I. Lucky 7’s
If the World Cup is, as those incessant Bono-voiced commercials suggest, outside of the text of serious world politics — some brief respite from global concerns petty or epidemic — it doesn’t mean an end to the speculation of what is actually going on in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, at least among the employees at Lucky 7’s. A mostly quiet Tuesday afternoon game between Brazil (the highest ranked team in the world) and DPR Korea (at FIFA-ranked 105, the lowest ranked in the tournament) becomes a forum for foreign policy.
The first order of discussion is, appropriately, Kim Jung Il, DPR Korea’s “Dear Leader.”
“Did you hear that?” asks manager Charles Stanton, looking up for a moment from the laptop on which he plans out employee shifts for the week. “The ESPN announcers just said that Kim Jung Il claims to have an invisible link to the team’s head coach so he can direct the play from Pyongyang.”
The television panel of soccer-knowledgeable American and Brits laugh, as do those in the bar, but given the impressive display exhibited in the first half of the game, maybe there is something to it? Or anyway, DPR Korea’s back line has something going on — the spirit of ‘66 is, it is fair to say, alive and well.
Oh, and those North Korean fans shouting wildly in the stands are, according to the New York Times, actually Chinese “volunteers” — apparently sometimes paid, or at least paid pro bono, for their services. That, coupled with DPR Korea’s rejecting South Korea’s offer to televise the games to their neighbor’s to the north, means that there aren’t any fans watching back home.
But they’ve picked up at least one at the bar. DPR Korea intercepts an errant Brazilian pass (one of many in the first half), and Jong Tae-Se — also known as “the People’s Rooney” after his penchant for powerful runs reminiscent of English striker Wayne Rooney — sends the ball from 20-odd yards out just wide of the Brazilian goal posts.
A man at the bar curses loudly.
“I can’t believe I’m rooting for North Korea,” he says. “I guess I just like the underdogs.”
From the other end of the bar someone asks, “Where were you born again … Cuba, right? Of course you have to support those communists.”
“If my mother heard you,” he says, “she’d kill you.”
II. Guillo’s Place
Tom Rosenberg’s left pinky finger is purple at the knuckle and sticks out awkwardly from his Coors Light bottle when he takes a drink from it — not dissimilar to an attempt at overly dignified champagne drinking. Which for Guillo’s Place, with its darkly tinted windows and meager light, its stacked cases of cheap beer against the back wall and daytime drinking, is maybe misplaced.
“I’ve got insurance, yeah,” he says of the curious case of his bent finger, “but am I going to wait for four hours in an emergency room for a little bruise?” The bruise, however faded, is anything but little — it’s lumpy and discolored and it’s been that way for who knows how long. Later on he admits that he thinks it was broken but now it doesn’t hurt so much anymore.
“I just need a distraction, like the game,” he says, looking at how the finger is splayed from his hand even when not holding a bottle.
Rosenberg had been on vacation in Florida and didn’t know the World Cup had started until he arrived at a bar showing the USA-England match. Since then, he’s made a point to try to watch when he can, and this brings him to Guillo’s Place for Brazil–North Korea. It’s been years since he’s watched a soccer game before this World Cup, he says, but the last time was in person — sort of. The last time he heard a game was in person, waiting outside in the Giants Stadium parking lot during the U.S.-hosted 1994 games. A transplant to New Jersey from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, he’d been working for NJ Transit as a bus dispatcher and a feeder, which involved the complicated algorithm of masses of people meeting up with their respective buses, with all parties in a rush.
“Dispatching was fine,” he recalls. “I can multitask and I like being busy, even though we were sending out three, sometimes four hundred buses at a time. At least we were indoors and we were given food.”
“But as a feeder they had me out in the heat — you remember how hot it was that summer? — trying to get the buses in line to pick up the fans from the game. NJ Transit forgot about us out there.”
Throngs of fans, mostly international visitors, drunk but friendly even in the humid New Jersey sun, were eager to tip him for his help finding their way to their bus (tips which he refused). He’d direct them to wherever they needed to go all the while also trying to get the buses in and out on time. In his brief and rare spare moments he’d look for, and not find, a much-needed bottle of water.
“The World Cup organizers paid us a flat fee, and we gave out tickets when people boarded the bus in New York City, but you know how many guys lost their tickets by the end of the game? Some drivers were giving them a hard time, saying they wouldn’t let them on the bus, but what were they supposed to do?”
He continues: “These guys from Italy were just standing around the Meadowlands parking lot, no clue what they should do, so I told the drivers to let them on anyway.”
In the meantime, back in 2010, the Brazilian defender Maicon hooks a ball from the right side and it somehow finds its way past the North Korean keeper. No one — not the Brazilian squad, the North Korean defenders, the television commentators or fans — seem to have expected it, and there’s a momentary pause before the typical on-pitch goal celebration. Adrian Healey, announcing the game for ESPN, stutters for a moment before finding his voice. “Only Maicon can know if that was intentional or not,” he finally says, his understated observations, so often associated with commentary from Brits, becoming something of a caricature.
Rosenberg seems the only one left less than baffled.
“Good shot” is all he says. “Now when’s North Korea going to score?”
I knowingly tell him that they probably won’t, but then — of course — some thirty minutes later they do.
“There we go,” is all he’ll say, regardless of the fact that the game is more or less out of reach at this point.
“Yeah …” he continues. “Soccer.”
jerseycityindependent.com via Jornal.us