In downtown Vancouver yesterday, I heard a ruckus. A real, hollering ruckus, coming from a bar.
This being World Cup time, I followed the cheers to a shabby little pub. After all, most of my game-watching up to this point had been on my parents' living room sofa, drinking canned lemonade.
Now, I was in a bonafide sports bar, packed to the gills with Japan supporters. 99% of the crowd was Japanese. 0.02% of the crowd looked to be over 22 (and that was... me). The corners were piled with knapsacks, the tables stacked with ESL textbooks. Oh yeah, English students, my favourite people. Even though it seemed highly likely that the whole group was playing hooky from their afternoon lessons.
Front and centre at the big screen, a panel of face-painted extroverts were leading the mob in cheers, ("Nip-pon!" *clap clap clap* "Nip-pon!" *clap clap clap*). When Japan scored a goal, the room would shake with shouting. For each instant replay, the crowd cheered with more relish than ever, as though they had just forgotten about the goal from 5 seconds earlier. By the window there's a row of tall, tough-looking guys in a rugged plaid shirt and Jesse Jackson hair. They have Japanese flags painted on their faces, the red suns coloured right on the nose, like a row of off-duty circus clowns, stern-faced as they sip their beer.
People were ducking down to dig through their backpacks, pulling out baloney sandwiches, carrot sticks, pretzels, the bits from homemade lunches that they no doubt packed dutifully each morning before their ESL lessons. When Denmark scored a goal, the crowd's groan was so startling that one girl dropped her white bread sandwich on the floor, turned beet red, and scurried out of the bar with a consoling girlfriend in tow.
The chant leaders in front start come rapid clapping, like gunfire. Why can't I clap that quickly? I look around to see everyone's slim hands like hummingbird wings. I notice that in a room of 200+ people, only one is wearing glasses, a shy-looking blonde boy draped in a Japanese flag, likely someone's ESL classmate, along for the ride. I'm delighted to see that he's off-tempo in the clapping too, but things slow down as a new chant fills the bar. The Entertainer. Seriously. "Na na na-na, na-na, na-naaaa..."
By the time Japan scores its third goal, we're all friends. People rush to the front of the room to snap pictures of the cheering crowd. Everyone is grinning, hugging, hands in the air, chanting "Nip-pon! Nip-pon!" The boy next to me pulls out his phone and writes a hurried text message.
The text was one word: madness. Then a happy face. Amen.