We arrived at Giants Stadium. There are four huge spiraling ramps through which the stadium’s population of 80,000 enter and exit. They wind their way from the ground level up to the top, a huge cement coil faintly reminiscent of the Guggenheim Museum, though with a more prison vibe.
My friend explained that it was a tradition for all the drinkers, smokers and rowdies to gather towards the top of this spirals at half-time. When half-time came we walked up to the top of one the concrete spirals and took in the scene, imbibing huge drafts of second hand pot smoke and swigging from a bottle of whiskey we had smuggled in.
There is something fascinatingly bleak about the industrial New Jersey landscape on a cold gray day; it looks post-apocalyptic, as hospitable to humans as a desert or the North Sea, and for a while we faced outward, taking in the view, as though we were on the prow of a ship. Then we noticed that lots of people were leaning over the inside ledge and looking down to the bottom of the spiraling cement coil. We went to see what was going on.
At the bottom of this huge concrete spiral five stories high was a drainage area made of concrete. There was something pleasingly symmetrical about the rings of concrete ramp spiraling downwards, like at the Guggenheim museum, except instead of looking down and seeing a lobby with people milling about, you looked down on an alien industrial space, a circle of concrete with drains built into it. There was no entrance; it was a six foot drop from the lowest part of the ramp to that bereft circle of concrete, on which some stray garbage had collected. It was not meant for human occupancy.
People had begun to throw coins down into the drainage area. The coins, and the circularity of the space, made it seem like a wishing well. There was a steady chiming sound, and after a few minutes the cement was littered with silver.
Then a green dollar bill floated down like a snowflake. A roar went up from the crowd. There were a lot of people leaning over the concrete railing now, transfixed by the view of a dollar being sent to its death. We were staring down, and below us, there were other fans leaning over and staring down as well, tiers of them, like at the opera.
The first dollar bill was followed by another, and then another, each one greeted by a cheer. There was something pleasing about seeing all this money being thrown away. Then someone on one of the lower levels stuck out his hat, and a dollar floated into it. A coin dropped in as well, and he stuck out his neck and looked upwards to the heavens in order to better catch some more. Someone poured beer on his head.
It was around then, when a hearty laugh erupted from the mob, that the chemistry of the event changed. There were well over a thousand of us now, and there looked to be at least fifty bills on the ground, and pounds of silver coins. A group of people had accumulated at the very bottom of the ramp. Somehow everyone understood that there was a chance that a person might jump in there and try to pick all those bills off the ground. But every time one of these potential harvesters stuck there heads out to try and better see how much money was in the ditch, a rain of debris came down from above.
The atmosphere quickly became ugly. The space at the bottom of the spiral no longer seemed like a wishing well, but rather like something Roman, gladiatorial, a place were something gory could happen and then be washed away.
More and more people were leaning over the interior rails, and they were all screaming. It had begun to snow lightly. The Jets were in a tight game with the Vikings, and half-time was almost over. Everyone’s cheeks were pink with excitement and a perverse kind of good health. The group at the very bottom of the ramp had become smaller, not larger– evidently it was too dangerous to risk it. But a couple of young men remained, hovering, and it was clear that the mob wanted someone to make a try for it before they had to go back to the football game. The money continued to rain down, taunting. A new element to the situation emerged: who would leave this game to go back to the other game first? The mob above, or the small gang of gatherers below?
The person who jumped in wore a baseball cap, a blue down jacket which, though not brand new, looked as though it had cost some money, sweat pants, and sneakers that seemed a bit on a the fancy side. He seemed to be about eighteen, and he was black. Other than this last detail his appearance was more or less like everyone else in the stadium.
He leaped in and began scurrying around picking up bills. He was sufficiently far away that, seeing him from above, there was strange two dimensional quality about him, as though he were a character in a video game. Beer rained down on him. Popcorn. Half eaten hot dogs. Globs of spit. An avalanche of half eaten food and drink that, once airborne, bore a strong resemblance to vomit. It all poured down on him to the accompaniment of screams of pleasure. It was the loudest outburst of cheering I had heard all day. People ran down the ramp so as to get a better angle, and closer proximity, and beaned him with almost full plastic cups of beer. The beer cups made a thwacking sound on his back and on the ground around him. The color of his jacket became dark with wet. He kept moving, zig-zagging around; it was like some Olympic version of trash collection, except the paper he was picking up was money. When someone had a particularly direct hit the crowd yelled even louder.
A cup of beer is five dollars. I’d estimate that there were about a hundred or more dollar bills on the ground, and that at least another three hundred dollars worth of beer was poured into that ditch. Eventually the scrambler tired. You could see his movements slow down. I half expected someone to urinated on him. Little kids were gleefully ripping open mustard packets and squeezing the brownish yellow mustard out to drip down in gobs.
The scrambler ran to the wall. He jumped up and tried to pull himself over to safety. He faltered. Aware that this was their last chance, the crowd unleashed one more fusillade of spit, beer, and mustard. It rained down on this strugling figure, his legs kicking, trying to find a purchase on the flat cement wall.
A hearty looking guy to my left, pink faced, with a blonde crew cut, turned to head back to the game. “That was the best half time show I’ve ever seen!” he said.