I’m guessing many of you think I’m the idiot for including the Los Angeles Lakers so often in my ‘Waiter Blog.’ I know it’s completely off-topic, but the Lakers are such a large part of my life (a little embarrassingly) I just can’t avoid it.
Well, this time the Lakers and Tivo do have waiter-relevance.
I’ve been a Lakers fan since 1979, when Magic Johnson was drafted by Los Angeles. Magic hails from Lansing, Michigan, where he won the state championship in high school and later won the NCAA championship at Michigan State, also in (East) Lansing. It happens that during that same period of time, I also lived in Lansing for my grade school years and one year of high school. I even almost went to the same junior high that Magic attended, but my family moved to a different district before the year started.
I moved to Northern California in 1977. Because I was already following Magic, and because he, as a rookie, immediately won the NBA Championship in ’79-’80, I became a permanent Lakers fan. Coming from Lansing, I had one of the few legitimate excuses for rooting for Los Angeles while living in Northern California.
After graduating high school, I moved with my family to Southern California, and from that point, it was really on. I could watch every televised game. I could listen to all the others on radio. I spent many an evening in the garage with a portable radio, listening to Chick Hearn while I practiced writing on a Smith-Corona electric typewriter. Before cable television lines were planted in the ground in our neighborhood, I leaned on my step-dad to subscribe to ON-TV, which carried all the Lakers home games. ON-TV was a crazy idea that most people would have a hard time understanding. It was a set-top box that decoded a scrambled over-the-air broadcast signal, UHF channel 52 in Los Angeles. The station carried mostly local sports and movies, like an early HBO. There was also soft-core porn after midnight. If memory serves, you would put the TV on channel 3, then flip the big black knob on the box to ON. I assume the box was permanently tuned to channel 52. Just like that, Lakers!
Around this same time, we got our first VCR. And around this time in the post, we finally get to the relevance of Tivo and the Lakers to the life of a waiter.
I started recording Lakers games to be able to watch them later. In those days, I played a lot of basketball. I would head down to the lighted courts around 5:30 or 6 p.m. and play till about 9 p.m. I would do this like five days a week. It’s not like there were games going all day and night at those courts – those were the prime time hours. No one played earlier, and the lights shut off at 10 p.m.
As you can guess, I needed to have my cake and eat it too. Lakers home games started at 7 p.m. in those days (if I recall correctly), and many road games much earlier. So I learned how to program the VCR and taught the family how watch TV without screwing up the recording. I would return sweaty and salty, have something to eat, and periodically snipe flashes of live TV (with the sound off) to see if the game was over. Usually I would stare a few feet above the set so I could kind of only see the colors and shapes but definitely not make out a score or a particular play. When I saw Chick and his color man (Keith Erickson at the time – and by far the best partner I heard work with Chick) doing a ‘stand-up’ in front of the camera, I knew the game was over. So I’d wait another ten minutes, rewind the tape, and settle in for my fix.
At that time, I was working at pizza parlors for my money, living with Mom and step-dad for free, going to community college.
Fast forward to the mid-’80s. The hey-day of Showtime. I’m now working nights as a waiter, making more money than anyone else my age that I knew, and I’m taping every single Lakers game of the season. Even games I could have watched live. I had gotten to where I preferred the extra control I had (not to mention the time savings by being able to FF commercials). Pause, FF, Slow-Mo. I even archived a few particularly great games every year.
Of course, most restaurants have bars, and have TVs in the bars. And the most popular (almost exclusive) fare for those TVs is local sports. I should mention here that I watch the games because I love and follow the team. But my greatest joy is rooting for the victory, enjoying the rollercoaster of hope/despair over whether the Lakers will win or not.
I went through a lot, trying to avoid learning anything about the game that was being played that night during my shift. Failing that, I was absolutely desperate to dodge learning the outcome. Sometimes it was unavoidable. I come up to the bar and the eyes reflexively jumped to the TV, and sometimes I’d see a mid-game score. Damn! That much suspense ruined! Other times a guest would yell something about the score or the nature of the game or describe a play. Nothing you could do about that.
I trained (and pleaded with) my co-workers about how serious I was about not learning about the game. They mostly all cooperated. I had a lot of fun nights coming home with $100 in my wallet and settling in with my VCR to watch the Lakers at 11 p.m. It wasn’t the icing on the cake, it was the whole thing.
