Monday, July 18, 2011
You think we've had it hard recently. Consider this guy.
H/T HOTAIR. What a weekend. We were both exhausted after a Monday-through-Friday gauntlet of tedious business meetings, a domestic plumbing emergency (something about "water so hard it's petrifying your pipes from pump to septic system"), the combination of my cracked rib and the need to ferry two greyhounds to the vet simultaneously, and the crushing intellectual challenge of having to come up with two Top Ten lists in the space of two or three days. Then, suddenly, it got really hot. So we gave a pass to the sold-out Harry Potter finale AND our grandaughters' birthday party at a blisteringly shadeless pool in North Jersey (everything above Exit One of the Turnpike, a.k.a. the Wild Weather Wilderness), and sulked.
We knew, thanks to WIP's Rob Charry, that there are no sporting events this time of year excepting the always grimly hit-and-miss restart of the baseball season after the All-Star break. So we resigned ourselves to watching the Phillies, even though we knew -- also thanks to WIP -- that we were destined to lose the weekend series against the hapless Mets because the National League manager in the All-Star game had dared to pitch two of our starting pitchers (Halladay and Lee) for as much as 23 pitches apiece, which meant they would both need a full rotation's rest. Shocking. Everyone knows that no one who's picked for the All-Star game actually plays in it anymore. There are only 162 games in a baseball season, and it's criminal to expect those selected to play after they've shown up and taken their bows on the field. The weekend series would feature a starting pitcher lineup consisting of two green beans, Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick, and only one of our supernaturally unhittable aces. Woe was us. Sesame crackers with Irish cheddar and a piquant German horseradish mustard are some consolation, but let's face it, not enough when your home team is only 24 games above .500 halfway through the season. When utter despair is only one broken, dropped cracker away (Get AWAY from that, Raebert!), life becomes hard indeed.
Yes, we dodged a bullet when the rookie Worley gave up a single run and won the opener. But we couldn't wait to hear what the oracles at WIP would say when the ace Cole Hamels got shellacked in game 2. Probably some sort of doleful "I told you so" with which it would have been impossible to disagree. The All-Star game treachery was coming back to haunt us, never mind how. Which set the stage for "Black Sunday," when the sixth starter in the Phillies starting rotation was scheduled, like a lamb led to the slaughter, to start against a Mets team that had scored 11 runs the day before. We tried to fend off panic with a four-egg chives and parsley omelet accompanied by buttered rye toast and fresh-squeezed orange juice, but hours of dread still lay before us.
In such straits is it that remarkable that we turned to non-sporting events for distraction? The last sprint stage of the Tour de France before Paris. And the peculiar rite called the British Open. As it turned out, Americans were competing pretty fiercely in both these non-sporting events, and the doom of the Phillies' rubber-game catastrophe was still hours away. So we rooted for the Americans. With grim foreboding because we're not dummies here on our media room couch with the air-conditioner cranking at full horsepower behind us. We're more like seers or something. It looked there toward the end that the Tour de France stage was going to come down to a duel between the young American Tyler Farrar and the veteran king of bicycle sprints, Mark Cavendish. I told my better half just before the last kilometer (that's European for half a mile or so), Farrar didn't have a chance. I was mostly right. He was gaining on Cavendish in the last hundred meters (European for a football field plus end zone) like Secretariat running down Sham, but he made his move too late. And lost. Shit.
That's when we switched over to the British Open, which for those of you who have never heard of it involves a Scottish game called golf. We play a version of it here, where it is conducted in a tree-rich park setting of astonishing physical beauty and on terrain that can be calibrated by caddies to the nth degree. In the U.K., where the Open unfolds, it's played in a kind of bleak open-air seaside wasteland raked by sudden squalls from every direction and studded with things called bunkers (we have them in the U.S., too, but here they look like shallow landscape ornaments of snowy beach sand) which are basically man-height shell holes left over from the Blitz in World War II that may or may not still contain unexploded bombs and snipers. Oddly enough, though, there were two Americans who were in contention against a fattish, gray-haired Northern Irish gentleman who had never won a major golf tournament in his 40-to-who-knows-how-many years of life thus far. It was his twentieth attempt to win the Open. He was supposed to be feeling the pressure. We watched him play the first couple of holes. Silently. Still pissed about the defeat of Tyler Farrar.
Over a succulent Jersey tomato sandwich -- thick slices, salt, pepper and dash of celery salt, plus a lightly seasoned mayo on whole wheat bread -- I made my infallible prediction to my helpmeet. "It's his day. He's got the narrative on his side. We're going to come up empty again.""
The narrative? Oh. I forgot. Everybody loves this guy. He's undeniably charming and humble (unlike some cats we could name). He tragically lost his wife of many years to cancer. His lack of success in majors is countered by his success in the Ryder Cup, where as a team player, he wins consistently. And he has even defeated Tiger Woods in a playoff. Plus, Northern Ireland is on a roll. A country the size of Connecticut with a population slightly larger than Delaware's has already won two majors in the last thirteen months. Impossible. But no more impossible than expecting the two Americans in the chase to catch him. Phil Mickelson has never won the British Open (after officially umpteen tries), and the other American, who shall be nameless, has acquired a reputation for blowing up in the back nine of the last round in multiple majors. It just wasn't going to be our day.
