The Packerscreed, by David Benjamin
A likeable Cowboy fan on Packer turf
PARIS— Whenever I’m here, I try to pay a visit to the Wide Open Spaces Bar on rue St. Jacques, where enterprising publican Pierre Louvrier has created an oasis for Green Bay Packers fans.
The WOS Bar is the only “official” Packer bar in Europe. It’s draped and defaced with Packer paraphernalia. Pierre plays the satellite feed for every Green Bay game on his array of TV screens regardless of the hour of day or night (a Monday night game in Green Bay kicks off in Paris at 2 am). Even in the off-season, the WOS Bar is a refuge where a wanderer from Wisconsin can walk in and strike up a conversation with a bartender (from Ireland, Turkey, France) who knows the Packer roster and all the lyrics to “The Bears Still Suck.”
So, imagine my surprise when I ventured last week into the WOS Bar in search of Pierre and found myself shmoozing instead with a Panglossian barkeep named Mil who pledges his fealty to what he called “America’s Team.”
Mind you, Pierre was on the job, but the job took him away, almost immediately, to a couple of sister bars elsewhere in Paris. And thank God for that. My conversation with Pierre was going to dwell on meaningless speculation about the upcoming NFL season. Getting to know Mil, notwithstanding his misplaced NFL loyalties was a far richer trove than the usual run of training-camp crystal-ball gazing.
Even talking about the detested ‘Boys offered Packer satisfaction. Although Mil was not on duty at the WOS Bar during the regular season last year (Packer fans don’t buy enjoy buying beer from a guy in a Cowboy jersey), he worked the Green Bay/Dallas playoff game. Mil’s awe with Aaron Rodgers was an enlightening moment. Packer fans, accustomed to the remarkable accuracy of Rodgers’ arm, tend to be a little jaded. Of course, we were appropriately astonished when Rodgers saved that game, scrambling for ten seconds and throwing a 36-yard sideline pass on 3rd-and-20 to Jared Cook with three seconds on the clock. But Mil’s reaction to that miracle connection — a mixture of heartbreak and wide-eyed wonder — amplified its significance better than the couch-bouncing triumph of any Packer fan.
Remembering that pass, that set up Mason Crosby’s Cowboy-crushing field goal, Mil looked stabbed in the heart and green with fan envy. He has never had a QB like Rodgers and probably never will. I was reminded that I should never, ever take for granted the blessing bestowed on Packer fans for the last 25 years in the form of two consecutive Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
Mil explained that his first contact with American football was a Cowboys fan who indoctrinated him before he knew any better. On the other and, Mil made a better choice of baseball teams, preferring the Red Sox to the Yankees. Mil and I spent some time fantasizing about snatching “NY” baseball caps off the heads of clueless Parisians who had bought them in Times Square, and building a giant, smelly Yankee-cap bonfire. I told him that, besides Lambeau Field, the one sporting mecca he must see before he dies is Fenway Park — but he has to enter the field from the first-base side (facing the Monster).
As we talked, Mil proved to be almost as big a sports know-it-all as me. He was as conversant on NBA hoops and NHL hockey as he was on FIFA soccer and Six Nations rugby.
Best of all — and this might be why sports bars play a priceless role in the advancement of Western civilization) — I learned that Mil is an educated young man with a rich store of experiences and ideas. He has lived all over Europe, and traveled beyond, aided by his immensely portable skills as a bartender. Mil is the rare publican who lists his “career” as tending bar. He likes the job and worries about its wear and tear on his body. I reminisced about my dad, Big Bill, who poured drinks for 50 years at just about every watering hole in Tomah and Oakdale. His vocation — at the Carlton, the Tee Pee, the Crow Bar, Kelly’s, etc. — made Dad a sort of unofficial town historian (wasn’t nobody’s troubles Big Bill did not know), but left him with two bad knees and a couple of hip replacements.
Thing is, Mil doesn’t have to tend bar. He spent four years reading history at the Sorbonne, concentrating on the period from 1920-1990, I smiled, because this is a span of the past about which schoolchildren in both America and Europe don’t learn nearly enough. Its space in history texts comes in the latter pages that the teacher never gets to. The school year usually lets out long before the Great Depression.
We talked about that. We talked about politics. We talked about America, France, Belgium, Russia, Trump and Macron.
Mil kept me around (and a little woozy) at the WOS Bar by pouring free drinks — and introducing me to the felicitous combination of Jack Daniel’s and Kahlua. I was a little flattered. Mil and I grew up two generations apart. The “hipsters” I knew wore goatees, snapped their fingers, read Kerouac and listened to Coltrane. Mil’s “hipsters” are overdressed metrosexuals who think Beyoncé can dance. But we hit it off, Mil and me, across that vast gap, by sharing a sort of ironic iconoclasm that permits friendship even between disparate devotees of Curly Lambeau and Jerry Jones.
Bartenders are a little detached from it all. So are writers.
I won’t see Mil again. He was leaving the WOS Bar’s employ after Saturday night. “Where are you going?”
“No idea,” said Mil. “I’ll see what turns up.”
I would envy Mil for being so infernally young and that free, but I had been there myself at times. I’d walked willingly into all the traps that caught me. So I simply congratulated him for his insouciance and told him needlessly, to “have a good life.”
He’s already doing that.