The world is officially crazier than ever.
Or, as my late brother liked to put it, “The Apocalypse is upon us!”.
He might have been right. The older I get, the more the evidence—seems like it, anyway—keeps piling up to indicate that we might not be long for this doomed spinning globe. That’s how over-the-top crazy things have gotten. And even if you’re not an out-of-the-closet nihilist and doomsayer like me, ya gotta admit things do get weirder every year, every month, every day.
Recent evidence? Plenty. Let’s start with Snoop Dogg.
Why not? Besides, I just love typing the letters to form the words Snoop Dogg. I liked it even better when he called himself Snoop Doggy Dogg. Almost makes me want to listen to some rap. (Who could ever forget Snoop’s 1993 debut album Doggystyle? I know I haven’t forgotten. Believe me, I’ve tried.)
Anyway, Snoop just had an epiphany. The mammal formerly known as Calvin Broadus apparently went to Jamaica recently and sat down with some weirdo dime-store Rastafarian holy man, who proceeded to inform him that it was time to change his name from “Snoop Dogg” to “Snoop Lion”. The logic being, presumably, since Snoop is such a great guy he deserves a promotion, and a lion is certainly a promotion over a mere dog, or dogg, or doggy dogg, no matter how many g’s are in it. Presto-chango, Snoop Dogg is now Snoop Lion. (What someone needs to remind Snoop is that the thing which made his professional ‘rap’ name so cool is that it suggested Snoopy the wonder dog in Charles Schulz’ immortal comic strip Peanuts. Wasn’t that the whole point? I think he forgot about that.)
More evidence. Did you happen to read last week about a man in Montpelier, Vermont who got so mad and completely fed up over being arrested recently (arrested for, not surprisingly, marijuana possession), that he got behind the wheel of this huge farm tractor and ran over all seven police cars in the Montpelier Police Department parking lot? “We had nothing left to pursue him with,” a police spokesman remarked. Yeah, he crushed all the police cars. Revenge is sweet. Click this link: http://news.yahoo.com/vt-police-man-angry-arrest-used-tractor-monster-093018626.html Talk about a guy reaching his breaking point….Reminds me of Peter Finch’s immortal line in the 1976 screen classic NETWORK. Remember? — “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this any more!!!” It got Finch an Academy Award in ‘77, even though by the time they announced he’d won it he was dead.
Perhaps the screwiest thing that has happened lately happened to the ol’ Sports Philosopher himself. My son Rob and I were at the market the other day. I needed to pick up a jug of vinegar to “de-scale” my K-cup coffee machine. (Someday I might write a column about how utterly fantastic it feels to successfully de-scale one’s K-cup machine and have it literally spring back to life, but that’s for another day.) And that’s all I bought, just one little 48-ounce jug of vinegar. Which is about the size of a football.
Pimply-faced boxboys at supermarkets are trained to be polite and courteous and accommodating. But even so, I confess I was stunned when our particular pimply-faced lad piped up, “Do you need any help out to your car with that, sir?”
Okay. At 56 I realize I am not the man I used to be. But I’m not exactly an invalid. I’m 6 feet 4 inches tall, a strapping 245 (or so) pounds, and still have most of my hair. I walk from place to place with neither cane nor back-brace to assist me. In fact, my stride is often downright jaunty. The other day at the gym I bench-pressed 180 pounds six times, hardly a world record for my age bracket, but not an advertisement for the Cedars Sinai Intensive Care Unit either. I humbly submit that to look at me is not to consider someone about to fall to the ground. So therefore, I have to ask….
….at what point does politeness and accommodation cross over the line into an insult?
I swear, next time some kid asks me if I need any help out to my car with one or two items I’m gonna take him up on it. Maybe I’ll ask him if he could fetch me a glass of water too. And a hot towel.
Which bring us finally to the world of Sport. I’ve noticed that whenever crazy stuff happens in real life it gets just as parallel-crazy in the athletic world. Right now it’s the Olympics. And there are two crazy things which did indeed happen in London last week which merit our attention.
The first has to do with our basketball team. Our “Dream Team” of coddled, overpaid NBA superstars. Personally I’ve never liked sending our NBA-ers over to the Olympics. Feels unclean. Sort of like running up the score in a mismatched college football game. Anyway, the other day, the USA basketball team almost lost. To Lithuania! We were losing with four minutes to go, and wound up winning by only five points. Against Lithuania! How embarrassing is that? Strangely, while our thrashing of Nigeria the previous day by 83 points felt predictably unclean, our wealthy band of pituitary cases only besting Lithuania by five points also feels unclean. (For what it’s worth, and at the risk of sounding unpatriotic, am I the only one reading this column right now who, deep down, is rooting for our basketball team to get beat?)
Which brings us to the case of one Oscar Pistorius.
Do you know who Oscar is? He’s from South Africa. He’s a terrific athlete. He’s one of the many fine 400-meter runners participating in these games. With a twist.
He’s got no legs.
That’s right. When he was a little boy, only 11 months old in fact, Pistorius had to have both legs amputated at the knee, due to a congenital absence of the fibula bone in each leg. Since then, he has worked his whole life to become the world’s most famous and successful disabled athlete. Which he is.
But this year, it caused quite a controversy when he was allowed to become the 1st-ever disabled athlete to compete in an able-bodied Olympics. You know, the whole issue of performance enhancement versus the pure, unenhanced sportsman.
