Field of Queens

The life and loves of Eric Merfalen, a gay athlete who forged his sexual identity while playing America's most macho, bone-crushing sport

Eric Merfalen walks into the Gym Bar in Chelsea looking straight ahead, not meeting the eyes of any of the men who turn to watch him. He carries a leather suitcase and wears a blue shirt with light-pink stripes and pink tie with blue stripes under a navy Polo blazer. Eric is handsome and he knows it. Everyone calls him Enrique, as in Enrique Iglesias, the Latino musician and teen-magazine cover boy. Although he's not tall at 5-9, Eric has smooth skin the color of coffee with two creamers and black hair brushed back and gelled. At turns, he looks either overtly serious or overcome by his own smile. There is no in-between.

Finding the coat check locked on this Tuesday night in January, the 25-year-old Eric heads to the bar and leans over it to kiss the bartender, Juan Bonilla, on the lips. They play together on the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club. "What will it be tonight?" Juan asks. Eric, who works as an assistant at an art auction house, has arrived before any of his teammates for the monthly "Hang Out With the Knights" promotion, so that he can get a few half-price beers before happy hour ends. He orders a Sam Adams. Juan pours it and slides both the glass and a poker chip good for a free drink over to Eric. As he takes his first sip, Eric turns and leans back against the bar, resting his elbows on the ledge, and looks over the crowd from left to right. About 40 people of various ages fill the bar, alternately watching one of the large flat-screen televisions—showing college and pro basketball games on this night—and talking to friends.

Eric is well into his second beer when he nods toward a fair-skinned man with thinning hair and a bushy beard, both red. The man leans in to kiss Eric as he pulls off his jacket.

"Yeah, I'm a dork," the bearded man says. "I wore my jersey."

Across the back of the blue-and-gold jersey the name Bearitone runs over the number four. Steve Gaertner earned his nickname because of his burly build, facial hair, and the fact that he is a professional opera singer, a baritone. As for the number four, it indicates his position on the pitch and, to an initiated rugby fan, a glaring deficiency for the Knights. Gaertner is only 5-11 and probably no more than 170 pounds (the Knights' website wishfully lists him at six feet and 190 pounds). He plays the position of lock, typically reserved for the tallest and strongest man of the 15 players on a rugby team.

Ostensibly, this night hanging out at Gym Bar serves three purposes for the Knights, who are in the off-season and won't even begin informal practices until February. First, it's a reason for teammates to get together and build chemistry; second, it's a way to enhance the club's status in the gay community, especially the jock corner of it; and finally, it's a way to recruit new members.

As potential new members go, Luke should be the center of this conversation. He's not athletically built, but he's big, and the first words out of his mouth are these: "I played football at a Division III college and all I liked was to hurt people." But he also speaks in a slightly affected "gay" voice; there's a hint of a lisp and slight rise in tone. When he talks on the phone his voice lowers and is tinged with a slight Southern twang. Plus, he's a professional singer, who surely has terrific control of his voice. It is clear he has developed a normal voice and a flirt voice. Luke also constantly brings his fingers to his mouth, and doesn't shy from laying his other hand on Eric's leg, moving it up each time.

"You're cute, Enrique," Luke says. "I can't lie. You're a cute guy, Enrique."

Eric doesn't smile, but waits for Luke to continue.

"You're not straight, are you?" Luke asks Eric. "Straight guys confuse me."

"What's wrong with it if I was?" Eric says. "What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing, they just confuse me. I slept with five girls in college. It was OK."

"Well, I slept with 58," says Eric. "And I dated most of them."

Luke giggles. "I've been with, umm, about 150 men."

Eric just stares at him.

"Not counting blowjobs. Then, it's like . . . "

"You're talking to the wrong guy," Eric cuts in. "You're talking to the wrong guy."

"A prude."

"No," Eric says. "I've been with five guys, and three of them were my boyfriends. That's just how I am."

Eric abhors the way many gay men his age embrace promiscuity, which he believes perpetuates a damaging stereotype. But even though he has a boyfriend of several months—"We've been having our problems," he says—he has dates lined up with other men every night the rest of the week.

"I'm a conservative," Eric says.

Luke jumps back.

"Did you . . . "

"Twice," Eric says. "I voted for George W. Bush twice."

Here comes that smile, drilling up through the steely veneer and spreading wide on Eric's face.


