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The Other Side of David Versus Goliath or Why I Actually Feel Bad for Duke Fans and Will Cut You for My Team

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Everyone loves a Cinderella story unless you’re the older, more experienced stepsister who, even though you’ve been around the block one too many times, are a little passive-aggressive and decidedly OCD, is used to getting your way.

Like you, I prefer to take the underdog’s side in just about everything in life. Except college basketball. That’s where I draw a really clear line.

I grew up in Louisville, KY, better known as ground zero for NCAA hoops. You won’t find any native of the state who says, “I really don’t care who wins when Louisville and Kentucky play each other every year. I’m just out here for the five-way chili cheese dogs, a mint julep, and a little bit of fun.”

Wrong.

Basketball in Kentucky is a blood sport, right up there with cockfights and whatever Michael Vick was doing in his backyard with innocent dogs. Veins course in either a bright shade of red or electric blue, and there’s no chance of a transfusion between the two. You’d rather die on the table than risk being infected with vital fluids of a fan from the other team. The Great Wall of China might as well be running along the rolling, bluegrass-covered hills of our sidewise state, because loyalty is embedded so deeply below the earth that not even Sarah Palin in a bikini with a machine gun could loosen it up.

This is not a real picture. But oh, how I wish it was. Image via politicalhumor.about.com

As I watched in disbelief when Lehigh University took it to Duke in the final minutes of the game last Friday night, I couldn’t help but flash back to a David and Goliath moment of my own, when Louisville played no-name Morehead State in the NCAA tournament last year. The game was in Denver, and having convinced my husband, Scot, that we should blow the money we’d set aside for a new washer and dryer on box seats, I was actually there. Front and center.

The first sign of trouble reared its head before the game actually began. As I settled in with a five-way chili cheese dog and ginormous Coors Light, I searched my section for a friendly, painted face, and noticed that nobody but me was wearing the requisite red and black. Since I was clearly gonna be responsible for leading section 148 in the U of L fight song, ushering the arena toward the cheers my mom sang to me when I was a baby, and starting the wave, I shotgunned the entire $20.00 beer I was holding and went back for another before the players even hit the court. I was literally buzzing in anticipation of the action, and in hindsight, blowing my t-shirt money on alcohol before it all started was a big mistake. Leadership can be stressful though, especially when you’re drunk.

Was Sarah Palin drunk or sober during the Vice Presidential debates? You be the judge. Image via http://www.americantimes.org.

The second problem that day was the fans, and not just the annoying guy with the big bobble head sitting right in front of me in a Vandy hat. More on him in a minute. I’m talking about an arena full of thirty-something generation X whities in their khaki Dockers/Steinmart golf shirts/receding hairlines who’d kicked off work for the day because their buddy scored a free set of tickets. They didn’t even know who was on the court.

Morehead State? Is that, like, right next to Russia? Image via backseatcuddler.com

If I was drinking a beer every ten minutes? Everyone else was doubling down as they high-fived each other and screamed with the wild abandon of 5th graders off their ADHD meds, “MORE HEAD MORE HEAD MORE HEAD!” Get it? More head? As in “Morehead State” chanted in a dirty way and nothing like the cheers my mom sang to me as a child. I mean, how do you compete with that? Nobody, and not even the ushers, were spelling C-A-R-D-S with me in my upper body, pseudo-Village People dance moves, and my team was handicapped right out of the gate.

So I got louder. I had the monumental task of carrying the entire arena, and probably city of Louisville for that matter, as the other guys scored basket after basket and that dude who now plays for the Nuggets started the painful process of taking us down. Destroying a team with multiple NCAA titles, a rock star coach who can get away with wearing white pimp clown suits on occasion, and an almost unpayable mortgage on a state-of-the-art arena isn’t easy. Being the only person under the glaring lights at an away game who’s cheering for the anointed ones (who everyone in the state of Colorado apparently now hates) isn’t easy either, and that’s where the bobble head guy comes in.

Image via nbcuniversalstore.com

Vandy dude, with his invisalign braces and baseball-cap turned backwards in an “I’m not as old as I look” pathetic play on youth, was in the fortunate position of occupying the seat right in front of me and my big mouth during the game. As I ratcheted up the volume for my hometown team, he turned it on for that other school in Kentucky where you go when your grades aren’t good enough to get into WKU. Even though he was there for the next game being played and had no real skin exposed, by halftime he was turning around and nodding at me in an exaggerated white man’s overbite, can’t find the beat to the song expression of glee whenever the back-and-forth on the court went in the direction of Morehead State.

So I did what any self-respecting, organic produce buying, kettlebell throwing, member of the local library coalition, forty year-old, mother of three would do in the same situation.

I got in a fight.

Sarah Palin uses any words she can find, in random and non-sequential order, in a fight. Image via http://www.palingates.blogspot.com

Before the Louisville-Morehead State game, the last fight I started was at a bar in Chicago. I was about thirty and my husband and I were there with friends to see a Neil Diamond/Abba impersonator band: Thunder and Lightning. Thunder was this ancient dude with Grecian Formulaish hair and awesome, sparkly shirts, and Lightning was the girl/grandma, wearing machine gun jubblies and some kind of Renaissance Festival hat and gown. Anyway, you had to knock down about 34 drinks or so to really get into it. So I did.

