Only one of my friends here in the Triangle area knows that I have been to Cameron Indoor Stadium to watch Duke beat some poor team from Georgia last winter, and I suspect that she has forgotten by now. I have learned that attending one of these games is something to be pleased about, and though I am not a Duke fan, I am sort of pleased that I have experienced it; but I am even more pleased that the occasion is long past, and I’ll try to tell you why.
The Duke fan who took me to the game is a tidy Southern gentleman who is a successful businessman in a field that always prompts an awkward chuckle. I must be vague about that, but I also must try to be vague about three other items that are important. A few years ago, he was appointed by someone in a high office in North Carolina to be commissioner of a certain board that raises revenue for public education. Second, he enjoys notable company. I believe I still have a casual photo he sent me of him eating ice cream with the lieutenant governor earlier that week. The last item is his name, and we are going to call him Tony Jamesson.
Tony arrived at my house at the perfect time, of course, and looking just a bit too dapper for youthfulness in his collared shirt and navy sweater vest. We climbed into a huge, gleaming Ford truck and were off. I remember trying to find a speck of dust or smudge inside the truck cab, but I failed. It looked factory fresh. Conversation was no problem, since he has many charming and colorful anecdotes and clearly enjoys hearing them. I relaxed a bit as he told his stories, since his occasional afterthought inquiries into my life clarified that this wasn’t a budding relationship. I could dismiss that question and just enjoy the experience.
One story involved his nephew, who had just started driving. The boy’s father, Tony’s brother, had told Tony that he planned to get his son a car for Christmas. Tony told him that he would help him out with it, and together they bought a car that is, I’m sure, the envy of all that young man’s friends. The presentation of the car to the boy was vividly described by his Uncle Tony as we sped along 540 to Durham.
I received a couple of history lessons, which I particularly enjoyed, and he was able to answer my questions easily. He proudly described the longstanding tradition of the Duke fandom. Rooting for Duke appeared to be about as North Carolinian as vinegar barbecue, tobacco fields, and sweet tea. Many elderly people, he assured me, were the truest of Duke fans. As we walked from the parking garage to Cameron, he leaned in close to me and didn’t quite whisper, “Don’t be surprised if you see some fur coats heading in to watch the game tonight.” I prepared myself for fur coat sightings as well as I could, but a few minutes later when we passed a golf cart transporting a few older people, I was a little irritated to see that, indeed, at least a couple of the ladies were wearing furs. Tony elbowed me in triumph, and I gave him his due. He had called it.
Inside, we settled on some burgers for dinner and got in line. I don’t know what story he was telling me when he suddenly stopped a man who was walking past. He gestured to the man’s shirt, which bore the logo of the board on which Tony serves as commissioner.
“I noticed your shirt,” he said and held out his hand. “I’m Tony Jamesson.” The man took his hand but looked confused. “Commissioner Tony Jamesson.” At this moment, I cannot recall if I tried hiding behind Tony as he tried to drop his own name to a stranger, but it is definitely something I would do. The man recognized him, or pretended to, and they conversed, but I was in too much anguish to notice what they discussed.
My anguish was completed a few minutes later, as Tony led us to a place in the crowded lobby to eat our burgers. I’m working on blocking this out, but I do still recall that an employee asked us to take our burgers somewhere else, since we were crowding another worker and her line. With a smile and a drawl, Tony bravely indicated that as a fan who was paying their salaries, he’d eat wherever he liked. He didn’t say it quite like that, and after being countered, he responded in a way that sounded as if he were cooperating. I began to gather my burger wrappings so that we could move, but he told me quietly to take my time, stay where I was, and just keep eating. After a couple more bites, I found my appetite fairly satisfied.
I don’t fake cheer well, and I don’t try very hard. I’m sure this was disappointing to my companion, who found more comradeship in his other seatmate than in me. The game wasn’t close, and we were bored with it long before it was over. I was pleased that Tony suggested we leave early since he had a decent drive ahead of him anyway.
The stories continued, and some even doubled back. He found himself describing his gift to his nephew again and wrapped it up by grudgingly apostrophizing the boy, “You’re WELCOME!” I decided that this bit of posturing was a reminder to me that he had put out money for a really large gift, and I felt a little sorry for the teenager out there whose uncle will never let him forget that his car was a present.
More stories flowed on the way back to my house, and I learned that Tony is good at handling confrontation, getting attention, and saying memorable things to angry people. Remembering the parable of his nephew, I thanked Tony several times for all aspects of the evening, not forgetting the expensive burger and the uniqueness of an evening spent in an iconic venue. He received my thanks graciously, and soon I was free. Well, almost.
Two days later, I received a text: “I hope you had a good time at the game!” Of course, I once again thanked my generous benefactor. He knows nothing, however, of my gratitude for a story to make my sisters laugh!