Tailgate Pilgrims (Part 2)

The Big, Annual Super Bowl Sunday Party

Although this story series contains actual things from the world in which we live, including towns, places, and events, it should be read as a work of fiction. All characters are fictional, not based on any real person, and any resemblance to an actual person is entirely coincidental. The events depicted are entirely the product of my imagination.

The big day had finally arrived. McKinley Buxton III — better known to his good friends as “Mac” — was so excited he could barely contain himself. Mac usually slept until eight on Sunday mornings and left himself enough time to get up, get polished, and put on his best Sunday suit for the early — and most heavily-attended — service at the family’s megachurch, a colossal four-story building that could accommodate over a thousand people if necessary, and usually did, the rafters nearly overflowing. His wife, Elaine Buxton, nee Rutledge, of the Family Rutledge — soybean magnates from the western part of the state — also got dressed to the nines, looking like something out of a Gucci magazine ad. The more bling the better.

They always dressed way up like this; it was church after all, and one should make every attempt to look as good as possible. Mac got slightly disgusted when he saw other men without at least a coat and tie, or wearing — for goodness sake! — jeans into church. What the heck was the world coming to anyway? People were downright lazy these days, Mac thought, and their inappropriate attire in church was darn-near blasphemous. Mac shook his head again as he thought about it.

But this particular Sunday morning was different than any other Sunday morning of the year; it was Super Bowl Sunday morning. So instead of rising at eight, Mac got up at six. He got up two hours early to get ready; to prepare the Buxton home for the annual Buxton Super Bowl House Party. It was one of the highlights of the year for him.

He would still go to church; he never missed (unless it was bad weather or something). But he needed the extra two hours to make the place ready. After all, the party had become one of the biggest events of the year in their neighborhood and among their close friends, and Mac wanted to impress everyone. He darn near jumped out of bed as Elaine grunted and shifted in response to his sudden thrashing around.

“Sorry honey,” he whispered, “but I need to get everything ready.”

He made the coffee quietly alone in the relative darkness of the expansive kitchen. The sunlight filtered through the windows out to the vast paving stone patio he’d had installed a year after they moved in. He smiled when he simultaneously noted the weather appeared to be good for once in the first week of February — he might even bring out those heaters he had first seen out in California and ordered over Amazon since you couldn’t find them anywhere in his home state and get the fireplace roaring for the guests — and recalled how he had to make the contractor tear out the patio twice before they got it exactly the way he wanted it. Those contractors had been lazy during the first two attempts, he thought to himself as he chuckled ruefully; must’ve been those sketchy people who had been doing all the manual work.

Mac was a good guy. He certainly considered himself one.

For two decades, he had worked his butt off in the nebulous world of finance — a profession where most people had no idea how money was made that wasn’t essentially a shell game played with other people’s money, whether it came from banks or private “investors.” In reality, it was little more than sitting down at a blackjack table in Vegas, although it was all certainly clothed up with a much prettier facade and the “dealers” wore better clothes.

Mac had existed and survived — indeed, after learning the game — thrived — and he now had all the trappings of having done so: Recently-constructed, custom-made McMansion with three-car garage, swimming pool and built-in jacuzzi out back, three-oven kitchen, and his true love, his mammoth basement “Man Cave” recreation room that took up nearly half of the house’s footprint and was carpeted in the colors of his alma-mater. It was a sight to behold. The house had three separate bars; one in the Man-Cave adorned with football memorabilia, one on the ground floor off the dining room, and one out back next to the fireplace that he only used on certain occasions — like he would today if the weather was warm enough. He sure hoped it would be.

He realized he was humming now, as the coffee finished brewing and he took his favorite coffee cup down from one of the dozen or so cabinets, the one with his favorite NFL team’s logo. He filled the cup to the brim as he noted how close the team had come to making the playoffs this year, only to get eliminated on the last day of the season when they lost to the lowly Detroit Lions, a team that had gone 4 and 12. 9 wins and 7 losses was just not good enough this year. “Maybe next year,” he told himself, as he took the cup and walked out onto the patio.

