By Zach Dundas
PORTLAND, OREGON, USA— The cats woke me, as I knew they would. My wife had expressly ruled out a 3 am viewing of France v Australia, but the cats, per established biorhythm, jumped me around four. As I scooped paté into the little badgers’ bowls, “should I or shouldn’t I” naturally arose. After a quick self-assessment, I decided no, and settled for checking in on the score via The Guardian, on my phone, before attempting to go back to sleep: World Cup life in exile on the Pacific Coast.
In any case, the old eyes popped open at 05.59. I creaked upstairs to wake the boy. Last-minute controversy had thrown this move into doubt; after a long Friday evening on the tiles, in which the lad consumed two Mexican Cokes (unauthorized), a fracas erupted over whether he could look up Portugal v Spain highlights, post bedtime. I made a fatherly statement along the lines of, “Well, if you can’t handle a couple of Cokes, we’re definitely not waking up early to watch that match.” No one was at their best.
I decided World Cup mornings are not to be wasted. And though in my fantasies of dawn-patrol connoisseurship, I recline in an Eames lounge as dual nozzles spray cappuccino and Campari and soda down my gullet, with breaks to trade sage observations on the game with Socrates (both of them), the lad is the morning viewing companion I have. He’s ten years old, going on 11, that inflection-point age. I’m sure he’ll have a lot to say to me about future tournaments, but there may not be another World Cup for which we can share a duvet while he snuggles his ancient stuffed rabbit.
So Argentina v Iceland happened, with its Sad Messi memes and Icelandic defense of dwarven make. My kid is a firm Ronaldo man, to the point that he says things like, “Messi just isn’t making his teammates better.” (Thank god, he’s dropped the tax evasion thing.) By halftime, my father, visiting from Montana, ambled bleary-eyed on to the scene. He’s a major Grizzly football (other kind) fan and knows soccer just well enough to troll it on a super-basic level.
This is just how it goes: you dragoon a non-soccer person into a big match (or three, in one day), and you imagine that some Brasil 70 shit will soon turn your buddy into a hardcore convert. Then you get, well, cup football. Steely and scrappy, but arguably tough on entry-level types. You find yourself explaining that Iceland is playing with amazing structure. He’s a good sport, that man. I had made lofty promises of some cross-cultural fun for Peru v Denmark, but Las Primas, our neighborhood Peruvian joint, was reportedly closed because the kitchen staff had gone to Russia. And the four-year-old was still asleep for the first half, though by the end of that match the whole family had assembled and sprayed the Media Centre with scone crumbs.
We did mobilize in the break before Nigeria v Croatia. The boy dug a knock-off checkerboard jersey out of his closet, and his sister pulled on one of his old rec jerseys. Then began the quest to find a Portland soccer bar with room for a family of five, half an hour before a World Cup kickoff, and this is not recommended. We cruised past the Eastern European place, where chainsmoking Croatians overflowed the sidewalk. We took a shot at the hipster English place, jammed to the rafters and thunderous. At last, we defaulted to Beulahland, age-old upon the Portland football scene and metaphysically imbued with the vibrations of early ‘00s ska DJ nights, when the sport’s local fan-base could basically all show up to the same party. There we luxuriated in space, with a random scattering of fellow supporters—the voluable Algerian, the old-line Timbers Army face, the lone woman in a Japan kit—that likewise embodied the old ways and old days, before football broke.
The match was: eh. My kids climbed all over me. My dad cracked wise about diving. I drank two beers before 2 pm, and we decanted back into the sunshine to do backyard chores. That’s this World Cup in America, maybe. You don’t get what you think you want, but you get what you need.
Zach Dundas is the author of two books about crime and sport (roughly), a correspondent for Monocle, and editor of Portland Monthly.