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Category: Culture

My Olympics
Later this summer in London, proud Olympic champions will hold up their medals for the world to see. Parents will beam; whole countries will celebrate the achievements of their sons and daughters. People everywhere will rejoice in the fellowship and unity found in the simple purity of sport.

Sadly, I will not be joining them. Not because I begrudge them their pride and feelings of brotherhood, but because the modern Olympic Games have abandoned that purity of sport in favor of a misguided notion of inclusion. Pastimes that have no business being on the same level as, for instance, the hundred-yard dash, have been elevated to that status simply because somebody somewhere likes to play them. Does anyone really believe that the ropes, hoops, and ribbons of rhythmic gymnastics belong on the same podium with javelins and shot puts?

Synchronized swimming, diving, boxing, gymnastics: none of these would be included in My Olympics. Why? Because, to win these competitions, a judge must vote for you. How did voting get to be a part of sport? Give me a measurement, a clocking, a score fairly earned by the athlete; save the secret ballots for Homecoming Queen.

I take my inspiration from the original Greek games. There were very few events then, and for the most part, the scoring was straightforward. Fastest, highest, farthest, strongest: these simple achievements won the day. Let us return to those times, at least for the Olympics.

Any event using complicated equipment of any kind will be looked upon with suspicion at My Olympics. Shooting in any form is banned outright, and I got your Second Amendment right here, pal. Furthermore, fencing, archery, biking, tennis, and croquet will lead the list of sports which will have to prove that their gear doesn’t play too large a part in the outcome. No sport is exempt from scrutiny. The pole vault, for instance, and all ball-related games will be closely examined for compliance. As always, purity of sport will be the standard for all determinations.

And no animals, please. All equestrian events and the modern pentathlon are out. Here, the ancient Greeks were not entirely without fault themselves. In a moment of weakness, they added chariot racing, and it all but killed the original Games. This is supposed to be about humans; Old Paint is welcome to try out for the Kentucky Derby.

There will be no winter games in My Olympics. I’m sorry, but it’s just all too strange: the subjective scoring, the rifles, the puffy clothing, the cold, the high death rate. There has never been skiing in Greece, not even on Mt. Olympus, so let’s save ourselves the anguish of pretending we care about the luge.

Finally, there will be no clothes in My Olympics. All athletes compete in the buff, the way the Greeks did. The Greeks also rubbed themselves down with olive oil, but I will not require that. Canola is fine, and so is corn oil, although most fragrant oils would be banned. They might add an unseemly dimension to some events.

For those athletes who would miss out on a chance to win gold because of these strictures, please find your sports immortality elsewhere. There are other venues for you to prove yourself to your family and your nation. You are certainly welcome to attend as a spectator — just as I would welcome people without any athletic ability at all. But leave your hoops and ribbons at home; your sport just isn’t pure enough for My Olympics.
A Better Place
Brightly-colored vegetables tumble across my TV screen, bouncing and twirling for joy — fast food in slow motion. Is it Arby’s? Sizzler? McDonald’s? Some of those vegetables need to be chopped, a task done with flair and gusto, also in slow motion. Sauces and seasonings fly, splashing and smacking the food.

Zydeco, or maybe happy techno, sets the beat. It’s a party back there, back in the kitchen. Such fun, just making our meal! Then it comes time for the main course. It may be a burger, or a chicken filet, or a prawn the size of your fist. The gorgeous offering is placed — so lovingly, so gently! — with tongs atop some fluffy butter lettuce.

Meanwhile, out front in the eating area, we are in a different world. Flickering fluorescence illuminates the grim patrons as they sit masticating and staring at nothing. Lines move, not in graceful slow motion, but as long stretches of waiting punctuated by brief shuffles forward. No Zydeco here, just the muffled din of street noise and the squalls of unruly children.

The food itself is transformed, as well. The entrée has shrunk, its plump vitality drained away. The special sauce has gone gummy. Vegetables, which so recently pirouetted in high spirits, now lie inert. Brilliant hues have faded to drab. Ambrosia has turned to grub.

I do not mind this contrast. Instead, I prefer to think of the public area as a metaphor for this earthly life. It is filled with heartache and disappointment, crippled by chance and human folly, destined to be brief and brutish.

Ah, but the kitchen! Where happy chefs mambo the day away working their culinary magic, where even the dreams of simple vegetables can come true. This is what heaven must be like. Well, maybe not heaven, but a better place, a perfect version of this flawed existence. It gives me comfort, it gives me hope that such a world could be so close — just behind that wall.

