Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Let me be the next voice to join the complaining chorus: it is so, so hot out there. Weather.com tells me it's 99 degrees where I live, but it feels like 102. Right now it's 11:43, so I'm assuming, and hoping, that we reach triple digits. At this point, why not? It's not like the discomfort level will be that much higher, and my whining will be a lot more impressive if we hit the magic number.

Okay so I came in late last night, and woke up around 10:30 today, hence the late post. To make matters worse, I just went grocery shopping at the C-Town 8 blocks away, lolled around in the air conditioning for a good half hour, and then decided I could carry the groceries back myself. C-Town has a delivery option, wherein you can subject some other poor bastard to the utter wretchedness of humping heavy bags in absurd heat, but no, I had to go and get tough. I had to be a hero. I'd estimate that the 70 dollars worth of groceries weighed about 40 pounds. After the first half-block, I thought 'hey, this isn't so bad!' It's the same idiotic feeling you get after walking out of a hot room into sub-zero temperatures in the winter. 'It's not that cold, guys!'

Two seconds later, I got hit by a disgusting wall of heat. The next 8 blocks were patently awful. At a certain point, two blocks in, I had to 'become a camel.'

Becoming a camel is necessary when you find yourself in a situation you can't leave (I couldn't go back to C-Town, and resting would have the dual effect of keeping me in the heat longer and making me feel like a total wimp), and need to shut your brain down. The brain loves to reflect on how shitty a situation is, and to make totally unhelpful calculations that make everything longer. 'Hey,' the brain will say, 'there are now 6.5 blocks left in this trip.' It's kinda meant to be encouraging, but all it does is magnify the misery. So think about a camel: what makes a camel able to travel for days without water in a scorching desert?

You might say: because it's a dumb animal. Yes, true. But we all know dumb humans, and dumb humans are sometimes the worst moaners of all. And I bet there are other stupid animals that will just refuse to keep going if things get bad. There's something different about a camel, something internal that can brace itself for ugly situations and outlast the conditions. It's quite admirable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a camel is intelligent. I imagine marathon runners and triathletes have similar qualities. It's something I would dearly like to possess.

Today, I kinda came close. I became a camel, and survived an 8-block journey home loaded with heavy groceries. Call me a hero if you want. I won't correct you.

Okay, so, what a weekend in sports! I actually don't know where to begin, but I feel I should do homage to everything. For lack of a better idea, I'll intersperse sporting things with things that happened to me in Ocean City, Maryland.

Sports #1:


What can you say that hasn't be said? Every single point was contested with that trademark intensity, there was the usual absence of self-doubt or concentration lapses, and he intimidated and slugged his way to another French Open-Wimbledon double. He's one of only three people to manage that particular feat, and the only one besides Borg to do it twice in a career.

The semi-final against Murray went exactly how I expected it to go. Murray, despite all his talent, is prone to losing his cool, throwing his hands up, and imploring the Gods or whoever to stop making his life miserable. It's not clear whether he blames bad luck (not good) or himself (a little better, though still not good), but it's clear the pressure of a big moment is something he can't yet master. And the fact that Wimbledon is in his home country actually made things worse; the pressure of a nation who hasn't won their own tournament in generations does not help matters.

In the final, Berdych had no chance. He played wonderful tennis throughout the fortnight, but it was his first time in a grand slam championship, and you could tell when Rafa followed him onto the court, jogging in place, locked in beyond question, that it would be a straight sets victory. It's no accident that the last two sets were on serve until the very last service game; facing an opponent who will not crack takes its toll, and as the tension mounts within a set, the server becomes more and more vulnerable. Berdych was broken at the very end both times, and that was it. He didn't even play poorly; it was just an impossible situation.

Rafa is the king. He's #1, while Federer, unbelievably, is #3. If the Mallorcan can complete the career slam at the US Open this September, he'll have 9 titles total and have a fighting chance to yank the 'greatest ever' mantle from Federer within five years. Imagine that.

