In Chaucer's bawdy and hilarious “The Miller's Tale,” a character called Nicholas—waspish-naughty-horny Nicholas—convinces an unlucky, soon-to-be cuckolded old carpenter to build three barrels to save himself, Nicholas, and the carpenter's wife from an impending flood. Nicholas has invented the threat of a flood so he can get the carpenter out of the way in order to bed the old geezer's young, "weasel-bodied" wife. Once they're all settled awaiting the terrible storm, "hende" (handy) Nicholas and the wife steal down from their perches in the roof of the barn and away to make for themselves an adulterous night.
On June 12, 2014, I, too, climbed up into the metaphorical roof of my barn and settled myself down in a barrel. In my barrel, I had just an old Panasonic TV, a cable box, a remote control, and a major sporting event called the FIFA World Cup. My days began at noon, continued at three and at six; some days I doubled up because Germany and Austria were once corrupt. On that Panasonic, I saw a young man called Neymar—he looks just how I imagine "hende Nicholas" to look—prance across a field followed by doltish, cuckolded opponents. I saw a tiny tiny man decide to take an entire country upon his shoulders: his name is Lionel, you know, like the toy trains. I witnessed precisely one terrible act of "Miller's Tale"-like cartoon violence, followed as it was by a man sitting on the grass holding his teeth in fake pain. I saw an outback rancher called Timmy whistle "Waltzing Matilda" as he nonchalantly volleyed a falling ball like it was just a game to him. And some big American kid played a single half of football—just one half—and in that time, managed to score a winning goal and get himself not on the back pages but the front (we've all since forgotten his name).
Outside my barrel, the wind swayed the bulging Baltimore oriole nests in the over-grown garden; the pool filled with the rusted leaves of my ash tree, burned as they were by the winter's mega-snow. My children aced their exams, fell in love with a new album by their favorite band, amused themselves. A book I was writing grew thicker not from words but from dust between the pages. On the Panasonic I saw a penalty hit the inside of a post, another get saved; a boy called James pretend to be Timmy whistling; and there was another act of cartoonery buffoonery, wherein a very good player called Robben stole a game—as his name suggests he always will—after seeming to be shot in the back by a sniper (he wasn't shot in the back by a sniper).
I also saw Lukaku—he bears what I imagine to be the Brazilian version of my name—get one step on a defender, and knew it was over. By then, a different Tim had made the most saves in the history of any sport since the Romans and Greeks, or something; the rest of his team had run marathons after the hard-to-control ball, and Wondo had whiffed. Someone came to watch the game with me in my barrel and kept standing in front of the screen until I screamed for him to sit down.
This morning, I climbed down from the barrel, amazed there had been no flood after all. The dog seemed hungry so I fed him; there were two new cats in the barn, I don't know where they came from. Despite the promise I make to myself every day to not do so, I've aged. I imagine there's a mountain of dishes in the sink; the lawn is up to my knees; it's no longer spring but summer.
I promised myself one day I'd watch every second of every game of a FIFA World Cup—not so much a bucket list, then, as a barrel list. This year I had the chance, and this, then is what it feels like: The ash tree is almost bare, and it's barely just July; the orioles have fledged, and the babies are shaking for food. I can hear shouts and whoops of love from the main house. When I climb up to see if Nicholas and my wife are in their barrels, too, I realize they're gone. The dog looks up at me and begs for a walk; I tell him he's a good boy, and start once again to climb.