Before I knew it I was dumping a full beer over some guy’s head who told me I looked like Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs. I have no idea why that bothered me at the time because I think she pretty much rocks. But whatever. Somehow aware in the shaky neuron misfiring of my brain that I was once slated to go to law school and naturally possessed the rabid mind of an attorney, I didn’t actually crack the glass bottle onto his head. Instead, I poured it over him with an exaggerated motion: like I was slugging a clogged bottle of ketchup. I had pretty much emptied the whole thing and was going back for round two when the bouncer threw me over his shoulder and dumped me out the door and into a cold, dark alley. But at least I wasn’t in the back of a cop car. I didn’t even get to hear the Cracklin’ Rose/SOS duet.

It felt like déjà vu as the clock ticked down at the Pepsi Center, the six true Morehead State fans in the house plus 20,000 drunk pharmaceutical salesmen erupted into deafening applause, and the Vandy dude turned around and pointed his finger in my face. Yes. He was in my face in the same way that you would nail a dodgeball at your lab partner’s head in 4th grade and yell, “In your face!

I turned to look Scot in the eye, he shook his head back and forth in a “please do not embarrass me again” appeal toward any shred of rational thought left in my body as he rolled up his sleeves to defend me, I shrugged my shoulders, bared my teeth, and attacked.

Sarah Palin uses a lot of whitening products. Image via the immoralminority.blogspot.com

Luckily my husband was sober, grabbed me by the hair as I flew, no, tumbled into the air in an Angelina Joliesque cat move intended to crush the dude with the big head, and took me down. My dream of connecting my heel to Vandy dude’s face was destroyed by Scot’s quick reflexes, and instead I ended up flat on my back as he commandeered the keys to the SUV. I had to be in carpool line within the hour to get the kids and nobody really wants to deal with a drunk, crying basketball mom crashing onto the sidewalk and taking the kindies down one-by-one.

So what am I trying to say? I’m not really sure, except it sucks a lot more to go down as Goliath than David.  Lehigh University and Morehead State were just happy to be at the dance. Teams like Duke, Kentucky, and Louisville are supposed to be the prom queens, and when you lose to that girl who stole your boyfriend? It hurts.

The American Dream Wrapped Up in a Cannoli

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I first met Caity DiFabio at the epicenter of all clichés.  A bar.  On a trip to Louisville two years ago, bored and waiting for a friend, I settled onto a stool and ordered an Old Fashioned.  That such a young girl could serve an ancient cocktail the right way surprised me, almost as much as her sarcastic wit and quick smile.

English: Picture of an Old Fashioned cocktail,...

This cocktail is targeted at a specific demographic: old. Old Fashioned Image via Wikipedia

Eventually my friend showed up, Caity got off work, Old Fashions took a sharp left toward tequila, then dinner, which was a great excuse for….more tequila, enough laughter to annoy everyone at the bar who wasn’t in on the joke, and tears.  Lots and lots of tears.  If you happen to have two x chromosomes, you know that four seasons of emotion over a seared tuna salad with a stranger is rare.

Not only was I impressed with Caity’s mind, but also?  That girl could drink.  She was the one with her arm around me at the end of the night as I sniffled over a long-lost love and babbled my way into a cab.  Anyone who doesn’t agree that tequila is the ultimate truth serum hasn’t gotten to the bottom of the bottle.

This however, appeals to just about everybody, including your underage son. Tequila via Flickr

Even though she was hardly born the year I left Louisville to go to college, I knew almost instantly she was an old soul, and we would be friends.  Not the talk-on-the-phone-every-day-to-compare-notes-on-life’s-little-nuances kind of thing, but a real connection nevertheless.  It seemed what we had to say to one another mattered, regardless of the chunk of variable time and space placed in between.

So it came as no surprise when I got a Facebook message over a year later that she had something important to tell me.  Caity is from a family of restaurateurs, and spent considerable time in and around the kitchen growing up.  They had decided to open a branch of their restaurant in Louisville, and she was to be a key player in the new initiative.  At the time, she was excited and scared and nervous and ready, and was also only twenty-two years old.

DiFabio’s Casapela opened in 2010.  Caity was barely legal to crack the pop-top off a beer when her family launched the restaurant, much less understand the delicate balance between supply and demand, and that the term “management” is really just secret code for “what the customer wants, the customer gets.”

English: Beer cans and bottles.

Image via Wikipedia

Yet somehow she got it, and is doing it, and still has time to sit down over a shot of tequila and listen to the bleary-eyed stranger of the night lament the things that matter most.

Day after day and way too late into the evening she shows up, often early, to orchestrate the chaos and earn an MBA on the fly that kids her age pay up to $40,000 a year to buy.  If you ask, she won’t tell you that running a family business in a foundering economy is harder than she thought it would be.  She won’t mention the NOI isn’t always in the black, her stemware keeps disappearing, and she doesn’t get to see enough of her dogs.

Image via Flickr

She’ll just smile that impish smile, fill your glass, and substitute the Piccata for the Marsala, because you could have sworn that’s what you ordered (you didn’t).

At a time when corporate profits are being redistributed as dividends or kept in cash instead of creating jobs, and the stimulus package that was or wasn’t is debated around town, it’s the Caity DiFabios of the world who remind us what it means to pursue the American Dream.  All of it.

Image via Flickr

If she wanted to, Caity could simply ride the coattails of the lost generation, cash her unemployment check, and go home.  Instead, she’s building a business, hiring employees, and figuring out how to handle the bills.  And life.  Even when she’s supposed to be off, she shows up every day, regardless of what happened the night before, to do her job and roll with the tide of whatever crazy customer happens to come in the door.

I won’t bore you with my take on the gorgonzola filet versus the chicken parmesan.  This isn’t a restaurant review…it’s more of a critique on life.  As far as I’m concerned, Caity’s already earned a full five stars because what she’s doing is the heart of the American Dream, and I’ll take it with or without the sauce.