08 February 2010

Saint Joseph's University

13 Nov 2009. I feel bloated just remembering all the pink and orange road signs along the PhilBo corridor. So many Dunkin' Donuts, so little tolerance for half a dozen jam filled crullers.

"This is my dream!"
I take a sniff.
"My dream smells like feet."
"Oh, you get used to it." Angela assures me. She's the head of gameday staff at the Palestra, our big-game court in downtown Philly.
Our regular mascot was hurt in a freak nightclub accident, so I, the mascot reserve, was called up to take his place. And what a day to be called up! Our St. Joe's Hawks (named for our Welsh first coach and some kind of priest - I think Jesuit? - Lloyd 'The Hawk' Hwcau) are taking on the hated Richmond Spiders for the A10 basketball title. The winner gets to taste March Madness in the NCAA championship!
Angela snaps me out of my awe. "Look alive, it's game time!"
I put on the hawk head, completing the ensemble, grab my two bottles of Pomegranate Per4mance, and hit the sidelines behind the SJU bench.
The atmosphere is about to blow off the roof! I have never seen SJU fans like this, what a rush! I can only imagine what the players feel like. So I do. And it's much the same, only with 40 fewer pounds of feathered body suit.

The first half was a blur. Did twenty minutes really go by that fast?
We are up by three thanks to a half court circus shot from Arthur 'Big Bala' Cynwyd as time expires.
I'm steaming in my bird suit, so before halftime is over, I drink the rest of my Pomegranate Per4mance. I head back to the locker room for a refill.

I make an unexpected and urgent change in priorities.
I've been stung by bees before, and that's the closest sensation I can compare this to. But this, this is ten times worse. I let go of the bottles.
But they don't fall to the ground.
I look at my hands. My thumbs, which I stuck inside the mouths of the bottles to carry them, have swollen so big that I can't pull them out. Can't shake them off.
I see a small brown spider in each bottle. When did they get in? Why? They must have been attracted to the juice. Who knows now. Now - now I want the bottles off, the spiders dead or at least unable to bite, and my thumbs in cold water, milk, lotion, something, ANYTHING.
I spot Angela's jet black hair and wave her over. When I tell her what's up, she leads me back to the locker room to saw off the bottles with some medical scissors. We are blocked by the teams coming back onto the court. Meanwhile, I am swinging my arms, using centrifugal - or is it centripetal? - force to keep the spiders off my thumbs, stuck on the bottom of the bottles.
So I'm standing there, swinging away like a crazy man, my screams of pain being drowned out by the crowd. The well groomed coaches exit the locker room, giving me looks. I don't blame them.

Some of the students above the portal imitate my flapping. Maybe they're mocking, or a little drunk, or both. Everyone is finally out of the locker room now and the staff moves the metal barriers.
Angela leads me forward. She stops quick. She asks, "How bad are you?"
"Are you sure you want to leave now?" She turns my feathered cranium so I can see the video screen above center court.
That's me on the big screen!
When I see myself, the Palestra erupts. Everyone starts their own awkward flailing.

I say, "Wow."
Big Bala Cynwyd, running out of bounds on a warmup drill, jogs past me and smiles, flapping all the way. "Yeah, Hawk Man! You better not be leaving!" he yells.
Angela, human Ritalin, brings me back into focus. "Well? How do you feel?"
I have a noseful of moldy foam and two thumbs throbbing with arachnid venom. But if I keep moving my arms, it won't get any worse.

I guess I did a good job that game. We won, sure, and made a nice showing in the NCAAs, but I hear the SJU Hawk mascot still flaps like a bug bitten maniac. All game long, in fact. It's become its trademark! And, yes, I still hate spiders.

Go, Hawk Man, Go! The Hawk Will Never Die!

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