The two parked their blue auto on the corner of 218th and Broadway and engaged the gravity lock. A spontaneous advertisement— “Anderson in '84!”—sprouted from the windshield, but the man waved his hand and it disappeared.
He got out from the driver's seat and helped his granddaughter out of the passenger's. He grabbed two shovels—one big, one small—from the trunk.
“Lock,” he said, and the trunk sealed shut and beeped twice.
He smiled at the girl.
“Let's go,” he said, and the two headed up 218th Street.
“That place used to sell the best sandwiches,” the man said, using his shovel to point at a dilapidated storefront with a faded blue-and-red awning that read Park Terrace. The girl took a brief glance.
They reached a construction site at the top of the block. The man stepped over the yellow e-tape that cordoned off the area and helped the girl shuffle under it.
The two stopped and the man touched the side of his glasses with his index finger, bringing up a digital map across the lens.
“About a hundred more feet north,” he said, and the duo trudged along. The ground became less sturdy as they progressed. Concrete rubble was littered along their path. The man took the girl's hand as they walked.
After a few minutes, the man stopped.
“I think this is it,” he said, and handed the girl her shovel. He pushed his own into the ground with his foot and extracted the inaugural clump.
They dug for about half an hour. The girl's contributions were minimal. She could only lift a small amount of dirt at a time and would often accidentally spill half of it back into the hole. But he knew that she enjoyed being involved.
The man hoisted a large load of soil from their trench and noticed a hint of rusted yellow had been revealed on the surface. That was it. He turned to tell the girl of his discovery but then stopped. She'd be more excited if she found it. He pretended to fiddle with something in his pocket.
“Keep going, I think we're close,” he said to her.
The girl drove her shovel once more into the ground and heard a dull clink. Her eyes widened.
“I think I found something!”
She took off her gloves and used her bare hand to wipe away the remaining dirt until a faded yellow circle several inches in diameter was visible. She pawed at the dirt around the circle, and saw that it was actually a pole that extended down into the earth.
“What is it?” she asked.
The man had been waiting for this moment.
“You know that sport I watch on the weekends sometimes with the guys in helmets and the pointy brown ball?” he asked, and the girl nodded.
“Well, 70 years ago, when I was a student at Columbia, we used to have one of those teams ourselves. They used to play right here, about 50 feet below where we're standing. This is one of the goalposts from the field.”
“What happened?” the girl asked, looking around at the wasteland that surrounded her.
“During my senior year in the fall of 2013, the team had a terrible, terrible season. They lost every game, and usually by lots of points,” he said.
The girl sat down to listen.
“It got so bad that after the season, many students started a protest against the football program. They called it an embarrassment, a waste of resources. Eventually the administration called a series of meetings and voted to disband the team.”
The girl pushed her hands into the dirt and let it fall through her fingers like a sieve.
“A lot of positives came from the decision, actually,” the man continued. “They replaced the football team with a men's lacrosse team, which won the Ivy League championship in 2037 or '38, I can't remember. The school redistributed the money they saved from cutting the football program. They handed out some more financial aid packages. They even renovated one of the dorms on campus. Plus, with the football team gone, the athletes and non-athletes got along a little better, especially after a bitter incident from the previous spring.”
“So it was a good thing?” the girl asked.
“Maybe not. Over the long term, the school lost a lot of athletic donations. The stadium became mostly obsolete. They sold it away and eventually it was filled in by a construction crew, as you see it now. A light blue player would never run it into the end zone or boot the ball through the uprights ever again. Homecoming became an ironic on-campus gathering that featured a documentary about former Columbia football stars.”
The man sighed and tapped his foot against the metal pole.
“That's pretty sad,” the girl said.
“Yeah. I miss the days of Columbia football. Even if we didn't win very much, the tradition was worth it. Watching those guys run out onto the field under the Saturday sun. Cheering on the occasional great play. It felt right,” the man said.
The wind picked up, and some loose dirt swirled at his feet.
He gathered the shovels and gestured for his granddaughter to follow. They walked away, leaving the yellow pillar peeking out of their excavation site.
Walker Harrison is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing and mathematics. Morningside Sleights runs alternate Thursdays.
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