"I'm not into your type," Eric says, and turns slightly so that he can look the opposite direction but keep Luke in his peripheral vision. He sees Luke rip up the business card and sprinkle it across the bar, and watches him stomp away to retrieve his coat. Luke tucks in his scarf, gives himself a look in the mirror, heads toward the exit, and hisses "fucker" at Eric as he passes him on his way out.

Eric pays no attention. He's already joined a conversation nearby, jumping in spontaneously and seamlessly and drawing a quick laugh before ordering another round of beers.

At that moment, it's impossible to picture Eric as anything but a confident young gay man, equally able to captivate and infuriate, secure in a strict set of moral beliefs while also relishing the ability to be out, dramatic, bitchy, and, well, himself.

Only a year has passed, though, since Eric looked into the mirror and saw something different staring back, a person he didn't know and wanted dead, someone he had even tried to kill with pills and booze.

As Eric tried to climb out from under that burden and to combine the boy he had been with the gay man he had become, he found rugby. For homosexual men, rugby has become an increasingly common bridge between the seemingly straight orientation of contact sports and the gay men who yearn to be a part of that world. The failure of gay athletes to come out of the closet—to this day, not a single gay male athlete has ever admitted his sexuality while playing an American professional team sport—has fueled the disconnect between gays and sports.

But in the end, rugby didn't save Eric's life.

The people who played it with him did.


Childhood memories are by nature scattershot, but Eric remembers this clearly: He and another boy were wrestling on the lawn of a house in suburban Washington State. They were both seven. When Eric ended up on top, he stayed there. He sat up, straddling the other boy, and neither moved. They felt the heat of their bodies, and a thought invaded Eric's mind: I want to kiss him. Eric forgot about the incident for almost a decade. His family moved to Cleveland, where he became one of the most popular students in school. He played football and soccer and was even voted, through a general election, to the school board as a junior in high school. Making decisions on budgets and school policy forged Eric's conservative political ideology. He dated girls, but unlike his then teammates, never had much interest in even pretending to commit. He went from girlfriend to girlfriend, rarely spending much more than a week. In the adolescent world of the male locker room, Eric's teammates considered his promiscuity a sign of his masculinity. No girl was going to tie him down.

Late in his junior year, Eric had two friends over for the purpose of studying. Both were football players who needed Eric's help with schoolwork. Neither had much intention of being studious. As soon as one flipped on the Nintendo, the other began to wrestle Eric. Early in the impromptu match, his hand slipped over Eric's crotch. He kept it there.

"Do you like that?" the boy asked.

Eric put his own hand on the boy's crotch, in the same manner.

" Do you?" Eric asked.

It stopped there. The third boy, absorbed by the video game, never knew a thing.

Eric chose to attend Case Western Reserve University, a small school in Cleveland, after it offered him a generous scholarship. He was immediately drawn into fraternity life. He enjoyed drinking and partying and found the quick friendships joining a fraternity offered alluring. Playing for the football team means that the other players, no matter whether you get along with them or not, are your buddies. Fraternities take it one step further. You join a family. You're reborn into a brotherhood. Eric embraced it, and the members of Sigma Phi Epsilon saw in him a dynamic new force. Eric could talk to anyone. He not only convinced the girls of Alpha Phi to spend more time at the Sig Ep house, he also slept with seven of them and earned the title of A-Phi Ace. He continued to date many women and earned a reputation as a slut. You could mention his name to pretty much any girl and she would have some sort of comment.

Eric became the top recruiter in the house for the rest of his career. He did not recruit, though. He demanded. He simply told recruits where to go and that they would enjoy themselves. He often provided the entertainment, drinking more than anyone and helping large groups of strangers feel comfortable. At one particular party no one would get on the dancefloor, so Eric asked the disc jockey to play Tupac Shakur's "How Do U Want It." He stumbled out to the center of the room and began walking back and forth slowly. Then he began sinking lower and slowly standing back up. Others joined him. What was meant to be a whimsical icebreaker became known as "The Walk of Guam," where Eric was born, and he has been performing it ever since.


Eric did finally try to date for an extended period. When he was 20 he met a girl named Chrystina, a senior. The two dated for most of the year. Near graduation she asked Eric if she should plan to stay with him during the next two years, when she would be attending graduate school at Ohio State.

"Are we going to end up getting married?" Chrystina asked.

Eric told her he loved her, and they made plans to move in together.

That summer, though, those plans changed at a party Eric attended at a friend's home. He began drinking early and then he met another young man who was still in high school. They decided to take a walk and entered a shed in the backyard. The boy grabbed Eric and began kissing him, and the two had sex. Despite his Catholic upbringing and conservative values, he felt no guilt.