It helps, I guess, that I have never worked in a fast food restaurant.
Everybody loves slow motion. It’s the oldest, and still the best, cinematic special effect, and it retains its capacity to fascinate even after a hundred years of use.

Or, I would argue, a hundred years of over-use. It’s had a good run, and many filmmakers have used it deftly and with discrimination to entertain and move their audiences. It is time, however, to stop the madness and end our dependence on time distortion as a medium of artistic communication. By legislative fiat, if need be; it’s gotten that bad.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not an anti-slowmo-ite. Nothing I write here, for example, should be construed as an attempt to limit its use in instant replay on sports telecasts. There, it is employed as a means of ascertaining truth — and in some cases, great wisdom. In that context, it should be used over and over and over again. In Super Slow-Mo, if at all possible.

Similarly, I endorse its use as a tool of science. In fact, I request, here and now, that someone with the proper equipment compile a tape of slow motion sneezes. I am convinced that the resulting catalog of twisted facial expressions and violent expulsions of bodily fluids would be quite enlightening.

As a dramatic device, however, as a tool in the hands of the Hollywood storytellers, it has now been taken far beyond the portrayal of dream sequences and bouts of dementia. The turning point came in 1967. That’s the year Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde opened. You know the scene I’m talking about: the last one, where Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are blasted full of holes by a battalion of lawmen for what seemed like twenty minutes — all in slow motion.

It is very effective cinematography, no doubt. I can still see them twitching and jerking and spurting inside and around that old Ford sedan. If Hollywood had stopped there and never produced another slow motion depiction of violence, then everything would be fine. But, no: the gates opened, and now the flow of slow-mo is at flood stage. Every film seems to be drowning in it: slow motion bullets, slow motion screams, slow motion homages to slow motion fight scene clichés.

Enough, already. Arthur Penn, if he weren’t already dead, would die of embarrassment. Sam Peckinpah is blushing posthumously. Dziga Vertov is spinning in his grave, probably in slow motion.

I’d like to be able to offer slow motion’s homely cousin, time lapse, as a substitute, but in good conscience I cannot. Let’s face it; “fast-mo” is only good for blooming flowers (aww) or rat corpses being consumed by maggots (eww). That’s kind of a limited repertoire. So we’ll just have to go on without access to time distortion as a special effect. It’s a shame to lose it, but I am sure the creative minds in Hollywood will come up with something. They gave us Smell-O-Vision, didn’t they?
A Freakin’ Genius
Did you hear about Jason Padgett? He’s the affable, 41-year-old futon salesman who became a mathematical genius. All he needed to do to was get beaten practically to death.

Mr. Padgett was jumped by several young toughs one evening as he left a karaoke bar in Tacoma, Washington. He was, among other things, given several hard kicks to the head, and those blows resulted in severe, permanent brain damage.

That, as it turned out, was Jason’s lucky day. According to neuroscientists who examined him after he recovered, his brain responded to the injury by commandeering an area of itself that wasn’t doing much at the time. For Padgett, a college dropout with no history as a numbers whiz, that area happened to be the one responsible for mathematics and mental imagery.

Suddenly, the lights went on in the math department. Cascades of formulae and numerical relationships exploded across his brainpan. Everything he saw, from buildings to mountains to single blades of grass, was instantly translated into precise fractal imagery. Furthermore, he is now able to draw intricate geometrical renderings of the mathematical relationships that have flooded his mind. He had become, through some accidental application of violence, a gifted, brilliant savant.

All of which is very nice — a great story and a stunning rejuvenation of Jason’s unremarkable life. Still, I have to ask: how can the rest of us get in on this action? How do we go about turning on the lights in some dark region of our own minds and so become the next Mozart, the next Einstein, the next Thomas Kinkade? Or, better yet, how do we get all the lights turned on everywhere in our brains? How do we become super-beings with godlike powers? Is that too much to ask?

I suppose you could start by trying to kick yourself in the head, but I can’t imagine that would produce anything more than some amusing clips for YouTube. You could ask a loved one to go at your noggin with a ball-peen hammer, but that might only serve to undermine the relationship. Besides, if all there were to becoming a genius was random, blunt force trauma to the head, then everyone in the NFL would be a Nobel laureate.

So how do we get those lights turned on and grab some super-powers of our own? I figure the only way is for some poor schlub like Jason to be brutally attacked and later wake up with a fundamental grasp of the wiring of the human brain, becoming a kind of accidental neuroscientific savant. Then that guy could tell the rest of us where the light switch is.

Would someone like to volunteer?
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee