It's been two weeks now and I'm still trying to come to grips with my New Year's
metamorphosis. I'll tell you about it if you promise not to say anything to the National
Association of Teachers of English (NATE).
It begins after dinner when I pour glasses of sherry.
"Tonight, m'love," I tell my wife, "rather than watching Masterpiece Theatre as is
our wont, I'm going to tune in the telly to a football game. I thought it might be amusing
to watch the fanatics."
"Football?" she says. "But what about your English teacher vows?"
She means the vows of poverty and abstinence we have to take before we can join
NATE. They're secret vows, so if you're not already a NATE member, you must skip
over the next two paragraphs.
"We hereby vow," we all say in unison at the annual meetings, "never to make
enough money to live beyond shabby gentility, and always to abstain from an interest in
football except for purposes of cheap sarcasm."
We also swear to read Paradise Lost while we wait for haircuts. When
the barber says "So how about them Huskers?" we're to look over our reading glasses and
So I know how I'm supposed to respond to the Orange Bowl. I'm
supposed to ridicule the commentators, guffaw at the maudlin tears of the losers, snort at
the animal joy of the winners, and make gagging noises during post-game interviews.
Throughout the first half, I do my duty as cynic-in-residence. But I've done it too
many times against teams from Florida, and I take little pleasure in it. At halftime I brood
darkly on the predictability of the outcome.
Then in the third quarter, something odd happens: An alien spirit possesses my
"Sack that sumbitch!" I hear someone say in a stage whisper. The voice is clearly
male, and at first I suspect Ned, the one-eyed beagle with the headstrong personality and
the mismatched jaws, but he never uses "sumbitch" except as a compliment. He and I are
the only males in the room.
"Did you say 'Sack that sumbitch'?" my wife asks.
"Why I believe I did," I say, "but I must have meant it in the non-pejorative sense."
She rolls her eyes, and a play later it comes out of my mouth again. Louder. My
scrawny shoulders hunch involuntarily and my skinny right leg snaps ten inches above its
resting place on the recliner.
The sackee of the request is a Mr. Costa, the Miami quarterback who throws
ridiculously long and accurate passes. For all I know, Mr. Costa is a student of delicate
sensibility, a lover of Chaucer, a devotee of the Metaphysical Poets, an imbiber of New
England Transcendentalism. Yet I have just cast aspersions on his parentage. I wonder if
I'm running a fever.
And a few plays later, it happens again.
"Block that big bastard!" I yell, the alliteration coming trippingly off my tongue.
Again my shoulders hunch, my right leg rises. This time, I refer to a Mr. Sapp who plays
Left Defensive Tornado for the Hurricanes.
The Truth, Mainly
"Are you still in the non-pejorative mode?" my wife asks.
"Quite so," I say.
"Oh, good," she says. "'Bastard' is such an ugly word when it's used pejoratively.
But how can you call someone a bastard without pejoration?"
"Normally you can't," I say, feeling rationality slipping away. "But this is a special
case. It's for the national championship. Another sherry?"
I know no more about Mr. Sapp's parentage or intellectual life than I know about
Mr. Costa's. He may well be intimate with Shakespeare's sonnets and devoted to post-
modern critical theory. He acts as though he might be into Deconstruction, but at this
point in the game, I don't care about his parentage or intellectual life. I begin to
suspect that something is happening inside my head that NATE would not approve of.
By the fourth quarter, it's no longer a suspicion. It's a certainty. I go out of
control. I go crazy. I go Big Red.
When Mr. Schlesinger runs for his first touchdown, I give a primal scream and
thrust my fist high, thereby spilling sherry on my head. When he runs for his second, my
mouth opens and from somewhere south of my appendix comes a Great Orgasmic Shriek
that frightens horses as far north as Ceresco. My wife yips, Ned bays, and outside in the
streets, cars honk.
And ever the English teacher, I find a lesson in the cacophony: I know now the
exultant and celebratory sound of Walt Whitman's "barbaric yawp over the roofs of the
world." And along with the rest of the state, I yawp.
Now, two weeks later, I think my fever has about dissipatedand just in time for
me to regain my cheap sarcasm before the Super Bowl. If it's cheap enough and sarcastic
enough, maybe it will dissuade the NATE loyalists who've been drawing up my
dishonorable discharge papers.
But Ned's got to stop insisting we watch those re-runs.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.