Eric's relationship with Chrystina tapered off as she began a new life at Ohio State and he began tentatively searching the Internet for gay chat rooms. That gave him the nerve to go to a gay bar. During his junior year he got in his truck and drove two and a half hours to a bar he had heard about in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After one drink, and without saying a word to anyone, Eric got back in his truck and returned to Cleveland.

Dropping his suave heterosexual persona, which made him a popular and effective fraternity member, proved to be just as difficult as dealing with his sexuality. Eric continued flirting with girls, and to this day can often inadvertently send mixed messages. More than once he has spent a few hours in a Manhattan bar talking to a woman only to explain at closing time that he's gay and has a boyfriend.


image
John Bockwoldt, left, and Eric Merfalen enjoy a post-game drink at Gym Bar.
photo: Miles Ladin
Eric moved to New York in the fall of 2004 and began working at a bar in the financial district. On off nights he went to the gay bars he had always heard about. On a warm spring night, he went to the Duplex, a cabaret-style club located on Christopher Street in the West Village. The Duplex sits next to the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riots that marked the beginning of the first major gay rights movement.

Eric walked into the club and immediately fell for it. A singer belted out various Broadway tunes on a first-floor stage, and upstairs, men chatted with each other in the game room. They were men of all ages and all types. Some were "queeny," dressed in flamboyant outfits and wearing makeup. Others wore tailored shirts and ties. Surely he'd be able to meet new friends.

It didn't take long for him to return the momentary glance of a stranger. They began talking and drinking. Up until this point in his life Eric had not been able to make many gay friends. He spent most of his time in Cleveland with his friends from college and high school, all of whom had either accepted his homosexuality with aplomb or had an inkling about it all along. Still, Eric didn't feel comfortable sharing parts of his experience with those friends. He couldn't talk to them about his sex life, and they weren't well versed in the latest men's fashion trends. He needed gay friends.

The Duplex was not the place to find friendship. Before Eric had ordered his third drink—it wasn't even 11:00 p.m.—the first man he met there suggested they go back to his apartment for sex. The same thing happened over and over again, not only that night but for the first seven months of his life in New York. Every man he met was interested only in sex, Eric thought.

Now that he was out and seeking a deep- er relationship, Eric leaned heavily on his conservative values. For the first time, he was truly looking for a partner, and to him that meant monogamy. Eric felt alone. He began returning to Cleveland on weekends to be with his old friends. He stopped dating and began drinking heavily. One night he took a bottle of sleeping pills and chased it with a fifth of Bombay Sapphire gin. Feeling depressed, he started punching signs along the road home, cutting his hands. When he got home he swallowed 20 Tylenol PM pills and passed out. Eric's roommate found him, saw the bloodied hands, and took him to the hospital. Doctors pumped Eric's stomach and called his parents.

Eric met with a psychiatrist shortly after the suicide attempt. She asked him what he felt was missing from his life and why it had never been missing from his life at home. He thought it over. He missed having a large network of friends and was hurt that he couldn't replicate that feeling in New York. His psychiatrist pressed him. Where had these friends come from? Why was he able to connect with them? When he finally realized the answer, he could not believe it had eluded him for so long. All of his friends came through sports or fraternity life, two groups that share historically masculine bonding rituals. His psychiatrist told him to find a way to bond with gay men in the same way.


Eric didn't believe it was possible. He'd known few gay men who enjoyed relaxing at a bar and watching the game—any game— or playing pickup basketball in the park. There were certainly gay men at his gym, just as there were entire gyms in Chelsea used only by gay men. Eric found these men even more difficult to deal with than the "queens" who ruled the bar scene; they cared, somehow, even more about their appearance. It was a cult of narcissism.

Eric turned to Google. As he planned a way to explain his return to Cleveland to his friends and scoured the Web for new jobs, he took 10 minutes to do a quick search: gaysports new york.


The following Saturday, Eric walked out into the cold and jumped on the No. 1 train heading downtown. He got off at 14th Street and walked over to Sixth Avenue, where he was supposed to wait for a ride to Randalls Island, the home of the Gotham Knights. He noticed several other men waiting on the corners of the intersection and corralled them.

"Any of you know anything about rugby?" he asked. They all shook their heads. "Anybody know what this is going to be like?" Again, no. The ride to Randalls Island, wedged between Manhattan and Queens, was quiet too. They found the field, and Eric's hopes sagged. Whatever wasn't covered with snow had turned to mud, and trash dotted the entire playing surface. The pitch, as it is called in rugby, was a disaster. Head coach Harold Bahr, a quiet, brooding man, gathered the new recruits, who numbered about 25. He showed a short video that described the basics of rugby and showed highlights of crushing tackles and tries (the equivalent of touchdowns) followed by celebration. From there the group did drills and worked its way into a short scrimmage.