Mickelson and the other kid made a valiant charge but obediently fell apart on the back nine, and we watched the winner kissing his new fiance, a former Miss Northern Ireland, with a bad taste in our mouths that could only be slightly mitigated by fudge brownies and vanilla ice cream, the kind where you can still see the flecks of the vanilla beans.
We were having an awful day. But now it was time for the Phillies. As is our custom, we busied ourselves with multiple household chores during the early innings, because being a Phillies fan in the age of no-hitting and who's pitching? means watching the actual game as little as possible. When we dared to take a look in the seventh, the score was 7-1, Phillies, and my sense of impending disaster was nigh overwhelming.
Which is when we switched over to the Women's World Cup in Soccer. Our aged hearts couldn't take any more Phillies just then, so we decided to root for the new electrically exciting phenomenon called Team USA Women's World Cup Soccer. The Final.
To be honest, somewhere between the Tour de France and the British Open, I'd also confided in my cupcake-eating bride (she finds chocolate the perfect dessert after an omelet) that I had grave doubts about our chances. I had a passel of reasons. Only Americans were plugged into the Team USA narrative. Everyone else was rooting for Japan. They'd knocked off two titans in Germany and Sweden, they'd never yet beaten the top-seeded Americans, and their country was desperately in need of a lift (however tiny in a country that regards women as best unregarded) after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that had leveled their economy. Plus, they had beaten the other star-studded glamor teams by controlling the ball, controlling the ball, controlling the ball, and displaying extraordinary discipline at key moments. I felt Team USA, with its insistence on last-second heroics was riding for a fall. Not to mention the media tsunami of adulation and time-consuming interviews with all the stars that had swept the team out of its legendary focus into statements of overweening pride in its focus and stardom.
But watching them was better than watching the Phillies after the incompetent youngster Kendrick was pulled after a seven inning, one-run performance in favor of a bullpen that had been either sitting around for a week or getting shelled the day before. We were rapt in our separate positions on the couch, watching the riveting ball handling of world-class soccer teams playing for all the marbles, my wife snoozing discreetly with her head on a designer pillow, and me dozing with my head in the full upright position, remote clutched in my hand, maybe, unless it somehow fell to the floor in all the excitement.
There's one great thing about soccer. You never miss the big big plays. The announcers suddenly start yelling, and you awake with a start to see the moment when the unstoppable first seed team suddenly falls apart and commits a bonehead play right in front of its own goal, allowing the game to be tied. And you don't miss the second moment when the first seed team suddenly falls apart and commits a bonehead play right in front of its own goal, allowing the game to be tied and sent into pachinko. (When the male spouse has the wit to go get takeout -- subs and French fries, plus a side order of pickles, because we haven't been able to touch a bite all day.) And because there's a certain ugly similarity between soccer and the way they decide NHL hockey games these days, you don't miss the idiotic penalty kick portion of the game when everything goes all to hell and away.
A really perfectly awful Sunday for America. But I do have some closing thoughts. What maybe few others are willing to say. Team USA choked. Toward the end of regulation, however long that is, Brandy Chastain in the broadcasting booth was boasting of the fitness of the American women. But they already looked tired to the point of dumb error, much more so than the Japanese, and they had looked confused all day long. In the end, they believed their own press clippings; they expected to win and when they got late leads they tried to sit on them against a team that is better at plink-plink-plink ball handling than they were. They choked and I feel happy for Japan. Bad as things are economically and politically here, they're worse in Japan. I'm not sorry about the outcome. You have to earn it and the Japanese team definitely did.
I'm also not sorry about Darren Clarke winning the British Open. He played his final round like an absolute champ, with unflappable nerves and moments of pure brilliance. He literally broke Mickelson's will by scoring an eagle on the same hole Mickelson had eagled to pull even with him. That's the stuff of greatness. I'm happy for him too. All the announcers had chosen as their subtext of the tournament (given the sudden ascendancy of Northern Ireland), what's wrong with American golf? Duh. What's wrong with American golf is no Tiger. We'll see how that problem works itself out.
Finally. I forgot to mention the Phillies won on Sunday, not without difficulty, but they won, thus winning the series, as usual. The expected catastrophe did not occur. The ace failed (he's entitled, once in a blue moon), and the two disrespected youngsters both pitched like aces. And noting that there are no sporting events this time of year but major league baseball, our little household finished the day 1-0 on the victory side. And the Lorna Doones at bedtime were the perfect ending of a perfect day.
So why Blue Monday? Back from sports victory to the reality of a country running headlong toward ruin. Why the little cheer-up video I placed up top. Overdone? Maybe. Best I could do on short notice.