It is 6 a.m. Monday morning in Ubud, Bali, and one hour before Super Bowl kickoff. I am trying to explain to the staff of my little homestay what I am going to watch. I pantomime the throwing and catching of a football until a group light bulb goes off and all three young men put on their motorcycle helmets and begin banging into each other and laughing.
We Americans are constant entertainment to the Balinese.
I have watched the last three Super Bowls in Ubud at Naughty Nuri’s, an infamous open air bar owned by an Indonesian woman, Nuri and her New Yorker husband Brian. Nuri’s is famous for its martinis (a curry dish at Nuri’s costs around two dollars, whereas a martini, due to the huge tax on alcohol, will set you back $10. A three martini lunch at Nuri’s costs more than an average Balinese makes in a week.)
I arrive at Nuri’s at 7, and most of the good seats are taken by a group of Americans who, for all I know and wouldn’t surprise me, have been there all night. Beer is flowing, Bloody Marys are refilled. A regular stares at me with the glazed eyes of a man who has been hit by a tranquilizer dart. A couple across from me is drinking beer and eating runny eggs and fried potatoes with so much ketchup on their plates it looks like a CSI crime scene.
Colts 3, Saints 0
The first sign of trouble. Brian is skipping through the 500 Indonesian channels looking for the game. This goes on for a half hour. Highlights: A thin, large breasted Asian woman (unusual) is selling us something while what sounds like a dental drill orchestra plays in the background. Either a Dutch or German weatherman is screaming at us with the vocal tone of an SS officer telling us what to expect on this morning’s Death March (Sunrise 6: 21 a.m. chance of rain 70%). An advertisement for an Indonesian soap opera that features animated ducks sitting on chairs talking with the human actors (How could I make that up?). The only game on: two teams from the dregs of the Pac-10 men’s basketball conference.
Colts 10, Saints 0
It is clear that we are not going to see the game, even though you’d think Brian would say something. He and his group slowly move discreetly away from the television, like the cowboys in the old movies who slink away from the saloon doors before the shootout begins. Now there is, on my left, Jack, a retired security consultant from San Antonio; on my right, Darren, from New Jersey via San Jose and his friend Phil, from, maybe Santa Cruz. I say, maybe, because it’s impossible to get a straight answer out of anyone in Bali. There are three languages in Bali: Indonesian, Balinesian and ExPat. A simple enough question such as, “What are you doing in Bali?” leads to a complex web of vagaries, interspersed with faraway glances and exhalations of breath. Not unlike interviewing Sarah Palin.
Darren is a quick-witted, charming guy who doesn’t like football but enjoys drinking beer in a bar at 7 in the morning. He’s brought his laptop to check email during the game and he is bathed in revelation: Darrin has Skype on his computer, he will call a friend in the States who also has Skype, have him point his computer video camera at the television set and we will get a feed back to Bali and watch the game on Darrin’s laptop.
The excitement of Gilligan’s Island when the professor came up with a rescue plan pulses across our little table. Darrin, our MacGyver, makes a few calls to friends in the States.
No one answers.
Colts 10, Saints 3
Bill is behind me. He has a friend, Tom, in San Francisco, well, really Oakland, who’s a football fan, and a real partier, Bill adds. While Bill calls Tom I try to decipher what Bill’s resume of Tom means. He’s not just some regular football fan; he’s actually quite the partier as well. What a dichotomy, a football fan/partier. He sounds like a Renaissance Man.
Tom appears on our screen, with a post-waterboarding daze on his face. All of us yell at him until he lines up his camera correctly for our laptop. And then, game on. I can see the number 18 on a blue jersey. A cheer goes up from our table. Brian and his group, on the other side of the bar, don’t seem interested at all.
The quality of the image is blurry and washed out, a recently discovered home movie from the 50s. The speed of the action is jumpy like an old projector or, better yet, like watching dancers in a nightclub under a strobe light. I’m reminded of the frame by frame examination of the Zapruder Kennedy Assassination film in the movie JFK.
Manning, I think, throws an incompletion and the Colts punt. Brees and the boys come on the field. They march deep into Colts territory, in the Red Zone, then…
The screen goes black, the connection gone. Bill’s on it, calling Tom and, reiterating once again, that Tom’s a partier. The connection is back, just in time for Pierre Thomas to be stopped for no gain on 4th and 1. We watch the rest of the half without a glitch.
