Pick a Number

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Pick a Number

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(It’s going to take a moment to get to the yarn content today. Stick with me.)

It’s football season. I need not have to tell you this if you live in the United States. It is impossible to live in the United States during football season and not know it is football season.

I don’t especially care that it is football season.

My father, a native Pennsylvanian, rooted for the Steelers in a laconic and slapdash way; but we never gathered around the television to cheer. He believed that spectator sports were a waste of a healthy body. If you could run and jump and throw, you didn’t watch other people do it, you did it yourself.

My partner Tom shares my lack of interest. It’s one thing that brought us together. Here in the Midwest it’s difficult to socialize for half the year if you don’t want to watch football. “Come on over! We’re getting together to watch the game!” the neighbors will say. If you admit you’d rather not watch the game, they thereafter regard you as a person of suspicious character, telling their children to come indoors when they see you on the sidewalk.

Tom doesn’t care about football but he does enjoy socializing.  So he often finds himself surrounded by jolly enthusiasts in colorful jerseys. Just this weekend, some of his friends, who had ties to Ohio State University, invited him to hang out at a sports bar during the game with the University of Michigan. Tom is a get-along guy, a real social chameleon.  He happily put on the bright red shirt and the necklace made of buckeyes and settled in for the duration.

The trouble was that, like me, he not only does not care about the sport–he doesn’t understand it. We both know what a “touchdown” is: when the ball has made it to one end of the field and somebody does a funky little dance, his team gets points. Beyond that, we have no idea what’s going on.

I could try to learn the rules, I suppose, but a brain has only so much capacity. I’m afraid that if I commit to memory what “first and ten” means, it will push a piece of vital knowledge out of my other ear and suddenly I’ll forget how to do a Kitchener stitch.

This leads to faux pas, like applauding heartily when a member of the opposing team has just stepped on the head of your best friend’s favorite quarterback.

Halfway through the game, Tom got tired of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and hit upon a system that worked like a charm. He borrowed a pen from the bartender, grabbed a napkin and wrote down the following:

4. BOO!
5. O-H
6. I-O

For the rest of the afternoon, Tom’s Ohio State friends simply held up an appropriate number of fingers at key moments, and he cheered (or otherwise) according to the list. Touchdown for Ohio? Number nine. Ruling in favor of Michigan? Number seven.

It worked so perfectly that the napkin list has been saved and will be unfurled at future games. As Tom explained the system to me, I realized it has applications well beyond the boundaries of spectator sports.

Consider this: how many times have you spoken of or displayed your needlework to a civilian–and received either silence, or a wholly inappropriate response?

How often have you held aloft three months of complicated knitting, only to hear that it looks just like a sweater your mother saw for fifteen bucks at Value Village? And how did this make you feel?

Have you ever announced to a good friend, “I have to rip back two days’ worth of work,” and been told in a detached tone of voice that hey, you should do whatever makes you happy? And has this inspired you to use your sharpest needle in an unorthodox manner?

Has your heirloom-quality lace been greeted with less enthusiasm than a new level in a first-person shooter? And has this put a strain upon your marriage?

If we were simply to apply Tom’s numbered list system to the problem of communicating with Those Who Do Not Fully Appreciate Really Crisp Cables, we might not only save relationships, we might save lives.

I’ve started a napkin for you, below. Feel free to revise and extend according to your own particular needs.


Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008–now in its third printing) and proprietor of The Panopticon (the-panopticon.blogspot.com), one of the most popular knitting blogs on Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.

Franklin’s other publishing experience in the fiber world includes contributions to Vogue KnittingYarn Market NewsInterweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkCast On: A Podcast for KnittersTwist Collective, and a regular column on historic knitting patterns for Knitty.com.

These days, Franklin knits and spins in Chicago, Illinois, sharing a small city apartment with an Ashford spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.

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  • What’s a first-person shooter?

    • Video game (to put it very simply)

    • A video game that you play from a first-person perspective – often looks something like this:

  • Love this! Thanks, Franklin, for another gem ;-)!

  • Made my morning!!

  • I’d have to convert mine to never read knitting…I can do both but hubs doesn’t seem to get that there is a profound difference between the two and I prefer to be a hooker instead of a knitter. I wonder if I explained it that way to him he’d never say knit again?

  • I want this framed for my wall! Love it 🙂

  • I love it Franklin. The napkin graphic is what I saw first, and I could readily understand it. But the essay makes sense for those of us that are non-sports minded. My first knowledge of ‘first and ten’ came in a typing contest in high school – else I would be bereft of that knowledge some forty years later. But yarn – be it with knitting or crochet – or just the collection of yarns for my stash begs the need of a napkin to hand to those that are not of like mind. I love it. Gotta print your cartoon out and hang it on the door of the office.

  • Hilarious!! I must put this into use at my house!!

  • Hey Franklin, I can tell you from experience that you CAN remember how to Kitchener during an advantage power play deep in the third period. You can even effectively cuss the icing call while managing a 300-stitch pick-up. This football stuff though, I dunno…

  • 7. I can absolutely see the differences between this skein of yarn and all the others in your stash. It’s unique; you must have it.

  • I once heard football described thus: The red men and the blue men make one another fall down. Sometimes, women dance.

    Seems to make sense to me.

    • LOL- love that description- just about my speed of understanding and involvement in football!

  • Franklin, you are a genius

  • six.
    can we pound it into the brains of my loved ones with my sharpest needles and a hammer?
    the hat will cover up the scar tissue nicely.

    (fyi, I’m joking. I don’t really want to hurt people. I just get angry about my knitting sometimes. Don’t you EVER interrupt me when I’m counting stitches!)

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