Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Now, a snowmobile, as far as I am concerned, is a rocket ship designed by Satan to run on snow. It travels at speeds up to seventy miles an hour, which-call me chicken, I don’t care-seems to me a trifle fleet on narrow, winding paths through boulder-strewn woods.

For weeks Danny pestered me to join him in a bout of this al fresco madness. I tried to explain that I had certain problems with outdoor activities vis-a-vis the snowy season, and that somehow I didn’t think a powerful, dangerous machine was likely to provide my salvation.

“Nonsense!” he cried. Well, to make a long story short, the next thing I knew I was on the edge of the New Hampshire woods, wearing a snug, heavy helmet that robbed me of all my senses except terror, sitting nervously astride a sleek, beast-like conveyance, its engine throbbing in anticipation of all the trees against which it might soon dash me. Danny gave me a rundown on the machine’s operation, which for all I understood might have been a passage from one of his books, and jumped onto his own machine.

“Ready?” he shouted over the roar of his engine.


“Great!” he called and took off with a flare of afterburners. Within two seconds he was a noisy dot in the distance.

Sighing, I gently engaged the throttle and, with a startled cry and a brief wheelie, took off with a velocity seldom seen outside a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Shrieking hysterically and jettisoning weight via my bladder with every lively bump, I flew through the woods as if on an Exocet missile. Branches slapped my helmet. Moose reared and fled. The landscape flashed past as if in some hallucinogen-induced delirium.

Eventually, Danny stopped at a crossroad, beaming all over, engine purring. “So what do you think?”

I moved my lips but no sound emerged. Danny took this as assent.

“Well, now that you’ve got the hang of it, shall we bang up the pace a bit?”

I formed the words “Please, Danny, I want to go home. I want to see my mom,” but again no sound emerged.

And off he went.

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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I do know how to skate, honestly. It’s just that my legs, after years of inactivity, got a little overexcited to be confronted with so much slipperiness. As soon as I stepped onto the ice, they decided they wanted to visit every corner of Occum Pond at once, from lots of different directions. They went this way and that, scissoring and splaying, sometimes getting as much as twelve feet apart, but constantly gathering momentum, until at last they flew out from under me and I landed on my butt with such a wallop that my coccyx hit the roof of my mouth and I had to push my esophagus back in with my fingers.

“Wow!” said my startled butt as I clambered heavily back to my feet. “That ice is hard.”

“Hey, let ME see,” cried my head and instantly down I went again.

And so it went for the next thirty minutes, with various extremities of my body–shoulders, chin, nose, one or two of the more adventurous internal organs–hurling themselves at the ice in a spirit of investigation. From a distance I suppose I must have looked like someone being worked over by an invisible gladiator.

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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Joint attention is an actual experience that we have. By contrast, the attentional commons is best understood as a purely negative principle, by analogy with the “precautionary principle” invoked by environmentalists. The point of being aware of the attentional commons is not to make it happen but to refrain from damaging it; to be aware of the valuable absence that creates space for private reverie, and indeed for the possibility of those episodes of joint attention that arise spontaneously and make cities feel full of promise for real human contact.

What this boils down to: Please don’t install speakers in every single corner of a shopping mall, even its outdoor spaces. Please don’t fill up every moment between innings in a lazy college baseball game with thundering excitement. Please give me a way to turn off the monitor in the backseat of a taxi. Please let there be one corner of the bar where the flickering delivery system for Bud Lite commercials is deemed unnecessary, because I am already at the bar. The attentional commons is an idea that I hope will catch on among those who are in a position to make such sanctuaries happen: building managers, commercial real estate developers, and interior designers. Here is a modest proposal: Could the Muzak be made opt-in rather than opt-out? Once every twenty minutes, somebody in the room would have to deliberately hit a button to restart it, and thereby actively affirm “Yes! We want some emo in here!”

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

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A cynic might conclude that our policy to wards drugs in America is to send users either to prison or to the Olympics.

— Bill Bryson

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It has to be said that fencing, at least for the inexperienced observer, is an oddly brief and confusing exercise. At a signal from the referee, the opponents lunge forward, go tick, tick, tick with their weapons for literally about two seconds, and then a light comes on announcing a winner and they return to their starting positions to repeat the procedure. When one has accumulated 15 points in this way, he wins the match.

The total amount of action in a match is generally less than two minutes. Now there must be about a thousand ways you could improve on this. You could, for instance, allow or even encourage surprise attacks. You could have tag-team matches or require competitors to fence blindfolded after being spun around just enough to make them wobbly.

You could arm one competitor with a sword and the other with, say, a pikestaff. Almost any change, frankly, would be an improvement.

Even so, I quite got into it. Because there are four matches going on at once, it’s wonderfully lively and chaotic, with various corners of the auditorium erupting in applause or dismay at different moments.

I stayed for two hours, hopelessly bewildered but also captivated by the noise and passion and the mystifying, unfathomable swiftness of each frantic engagement.

Eventually, and with some reluctance, I bestirred myself and moved on to the nearby judo hall. This is another sport I have never paid much attention to, and I had vaguely imagined it to be like a Jackie Chan movie. I don’t suppose I actually expected the competitors to leap into play from awnings or the roofs of passing buses or to loft each other improbable distances with nifty reverse kicks to the solar plexus, but I did expect something a little more vigorous than the sight of two people in leisure wear circling slowly, and indeed interminably, while trying slyly to take each other’s shirts off.

I watched for more than an hour, but I must confess that the appeal of judo entirely eluded me.

— Bill Bryson

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That’s what you do

The basic ridiculousness of [the Olympics] is intact. Between now and October 1, hundreds of thousands of people will travel great distances, vast and unquantifiable sums will be expended, millions of words will be written and up to 4 billion people at a time will be glued to their television screens as the world once more becomes gripped with determining which human beings can leap farthest into a sandpit or make their legs go fastest or hurl various improbable objects the greatest distance.

That there are people prepared to devote years of concentrated effort to perfecting the ability to fling themselves high into the air with a pole or turn backflips on a narrow beam or poke someone in the chest with a bendy stick before they are poked in turn has long seemed to me one of life’s amazements. That four-fifths of the planet’s inhabitants are willing to become fixated with such pursuits for two weeks every four years is clearly at the very bounds of plausibility. And yet, as always, I will be right there myself, cheering on the finalists in the men’s springboard wrestling or ladies’ 400-meter backward hurdles or whatever other inane and forgotten sport they place before me, because, well, it’s the Olympics and that’s what you do.

— Bill Bryson

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After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn’t fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. I don’t wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players — more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning.

Imagine a form of baseball in which the pitcher, after each delivery, collects the ball from the catcher and walks slowly with it to center field; and that there, after a minute’s pause to collect himself, he turns and runs full tilt toward the pitcher’s mound before hurling the ball at the ankles of a man who stands before him wearing a riding hat, heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radio-active isotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg. Imagine moreover that if this batsman fails to hit the ball in a way that heartens him sufficiently to try to waddle forty feet with mattress’s strapped to his legs, he is under no formal compunction to run; he may stand there all day, and, as a rule, does. If by some miracle he is coaxed into making a miss-stroke that leads to his being put out, all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug. Then tea is called and every one retires happily to a distant pavilion to fortify for the next siege. Now imagine all this going on for so long that by the time the match concludes autumn has crept in and all your library books are overdue. There you have cricket.

— Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

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