Portrait of My Father as a Foosball Man, 1972-2012
Meagan Cass

Born with a hole punched through his chest, born to be skewered and spun, legs fused, armless, how could he hope to be jock-sexy? How could he hope to turn maradonas, to bicycle kick, to stepover, to croiyff, to slide tackle in the rain, in the manner of Manchester footballers? How could he strut pubs after games, raise a beer stein to his lips, dance to Diana Ross and David Bowie, fuck models?

Yet he was not unhappy. This was never real soccer, his grass always plastic, his ball taffy yellow, his game more like the buzzing collisions of pinball machines than the solemn geometries of the Dutch futbol system. He liked the syncopated grace of the pull shot, the solid bang of the bank shot, the gunshot zing of the snake shot fired from the three bar. His early self was apple cheeked, fixed with an amused expression, his body a v-necked uniform that gestured toward a human chest, thighs. His hair was dark and perfect. His foot was clubbed but at least it was a foot, painted cleat black.

And while he never touched those other men strung beside him, never that, you could say he was in love with them, with their nightly dance in those smoky, wood paneled saloons in Buffalo, in Elmira, in Binghamton, with the long haired, cowboy booted women and the bell bottomed men who played for cash, carried the table on national tours, the foosball men’s bodies sliding back and forth in flat bed trucks speeding all across their thick, hilled, rambling country.

Born stuck in green and white, he’d always wanted to travel, loved the fresh accents of Ohio, Wyoming, and Louisiana, loved it when the night ended and they all lay together, the foosball men, tilted at odd angles, did impressions of the attempts at love and fucking they’d witnessed, dissected the regional juke, reiterated their love of the Rolling Stones, of “Satisfaction,” for what foosball man does not know the futility of coming close and missing over and over, of being flung toward the object of desire and flying through empty air? What foosball man has not wanted, just once, to punch a wall, to gyrate his hips to Saturday Night Fever or Chuck Berry, to hold a woman against his chest, to pull her hair, hard. “I can’t get no,” they’d sing to each other, half drunk on human beer-breath and longing.

Back then he could not have imagined the silicone plenty of the nineties, the weak-wristed competitions on the set of Friends, the long hours of veloured flirtations. He could not have imagined the college bars with names like Marley’s or J.P. Kelley’s or Catch 22, where the coeds slams and 360 spins nearly killed him, the frat boys lifting the table by the rod handles when they started to lose and letting it fall, shouting, “Dude, this shit is rigged.”

He could not have imagined the suburbs, the dim middle class dens with the dog piss stained carpeting, the sticky fingered children who would leave him still for months on end to play Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, the Sims. He could not conjure the anger and loneliness that would make him over in those years, how his face would disappear, his body turned to a streamlined, robot soldier body hovering above a table named “Tornado,” or “Dynamo,” his clubfoot smoothed to a spike. He could not know it would end like this, in a row house basement in White Plains, his field filled with dusty African Violets and yellowed tax files.

Don’t get him wrong—he does not want to move like you or I, does not share Ariel’s naïve desire to have his single leg split, to dance a ballroom waltz with a gowned bride, to be part of our world and all that crap. It’s just that it’s been so long time since anyone turned his metal spoke heart with purpose, so long since he’s shone his twitchy, humming bird grace, so long since he’s listened to human players laugh and talk smack and howl in victory and defeat, the way real players on real, muddy fields must howl, he used to figure, like it mattered more than anything else, more than having parents who loved each other and loved you, more than beauty and being cool, more than high cholesterol, more than looming dementia, howls so loud and so deep they reverberated through the whole table, seemed to come from him.

Meagan Cass’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Pinch, Grist, PANK, and elsewhere. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana Lafayette and is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Illinois Springfield. She also serves as an Assistant Editor for Sundress Publications.