Pistorius runs with two huge, high-tech, lower-leg metal flanges—essentially blades—strapped to his upper legs. Makes for a cool nickname: “The Blade Runner”. But it also begs the question: Is it an “unfair advantage” getting to bounce along the track on these high-tech, springy blades? Lots of folks think it is. Those blades are pretty springy. And scientists tell us they do actually weigh less than his lower legs would have weighed, giving him a quicker stride transfer. And even if it’s not an “advantage”, doesn’t it violate the spirit of athletics and of the Olympics itself, of the raw, “Simon Pure” athlete competing in his natural state, trying to see if he’s the best? Sport, at the upper levels (some would argue), is supposed to be theater for the best in the world at something, not an opportunity (some would continue the argument) for disabled athletes to be fitted for prosthetics just so they can compete. Yes, Pistorius’ participation has precipitated quite a stir. (try saying that three times really fast….)
I myself wondered how I would feel about it. We had the same type of controversy in golf a few years back. A guy named Casey Martin (who was born with a rare birth defect in his right leg which severely limits blood circulation) was allowed, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, to compete in the 1998 U.S. Open using a golf cart. Which normally, of course, is against the rules. Fatigue from walking is part of the challenge of the sport. And for all of you out there who don’t think golf is a sport or is not athletic enough to be considered a sport, stop!!! You are either a moron or behaving in a moronic manner, both of which are unsavory. Eighteen holes of golf is not merely swinging a club at a little ball, it is also a 5-mile walk. Often in searing heat. When is the last time you walked five miles in searing heat?
Try walking five miles in 100-degree heat in June or July with 90% humidity while violently swinging an iron mallet 70 times, do it four days in a row, and if you survive multiply all of that by all the pressure in the world and then maybe, just maybe, you’ll have some sort of inkling of what it takes to win a golf tournament like the U.S. Open.
So of course it was a major flash-point issue among the golf gods! A guy getting to use a golf cart? Legends no less the ilk of both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer lined up foursquare against Martin being allowed to play, because the cart gave him “an unfair advantage”. Suddenly, Jack and Arnie argued, everyone wasn’t playing by the “same rules”. It was “unfair”. Even though Martin can barely walk at times, and will have to have his leg amputated some day. Even though he limps at all times, and is in constant pain. It was a touchy philosophical issue. It was a question of the fairness and purity of Sport versus equal opportunity for all. I still have mixed emotions about the whole Casey Martin thing. (He came in 23rd, by the way. As in 23rd best golfer in the world that week. In constant pain, and limping. He qualified for the U.S. Open again this year but this time, at age 40, missed the cut.)
So back to Oscar Pistorius. Last Saturday I curled up on my couch, cradling a tasty cup of Kahlua coffee just brewed in my recently de-scaled K-cup machine (did I tell you already what a huge fan of vinegar and de-scaling I’ve become?) and prepared to watch Pistorius’ 1st 400-meter heat. I honestly didn’t know how I’d feel about him getting to compete in these Olympics with the “aid” of his twin, high-tech, spring-flex blades propelling him along the track. But five or six seconds into the race I got my answer….
The guy’s got no legs! And yet there he was, gliding along, challenging for the lead! I looked closely at the metal blades. I got to thinking, maybe they’re actually a dis-advantage, his muscular thighs and abs having to lift those awkward things into the air on every stride. No matter either way. He had no legs, and yet he was competing nobly against the best 400-meter men in the world. And he wasn’t running like some clunky-looking stereotypical or charity-case amputee, either. Oscar is a fluid, powerful, graceful runner. Beautiful to watch. When he crossed the line in second place in his heat, to thus qualify for the next day’s semi-finals, I cheered aloud. (I didn’t cry, but did get a few goosebumps.)
I’m thinking any runner who thinks Oscar Pistorius cost him a spot in the semis should re-think his position. If it was me, I’d be saying, “If I can’t even beat an amputee, I suck anyway.”
Obviously I have become a huge Oscar Pistorius fan. And I’ve learned something. Or rather re-learned. The Olympics isn’t just about identifying the purest, finest athletes in the world. It’s more about what we all have to overcome in life to make it blessed and worthwhile. We’ve all got troubles. We all think our troubles are so much bigger than they should be. At least I do. After watching Oscar run, my troubles now seem a lot smaller.
Here’s a question for you all: What about eyeglasses? If it’s unfair for Casey Martin to use a golf cart or Oscar Pistorius to run propped up on metal flanges, isn’t it equally unfair for, say, a baseball player to employ corrective lenses to his eyesight? Eyesight which has naturally failed him over the years? Why should a ballplayer be allowed to use an artificial device like glasses or contacts to “enhance” his vision, vision which has, as it has with most of us, naturally declined? A ballplayer gulps a steroid in order to slow the effects of aging on the human body and everyone screams bloody murder. But he slaps a high-tech visual aid to his face, a prop, a dad-blasted foreign apparatus by Jove, just so that he can see the ball clearly enough to hit it whereas normally he would not be able to hit that ball in a million years and yet it’s just fine???
If glasses and contacts were suddenly banned from baseball as giving hitters an “unfair advantage” over hitters and pitchers who don’t wear glasses, which truth be told it does, half the major leaguers would be instantly unemployed. Food for thought. Think about it.
Oh, and one final note on Casey Martin. The reason he decided to try to qualify for the U.S. Open this year at age 40 is that it was being played, fourteen years later, at the same golf course in San Francisco which was the site of his amazing 23rd-place finish in 1998. He thought it would be good Karma. And what was the name of that storied, venerable golf venue which hosted both of Martin’s personal U.S. Open triumphs?
The Olympic Club.
Brad Eastland is an author, an historian, a film buff, an undiscovered literary savant, and a big fan of guys with no legs who outrun both their problems and their competitors. Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’. His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’. Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.
*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack (and of triumph and utter despair) entitled WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for that title in both hardback and paperback on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com. And then order it. And then READ it. And then tell everyone about it. And then read it again. And then post your praise on Facebook. And then order a dozen more copies to use as Christmas presents. For all this he thanks you…..