Friday, February 10


Really, that's what the teller wished me this afternoon at the bank, only without the enthusiasm the exclamation mark implies. And I'm still working out the phonetic spelling. The "hahv" part sounded like Katherine Hepburn calling Jimmy Stewart's rabbit by his nickname, only with a half-cup of Southern drawl. It's possible she could have sounded less sincere, but I'm not sure how.

I know, I know, I'm the only man in America who gives a shit. It's only because this is the same side of the counterfeit "Happy Holidays" coin. Why does anyone care? I didn't come here to start a relationship, I just want you to do the math correctly. And it would seem to defeat the purpose when you can't even bother to enunciate your concerns for the sort of day I'm having. How 'bout we leave it at "Thank you"? Although that reminds me that 90% of the time when I say "Thank you" to a cashier or bagger--and I always do--they respond with "You're welcome." I know I'm welcome. I just paid for the experience. If it were left to my opinion of the thing I'd just walk out with my stuff and avoid all interaction with you. I was being polite.

Okay, I know the world has much bigger problems. I, on the other hand, do not.

Which brings us to the Olympics™.* Only a few more hours before the big opening extravaganza, hosted by Katie Couric and Bob Costas, in which one will try to decide which is most annoying: Couric's cheery willingness to chew on any shit they give her to eat; Costas pretending to be above it for the fourth or fifth time; or the Busby Berkley Meets Leni Riefenstahl extravaganza itself.

I just read that the Winter Games will last 17 days. Apparently we have now invented so many things someone can judge you on while you're standing in a snowbank that it just won't fit into two weeks anymore. What a banquet. Please, please tell me that means an extra two days of ice dancing.

Here's the deal: I like skiing. And speed skating. They're timed. Sports are either timed, or measured, or they end when only one guy can stand up. They're not judged. They've almost ruined the car-wreck attractiveness of ski jumping by requiring competitors to land like girl gymnasts or chorus boys. Hockey is fine. Curling is oddly absorbing; I somehow became a curling fan in the late 60s, though I generally shun sports that use kitchen appliances. Bobsledding and luge are fast, and they get boring fast, plus I just read that the US team is the beneficiary of new steel runners which would have cost $1M in research and $50,000 per set, except there's always some American somewhere willing to spend big bucks so we can humiliate Norway. I think it would be great if the Olympic committee banned national symbols altogether, but you might as well ask them to take a cut in graft.

Yeah, I know, a lot of people have grown to hate the rah rah and the sap ("She's dedicated this race to her uncle's cousin's mailman, who lost an arm in the war"). The thing that irritates me most about that is how much it shortchanges the story. Take Rulon Gardner, who pulled off one of the most astonishing upsets in Olympic history. He beat Aleksander Karelin, who'd been undefeated for 13 years and unscored on in World competition for ten. How much more impressive would that have been if, I dunno, we'd ever seen Karelin, or heard tell of him, before that match? Watching Franz Klammer in 1976, skiing last on a course that was by then pure ice and pulling out the gold is still one of my most exciting moments in sports. Would it have been better if he were a Texan?

I swear there wasn't nearly as much jingoism in the coverage at the height of the Cold War. I remember everybody going crazy over Abebe Bikila, the barefoot Ethiopian marathoner, in Rome. These days we'd cut away from the finish to check on the American in 24th place, the one who's brother had a gallstone operation last month. Things got much worse when NBC took over, with Curt Gowdy, the official hunting and fishing guide of the House Un-American Activities Committee, managing to squeeze in some play-by-play between political rants. There's also the fact, now all but lost, that we used to bitch about those damned Russian professionals and their Army sinecures who got to train all year long on the dole. Of course, once our professionals were allowed in it was a different matter, and the joy of watching a dozen NBA stars crush a bunch of Koreans no taller than 6'2" was unbounded.

In fact, now that I think of it, maybe Barbara Walters wasn't the early warning sign of everything going to hell. Maybe the Olympic coverage got there first. Besides the professionalism thing, there was the outrage at the bulked-up East German women in the 70s, which has been followed by our sudden concern for due process once our own stars started looking like Lou Ferrigno.

My favorites this time around, though, happen to be Americans: Bode Miller, because he swings from the heels every time, and his teammate Daron Rahlves, because he pulled off the second greatest practical joke** I've ever heard of. On his wedding day he hired a look-alike stunt bride to fall into Lake Tahoe. Genius.

*just play along

** Number three is the original garden gnome kidnapper in the 80s, who returned the thing a year later with an envelope of pictures from his world tour tied around his neck. And number one, all time, the guy whose kid sister had one of those dimestore pet turtles, who got a series of larger turtles and made his sister's pet gradually grow larger and larger, then just as mysterious shrink back to the original size.


Anonymous said...

I'm old enough to remember when the coverage of the Olympics was just that, coverage. So you got to see almost all of every sport, no matter how boring, and sometimes boredom grew into a kind of benumbed fascination. Now it seems that they only cut away from all the Katie-talk and up close and personal with Hans at the handicapped pig farm to show only Americans competing in something (no matter how far down in the standings they are) and one or two furriners.

As a curling fan, could you explain what in hell the guys with the brooms are doing, how they decide it needs doing, and what training for that position entails? I understand the Bocce Ball on ice part, just not sure about the sweeping.

My favorite practical joke is a variation on yours. Back in the 70's, Buddy Hackett and friends knew a guy who just bought a new VW and touted the incredible gas mileage he was going to get. So every night or so for a couple of weeks, they would surreptitiously add gas to his tank until he just wouldn't shut up about it. Then, like the turtle prank, they started taking lots of gas out.

Anonymous said...

Well, as far as I'm concerned the Olympics are just an excuse to cancel the stuff I actually would watch--No Red Green, no Rick Mercer, no DaVinci's Inquest *or* City Hall.

As for curling, I guess it's okay as sport goes, but I prefer *extreme* sports that involve kitchen items.
My definition of sport vs game is possibly more to the point than yours: if the rankings are determined by how much money one has made, it's a game. End of discussion. Golfers, shut up. You're no better than bowlers, poker players, or the freaks who flock to Magic: The Gathering tournaments.

Anonymous said...

Doghouse, thank you for making my Olympics sport vs. athletic art rant only clearer.

"Faster, Higher, Stronger" - you guys go to the right. "Smoother, Prettier, More Elaborate" - you guys go left.

We might even need a third category for games like bowling or golf, where the scoring is more complex than using a tape measure and nothing that any comptetitor does has any direct effect on any other competitor.

Anonymous said...

ABC was committed to showing the Olympics with as little nationality as possible. Most of their 'Up-Close and Personal' were with non-Americans.
I may be incorrect, but ABC broadcasters did not use the words "we" or "us" when discussing American performances, even during the '80 hockey run.