The intermittent and aggravating problem came with the garden variety public when I was off work. After a shift I would not infrequently end up having a drink or two in our bar or some other bar. Also not infrequently, there would be game highlights playing on the silent TVs. And again not infrequently, this would lead to desultory conversation with another guy at the bar.
‘How ’bout that game?’ he would ask.
‘Wait,’ I would caution as I held up my hands, ‘please don’t say anything about the Lakers game. I recorded it and I’m gonna watch it when I get home. Please. If you don’t mind.’
The Grin appears. If it’s possible to get a sick feeling in your spine, I start to get it.
‘Oh yeah? Okay.’ The eyes shift a bit. He’s thinking. Here comes . . . ‘You won’t want to watch it anyway. They lost. Ha-ha-ha!’
‘Why did you say that?’ I ask, pained and sad.
‘Okay. They won! Ha-ha-ha! Now you don’t know!’
But now I do know, you jackass. They won. You’re so stupid you can’t figure out that to ‘fake’ tell me the real outcome would make you just a cruel asshole who ignored my polite, earnest plea. So your cagey mind master-stroked: Tell him the opposite!
Except for a few scattered seasons in the last 30 years, the Lakers generally win about 2/3’s of their games. I know this. I know, as above, that whenever a jackass tells me with a retarded, thumb-up-my-ass grin, that the Lakers lost, it means they won. Big surprise here, but I’ve never been outsmarted on the matter by one of these idiots.
Then there’s the opposite – which isn’t really any different. ‘Ha-ha! It’s a great game. They won!’
These buffoons think they’re doing me a favor. He’ll get to the end of the game and Wow! It doesn’t end like he thought it would!
Thank you for orchestrating my evening of entertainment, numbnuts.
Then there are the ones who just can’t resist showing off. Though they don’t reveal the eventual winner, they insist on telling you some significant aspect of the game.
‘Kobe makes an amazing play in the 3rd quarter.’
‘Wait till you what happens just before halftime.’
‘You’re going to be surprised.’
I say they’re showing off because these people are the same ones who once they learn something, absolutely must show off what they know. Ever have to share a newspaper with someone and they hand you the section they’ve just read?
‘Check the obituaries. The Skipper from Gilligan’s Island died. Did you know he was a minor movie star before Gilligan’s Island?’
It’s almost as if these clowns are proud of the play they saw in the Lakers game – as if they had some ownership of it.
Hearing these snippets of their real life experience is about half as bad as hearing the ‘fake’ result of the game. Though I don’t know who wins, I do have a significant landmark to anticipate. So if I know, for instance, that something big happens just before halftime, more often than not I get a good idea of what it will be, based on what’s happening in the game. An obvious example would be that nothing cool has happened and Kobe has the ball, dribbling down the clock as the half is about to expire. Well, when he drains a long 3-pointer, I’m not really that surprised.
Or the guy who said simply, ‘You’re going to be surprised.’ Well, now I’m not, because that 25-point Lakers lead at halftime is almost certainly going to be eaten away and the Lakers will either lose or narrowly win. Because, after a 25-point halftime lead what else would be surprising?
My strategy for the threat has evolved over the years. I used to plead and explain nicely. Then I started making a firm and concise statement, and immediately walking away. Later, I would literally put my fingers in my ears and hum loudly. Eventually I discovered the best approach was nothing at all. If I hear talk of the game, I leave quickly (humming so I can’t hear). If there’s no talk but highlights are on, I don’t watch and I don’t mention. This works best because it doesn’t put the forbidden fruit out there for these bozos to impulsively snatch at.
Yet, many times every season, especially in the playoffs, I have to make the mini-speech about how I’m recording on Tivo and plan to watch the game when I get off.
It happened to the wife last night. She was off early and stopped at a local watering hole for a glass of wine before heading home. She had to make The Speech to an adult man and his mother.
‘Oh, they won,’ said the jackass.
‘Why did you say that?’ the wife asked. ‘I asked you not to say anything.’
‘Well . . . ‘
‘I hope you realize that you have actually ruined my evening. I was going to go home, make dinner, have a glass of wine, and watch the game. Now, because of you, I know they already won and all the excitement is gone. Thanks.’
He apologized. Better still, his mom verbally beat the crap out of him for a few minutes. A grown man in a public restaurant, being called rude, inconsiderate and immature by his mother.
I was impressed to hear her tell this story. There’s a lot to learn from women. I should listen when the wife tells me things.
Maybe that’s what I’ll do next time I get one of these smug idiots: ‘Thanks. I bet your mom would be amused and very proud of you right now. Have a great night. I’m leaving.’