Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read is true. None of the names have been changed because, hey, nobody's innocent anymore.
This is the city: Los Angeles, California. I work here. I carry a press badge.
It was Wednesday, July 13: World Cup Wednesday. I was working the day shift out of soccer detail. I have no partner. I have no boss. My name's not Friday.
But I had a hunch.
This World Cup thing--big business, top brass, great press.
The most popular sporting event on the planet.
Not on my street. Not on my beat.
It was just a theory. I figured I could gather evidence, develop an argument and then just print the facts.
It's my job. I'm not a cop.
It was 12:55. ESPN was set for Italy-Bulgaria. I decided to cruise Santa Monica. My first stop was the Santa Monica Main Library on Sixth Street. I ducked into the reference room--nobody was talking World Cup. Then again, nobody was talking; after all, it was a reference room. Stupid mistake on my part. I docked myself a half day's pay.
I went into the main reading room. I saw a man, 40ish, reading the Wall Street Journal. I asked him about the World Cup.
"I don't follow soccer," he said.
I knew I was on to something.
I saw another man--a dead ringer for Wally Cox--sitting near the Auto Repair Manuals shelf with a copy of "The Assistant." I didn't approach him. You don't interrupt a man reading Malamud.
It was on to Legends, on the Third Street Promenade. It was 1:20. All 18 TV screens in the joint were tuned to the World Cup, every seat and stool was taken but mine. I dismissed this, though: a) What do you expect? It's a sports bar; b) This was the only sporting event being televised anywhere. People get looped, they'll watch logrolling from Lubbock.
I sat down. I ordered a Scotch and rocks, hold the Scotch, and a Rams Burger (there was no "Bulgarian melt" on the menu, I can tell you that). At 1:28, Roberto Baggio scored a goal, and there were chants of "Italia! Italia!" throughout the bar. Still, I was suspicious.
I called over the bartender. His name was Dallas Brock. I asked what he thought of the World Cup. He talked, I listened.
"I have absolutely no interest in soccer whatsoever," he said. "No interest. If you're in California, you should be watching baseball."
I was building a case.
Most of the people in Legends seemed to have an accent, anyway. Hmmm. I made a note to myself to call Callahan later at INS.
It was 2:20. I went to Sears on Colorado. I walked in and lit up a cigarette; a woman pointed to a sign and told me to put it out. (Damn, where \o7 can\f7 you smoke these days, Rikers Island?) I took the escalator to the Sears Video Center, lower level. Sears associate Liz Martinez was manning the register. I nodded at her politely and went about my business.
Read 'em and weep: There were 71 TV sets turned on to AVM, the Sears in-store network; 14 were showing "The Guiding Light" on Channel 2, two were showing "General Hospital" on Channel 7 and one was showing "Rolonda" on Channel 9. Eighty-eight screens and no World Cup.
(I did ask Martinez why the World Cup was not on. "The store does not get cable," she said. Oh. I made a note not to include this in my report. I like facts, but I hate when they get in the way of a good story.)
I stepped outside. It was still 2:20. (Damn, my watch must have stopped again.) I thought I noticed a 358 in progress, but I remembered that I'm not a cop and, frankly, I don't know what a 358 is, anyway.
I made my way to Santa Monica Bank at Fourth and Arizona. I walked inside and observed three security monitors, none showing the World Cup.
Across the street at the Bank of America walk-up window, people were walking up and asking for cash; nobody was walking up and asking for World Cup scores.
It was a sunny day--low coastal clouds had dissipated and there was a pleasant north-by-northwest 15-m.p.h. breeze--so I strolled over to the Santa Monica Municipal Pier. From off the pier, I could see the ocean. It was the Pacific Ocean. I spotted several "surfin' types" in the water, but I didn't notice any of them channel-surfin' for Univision.
On the pier, the closest I came to the World Cup was Playland Arcade, which had Foosball.
I asked an attendant how often the Foosball was played.
"Huh? What do you want to know?" he said.
"Just the facts, sir."
He just kind of shrugged his body. I just kind of shook my head.
I kept wandering Santa Monica for signs of soccer: Santa Monica Music Center, Santa Monica Fish Co., Santa Monica One Hour Photo, Santa Monica Brake Specialists, Santa Monica Podiatry Group, Santa Monica Lock & Safe Co., Santa Monica Brass & Woodwind Repair, Santa Monica Yoga & Bodywork. Everywhere I was, the World Cup was not.
From what I could tell, Santa Monica was safe from soccer.
I had been proven right. I know this Golden State. The state flower is the golden poppy, the state tree is the redwood, the state bird is the valley quail and the state motto, from where I'm standing, mister, is "Soccer, anyone? No."
At 6:12, Romario scored in the Brazil-Sweden game. A traffic light at 12th and Wilshire changed at the same time. I went home and watched a "Lou Grant" rerun.