Rugby can be a startlingly beautiful game when played well. Fifteen players work in unison without a single stoppage, and teams flow from offense to defense, shifting in and out of formations, all of it accented by tackle after tackle. This scrimmage did not go like that. It was startlingly absurd, a mishmash of fits and starts and illegal plays. Eric didn't even take part. He was sitting in then president Adam Josephs's car. He'd been so anxious to show off his athletic skill—few of the other newcomers had played a sport before—that he tried to make every tackle during drills, ended up spending much of his time in the mud, and got soaked within the first few minutes. By the third hour of practice Eric's shivering was out of control, and he asked for a change of clothes and a few minutes to rest and warm up. He watched this strange game from the sidelines. It was cha-os, and Eric was not at all sure he'd enjoy it.

The team went back to the Eagle, a dive bar, and began drinking. All of the new players received shirts proclaiming they'd survived boot camp, and got their drinks paid for by the current team. Before long, each new player was being paraded back to a pool table and forced to flash his ass to the rest of the team or take off his shirt. Eric declined to show his ass; he often demurred from taking part in the team's more sexual rituals.


On April 2, after only a month of practice, Eric suited up against two Metropolitan rivals. But he missed the bus and didn't reach New Windsor for Gotham's first matches until midway through his team's 69-0 loss. He arrived in time to see Jeff Simpson, another new player who had become one of Eric's best friends, severely fracture his ankle just five minutes into his rugby career. The other players were kind enough to carry a frantic Simpson right past Eric. Thus initiated, Eric prepared for his own debut. It went slightly better than Simpson's, in that Eric was able to walk off the field.

Winston, one of the founding members of the club, held the party at his house in New Jersey later that night, and the entire team drank and swam in the pool. Eric doesn't know how to swim—he almost drowned when he was young and has feared water ever since—and didn't pack a suit. The pool was only a few feet deep, though, and Simpson, who came back from the emergency room sporting a large cast, wasn't going to use his suit, so Eric borrowed it. He walked out onto the deck in the black, square-cut Speedo to the sound of whistles and applause. The way he remembers it, every player on the team who didn't have a longtime partner hit on him that night.

Martin Smith, a boyishly handsome architect from Virginia, refrained, at least while in the pool. Eric and he had argued earlier that day about politics, and Martin didn't like the rookie's tone. A member of the team since 2002, Martin had played club rugby at the University of Virginia. He was a quiet leader on the Blue team. He believed new players should be patient and pay their dues. Eventually those who lived in the city left New Jersey and gathered at the Chelsea apartment of Adam Josephs to continue the party.


Eric was still enjoying his mild celebrity status, talking to a group of four teammates when Martin walked by and said, "I bet you have a small dick."

Eric followed Martin out to the balcony and looked out into the busy street 11 stories below before he even spoke.

"That's fucked-up that you said that," he told Martin. "I can see we're not going to . . . "

"I don't care," Martin interrupted. "I just wanted you to follow me out here. I wanted an excuse to talk to you." Then Martin kissed Eric. The two went home together.


Off the pitch, Eric had started working at the art house part-time to earn a little cash and was rapidly taking on more responsibility. He was also taking three courses at NYU and dating a man named Todd whom he'd met at a bar. As a result he could only practice rugby one day a week, and his development was slow. When Martin failed to show further interest in him, Eric began sleep ing with Eric Walter, another teammate.

All of that changed on the weekend of April 23, when a small squad of the Knights traveled to Washington, D.C., to play the Washington Renegades, one of the first gay rugby teams in the United States and the Knights' most hated rival. They lost both matches, and for the team as a whole, it was the lowest point of the season. "We had played against ourselves," Eric says. "We had let the rivalry get to us, and we had let everything get out of control." Most of the players who stayed in D.C. didn't go out later that night. Eric and a few other teammates had never experienced the gay scene there—known for attracting a professional, intelligent crowd—and decided to go bar-hopping. Midway through the night he received a call from a number he didn't recognize. Martin's voice came through the speaker, and Eric's heart jumped. Martin came from his parents' house in Virginia, where he had been eating dinner, and met up with Eric.

