Before I could even mutter "five or six appetizers" to the bartender, she shot me down and told us that the kitchen was closed for the night.
"How could the kitchen be closed for the night? I'm hungry!" Peter demanded.
"We close early on Sundays and you're some of the only people here," sighed the bartender.
Peter then stared at me for what seemed to be a lifetime, and the look in his eyes silently implied that this was my fault. Time stood still.
"Well, what do you like on your pizza?" Peter asked, breaking the silence.
I just nodded my head and did not give him an answer. "Well, pepperoni it is!" he said.
Still sitting at the bar an hour later, I carefully placed the end of a piece of pizza into my mouth, not even really attempting to chew. Peter had ordered 2 extra large pepperoni pizzas; one for each of us. And after a long drunken phone battle with the driver about where the bar actually was, they arrived to the disbelief of the bartender.
"Michael! I ordered garlic dipping sauce to go with the pizza!" Peter cheered. "You need to dip it in the sauce!"
By this point, Peter had moved across the bar and was sharing his pizza with a woman in her 40's. He was making a highly exaggerated dipping motion with his arms, to demonstrate what I should be doing with my greasy dinner. My eyes wandering, I glanced down at the small cup of buttery garlic goo. There was just something about the look of the luke-warm liquid that made my stomach churn and head pound. Perhaps I was finally starting to sober up after the last two days.
"Dip it in the sauce, Michael! Dip it in the sauce!"
I dipped it in the sauce.
It was around 2 o'clock in the morning, by the time I finally returned home. As I tumbled out of the car, Peter shouted "I'm proud of you, Michael. You're not as much of a woman as I thought you were." I turned around and raised my hand to acknowledge his comment, but couldn't muster any words. Peter sped off into the night, rap music blaring from his Ford Explorer.
My door flew open, my feet shuffled across the floor, and with great joy, I fell face first onto my bed. The fact that there was folded laundry and other items still on the bed was of little concern, as I felt like Frodo Baggins returning home from Mordor. The next morning, sitting at my desk motionless, all I could do was stare at the computer screen, as work was the furthest thing from my mind. A co-worker came in to talk to me, but I couldn't really hear them. All, I could hear coming from their lips was "Dip it in the sauce, Michael. Dip it in the sauce!"