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Mascots
I was touring the wine country a while back and found myself in front of Calistoga High School, home of the Wildcats. On the cyclone fence next to the baseball field hung a large rendering of the mascot. “Wild” does not fully describe the expression on its face. “Unhinged” would be more like it. The brows were arched in an oddly exaggerated way, and the eyes blazed maniacally. I found the image disturbing. In fact, I find most mascots disturbing.

Perhaps the intention was to make the wildcat appear angry, but it came out looking like a gibbering lunatic. Many mascots do exhibit some kind of rage, which is probably meant to intimidate potential rivals. I question, however, whether a grumpy Blue Devil or Spartan or Captain ‘Cane would ever strike fear into the heart of an opposing athlete ... especially if it was wearing a giant foam head.

So what is the point of an angry mascot, then? To entertain? To promote team pride? To represent the best qualities of an educational institution or geographical area? It may be that an angry mascot will serve in these ways, but the goofy, cartoon brand of mascot would serve just as well. That is to say, poorly.

Let’s face it: mascots are an embarrassment. Nobody really likes them, but they are now an inextricable part of our sports culture. My hope is that they will somehow evolve to represent what is best in us — not our anger or goofiness, but our clear-eyed competitiveness and intelligence.

Let the Calistoga Wildcat exhort its team to feats of strength, grace, and practiced precision. Let it offer a reasoned discourse on the merits of fair play and teamwork. Let it encourage the players in a firm, resolute voice.

And let it do all of this through the mouth hole of its giant foam head.

The Future of Hair
Have you ever noticed that, in the movies, humans from the future are depicted as hairless? It’s the same with most humanoid aliens. These super-human beings, it seems, have either shed their coats through natural selection, or they’re all deeply into electrolysis.

To a point, I agree with this vision of evolutionary destiny. I can’t imagine a good rationale for armpit or crotch hair, for instance; those sorry patches will surely be selected out of existence in due course. In fact, most hair from the neck down has no good reason to be there. Even the heaviest thickets of chest and back hair would be a poor defense against the cold if we were caught naked out in the wild. Indeed, they serve no purpose other than being the butts of cruel jokes. Good riddance, I say.

From the neck up, the value of hair becomes more debatable. I will assert straight off, however, that beards are destined for the evolutionary scrap heap. If you have a beard, you probably think you look good in it; dashing, even. I am sorry to report that you do not. There may even be some women in your life who tell you that they like it. The truth is that they are just trying to make you feel good. And if you’re sporting one of those five-day-growth stubbles now popular in Hollywood … well, let me just say that any woman who claims to admire this homeless bum look should not be entrusted with the keys to your Ferrari.

Beards, in my view, are admired mostly by their owners. The other functions of a beard — to intimidate animals or other men — are no longer called for in our world. The only other possible excuse for wearing one is that it makes a good mask. Weak chins, bad acne, and other forms of facial disfigurement can be effectively hidden with a beard (though only if it is thick enough to be opaque; wispy growth will only make matters worse). In any case, I don’t think evolution will keep beards around simply as a favor to the painfully shy among us.

The demise of the beard will also doom mustaches, mutton chops, soul patches, and all the other patently ridiculous subgroups of facial hair. Sideburns, which have a foot in two different hair universes, will no doubt be sorted out as they have already been with women.

It is here, just under the nose, where I depart from science fiction’s prediction of hairlessness for our descendants. From this point on up, in fact, hair becomes an indispensable factor in the survival of our species.

Take nostril hairs. These humble watchmen, along with their cousins stationed at the entrances to the ear canals, help fend off unwelcome intrusions by dust, insects, and airborne embers into our delicate inner regions. It is unglamorous work, to be sure, but it is enough to spare them from the evolutionary axe.

If it’s glamour you want, we have the eyelashes and eyebrows. Their usefulness in communication and their role in attracting mates mean that they too will be spared. As long as sex plays a part in reproduction, there will be hair around the eyes.

And then, there is the mane itself: the topknot, the crest, at once the most beautiful and the most ridiculous feature of our physical identity. This grand thatch — theoretically infinite in length and configuration — can do it all: attract mates, enhance lovemaking, provide warmth, even act as a raw material for clothing and fine household furnishings. Natural selection would not dare to strip us of such a wondrous growth. It might make for good science fiction, but we’ll never get to the future without our crowning glory.
An I.Q. of One
Lust: a powerful force indeed. It can sweep away family, career, reputation, and good sense. Ask General David Petraeus.

It takes two, as always, but I can’t help blaming you-know-who. That’s right, I’m talking about the most single-minded body part of all, the envied one, the King of Organs himself. He has always had his way, this mad tyrant, and I have no doubt he will continue to do so as long as sex remains popular.

The brain, to its credit, has always fought gamely against the tyrant, but the most it can ever hope to be is second banana. All the logic, faith, and force of will at its command are nothing against the raging biological imperative.

Even the most towering intellect is no match for an I.Q. of One, and even a five-star general must bow before the King.

Rooting Posture II
My team won it all, but I can’t celebrate.

Let me be clear: the San Francisco Giants are World Champions. The building they play in is the most beautiful in baseball, if not in all of sport. They have the best manager in Bruce Bochy, and though the awards have not yet been passed out this year, they have Buster Posey, the most valuable player in the National League.

Why, then, do I feel this unease? Their victory this year was, in many ways, more heroic than the title they won in 2010. Their best player, All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera, was taken away from them in midseason for using performance-enhancing drugs, and yet they persevered. They made two historic comebacks in the post-season, then swept Detroit’s team of behemoths in the World Series. Their efforts, at times, seemed to be touched by the baseball gods and their quest marked by destiny.

They did all this with a gutty, team-first approach that should be the ideal of any baseball fan. Their courage and selflessness was a complete ratification of my rooting philosophy over the entire season. They have done everything I could have asked for and more. And yet, something is missing.

2010 was an experience unprecedented in my rooting career. The most hoped-for outcome — an outcome that had never come to pass in 52 years — was finally a reality. Giants fans, including me, were over the moon with elation, delivered at last to redemption.

2012 is not like that. The Giants have won, capturing the one goal in sports that I value most as a fan, but I am not over the moon. I feel good, but not fulfilled in the way I was in 2010. I have told myself that it’s only natural that the first title is the sweetest, but I do not find that explanation satisfying. If I am a true fan, then each World Series should bring the same degree of elation, the same glow of all-men-are-brothers beneficence.

The problem, I know, is with me. I am jaded, apparently; bored with winning. Here, in the middle of a glorious win, I have lapsed into a loser mentality. This is not a happy realization. As a true fan, I believe, it is part of my duty to think and act as if I were a member of the team. What good can I be to my team in this state? How can they depend on me when the 2013 season begins?

Nor do I see an easy solution. I have lost my way somehow, wandered away from the true path that was once the foundation of my rooting posture. I have fallen from grace, and I cannot see a way back.

My goal is to find that path again before pitchers and catchers report in early February. It will be a long winter, I predict, a time of deep introspection and of questioning my most sacred rooting fundamentals. No, it will not be easy, but one simple truth will sustain me.

The San Francisco Giants are World Champions.
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