Later that week Eric got two tickets to a Mets game and sent Martin a text message asking him if he wanted to go along. Eric now considers that their first date. That same week Eric's play earned praise from his most respected teammates. Toby Butterfield, the experienced rugger from England, pulled him aside. The two hadn't spoken much up to that point.

"I've got to tell you," Butterfield said, "that I like your game. You're new and have a lot to learn, but I can see you really going somewhere with this." Eric began taking the game more seriously. He bought books on strategy and watched games on television. He stopped focusing so much on making the big hit and, under Bahr's direction, learned how to transition smoothly between attacking and defending. "Finally, I was a real rugby player," he says.

In May, when the team was in San Diego to play the Armada, another gay club, Eric looked to the stands throughout the game. He was expecting his uncle, aunt, and cousins to be there. He'd had dinner with them the night before, and they had all relayed stories about the rest of the family and relived past memories. Eric searched for them after the game to no avail. He walked out to the parking lot to see if either of their cars was there. Then, just as he was about to call to make sure everything was all right, he remembered that he had outed himself rather nonchalantly the night before.

"So who are you dating these days? Who's the new girlfriend?" his aunt had asked.

"Actually, I have a new boyfriend. I'm gay," Eric had replied. That had been the extent of the conversation. This family, like his own, practiced Catholicism and believed in socially conservative values. He knew this is why they didn't come. Eric dealt with the pain by pushing it away and flooding his life with things to do. With the season over except for informal games and tournaments, he and Martin spent every night together.

Late that summer, Eric and Martin went out to dinner at their favorite restaurant, La Belle Vie in Chelsea. They drank two bottles of wine. As they left the restaurant and walked down Eighth Avenue, Eric grabbed Martin's hand. If he'd had a problem with the relationship so far, it was that Martin shied from affection in public. He grew uncomfortable if he felt the people watching him might disapprove. Eric not only didn't care, he wanted to flaunt it if it made anyone uncomfortable. So gregarious, he had trouble holding back his feelings.

This time, though, Martin held Eric's hand tightly. They walked for several blocks without talking. Other couples, both gay and straight, walked past them. Then Martin slowed and stopped at the entrance to the small park in Abingdon Square. He kissed Eric hard, and Eric leaned in to keep going. When Martin pulled back, he said, "I am in love with you."


Eric couldn't talk. He knew he loved Martin too, but didn't think he'd ever hear those words and be able to believe them. He had said it to women and to his other boyfriends, but always with a big smile, with a veneer. That was gone.

"I love you," Martin said again. "I love you. I love you. I love you."

It took Eric a month to be able to say those words back.


The summer of 2005 was about Martin Smith. There had been an early attraction and continued flirtation. Both experienced the exhilaration of new possibilities that spring and it all seemed right. They went to baseball games together. They sat at Gym Bar and drank beer while discussing politics. They ducked into the restaurants that interested them on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea and enjoyed long dinners. Eric became so content that he started writing a blog. His blog chronicled his relationship with Martin and his thoughts on the Knights. He was unaware that anyone was reading his work, when, in fact, one player had found the information and spread it to the whole team. Martin became upset that Eric had revealed such intimate details about their lives on the Internet. Up until that point he had attempted to downplay the relationship—the Knights learned early on that relationships between players would be prevalent in and detrimental to a gay club. Martin wanted to guard against that. He is also a private person. So private, in fact, that he had not been completely honest about his own romantic situation, as Eric would soon find out.

As the more rigorous fall season began, Eric felt ready for a permanent spot on the Knights' elite Blue team but was relegated to the less prestigious Gold squad. The coaches said they needed his leadership and aggressiveness for the less-skilled team. He suspected they didn't believe in his ability. Whatever the reason, Eric's development stagnated. What bothered Eric the most, though, was his growing opinion that most of the Gold players were simply out to have fun. They demurred when he gave fiery speeches or snapped in anger, and Eric began thinking that many people saw the team as nothing more than a social club. Martin, a veteran rugby player who'd joined the team early in its development and witnessed the best rugby of its history in late 2004, buttressed that opinion.

The blog also sidetracked Eric from being able to concentrate on rugby. Martin withdrew from the relationship and turned to Justin, an ex-boyfriend he'd never quite gotten over. Martin and Justin actually still lived together. Eric held out hope until he found out the two had renewed their lease. He booked tickets to go home for a few days, fully planning to leave the rugby team and extricate himself from Martin's life altogether. But when he arrived at LaGuardia, Eric was unable to retrieve the ticket he had booked online. After speaking with a ticket agent, he discovered the problem: In his haste to make reservations, he'd booked a flight for the wrong weekend. Just as he readied to pay for a new flight, Martin called and said he should stay and play in the next day's game because the Blue squad would need him.

