The Singular File: Saying Uncle
By Ace Davis
Sunday evening, dazed and distraught by the thorough thumping the Browns' archrival had delivered, I put the wife on notice. Don't try to console me. I know it's just a game. Foot massage? No thanks, I'd probably twitch and cause a grapeseed oil fumble all over the couch. No, I'm not hungry. Thanks anyway. Really, it's not you, it's me. I'll be fine. I just need to be alone for a while.
As I poured Epsom salt into the running bathwater, I could not shake the suspicious sound of another sad string of Sundays spreading out ahead of me. Sacks, sprains, split secondaries, scrubs, shutouts, scorn. I stuffed some twisted bits of toilet paper into my ears and flipped the light switch off.
My shin whacked into the edge of the tub as I climbed in, but I stifled my all-too-familiar urge to curse. Just lie back and relax, Ace. Deep breaths. Float like a cloud. Ahhhh.
My head eased gracefully into the water, but then I remembered those improvised earplugs. I sat up to pick the wet TP out of my ears, and I could hear my wife's footsteps getting louder. Her phone voice was saying, "Yes, sure, I'll get him."
My entire face wrinkled into a protective squint. I knew who it had to be: my semi-senile uncle, Old Dawg Trey Davis, that superannuated sage of sarcasm. He calls so rarely – our last conversation came just before the draft -- that my wife probably figured he had news important enough to roil my bath.
I knew better. His opinions about the Browns needed an audience. As she handed me the phone, I asked for a towel. Trey must have heard, because the first thing he said was, "Romeo already threw it in!"
"Yeah, I know. What's up with that?" I replied, referring to the coach's decision to punt the ball away down two touchdowns with four minutes to go.
"Wind sprints," Trey said. "Guy's a disciplinarian. Love that about him."
"Riiiight," I humored him. "Play a bad game, make 'em run down the field." I pulled the plug on the bathtub, figuring God had brought Uncle Trey to console me. And also, ooh yes, a purple bruise on my shin as an emblem of what ailed me.
"Rats!" I whined. "Why the Rats? Why'd we have to bumble through our worst game of the year in Baltimore, of all places?"
"Patience, young Jedi," Uncle Trey intoned. "Yet to come, the worst game is."
"You're not making me feel any better," I chuckled nonetheless.
"You didn't really think the Browns were gonna start steamrolling people, didja?" Trey said rhetorically. "They beat two deficient teams, and just barely. Baltimore still has a big-time defense, and there ain't no animal meaner than a cornered one defending its own cave. You had to see this coming, right?"
"Well, sure," I lied, "I just didn't expect us to play so scared from the start. We were jittery and jumpy based on their rep, before they even started hitting us. It's not like we've got a bunch of rookies on offense."
"Actually, we do. Name is Crennel. Can't miss him. And Mo Carthon, it's his first year calling plays."
"True," I said, "I actually like seeing sweeps and screens in the playbook this year. But we're not pounding Reuben enough, not creating credible play-action, not getting defenses on their heels whatsoever. Ever hear of an end-around?"
"Hey, Ace, who do you think you're talking to?" Trey had to remind me. "I go back to Rabbit Renfro at flanker, and I specifically remember telling you to watch out for that Newsome kid back in '78, when Sipe kept handing off to his tight end."
"Yeah, well excuse me if I'm just a bit jaded about promising young tight ends right now," I snapped, covering my midsection with a jumbo-sized towel.
"Say, Ace, I was meaning to ask you, since you're so hooked on that Internet dealie, did Leigh Bodden fall off the face of the earth or something?"
"No," I replied, "The last two weeks he just wasn't among the 45 guys they're allowed to dress."
"Well he can dress himself," Trey quipped lamely. "And he can cover better than Ray Mickens and play on those punt teams better than Sean Jones. There must be a story behind that. Why don't you do one of those Googles or something?"
"Right, Trey," I sighed, "I'm still working on your last private eye case, Josh Booty."
"Still nothing on him?"
"No, and I really think you should move on."
"Now you're talking," Trey said. "That's what you need to do after this whole Baltimore botch job. You were thinking, hey, maybe this new regime could surprise us in a hurry. Turn on a dime, go from 4-12 to a playoff contender like Marty's Chargers. Well, this game knocked some sense into you. Nothing is that easy this side of a Minnesota boat ride.
"See, Romeo is one of us now. He's had a few screw-ups and debatable decisions. The pop top is off his Cherry Coke, so now listen for the fizz. The beat writers can start beating. Fans can start flapping. It's another Browns season, just like so many before them."
"Oh great," I muttered, "What a relief that is."
"C'mon now, Ace," Trey rallied. "I can just see that hangdawg look on your face. Don't worry. Braylon will be back. Suggs might even be back too. The offensive line will remember how to protect the passer, and the 3-4 defense will come of age. Of course, something else will give way, and someone else will go down in flames, but that'll just give us another reason to talk, right?"
"This is not helping."
"Well, we could always talk politics," he offered.
"Uh, no, that's OK," I stammered, as my computer finished its interminable boot-up. "Let's see here, the Lions lost again. Looks like the Browns are favored by three next week."
"I'm worried about that Mike Williams kid," Trey said. "Think he's due for a breakout game."
"You're just trying to justify your pre-draft delusion that we'd take him over Braylon," I recalled. "Phil Savage would fit right in at our next family reunion, because he ignores you too."
"Now is that any way to respect your elderberries?" Trey scolded, though it's hard to respect old men who refer to themselves as elderberries. "Watch your karma, or else we're bound to lose on a Hail Mary pass from Jeff Garcia to Kevin Johnson."
"Now you're talking," Trey cackled. "You're right back into the spirit of this thing. My work here is done. I'll catch up with you again around the bye week."
"They already had their bye week," I said.
"No, I meant buy week, as in, the next time I'm buying. Might be a while," he laughed.
"That's no joke. Really. I'll say it as a command then. Buy-buy."
Click. I Googled "Josh Booty" anyway, just for the old-timer's sake.