This is what I want to know: Who schedules a kid’s birthday party at the same time as the NFC Championship? Who in Seattle schedules a kid's birthday party at the same time as a game that will decide whether the Seahawks make a second straight trip to the Super Bowl? Not me, that’s for damn sure, because I am a person who is alive and has access to things like ESPN and the internet and common sense. And yet I was at Family $#%&ing Fun Center in Tukwila, just after noon on Sunday with my son—let’s call him G—as he celebrated his friend’s fifth birthday amid the sounds of tokens clanking into video games, a mother screaming at a child who was trying to climb up the claw game’s prize shoot, and America’s soul withering and dying. And then, as if my ex-wife could sense my torment, she sent this to twist the knife.
 


It’s my week with our son, so there I was, the loving father, holding his jacket and watching him pilot a bumper car into the wall—repeatedly—while roaring RAAHHHH and laughing maniacally. I shouldn’t have even seen that text from my ex. The plan was to DVR the game (being careful to add an extra half hour—you know, just in case something crazy happened, like overtime) and avoid TVs and phones and adult conversation until I could get home and watch it. But that would have meant leaving my phone in the car, which would have made it impossible to text friends things like, Ugh, what kind of a monster schedules a birthday party today? and Why didn’t I say I had Ebola? and It’s okay to hate a kid, right?

(No, of course, I don’t actually hate the child. And yes, yes, the party was scheduled well in advance. The boy’s mom even texted me on Thursday to acknowledge the bad timing. I responded by asking what the chances were that she’d reschedule if I said it was a problem, and I was sort of joking but sort of not because OH MY GOD, WHO DOES THIS?)

By the time we took a break for lunch, I was a wreck, and it only got worse when I stepped into Bullwinkle’s Restaurant—and not just because the animatronic Rocky and Bullwinkle musical act was a trigger for my irrational fear of singing animals. (What? The Country Bear Jamboree at Disney World messed me up. I was four years old. Don’t judge.) This place had nine TVs. Nine. And every one of them was tuned to the game. The management had even muted Rocky and Bullwinkle so we could hear the play-by-play, which had the disturbing effect of making it seem like the voices of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were coming from Moose and Squirrel. (Actually, now that I think about it, that made Buck and Aikman halfway tolerable.)

“Oh god,” I whined, “I didn’t want to have to see the game.” The mother of one of the other boys turned and beamed with a smile that split her head in half. “Oh, honey. Then you came to the right place!” I cocked my head to the side a little and looked confused. Did she … not see all of the TVs? “Wait, no. I said I didn’t want to watch the game. I’m taping it.” Her smile shrank to a dot. “Oh. Well. So. Aren’t the kids growing up so fast?”

And so we ate greasy pizza and drank … something red. I’m not really sure what it was because I wasn’t paying very close attention. I spent most of the lunch hour wondering how long an adult man can stare at the ground without looking deranged. It didn’t do any good, though. The room’s collective groan made it impossible to miss Doug Baldwin’s kick return that ended in a fumble and Russell Wilson’s first interception. After lunch was over and G had strapped in for not one but two more rides in the bumper cars, we were ready to go. (What can I say, the kid really likes hitting things with a car. He gets that from his mother.) And despite my best efforts, I’d caught a glimpse of the score: 13-0. It would be a painful drive back to West Seattle.

Before I go on, I have to explain my neighbors’—check that, my neighborhood’s—obsession with fireworks. Last February, after the Hawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, a family at the end of the block set up shop in the middle of the street and lit off half a dozen professional-grade bursts of color that lit up the night sky. It was fun. G and I stood on our porch and watched the celebration and gave each other high fives. Last Fourth of July, was scary, though, with explosions rocking the street continuously for hours. (Imagine cable news’s grainy, night-vision-green video from a shocked-and-awed Baghdad. Now double it.)

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that these pyromaniacs with whom I share a sidewalk also punctuate every Seahawks score—whether it’s the preseason, regular season, or playoffs—with a rocket-propelled boom that rattles my windows. When you’re watching a game live and know it’s coming, the sound is exciting, like a gun powder–fueled exclamation point. When you’re watching on a delay and desperate to avoid spoilers, though, it’s like the sound of two football bros, hopped up on Rockstar Energy Drink and Slim Jims, chest bumping.

Now home, I fast-forwarded through commercials and between every play (fun fact: Did you know there’s only, like, 13 minutes of honest-to-Dick Butkus action in the average game? It’s true, I read it online), but by 2:30 I was still well behind. So it wasn’t until 10 minutes after the first boom that I saw Jon Ryan lob the ball to Gary Gilliam on that fake field goal in the third quarter and bring the score to 19-7. Then it was one minute after the second boom that Russell scampered into the endzone and the Hawks were within striking distance. But the next boom—less than a minute later—didn’t make sense. Could they have really scored again? Already? Or were my neighbors just really drunk and despondent and getting careless with the lighter? And then fifteen seconds later I saw the onside kick—the one that will go down in Hawks history and made Brandon Bostick a Twitter punchline.

 

I watched the rest of the game live and heard the next two explosions—after Marshawn Lynch’s 24-yard, crotch-grabbing score and the Wilson-to-Willson two-point conversion prayer—right on cue. And by the time Jermaine Kearse snatched that bomb out of the air and rolled into the endzone in overtime, my screams were drowning out the best that my neighborhood had to offer. The Seahawks were going back to the Super Bowl, and it didn’t matter anymore that I’d spent the first half of the game in a Chuck E. Cheese knockoff. But more important—between yelling “DID YOU JUST SEE THAT?” at my cat and reassuring my son that it's okay, sometimes Daddy raises his voice when he's happy—I decided it was a good idea that I hadn’t gone through with my plan to gift the birthday boy a pack of light bulbs out of spite.

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