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California Dreamin'

Less than 10 hours after the Bengals were completely embarrassed, harassed, and demoralized by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football two weeks ago, I was sitting poolside at a swanky hotel in Los Angeles, California, basking in the clear, 70-something-degree morning sun and quiet breeze, shoveling in mouthfuls of pancakes and bacon while sipping hot coffee and trying to figure out if the skinny dude wearing sunglasses and a stylish white-and-gray striped sweater was a big-time Hollywood producer or just some 50-year-old that shops at the GAP.

It was damn near impossible to be upset about the previous evening’s loss by the Bengals, regardless of how resounding a defeat it was. Even aside from my sudden utopian surroundings—in spite of the mid-December date—I hadn’t even seen that much of the game to begin with, which ultimately sat just fine with me, considering the end result. To concern myself with the undesired outcome of a contest I had no control over in the face of my current circumstances would be offensive to humanity. Sitting at work on a Monday in snowy, overcast, frigid-cold Cincinnati after a nationally broadcast, primetime beatdown like that? Heck yes, I’d have been pissed. But in a west coast paradise, with a chance to bump into Mila Kunis on the sidewalk before grabbing a quick bite to eat and falling madly in love on our path to eternal bliss? Nah. I was feeling just fine.

Perspective, I suppose.

 

I landed in Los Angeles just as the game was kicking off. I was traveling for the magazine—not that anyone had to twist my arm—reporting on a piece for a future print issue. It was kind of a last-minute ordeal, with my under-the-gun timeline leaving me no way to arrange my travel plans around the game. (Again, no complaints.) After hopping off the plane at LAX, I grabbed a chair at a ridiculously overpriced (yet adequate) airport deli that was showing the game. By the time I finished my $20 turkey sandwich, the Bengals managed to fall behind by 14. A text from my dad informed me the deficit had stretched to 21 (and a broken punter) before I even reached the rental-car shuttle.

My constant stream of updates offered little in the way of hope or good news while waiting in line for the car—an activity I wouldn’t suggest undertaking on a Sunday night at the LAX Dollar rent-a-car, by the way—and only mildly improved on the short drive north to my hotel in Studio City. After checking in and finding NBC on the hotel television, there was just enough time left to watch the Bengals last-minute, longshot chance crumble.

Fortunately, I gave the game little thought after that, distracted by my sunny, poolside breakfast the next morning and everything thereafter. The trip was great: beautiful weather, a cool city I had never been to before, and a lot of fun with the top-secret-people I was hanging out with for the magazine article—an article I desperately hope reflects how great the trip was, but I guess we’ll see. No, I never did bump into Ms. Kunis (maybe next time), but Michael Caine may have been on my flight back from LA. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it certainly looked like him.

 

I never should have DVRed the game, and I definitely shouldn’t have watched it having already learned the outcome. After landing back in snowy, overcast, frigid-cold Cincinnati and fast-forwarding through that monstrosity of a Cris Collinsworth-narrated performance (redundant, I know), all the anger I had side-stepped early that week out on the west coast was now pummeling me on tape-delay. I didn’t even have the stomach to finish the whole thing. Then on Friday, I came down with nasty case of food poisoning and didn’t have the stomach to finish ANYTHING. I spent the next 30 or so hours of my weekend with the toilet. Funny how fortunes can change in a week.

By Sunday afternoon, I was beginning to feel a bit better—I wasn’t putting any food down, but at least it had stopped coming back up—healthy enough to watch the Bengals take on the Minnesota Vikings. It was a dangerous proposition, what with my recent gastrointestinal strife and the team’s most recent performance, not to mention a playoff spot that was suddenly in doubt after weeks of just the opposite. But my fears (and stomach) were allayed after the men in stripes hung a 42-14 defeat on the Vikings, with Andy Dalton going full-Katniss and no one cracking any vertebrae. Things only improved from there, with the Dolphins losing to Buffalo to guarantee Cincinnati a playoff spot, and then the Ravens falling to New England to guarantee an AFC North Division title. And don’t worry, I was fully recovered by Christmas, well enough to devour an insane amount of food and beverage in the loving company of friends and family. The Bengals had recovered as well, the biggest worry now being “when” (instead of “if”) they will play their home playoff game.

Funny how fortunes can change in a week.