It must say something about the pressure we put on the truly gifted when they become champions and yet disappoint us — because they didn’t become the sheer legend of their sport, the Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong, they had seemed on track to be.
I’m thinking about this article on the Williams sisters; I’m also thinking about figure skater Oksana Baiul, who came out of nowhere to blindside the judges with style and talent and charisma, who won Olympic gold when she was only midway through her teens, who then proceeded to crash and burn. You can’t blame Vanessa and Serena for using tennis as the means to a better life instead of an end in itself; you can’t blame the orphaned Oksana (at least not fully) for whatever faultlines of pain and immaturity transformed her to one of those cautionary tales of success and excess you see on E! television. (And it’s not as if these people just disappeared — the Williams sisters are still competing, Oksana managed a comeback of sorts and skates professionally). I suppose you can only blame us.
I don’t even think it’s about living vicariously through these athletes so much as just wanting to see whatever sport we passionately follow taken to transcendent heights — and taken there again, and again. I for one never wanted to be a figure skater (although I did want to be a gymnast for a while, before I realized I was about five feet taller than the other little girls standing in line for the vault or the bars), but what I would give to watch the stunningly talented but maddeningly inconsistent Sasha Cohen nail back-to-back short and long programs and finally win a Worlds or an Olympics. And then do it again. And again.
My husband E. turned 34 yesterday. 30 was a tough birthday for him, when he told me, “J, I’m no longer a child prodigy!” in a way that was part-joke and, well, part not — but he seems to be adapting to the whole aging process, give or take an “I’m as old as the hills!” kind of comment. Said comments might have something to do with his love for physics — where the commonly-held wisdom seems to be that you peak in your twenties and go downhill from there — and even his years spent in Silicon Valley, where one reason why the business culture was so fierce was because it was young. Anyone who told their colleagues — or their boss — they wanted to take a few days off to spend with their wife and kids (or even that they had a wife and kids) would have met with expressions ranging from simple confusion to scorn to shock and horror.
We had dinner in San Francisco with a small group of people, including K., E’s amiable younger brother who’s a chef-owner in Boulder but was in SF for a business meeting. I wanted K’s opinion on Monday night’s episode of HELL’S KITCHEN but he, alas, had not seen it. “I think the guy with the tattoos is going to win,” he said.
“You mean Michael,” I said.
“He’s clearly the most talented.”
I explained that Chris got cut from the show, and then had to explain who Chris was (“the executive chef”) because K. had no memory of him. “They’re making Michael out to be the villian,” I went on earnestly, “and that he deviously manipulated Chef Ramsey into eliminating Chris. But Ramsey didn’t seem to think much of Chris from the start, and would have chopped him sooner or later. I think the only one Michael’s really fooling is himself, for thinking that Chris was a major threat in the first place.” Damn, damn reality TV! I hate myself for caring.
Before dinner I walked around Soma for a bit (Soma = South of Market, kind of like SF’s answer to Soho). Even though I’d witnessed some of those condominium buildings and work-space lofts going up when I was living in the Bay Area and coming into the city a lot, I was still a bit stunned at all the bright-shiny-newness in what was once a questionable and cutting-edge part of San Francisco. I went looking for a small art gallery I had really liked; it was gone. I considered going through the MOMA, but none of the exhibits interested me that much (and I’ve viewed their permanent collections pretty much to death) and my feet hurt and LAND OF THE DEAD was playing at the big movie theatre one block over, so…
I liked LAND OF THE DEAD, although I found the post-apocalyptic world-building elements of it more interesting than the many, many, many, many, many scenes of zombies chowing down. When you’re telling a fantasy/SF kind of tale, there’s a fine balance between giving the audience too much context — and bogging down the narrative — and not giving enough, just piling on action scenes in a way that becomes repetitive and boring. (This isn’t just limited to the one genre, of course — BLACK HAWK DOWN was one long action sequence floating in a kind of contextual void, even though the real-life context is pretty damn fascinating). I thought LAND balanced out pretty well.