|The cure for the cheeseball and chain|
By Stacey Pressman
Special to Page 2
My friend Cristina called the other day. She wanted to know what I was doing for the weekend. In almost every other case, I'd have said, "Nothing." It's never really a lie. But in an upset, I actually did have plans this time. I told her I was going to Yankee Stadium.
Cristina, in an ever-so-serious tone, said, "Stace, will you call me from your cell phone during the seventh-inning stretch when they play 'Cotton Eye Joe'?"
More from my end: more dead silence.
Finally, from my end: even more dead silence.
"Stace, you there?"
"Yeah, Cristina, I'm here. I'm just tying my hair back so the noose will fit more snugly around my neck."
It isn't that I'm too cool for public displays of the Macarena, the YMCA, Mambo No. 5, the wave, a Jumbotron marriage proposal, even face and/or body paint. Heck, as you'll see, I wrestle with my demons, too. But I have to laugh at some of the things we sports fans get excited about. American sporting events have become group therapy sessions for cheeseballs.
And Cotton Eye Joe is right in the cheeseball wheelhouse. If you admit to liking it, you're probably in touch with your inner cheeseball.
Or, maybe this is what keeps you in touch: If you're the first to jump into the conga line at a wedding, or if the hair on the back of your neck stands up at the opportunity to break out "the lawn mower," "the shopping cart," or "the sprinkler" in the middle of a crowded bar . . . then you're in touch with the cheese.
Even if you aren't, you certainly know someone who is. That friend of yours ... the one who has never met a limbo stick he hasn't arched his back under. Yeah, that one. The DJ says, "How low can you go?" and you stare at your friend and think you can answer for him. This is the guy who, by some quirk of Richard Simmons fate, is missing the gene responsible for embarrassment. This is the guy, perfectly normal up to this moment in the evening, who can suddenly make you cringe in absolute horror by quoting "Star Trek" as if it were Shakespeare at the most inopportune time.
Yeah, we all know that guy.
I have come to realize that sporting events are breeding grounds and safe havens for these types. I mean, that sort of behavior is acceptable when you're a child; but by a certain age, shouldn't most people outgrow it? As a 10-year-old at football games, I remember being excited when the wave came around to our seats. Now I just think: "What cheeseball in section 7(G) started this thing and why are all these people buying into it, and I hope this idiot sitting next to me in his Styrofoam hat and No. 1 finger puppet doesn't spill my beer because he is obviously champing at the bit to ride the surf."
For anyone who doesn't know about this insidious "Cotton Eye Joe" phenomena, let me explain. We all know it is a baseball tradition to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the middle of the seventh inning. And we all know that since Sept. 11, we've been singing "God Bless America" during the stretch, too. So, to review: "God Bless America" first, followed by baseball's traditional "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." It's very patriotic and touching.
But that isn't enough for Yankee Stadium. Out of the belly of the stadium beast during the seventh-inning stretch comes a hideous 1994 electronic-techno hoe-down known as "Cotton Eye Joe."
If it hadn't been for Cotton Eye Joe
I'd been married long time ago
Where did you come from? Where did you go?
Where did you come from Cotton Eye Joe?
-- Rednex, 1994
Cristina was only being a friend, and wanted to join me in an inner-cheese moment. I reminded her that it would be close to 100 degrees outside, and that my inner cheese would be melted or fermented by the seventh inning.
But during every seventh inning, I feel my inner cheese demons fighting among themselves. Half of them want to participate. They tell me, "Stacey, look around. Everyone's doing it. Will you give the song what it deserves? You know, that little 'hop, jig and a wiggle' move that you're really good at?" The other half (the more dignified half) says, "Stacey, these people around you are idiots! You're a decorum girl, and decorum must prevail. You're not going to give in to this, are you?"
This debate is agonizing. It sends me into split-second-decision panic mode every time.
After my "Cotton Eye Joe" anxiety attack, I wanted to get to the bottom of this conflict. So I did what any normal girl would do: I consulted ESPN's resident cheeseball, NFL analyst Sean Salisbury.