Colts 10, Saints 6
The Who? How absurd is this? Why? How much more vapid and meaningless can this be? A band who hasn’t even released anything new in almost 40 years and a band that is missing two of its four members? Why not the Jackson Four? The Blues Brother? Why not, seriously, to reflect the symbolism of New Orleans, have Fats Domino and the Neville Brothers and Dr. John out there? Why not celebrate the resurrection of a great American city, a city we left for dead, by having Fats sing “Blueberry Hill.”? Instead, let’s listen to a quasi-band that symbolizes nothing but excess and obviously 40 years of writers block, as they sing about a blind kid who’s been molested by his uncle. Charming.
Of course, as to sound quality, what does it matter who’s playing? Norah Jones would sound like a witch drunk on two bottles of cough syrup through our feed. Impossible to identify any of the Who’s songs, Roger Daltrey’s voice is thick and sludgy, the electronically altered pitch belonging to a member of the Federal Witness Protection Program testifying behind a curtain at a Senate Hearing.
Saints 13, Colts 10
We have another technical blackout and miss the onside kick, but get the feed back just in time for the go ahead touchdown. Darren didn’t have his power adaptor so we had to move the laptop to a table near an outlet. Brad grabbed a stool and set it on the table to elevate the computer screen. Now the owner Brian and his crew have joined us and that creates another visual impairment, the smoke screen.
Everyone and everything in Bali, it appears, smokes. A gecko in my room has a smoker’s hack. I hear him coughing up phlegm at 3 in the morning. And it’s not just Bali; all of Asia will soon be one big black lung. Asia became the market for the tobacco companies after America went soft. Hah, you think you can stop us with your little smoke free restaurants and advertisement bans? Well, watch this. In 20 years the death and misery from cigarette smoking in Asia will make malaria look like post nasal drip.
One pack of Indonesian cigarettes has enough tar to pave a cemetery driveway. Dean, a Nuri’s regular, lights up another one. It ignites like a road flare, creating an inversion of smog over the laptop screen. Hard to tell through the field burning, but I think we’ve lost our connection again.
Colts 17, Saints 13
We did and we missed another score. A call to Oakland, some fiddling by Darren and we’re back on. A sense of weirdness washes over me as I squint at a commercial that I’m pretty sure has two chickens sitting on a couch. First the ducks in the Indonesian soap opera, now this.
Colts 17, Saints 16
It is after 9 and the tropical heat is filling the bar with early morning heaviness. Darren is obviously bored, walking around taking photos of innocuous objects…a table top, a wall menu, an empty glass. The smoke is getting to me and I step outside before I start coughing up blood. I hear someone pontificate, “Quarterbacks get the press, but without a great center, you’re nothing.” A pause for dramatic effect. “Nothing.” I try to name five NFL centers.
Saints 24, Colts 17
Another blackout. Tom doesn’t answer his phone in Oakland. We’ve been warned about Tom. Maybe the party’s over. But, no, after 5 or 10 minutes we’re back and we squint at a replay of a diving catch in the end zone. The play is under review. Good thing we’re not the judges. The picture is so bad that I have to look around and focus on other things in the bar to make sure I’m not going blind.
The play stands. There are sounds of joy and sorrow, mostly from the gamblers who have entered the football pool. For the gambler, there is only loyalty to the bet, the line. Who cares who wins? It doesn’t matter how you play the game, it matters about the spread. And according to the regulars, our owner, Brian, has won each quarter.
Saints 31, Colts 17
What’s happening? Someone in a white and yellow, or is it gold, jersey is running…a long ways with, I’m betting but can’t see, something in his arms. With the slow feed it looks like I’m going to have to shave again before he reaches the end zone. It’s over.
And Brian wins.
“Hey, you should buy a round for us,” Bill says to Brian as he swells to a drunken oration. Brian looks at Bill like Republican senators look at Al Franken when he mouths off to them. Of course Brian is going to buy a round. For Brian, Bill is obviously a cheap drunk, unaware of tradition and respect.
“This is the guy, right here,” Bill says, motioning to Darren to come over to him, as if this were an awards ceremony. “Without him, none of this would have happened. He made it happen.”
Bill says it with emotion, as if Darren had rescued a baby from a burning building. Darren, a smirk on his face, doesn’t look up from texting on his cell phone. I slide out the front and head home.
“How game? Your team win? You happy?” the owner and his staff ask when I walk into the garden.
“Saya senang. I’m happy.”
Two of the staff butt their heads together again and we all laugh. I love Bali.