No, his favorite hometown team was not playing in the Super Bowl this year. In fact, they hadn’t made a Super Bowl in twenty years. The team was owned and run by a guy who thought he knew something about football when he really didn’t; in fact, a lot of NFL owners fit this description. But rather than heed the advice of people brave enough to speak up, the owner showed such back-stabbing traitors the door. Instead, the owner surrounded himself with “yes-men,” and he had a track record of hiring formerly successful coaches just after they had peaked and started to run downhill; indeed, all of them had been fired or forced to resign from their former teams after the game had passed them by. And they seemed to only get worse when they went to work for the owner of Mac’s team.

But none of this was of any importance to Mac right now; today was Super Bowl Sunday.

It really didn’t matter who the two teams were or whether you even cared who won. It was the last football game of any consequence for the next seven months! “Dang it,” he thought to himself as he felt a small wave of melancholy suddenly wash over him. (Mac didn’t curse; not even in his mind.) He just wasn’t much of a basketball, hockey or baseball fan, and he always had a hard time adjusting to life without his beloved game. Sure he liked golf, which was in full swing now, but more often than not, the announcers put him to sleep on the couch with their soothing, understated baritone voices.

And anyway, come on! Golf didn’t give anyone that rush that football did! There wasn’t anything that compared to that feeling when your team — your TEAM wearing your beloved colors — scored that game-winning touchdown or made that clutch field goal! Nothing matched it. But if that wasn’t to be this year, there was just nothing better than the Super Bowl, no matter who was playing. And Mac was going to make sure his annual Super Bowl bash was awesome this year. No one was going to stop him.

He even felt a small tear trickle down his cherubic face as he got to work. This was a big day after all. And he cherished every little bit of it.

Mac had invited lots of people to the annual bash; all the neighbors and a bunch of friends who weren’t afraid to munch on some chips and bean dip and crush a few lite beers. Heck, he usually got around to breaking out some of the good stuff, including that bourbon everyone liked to call “small-batch,” although Mac didn’t know why exactly. He had to be an accommodating host though, so he bought and stocked stuff he knew he would never consume just so he would have some on hand for the guests.

Mac was a good host. He certainly considered himself one. Every person he had invited was coming. After all, Mac’s party was a big happening in their neighborhood and in the social circles he and Elaine operated in.

But then there were the Daltons, Neil and Pamela. Mac knew Neil Dalton through Mac’s wife Elaine. Elaine’s college friend Pamela Dalton was Neil’s wife. Elaine and Pamela had been roommates in college. They had a very close relationship in college. But after Pamela met Neil, things had changed a bit, as they usually do in such situations.

Why had Mac invited Neil and Pamela? Neil, in addition to conveniently being Pamela’s husband, had actually played college football for the D-1 alma-mater and had gone on to play one season in the NFL. After that, Neil had gone into the military and served in the wars after 9–11. Mac didn’t know much about Neil’s military service because Neil never talked about it and Mac didn’t ask. Come to think of it, Neil never talked about his football career either, even though Mac and Elaine loved to bring it up and ask.

Mac wanted Neil to come to lend the bash even more gravitas. But the strange thing was, Neil and Pamela never seemed to be able to attend. They always seemed to have a conflict, or were out of town, or were on vacation; during the Super Bowl. Neil and Pamela always seemed to be down on some warm Florida beach somewhere on Super Bowl week for some reason. It was weird. Neil never said much about it; he or Pamela just politely gave their excuse, and that was that.

Neil and Pamela Dalton had been to one of Mac’s annual Super Bowl bashes, and only one. Mac wasn’t sure why, but over the years he had concluded it was because of the behavior of one of Mac’s friends and neighbors, a guy named Josh Givens.

Josh was a guy who loved football. After all, Josh had played in high school. And he had played in high school in a state where high school football was damn important. He had been on a state championship team, and he liked to tell everyone about it, even though it had been thirty years before.