Ocean City #1:

On the beach on Sunday, I sat in my chair and watched an older heavyset woman (late 40s, I'd say), step out into the water. The waves were smallish, but she seemed timid anyway. A younger girl, maybe her daughter, stood close by. The woman got in to about her knees when a larger-than-normal wave came rolling in. She said something, and the girl rushed over and tried to hold onto her arm. It seemed pretty odd, but then the wave broke, and the white foam rolled in and knocked her over completely. She fell flat on her back, and a man rushed over to aid in the rescue effort. He and the girl each took an arm, but right as they started to lift her up, another wave broke and annihilated her. They grabbed her arms again, and once more the ocean waited until she was staggering up to batter her into the sand.

I was sitting maybe 30 feet away. As you can probably tell, the whole situation was pretty comical. I was watching it from a kind of mental distance, the kind where it's easy to root for the wave against the human. As I watched her being tugged by the girl and the man, and saw the wave coming, it was like watching a disaster in development; how can you not secretly wince with gratification when the cresting wave sends her sprawling backward, in what you'd have to admit is a hilarious repetition?

Finally they got her up, and it turned out she'd hurt her knee. The lifeguard had to come over, and they had to take her off on a sort of four-wheeler type vehicle with giant wheels designed to navigate the beach. It looked like she was laughing at herself, from my vantage, but later I found out she'd been wincing and possibly crying.

That being said: the whole thing in the ocean lasted maybe 45 seconds. It didn't occur to me when it was over that I could have run up and helped, and possibly made a difference, within 5-10 seconds. And I wasn't the only one- there were people closer, including my uncle, who said he 'enjoyed the show' and was completely guilt-free- but that's kind of a cop-out, right? It's just amazing to me that helping out didn't occur to me until it was far too late.

Anyway, there's no moral to this story except that if you're involved in some kind of spectacular disaster, you shouldn't expect anyone to help until they've had their viewing pleasure.

Sports #2:

World Cup. Germany is awesome. The Netherlands looks good. It could be a rematch of the infamous 1974 World Cup Final, or the restorative 1988 European Championship. The Dutch play at 2:30 today, and I'd be wearing my orange jersey except for the fact that I wore it to the grocery store and it's now completely drenched in sweat.

Ocean City #2:

I watched the Netherlands-Brazil game in a nice open bar called The Crabcake Factory with my stepfather on Friday. A few minutes in, another dude my age came in and tapped me on the shoulder. Like me, he was wearing an orange Holland jersey. His was newer, while mine was from 2003 when I bought all my soccer jerseys. We shook hands, exchanged nods, and settled in.

At that point I felt a bit phony, because I'm not really a soccer fan, much less a diehard supporter of the Dutch National team. But if nothing else, the World Cup allows Americans to shift their identities slightly. We began talking, and my apprehension disappeared, since he seemed to be in a similar position. We both groped our way around the facts, dropping the obvious names like Robben and Sneijder (I couldn't name anyone else on the current squad), and discussing past games in appropriately vague detail. I even had a bit of an advantage, having just read the wonderful "Brilliant Orange," so when I dropped some info on 1974 and Cruyff and Total Football, I even came out looking like the bigger fan. Anyway, he was a nice person and it was an enjoyable chat.

Then halftime came, and our talk broadened to other subjects. It turned out my new friend was from Baltimore, loved the Orioles, and had attended the University of Maryland. Guess which two teams he really, really hated?

Things didn't get uncivil, but it will be enough for me to say that our meager shared half-love for Holland was not enough to overcome the very real passions that kept us apart in the American realm. At one point, my stepfather asked him how he could possibly have liked Steve Blake. "Okay," he said, "let's talk about all those likable Duke players." He went on to list at least ten of the all-time most divisive Dukies, and probably could have gone on all day. Our budding little friendship had come to a close, and for the rest of the match we considered one another with a wary skepticism. I was a conservative Duke dandy with a side of brash New York arrogance, and he was a thuggish Terp with a laughable baseball interest.

Oh, World Cup. You can only bring us together for so long...

I'll end it here for now. In two hours, it's time for the Orange Crush to put an end to Uruguay's dreams (though at some point this week, I need to write about Luis Suarez's wonderful handball, easily the greatest moment of this World Cup). And I'm now looking covetously at my bag of unpacked clothes, since that particular chore will take place in my tiny bedroom, the one little nook in this apartment that's air conditioned...

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