Posted Wednesday, June 16, 2010, at 4:12 PM
We have observed that the World Cup expresses itself as a party on the streets of New York City . It will require several more weeks of time and effort—and, correspondingly, further irreversible damage to the cochlea and other organs—to determine whether this party stops at any given point in the course of any given day. My hunch is that it maybe pauses for a disco nap after revelers celebrating the last match of the day's schedule—the match airing at 2:30 p.m.—fall victim to fatigue, concussions, or child-care obligations.
The difficulty of sorting the matter out is a function of the timing of each day's first match. With these 7:30 a.m. kickoffs, whole ethnic neighborhoods are jamming into bars at horribly disorienting hours. To get a head start on the jamming, some of the neighbors venture out half a day ahead of time. Others, less adept at advance planning, only begin to jam as daylight breaks. The main event merges with a morning after, and you get an interesting mess.
To wit: Last Saturday, searching for an appropriate place to watch a 7:30 match between South Korea and Greece, I rose at dawn to meet a friend in Koreatown. We rendezvoused on 32 nd Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue, a block made famous by the liveliness of its karaoke parlors, the excellence of its gogi gui joints, and the strong moral fiber of its third-floor massage parlors. We went through a nondescript doorway, past a snack stand, up a flight of stairs, and into Baden Baden , a restaurant famed for its fried chicken but just then dedicating its culinary efforts to a free bagel buffet—some carbs and fats to helps with the patrons' out with their pitchers of soapy Sam Adams and bottles of skunky OB.
We were still wedging ourselves into the room at the end of the first period when I detected a few squawks issuing in our direction. Somewhere down below shoulder level was a perplexed young man with the red-and-blue Taegeuk of the South Korean flag painted on his right cheek and another on his left earlobe. He said: "Wait, are you fucking kidding me? What is a black guy doing a bar with all these Asian people?" (Note: I'm black.) "Is that a rhetorical question?" I asked. He elaborated: "What are a black guy and a white guy doing a bar full of dirty fucking Koreans?" (Note: My friend is Puerto Rican.) We got to chatting.
My interlocutor had meant no offense. He was merely presenting a few symptoms of florid drunkenness and a few others of common stupidity. It emerged that he worked in the service industry on the block, that he had been out all night, and that he was extraordinarily fond of shouting the phrase "dirty fucking Koreans" at top volume while surrounded by people wearing the Red Devils T-shirts and flashing horned headbands of Korean loyalists. He claimed that his own ethnic heritage gave him a free pass to do so. "I'm fucking Vietnamese," he explained. "I'll stab you right in the back."
On that note, our new chum melted away, leaving us to watch the second half of the match in peace. Or whatever might reasonably pass for peace in a bar where fans went insane when they saw their team go up 2-0 and then went insaner when they saw defensive midfielder Kim Nam-il tucking in his shirt and adjusting his jockstrap. After the match, we flowed downstairs. All down the block, spectators cheerfully tripped into the daylight, eyes blinking almost as fast as the lights on their devil horns. What was that white guy across the street doing? He was wrapping a South Korean flag around his shoulders so he could run out into the middle of the street and stop traffic in proper style. It looked as if his party were only beginning to peak. He still had the whole day ahead of him.