The Internet is abuzz, in this season of stock-taking, with top-ten lists: top ten novels that have influenced me, top ten movies, top ten best vacations. I thought I'd try my hand at one of them: the ten moments in sports that will stay with me forever.
1. That time our mother took us to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and after the fifty-kilometer walk, which was the only event we could get tickets to, we went to an Alfie's somewhere off the Interstate, which was like a Denny's but homelier, and there was an old couple there, and the waitstaff brought out two cupcakes with candles in them and began to sing: "Happy fiftieth anniversary to you...." This is the image that continues to pop into my head whenever I hear the word 'poignant'.
2. That time I was a ball-boy at the Del Norte Swimming and Tennis Club (Minor) Celebrity Tennis Tournament, and Barbara McNair was playing against someone who had once made a guest appearance on CHiPs, and McNair twisted her ankle and I --somehow now promoted from ball-boy to court attendant general-- was called upon to hold a bag of ice against her skin. There was stubble on Barbara McNair's leg: that has stayed with me. I would like to say this is the image that pops into my head whenever I hear philosophers talking about 'responsibility', but the truth is the mix of moral sentiments here is rather more murky than that.
3. That time our mother made a nacho dip that resembled a football field, in anticipation of the Superbowl, with refried beans as soil, and guac as grass, and sour cream as yard lines, and cheese as something else, and how even before those fat yakkers with the headphones on the TV had begun effusing about what a game we were about to see, I snuck into the kitchen and ate a good 30 yards of field, like some great god or monster to whom football is nothing at all, the to-and-fro marching of frightened and ignorant ants.
4. That time, a few years later, I shut myself in a closet and stuck erasers in my ears in order to finish Crime and Punishment without having to hear those fat yakkers, John Madden and Dick Butkis and the others, effusing about what a great game was about to be played; and how everyone out there, watching the game and eating a field of nachos, wondered as to the causes of my antisocial disposition.
5. That time I went to the top of the World Trade Center to see Garry Kasparov play against Deep Blue. (Chess is a sport, right?) John Searle was busy arguing at the time that one should no more worry that being beaten by a computer at chess shows that the machines are now smarter than we are, than one should worry that being beaten by a giant steel monolith on rails, built to carry a football across a football field, should induce us to worry that machines are now better football players.
6. That time the Boise Donkeys beat the Carson City Thimbles, hands down, in overtime. Or something.
7. That time I tried to give a lecture in Hamburg on Aristotle's metaphysics of generation while the World Cup was going on right outside the lecture hall, and the waves of hope would swell in the masses in the bars and streets as the ball approached the goal, and then would descend again as the ball, inevitably, missed; and how after many such false alarms the wave swelled and swelled until the whole city moaned an endless gooool, and that central vowel repeated itself like the very culmination of the life principle, and I strained to go on.
8. That time the Thimbles three-peated, much to everyone's surprise.
9. That time a teenager in Düsseldorf accidentally speared his elderly javelin coach, effectively duplicating the scenario in Antiphon's Tetralogies that draws into such clear relief the distance between the Greek conception of guilt and our own. In the case Antiphon relates, the thrower was punished; in the case from our own age, he was given counseling.
10. That time that Russian boxer got right to the heart of it all: knocked out his opponent and then said squarely to the TV cameras, "If he dies, he dies..."