the rejector seat

“Youcn awll come back to mine if you want?” she slurred and wobbled slightly, moving towards the door, her friend holding her arm.

My team-mate looked at me hopefully. He’d been chatting to her friend, who though marginally more sober, wasn’t the finest female specimen in the world either. He wasn’t bothered. “Shall we then? Want to?”

“No,” I said. “Not even a tiny bit.”

“Oh, really? I…”

“No mate.”

“No just for a..?”

“No.”

Soon after he’d made the introduction of his colleague, I felt hunted.. She stood slightly too close and employed a frighteningly fixed style of eye contact. She was a big-boned woman, rather obvious and very drunk. We had cyclical conversations because she remembered nothing I said, despite seeming interested and looking as if she was listening.

“Well do YOU remember MY name?”

“Yes.”

Much as I empathised with her booze-addled memory, it was refreshing to be on the more sober side. Eventually I began inventing different names for myself, a girlfriend (failed to have the desired effect), new occupations and ways how I knew her colleague.  But she never registered them and never gave up trying to win my favour.

Mindful my team-mate was still chatting to her friend, and not wanting to be rude, I kept chatting – it was more entertaining than not chatting, watching her wobble about the place and not really know what she was talking about. I briefly felt like a strangely proud, weirdly noble figure in the great male / female game, like I’d won something back.

Being in the rejector seat felt like clawing back a consolation goal during a heavy defeat. See? It’s not ALWAYS me sacrificing pride.

*

Several hours earlier the assembled substitutes and substituted yelled at me from the touchline to keep close to the young black kid up front. Within twenty seconds he’d glided past me once again. The last man in defence, I lamely grappled at his upper arm but he still gracefully broke free and lofted the ball over our goalkeeper to make it five. It was miserable. Most of the opposition were literally half my age and I was never fast even when I was their age. They were so gleeful and smug and adolescent and eminently smackable. I sat disconsolately in the muddy goalmouth as our keeper went to retrieve the ball from his net. I thought about not playing next week. It stopped being fun when games kept going like this.

In the pub afterwards – uncharacteristically packed out thanks to the Scotland-Wales rugby match, the immediate memory of our match faded and momentum developed around the idea of beers that evening. Having no plans, I was easily tempted.

It meant tolerating a young, boring buffoon with terrible breath for large slices of the evening. Standing, nodding, listening to him drone uninterestingly, convinced what he was saying was interesting and / or amusing, while infecting my nasal passages with that odour and not flinching: it was an ordeal, and not much fun either.

Thankfully others joined to lighten the blow and I shuffled towards them.

One was employing a novel media tactic in his own personal crusade for female attention: a YouTube mashup of stills and video content taken from his Facebook profile set to an upbeat dance track and spliced with witty quotations about how great he is. Crafted with a healthy quotient of cheese and irony, it was an amusing watch and had been receiving mixed results, helping him to secure a number of digits from girls in bars, and even on the street during nights out.

I was then declined entry to a nearby venue with a dress code, due to over-casual footwear. The doorman couldn’t be persuaded to swap. Three, less club minded amongst us broke away to late traditional pubs, leaving Mr Halitosis and Mr YouTube sensation behind.

We might have appeared an odd mix: the 21 year-old bashfully scruffy northerner, the 36 year-old hook-nosed ex-army guy with ferrety blue eyes, and me. Although conversation remained fairly simplistic, it was fine. The 36 year-old made me feel better about myself: also long-term single, also frequents the cinema alone slightly too much, also tired by female trials, also a dreamer and a traveller. I don’t want to be him in six years’ time but it showed that this sort of thing happens; there are others.

Our young northern striker left us to get food and head back to his girlfriend and we went to find one more pint and recycle conversations we’d already had once or twice in the evening. It was in the final late, dark, locals’ pub that we bumped into his colleagues.

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