I glance across the table and you squint back at me. Our eyes lock above your corn-on-the-cob captured between wee fork-handles. I’ve never known anyone who used them, and yet here we are at this picnic and you brought your own. In a velour-lined leather-bound case. Were we high school enemies so many years ago? Friends? What is clear now is that we are both survivors and today you are my antagonist. I smile in reply to your attempt at intimidation; my goatee glistens with barbecue sauce.
Does your wife cut your hair? You don’t have to answer, because I can see she buys your clothes. I push more food into my mouth, without regard for enjoyment of what I put in there. I eat for strength and the stamina to outlast my foes. You seem to sense this as you open a wet-nap packet (you brought that as well), dab at your buttery visage, and then impale another ear of corn. It becomes clear to me I must focus. Protein is for winners. I stab at some ribs — the ones on my plate. Your time will come soon enough, my unworthy adversary.
When you arrived this afternoon — your wife all a-bristle like a battleship, progeny like salamanders scampering around your feet — my hopes for a day of food and fun were scraped into the trashcan downwind of our table. Everyone else brought a covered dish to share, but you threw down an open, half-eaten bag of potato chips. Your youngest brat grinned greasily. You packed your tanned cheeks with my homemade rumaki and stuffed more of it into your pockets “for later.” I wanted to smash you with a croquet mallet and induce your face to resemble a shattered bowl of salsa.
Condensation from the iced tea pitcher drips into my sandal and saturates my sock, hustling me back to the present. Inexplicably our wives sit together, their hair interlocked in a cat’s cradle of collusion. They whisper and giggle, pausing only to cast disapproving glares at the two of us. Abandoned plumbing repairs, broken tools, overdone steaks, poorly cut-in trim painting, stained briefs — what good to me are your secret failures if my own are revealed? I am betrayed. Likewise, I will not permit myself to be cast as the villain in my life’s own play. This ends now.
I rip asunder three of those little single-servings of black pepper and sprinkle the contents onto your corn. One, two, three. The once-golden ear now looks as if you rolled it in cigar ashes. You stand up, unbutton your Tommy Hilfiger blue chambray, and fold it over a chair. I can see you’ve been working out. The woman I married wolf-whistles. I peel off my Hanes Beefy-T Crewneck and toss it to the ground. Sunlight reflected from my pale jiggly flesh forces witnesses to blink. Your eager smirk sags into a kernel-studded snarl, which devolves into a mask of stark fear and doubt.
Yes, you’ve gazed deeper into my eyes, in which your demise plays out as surely as one of those drunk-driving videos we watched in health class our senior year. I smack taut pigskin. Lava-hot needles sting my hand but I barely wince.
Flag football: family-friendly fun, or blood sport of modern gladiators? For the first time in your life, you’re about to understand something.
Moreover, I can win this.