Coach's Corner

In a Vail sports bar, Coach once again meets up with his old pal Cedrick Trout, and the mad-dog Raiders fan isn't in a good mood.

I entered the West Vail bar, the Dancing Bear Saloon, with some trepidation. It's a frigid January night, but it's Saturday, and the tavern's hopping. The dense crowd provides me with a sense of security. As events will soon show, my feelings of well-being are false and short-lived. It's at this saloon on a gentle August evening four months ago that an erratically employed barfly/drunk/bikerwannabe named Cedrick Trout and I had words. In writing that's called understatement. Trout, a small, wiry fellow -- exuding an evil vibe like the Orcs in The Lord of the Rings -- did most of the talking. Vile obscenities and threats of physical harm were made that evening.

I met and befriended Trout in early August. He was sitting next to me in the Dancing Bear, and we started discussing football. It was pretty apparent from first glance that Trout isn't a Wall Street investment banker in the mountains on holiday. In any case, we did fine until one night, weeks later, I made a sarcastic comment on the imbecile humans who make up the fan cadre of the Oakland Raiders. Of course, Trout's a Raider fan. How I didn't intuit this at once is a frightening lapse in judgment. Our discussion escalated and ended with Mr. Trout threatening me with a wrench. I left the Dancing Bear quickly and drove back to Austin the next morning. The memory of the lunatic Trout faded and was almost forgotten.

Until tonight. I figure the chances of Trout being dead at about 25%, in jail somewhere at 40%, someplace other than Vail at about 34%, still sitting at that damn bar a statistically insignificant 1%. Yet there he is, scraggly black beard, tattooed, with a New York Giant knit cap on his head. I hear him before I see him, and I hope he doesn't see me. He's holding forth to a combination of bored locals and frightened out-of-state visitors on the most unlikely subject imaginable -- considering the source -- Dick Cheney.

I would've bet my week in Vail that Che-Che Trout (as he likes to be called) would have no more idea who Dick Cheney was than Cheney would know Trout's mother. I would've lost. Trout has a scratchy, high-pitched, piercing voice. "I've heard they got him up at Ford's (our ex-president lives in Vail) in one of those cryogenic tubes, frozen as stiff as a mackerel in my freezer." Trout stops and lets this bit of local wisdom sink in. He picks some grizzle out of his teeth with a sinister looking hooked knife. He pours a glass of tomato juice into a beer and continues. "I shit you not. Tell me, Bosco," he asks some poor schlep just trying to watch the pregame show, "when was the last time you saw the guy?" Bosco moves away, instinctively trying to create some space between himself and Trout. He's becoming agitated. He turns to a wider audience, a group I was, unfortunately, in. "I'm telling you turds, he's up at Ford's, froze like a popsicle."

Dear God, he spots me. "Hey man, yo dude!" he was trying to remember my name. Paint thinner and quick recall are not synonymous. He waves me over, slaps me on the back, and initiates a complicated black power handshake. He appears to have lost memory of our ill tempered parting of a few months back, or more likely, these semiviolent social interactions are of no more importance to him than another double bogey at Jimmy Clay are to me. Garden-variety, everyday occurrences.

I remind him of my name, quite happy to see the knife sitting harmlessly on the bar, a bit to his left. "Yeah man, Coach ... right, Coach. I remember now. How ya doin', man?" We exchange pleasantries, as it were. I compliment Cedrick on his interesting (but plausible) theory. But Trout's attention now becomes riveted on the Raiders/Patriots game on the big screen television set directly above us.

Trout's the kind of guy (if he weren't semi-psychotic) you like to gamble with. He bets with his heart, a lethal sin. If the Raiders are a touchdown favorite, Trout will give 10. If they're a 7-point underdog, he'll bet you straight up. He'd bet heavily on his team tonight. More, no doubt, than he could afford to lose. The game's played in a once-in-a-decade snowstorm. Trout, living in the Rockies, views this as a good omen. I wasn't so sure, but as the game moves along the Raiders look like the Packers on Lambeau Field, moving through the blizzard like sled dogs. The Patriots, on the other hand, look confused and bewildered by the elements.

Che-Che Trout, pounding his glass on the bar like an Apache tom-tom, is a drunk and happy camper. The blizzard defeats all the best technology of Sony and CBS. Even the most expensive TVs are set back to 1956 as the only color visible is the network-imposed yellow first down lines. It's hard to make out the details, but as the fourth quarter progresses, it's clear that bad things are happening for C. Trout. His demeanor, plummeting steadily, isn't improved when an official makes a questionable, but critical, call in favor of the Pats.

At this point I slipped quietly away without, as the song goes, a word of farewell. I'll avoid the Dancing Bear for the rest of the week.

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