And Josh seemed to know everything about football, whether you asked him or not. Most football fans were like that actually. It was like Twitter. Twitter gave people the illusion — for instance — that they were on the same level as the President of the United States just because they could respond to his tweets. And being a football fan gave fans the illusion that if they just watched enough football, they knew something about the game; indeed they were smarter than the players or even the coaches. Twitter and other social media exacerbated this delusion, because it gave the false impression to people that they were actually having a two-way conversation with someone like the President or the head coach, when the truth was, the President or the head coach never saw their comments. But like so many things in the year 2020, people manufactured their own, personal realities.

Josh Givens drove a massive, late model pickup truck with an engine that was way too loud and powerful. His wife drove a Mercedes. Josh dressed in expensive, faux Western, pearl-snap shirts handmade by the latest up-and-coming designer who operated out of some neo-industrial warehouse in Santa Fe, Aspen, or Cheyenne. His shirts could only be found at gilded little boutiques in the upscale areas of the city; this was not a product that could be purchased over the internet; that would certainly not do. One had to drive, park, and walk into the shop, find one in his size and swipe his card for the $200-dollar “progressive Western” shirt.

The too-coiffed and made-up ladies who worked the shop would smile plastically, fold the shirt up perfectly and wrap it up in the designer, shirt-wrapping paper, stenciled in the designer’s name. They would then place it in the environmentally-friendly, yet gaudy bag stenciled in the shop’s name that would proclaim to every onlooker where Josh had purchased his designer shirt, just so Josh could let everyone know.

His matching jeans cost $250, and were “jeans” in name only. They always fit a little too snugly on his bony, bowed legs. But again, like the shirt, the jeans proclaimed their designer’s name loudly in white embroidery sewed across the left back pocket above Josh’s shallow, barely-existent ass.

The garish ensemble was always topped off with some modern cowboy boots made out of the skin of some western, exotic-sounding desert animal.

The look didn’t befit him. But his wife was afraid to tell him.

Even still, Mac thought Josh was essentially harmless. And besides, he had to invite him because their wives for very close friends. Josh wasn’t malicious, he could just get a little obnoxious with ten Miller Lites sloshing around in his belly. And Josh absolutely LOVED him some football. The more Miller Lites Josh drank, the more he seemed hellbent on telling everyone around him how much he knew about the game.

Indeed, Mac had never seen anybody get as worked up over football as Josh Givens. In fact, the one time Josh Givens and Neil Dalton had both come to Mac’s house for the annual Super Bowl bash, they were a complete contrast; Josh reacting verbally, physically, and sometimes loudly to almost every play, and Neil seemingly off in a corner so quiet that everyone almost forgot he was there, even looking at his phone instead of watching the game.

That had been the only time Neil and Pamela had come to one of Mac’s annual Super Bowl bashes, and it had been years ago now. It was strange, Mac thought. And he wondered why. Neil had played at the alma mater and in the pros. But now he just seemed completely disinterested.

As he did every year, Mac had pestered Elaine to call or text Pamela to see if the Daltons would come over this year. It took her a few days, but when Pamela finally replied, she told Elaine they couldn’t make it because they were going to be in Florida; this time, some place Mac and Elaine had never even heard of called the “Ten Thousand Islands.”

When Elaine gave him the news late Friday that the Daltons were once again not coming, Mac was chagrined. It was starting to seem like the Daltons simply did not like football, or hell, maybe they didn’t even like America! (The latter conclusion was hard to believe though, because Neil — as Mac again remembered — was a war veteran. Mac always seemed to forget that part.)

As he continued with his preparations for the big party, Mac went through a number of other possibilities in his head. Maybe he was inviting too many people and the Daltons preferred a more intimate gathering. Maybe there was something off with Neil Dalton (because there certainly couldn’t be anything off with Mac).

It was all strange to Mac. Indeed, he considered all of these things. But it never once occurred to him that in addition to what he already suspected, Neil and Pamela Dalton just didn’t want to be around him or Josh Givens, or anyone like them.

Glen Hines is the author of the Anthology Trilogy of books — Document, Cloudbreak, and Crossroads — and the recently released Cathedrals in the Twilight, all available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. His writing has also been featured in Sports Illustrated, Task & Purpose, and the Human Development Project.