Sean is one of the few guys I know who is openly in touch with his own inner cheese. He belts out Britney Spears and Enrique Iglesias in the office, and he has no problem hitting the Michael Jackson high notes. He sings on a whim and he most certainly never uses the I-only-know-that-cause-my-kids-listen-to-it excuse. He's the kind of person who, at least for a second or two, makes you think, "If I looked that good being a cheeseball, I'd be one for life."
Sean made me realize that my cheeseball issues are simply a public-vs.-private matter.
"Stacey," he said, "I'm okay with my cheese. It's your cheese I have a problem with."
And there it is. He's right. I'm comfortable with my own cheese; but when others thrust their cheesiness upon me, I turn away. As fast as I can.
Let's go back to the wave. When I see it start on the other side of the stadium, immediate agita sets in. I experience the same uneasiness that my Nana used to display when we grandkids demanded she take us to the swim club just after she just had her hair done. I absolutely dread the wave. I never stand. Doesn't matter how many drinks I've had.
I used to give it a half-ass hands-in-the-air effort. Now I don't even do that.
I pretend it isn't happening.
I wish it to be over. Quickly.
In essence, I'm a wave freeloader. I let 1,000 other people in my section do the work, while I reap the benefits of their fan activism.
I can't help but focus on the wave section leader -- the cheeseball in the Tedy Bruschi jersey a few rows in front of me screaming and jumping out of his bleacher seat, arms fully extended in perfect Greg Louganis style as he taunts the section next to us. I find myself trying to make eye contact with someone over there, something to give them an our-section-is-hardly-a-bicameral-legislative-democracy look. Then I focus back on the Bruschi Boy, wishing in Skeelo-esque fashion that I was a little bit taller (and bigger) so I could crush him like a bug. And I say to myself, "It's the wave, you idiot, not a tsunami. Sit the heck down so I can see the Jumbotron. I hear Bill in section 218 is about to propose to Susan and she needs my help in deciding whether she should say yes or no!"
There's another fan phenomenon I will never quite understand: Jumbotron proposals. (Note to future husband, wherever you may be out there: DON'T YOU EVEN DARE!) I'm curious about the statistics on the number of Jumbotron proposals that end in divorce. I venture to say the numbers are probably 100 percent.
And what if she says no? How about we just save the Jumbotron for the important things in life. Like, say, discovering the next Pam Anderson.
It's probably not all that cheesy to say I liked Al B. Sure! when I was a kid. Everyone has an awkward musical phase. Half of you probably still have a single sequined glove somewhere in your closet. What is cheesy is that my love of everything "Sure" hasn't diminished with time. I download his music off the web. I sing along with it in my car. I listen to it when I work out.
Whatever happened to Al B. Sure!? I have yet to hear him mentioned on VH1 -- no "Behind the Music," no "I Love the '80s," not even a "Where Are They Now?" segment. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Was I the only person secretly hoping he'd be sleeping on the bottom bunk, underneath Hammer on the WB's "The Surreal Life?"
When VH1, home of "Top 40 Hair Bands of All Time," ignores your existence, it means something has gone terribly wrong. I am thinking I should put him on the back of a milk carton. Al B.: If you're reading this, drop me a line and let me know you're okay.
As you can see, I clearly have "serious issues." But in my defense, I basically keep this stuff to myself, while three fat men get dressed up in drag and call themselves the 'Hog-ettes' and everyone in the stadium thinks this is acceptable behavior.
What is it about sports that allows us to act this way? Is it the anonymity we experience in huge stadium crowds? Is it that we feel more comfortable in a gathering of like-minded people? Another question to which I don't have the answer. All I know is that nothing brings out a person's Buster Poindexter inner cheese like a sporting event.
Stacey Pressman is a freelance producer for ESPN and a contributing writer to Page 2. She can be reached at StaceyPressman@aol.com.