Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money.--Danny Devito's character in Heist
So Brown comes by after Murad with four six packs of quality beer, and after a half hour of trying to fit them in my beverage fridge, pulls out his crisp Benjamin. I suppose his winnings from Fulton are already blown on bubble gum and new white Sidis, seen here being unsullied with the team kit (while wearing his lucky race day Daisy Dukes):
The sight of Brown's crisp bill got me to thinking about money and sport.
I played soccer for a couple of years in Mgobodi, South Africa. There, teams pooled together 200 rand (about $30) to enter a tournament. If enough teams showed up, the winning team could take home a bundle. The problem was that teams rarely had the discipline to save the winnings or use them wisely. Thus, after most games, we went to the shabeen with wheelbarrows, bought cases of Castle Milk Stout in 700ml bottles, and sat under the marula tree drinking till the beer was gone or we were.
Those were hard games; a few months' wages were on the line. I rarely played, thank God. As the only white guy around, it was enough of a circus just showing up, kids pulling my arm hair and rubbing my pink skin. We played in 110 degree heat on hard-baked clay littered with hard and soft cow pies. We sometimes played in bare feet.
Enterpreneurs set up posts and ran a 10' high sheet of opaque plastic around the pitch, and charged a 5 rand entrance fee. They sold beer, soda, and sugar-flavored ice to spectators, mostly young girls and drunk men. After a goal, girls customarily ran onto the field and mobbed the goal-scorer.
The one exception to this custom was me. Possibly, the fresh memory of apartheid provided a slight disincentive to mobbing the strage white man from the neighboring village, but I'm guessing a stronger disincentive was me being a slimy, delirious, sweaty pink mess and touching me would have been pretty disgusting.
There was something glorious about playing in the African bush. The joy wasn't in beer or the glory; it was something else. Travelling to another village (sometimes in a wagon pulled by a tractor) to play soccer proved that we were not entirely desperate, that our existence was somehow less precarious, that we were not struggling to survive.
When we rode home, we shouted songs from the back of our tractor and jumped on the bed till the tire popped, and we walked 3 kilos in the dark singing to each other about how we would win next time, and how we would not waste the money on beer but instead would buy soccer boots and new balls that wouldn't puncture in the thorn trees or when Bootsie kicked them too hard.
Our soccer tournaments convinced each other that we were not in danger of dying. In fact, this was not true. Mgobodi had--and still has--a 40% HIV positive rate among sexually active adults. South Africa has the world's worst murder rate. Life is precarious, but soccer made it feel less so.
We're wealthier and safer, but the cyclists I know race for the same reason. There is a high probability we won't die before our next race, or for the next few decades. For those of us who labor in offices or academia all day, the pain in our legs we feel when riding reminds us we're still breathing, that we're not yet dead.