Eric showed up at the pitch the following morning but was not in good spirits. After playing the end of Blue's match he suited up for Gold and, in his own mind, played like a jackass. He hit anything that moved. In rugby you can only touch the ball carrier, and Eric wasn't under control enough to reach him. At one point Eric's teammate kicked the ball down the pitch, a maneuver meant to relieve pressure. As instructed, Eric chased after the ball and arrived in time to make the proper play. He angled toward the man who caught the ball, looking to make a tackle, but couldn't adjust fully to the ensuing pass. His body went horizontal and he collided head-on with an opponent's knee.

Everything went black. Eric had been hit in the right cheekbone but could not feel the left side of his face. He brought his hands to his head, worried that the blow would cause him to have a seizure.

He sensed a crowd gathering around him. All he could pick out were voices. He strained to listen to the instructions from the medical staff and for reassurance from the veteran players he respected. After 10 minutes his vision began to return and he was helped off the field. He felt a hand on his shoulder, but couldn't make out the face of the person to whom it belonged. It was Martin.

"It's going to be OK," Martin said. "I'm here and I'm going to take care of you."

Martin went with Eric to the hospital, where they spent the next 10 hours together.


It is early and cold on the morning after the best drinking day of the year. Piles of puke dot the Manhattan streets in the hours following St. Patrick's Day, though Eric Merfalen never sees them. He rises at 6:30 a.m., takes the No. 6 train up the East Side, and then catches a ride across the Triborough Bridge to Randalls Island. Though the Knights have practiced just once outside and a few times in a cramped high school gym, the Blue team is taking part in the third annual Four Leaf Fifteens, a tournament sponsored by the Village Lions. The Knights have turned down invites to the tournament in past years because it occurs so early in the season. This year, though, the coaches believe the Knights need to prepare for the rigors of tournament play so they can be ready for the Bingham Cup.

Coach Bahr looks concerned, though. He almost always does. Bahr is a true aficionado of the sport, at once beautifully passionate and coldly analytical. At times he does not communicate well with his players, many of whom are still rugby novices.

A rugby team playing well advances down the field as a horizontal line of men. It is able to collapse quickly toward the ball and spread out just as quickly to take advantage of open space on the wings. The Knights don't do either well because many of the players, including Eric, are early in their careers. They're accustomed to sports where positions are more defined; the defensive tackle always lines up in the same spot in football. Rugby is far more fluid. Bahr thinks it takes at least one full season for a player to start understanding the game.

After losing the first game, as usual, the Knights tie the second. It marks the first time the team has ever not lost a match in a "straight" tournament. Eric also scores the first try of his rugby experience.

Eric is a bit dazed and sore afterward. He doesn't want to eat anything and sips from a bottle of water. Martin has been working on a temporary basis in Virginia for the last month, and Eric is still unsure of the status of their relationship. Martin refers to it as a strong friendship; Eric points out that they talk multiple times every day, have been visiting each other on weekends, and remain intimate. Eric briefly tried to date other men and even fell for a tall bartender named Christopher. He invited both Martin and Christopher to his birthday party in February, but ended up giving most of his attention to Martin. Both Christopher and Martin are making plans to travel to Italy for most of 2007 for work-related reasons. Martin claims the trips are unrelated. Eric does not. As he slowly wanders around Randalls and watches other games, Eric reaches into his front pocket to check for his cell phone. He is waiting for it to ring, waiting to talk to Martin and tell him about his try. Then, finally, he'll be able to celebrate it.

The Knights players begin to disperse. There are, much to Eric's chagrin, no plans to go drinking later that night. A week earlier the team had hosted a boot camp, initiating more than 20 new players into the team through a long drinking session. In the still unfinished basement of the Gym Bar, members of the Knights sang vulgar rugby songs, gave speeches about the meaning of the team, and forced rookies to reveal their rear ends. They also drank quite a bit.

An impromptu version of "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," the song made famous in the movie Dirty Dancing, broke out in the middle of the dancefloor near the group Eric had spent the evening talking to.

I've had the time of my life.
No, I never felt this way before.
Yes, I swear, it's the truth,
And I owe it all to you.
'Cause I've had the time of my life,
And I've searched through
every open door,
Till I found the truth
And I owe it all to you.

Several of the new players snickered, and many of the veterans didn't even pay attention. Eric didn't hear or see them. He had already put his beer down, walked up the steps, and left the bar.

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