Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Pecking Order

Did you guys know that the term 'pecking order' comes from actual FUCKING HENS? This blew my mind:

The famous study made by biologists W.C. Allee in the 1920s establishes that the pecking order among hens has a definite prestige pattern, hens, like many humans, freely peck at other hens below their rank and submit to pecking from those above them.

It seems like a logical origin, right? If you'd asked me to come up with a creation story for that phrase, I probably would've concocted something similar. But still, wow. Years and years of saying it, and never a clue.

Hens are sick bastards, by the way. What kind of culture permits overt physical violence based on rank? It should at least be more subtle, right? People are always ranting that humans are the most destructive animal, but at least we're more civilized about our hierarchy. Can you imagine if hens had nuclear bombs? It would be absolute chaos. They could not manage it. You couldn't even give them knives. It's bad enough that their mouths are slightly pointed.

I hate hens now. And I finally have that leak-proof argument in favor of animal cruelty.

Speaking of pecking orders, Roger Federer is still at the top of the tennis totem. I was planning to write a bit more about yesterday's match, which I did not see, but time is not making itself available. So I'll just say, quickly, that it was a classic example of stature and experience overcoming skill. Alejandro Fallo, ranked 60th in the world, gave him all he wanted. The Colombian won the first two sets, had a chance to break for a 5-4 lead in the third, and was up a break in the fourth. He even found himself with a chance to serve for the match, up 5-4 in the fourth.

But the key to beating Roger Federer at Wimbledon, unless your name is Rafael Nadal, is not thinking about the fact that you're beating Roger Federer at Wimbledon. It's an unreal accomplishment, a feat that boggles the mind if considered too carefully. It's like a solar eclipse: you best look at it askance.

Fallo seemed to control himself for long enough. But when the crucial moment came, he thought about it. He let the idea creep into his conscious mind, and, like Wile E. Coyote stopping to consider that he overran the cliff and is coasting on nothing but thin air, the upstart fell. He could not hold serve in that crucial 10th game, and the rare Federer break was like gravity re-asserting itself.

Of course he couldn't do it! After a 7-1 tiebreak win (Fallo, I imagine, was by this point half-heartedly flailing at the ball) and a 6-0 fifth set win, order was restored, and Fed had advanced to the second round.

Clearly, forgetting your surprising circumstances in such a heavy moment is easier said than done. How could Fallo not think about the coup when he was on the very cusp? It's in our nature to fantasize. It's coded. And this is why Federer is Federer; greatness, when it comes, brings with it a bit of luck, a bit of aura, and an ineffable something that serves as final hillock for the usurper to surmount. A person's anticipation can be used against him. Whatever you'd like to call this last obstacle, it waylaid the unfortunate Fallo. Federer, grown increasingly less invincible as time wears on, still must be shorn of many layers. In tennis, where each player stands by himself, he is never alone.

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