Friday, June 15, 2012

My now-annual post about philly cheesesteaks

My lunch today was comprised primarily of Hot Pockets and therefore was no different from most other workday lunches. The only real variation: Today's Hot Pockets were filled with philly cheesesteak-type materials rather than the usual cheesy/bacon-y mix.

This was a totally meaningless variation until about two seconds after I started eating said Hot Pockets, at which point my brain was overwhelmed by 6-year-old memories brought on entirely by a very particular combination of philly cheesesteak ingredients. I would try to explain how/why this happened but really can't do so any better than I already did in a post that -- crazy coincidence ahoy -- was written exactly one year ago* today. That post appears below.

*June 15 shall heretofore be known as Forever Saturday Memorial Philly Cheesesteak Day.
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Sometime back in my early college years, I sat in a class (I think it was Psychology 101) in an auditorium at Grand Valley State with about 80 or so other underclassmen and listened to a wise man talk about context's role in memory retrieval.

Since I'm not a neurologist or psychologist or whatever, there are many people out there who could explain it better, but I'll summarize the best I can: The closer you can get to accurately reproducing the circumstances under which you did something, the better you'll be able to remember the details. Example: If you sit at your desk and drink coffee while studying for a test, you'll probably do better on said test if you take it while sitting at your desk and drinking coffee (I can vouch for this). If you learn how to do your job at a specific computer, continuing to work at that computer is probably in your best interests in terms of remembering the details of your training. Etcetera.

The opposite is also true. Trying to remember high school (in a general sense) is an impossible task; remembering the specific things you did in high school -- a class, a prank, a game, a date with that one girl, whateva -- is infinitely easier. Sometimes you can only remember the big things by remembering the little things, because context is everything.
. . . . .

My wife and I had student season tickets to Michigan football in 2006, the Year That Should Have Been (stupid Ohio State). I'd been to probably half a dozen games at Michigan Stadium before that season; my wife was an Arizona lifer who'd never seen a real winter and showed it by wearing flip-flops in the Ann Arbor snow despite thinking she'd get frostbite when it was 52 degrees.

We lived in a bizarrely long, thin apartment in the family-housing part of North Campus. It had two stories (only the bedrooms were upstairs) and was made pretty much entirely of wood -- a match could have taken the entire building down in about 17 seconds. The first time we went to a game, we took the university bus. It was crowded ... except crowded isn't the right word. It had so many people on it that you didn't need to hang onto anything -- you were held in place by the mass of humanity stuffed into every corner of the bus like sardines. My wife said everybody smelled funny, which is entirely possible since they were mostly college freshmen who presumably didn't have much of an understanding of personal hygiene.

I remember almost nothing of the first game, the opener against Vanderbilt -- I vaguely recall Kevin Grady scoring on a nice cutback run from 20-ish yards for the first touchdown of the season. That's about it. And to be honest, I don't remember a whole lot else from that season either ... at least not specifically. I remember Adrian Arrington making a beautiful leaping catch in the back of the endzone in the win over Michigan State on the same day I passed up tickets to the Tigers' clinching win over the Yankees in the ALDS (man, what a year). I remember Steve Breaston dropping a lot of passes one day and then some kid in the street dropping a Nerf football while playing catch and saying, "look, I'm Steve Breaston." I remember the most horrific weather I've ever sat in for a football game (against Northwestern), when it was 35, windy and doing something resembling freezing rain for about 2 hours before we finally decided we'd had enough (well, my wife had decided that after 5 minutes, but it took me a little longer to give in). I think that was the day she decided to apply for a credit card at one of the vendor booths just so she could get the free blanket they were giving away.

Oddly enough, this is the thing I remember most: In Week 2, when Michigan had its annual beat-up-on-a-directional-school extravaganza against Central Michigan, the game was actually delayed by rain and lightning for about 15 or 20 minutes. It was still fairly early -- maybe late in the first quarter -- but while seeking shelter from the waves of rain, we stood under the bleachers in the concourse area and decided to get a philly cheesesteak.

I like philly cheesesteaks. They're quite delicious. But this philly cheesesteak was the best philly cheesesteak that has ever existed. I can't exactly describe why the Michigan Stadium ones are so good, but once you've had one, no other philly cheesesteak can ever compare. I'm pretty sure that immediately after we finished fighting over the aforementioned delicious cheesesteak -- and these things cost like $7.00, by the way -- we bought another one. And we were living on like zero spending money at the time, so this is an important addition to the story.
. . . . .

You might be wondering where I'm going with all this. Here's the thing: When I sit here at my computer -- with 77 days left until college football once again graces us with its presence -- and think of how much I miss football, I don't just think "I miss football," even if that's unequivocally true. Football is too general of a thing to miss -- sort of like trying to remember high school.

I don't miss "football" -- I miss that exhilarating feeling of walking into the stadium and knowing I might see something amazing in the next three hours; I miss waking up Saturday morning and feeling that kinda nervous, kinda intense knot in my stomach; I miss walking past the marching band doing ridiculous things outside Crisler; I miss the "BEAT OHIO" marquees on all the university buses the week of The Game; I miss watching Denard (even though I've only seen him on TV) slice through a hole with nothing in front of him but a Notre Dame/Indiana/UConn safety and a whole bunch of grass; I miss the philly cheesesteaks.

This might sound dumb to some people. If you're reading this blog, you're probably not one of those people.


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