Tuesday, February 23, 2010
WHY I HATE THE OLYMPICS
Odds of winning an Academy Awards: 11,500 to 1.
I'm going for the Oscar. Clearly, it's the path of least resistance.
I'm living a nightmare right now. It's called the Winter Olympics.
Imagine hating sports – nearly every single form of them – and yet having to watch them 24 hours a day for 14 days on end.
Al-Qaeda might consider waterboarding a worse form of torture. But not for me – for me, torture is seeing snowboarding, luge riders, curlers, and oh- worst of all! - figure skaters. All playing their hearts out to win medals and endorsement deals.
Why do I hate sports so? Look at me! Do I look like a competitor, a svelte athlete ready to stun the world with my feats of speed and grace?!
No, but I've tried.
I first imagined myself as a sports car driver while riding a tricycle at the age of 4. But as my best friend Joey egged me on with the best Howard Cosell impersonation a 4-year-old could offer, I pedaled too fast to take a turn in my circular parking lot safely and careened on 2 of my 3 wheels into the back of a 1974 Buick, getting my nose stuck in the tiny crevice of space between the bumper and its chrome cover. I fireman had to get me free in front of 50 of my laughing neighborhood peers, and I'm still a legend – for all the wrong reasons – on the streets of the Chicago suburb of Broadview, Illinois.
Cut to 4th grade and playing soccer. Soccer was a game my dad – an immigrant from Poland – could relate to. I, on the other hand, wanted to play baseball. Instead, I was stuck playing fullback each week in YMCA soccer. It was already lame playing Y ball – in fact, I think the Y really referred to saying “Why bother?” They never really pused competition, and no matter how crappy your team was, it got a trophy. How does that prepare you for the non-stop, inevitable asskicking rat race the real-life adult world has to offer? It took me years before I realized you don't get a trophy for screwing up on the job, and that a boss might tell me I'm the weakest link and throw a folder at my head rather than hand me an award the next time I missed a deadline.
And so it went, on and on: my spiral of sports-related shame!
Next came YMCA basketball, where I was so hopeless and my team so pathetic that I remember a Y ref secretly tapping a ball I was chasing back in-bounds to me.
“Don't worry,” he whispered with a smile. “You can shoot it again.”
Sure, he was trying to be nice, but all I could think was, every kid on that court and their parents – not to mention MY parents – had to see the ref help me.
It was like having my dad buy me a presidential election by stacking the Supreme Court and having me declared the winner. No one would ever respect me again – so I let the basketball just sit there anyway.
I had my pride.
Flash forward to baseball – again at the damn Y – and I'm 10 going on 111 with another crappy team on its way to an 0-7 record. EVERY team I played on, from soccer to basketball to baseball, was 0-7. But we still got trophies!
The memories I have from that baseball season are good and bad. I got 1 hit in 11 at-bats, after cowering from fast pitches on my other 10 attempts. That hit was a fast grounder that slipped by a 2nd baseman, but IT WAS GLORIOUS! It ensured that at least one of my lifetime stats didn't have a 0 attached to it.
The other was in my last game, playing right field of course – the no man's land that balls were never hit to and where the lamest players went to die. In my final game, though, a player hit a rocket line drive out to right, and in a completely uncharacteristic – and some say, miraculous – display of ability, I caught that sucker!
I ran in to my team, screaming for joy, highfiving, a hero for cone in my Godforsaken life. And then, as I grabbed a bat, knowing my turn was next and that for once I had the confidence to pound a homer...the ump called “Time!”
Not time out. Time! As in “out of time, game over” - in the one sport devised by mankind that wasn't supposed to have a clock! There was no “time” in baseball! It was supposed to last 9 non-timed innings, period – that was its hidden magic! You never knew WHAT you were getting into with baseball, a 2 hour boredom-inducing low-scorer or an action-paced, seemingly unending 4 hour barnstormer. To this day, that's what I love about baseball – the fact that the game and its details rarely matter as much as the loose vibe of a drunken afternoon in which the universe and everything in it can be discussed, debated and evaluated in 9 glorious innings.
All these memories flood my mind, but the thing that broke my Olympic spirit most was the summer of 1992 – when my brother Lud won the Olympic Triplecast from a morning radio show.
Now, the Olympic Triplecast was designed for those human beings who felt around the clock coverage of the Olympics on just ONE network wasn't enough. Rather, it was THREE satellite networks of Olympic coverage – making sure you didn't miss a damn minute of any sport known to man, from soccer to the shot put.
And my brother reveled in the fact he'd won it, taking over our kitchen TV to watch as much as humanly possible because he couldn't let this alleged $199 “value” go to waste.
While he drove my mom's blood pressure sky high and forced the rest of my family into eating out for nearly every meal of the Olympics' two weeks rather than watch another second, he and I DID bond over one thing: Snickering awkwardly at Greco-Roman wrestling.
Yes, I came running anytime he yelled to tell me it was on. The chance to watch two guys in tights hold each other in place on the floor in a variety of positions that were too close for comfort was a hilarious pasttime when he was 16 and I was 21 and we were too young and dumb to realize we were being homophobic and un-PC.
For my brother was an uncoordinated klutz too. And in those 1992 Summer Olympic games, fueled by Triplecast and too much wrestling, we finallly laughed our athletic frustrations out of our system. We snickered as if were superior even though these wrestlers could have kicked our asses 6 ways to Sunday.
You could point out that I don't NEED to watch the Olympics these days – that rather than just the 5 channels of my youth there's 500 available now.
But I say that some things – even things you hate – are too compelling to turn away from. Like rubbernecking a traffic accident or staring at a transvestite on a subway train, some things in the universe esxert an unbreakable tractor beam on our psyches.
For me, the Olympics are one of those things. I've hated them too long to stop bitching about them now.