Rohit's Realm

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September 13, 2009

On Football and Friendships

I realized last night as I left the Cal alumni bar in Chicago, having just watched my beloved Golden Bears rack up fifty-something points for the second week in a row, that I probably care more about Cal football than almost anything else in my (necessarily futile) life—including people. The sheer silliness of the previous statement ought not be dismissed lightly. But neither should the grain of truth that rests beneath it. And as I made my way back home on that warm autumn night, if there was anything I was certain about, it was that surely there was some truth to that sentiment. The realization, moreover, made me profoundly uncomfortable, though I am still at a loss as to explain precisely why.

One reason might be the baseness of the comparison. Cal football, of course, is not a person—institution might be the best descriptor—and to equate the importance of that institution to my personal relationships (such as they are) does seem a bit unseemly, and especially so when it is most of those personal relationships that are under consideration. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that the thought that crossed my mind last night cannot be regarded merely as fleeting (or drunken) lunacy.

Since my freshman year some eight years ago (God, has it really been that long?), Cal football has played an integral role in my life each autumn. Through the tortuous defeats in 2001, to the slow rise to respectability in 2002, to the epic triple-overtime victory over (much-loathed) U$C, to the final Big Game at Memorial Stadium as a student in 2004, football was an integral part of my college experience. Even as a (so-called) adult in San Francisco, I held season tickets and spent most Saturdays in and around Berkeley. And in Chicago, the weekly trek to the alumni bar in good weather and bad has become as much a part of my routine as arbitrary, irrational hatred of (miserable) Hyde Park. Through the ups and downs of the past eight years, across time zones, schools, cities, and careers, the institution has been an unwavering constant.

The same can hardly be said about nary a single person in my life (except, perhaps, members of my family, but that is quite different). And, of course, it cannot be any other way. Almost every single one of my close friends from all my walks of life—high school, college, work, grad school, and law—are serious individuals (although some more serious than others!), each on his or her own trajectory that necessarily differs from mine.

That is not to say that I do not have close friends from the past, of course—I do, and I am continually impressed by how we can still get together after months or years going by and still have things be normal. But loose contact and occasional Facebook stalking is hardly an adequate substitute for regular in-person contact. At best, one can hope for an update upon meeting that compensates for time spent apart. And that is with close friends.

Others, not as close, are nothing but temporal relationships defined by discrete eras in one's life. The expiry of that era (say, graduation or moving away) also brings the expiry of the friendship—at least for purposes of this discussion. In short, while people have come, gone, and periodically reappeared, Cal football has always been present. And no matter where I go and what I am doing, it will be around me in a way that no person besides perhaps a spouse could be. And unlike a spouse, Cal football does not have to bear the revolting burden of my disagreeable presence.

The team's fortune over the years, moreover, has become my fortune, their victories, my jubilation, and their defeats, my anguish. I am not sure I could say that about too many people beyond my family, girlfriends, and closest friends. The difference, I think, is best expressed as the one between empathy and sympathy. For instance, I have discussed elsewhere almost crying over a particularly tough defeat a couple years back; rare would be the relationship and the circumstance when I would feel the same way over something that occurred to an individual I knew.

So, all in all, the notion that I may place more importance on an institution—worse still, a sports institution—than the people in my life cannot be dismissed outright. And maybe it can even be justified.

But it's still pretty fucking ridiculous. If after reading this site, there was still someone out there who did not fully believe that there was something overwhelming wrong with me, this entry should lay all such equivocations to rest. But, then again, why would I care what you think of me? I probably don't like you all that much anyway—at least not as much as I like Cal football.


Friends are overrated. Go Bears!

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