Odd lots

^ Where have you gone chiseled swimmers, scary-strong gymnasts, and freakish water polo players? I miss you.

^ In the morning, I walk by a group practicing Tai Chi in the park, slow and quiet in their movements, until their paper fans snap open in unison.

^ On sunny days, a balloon artist sets up shop near the Frog Pond where children dart in and out of the fountain. He readies long, skinny balloons, poised to become animals. After 5:00, this same man appears on my train heading north with his balloon cart. I want to ask him for a giraffe or a hippo, but a balloon pops and everything is still.

^ In a cafe at lunch, I hear two girls talking about me. Except it’s not me, just my name. But for a minute I listen to what this other me is doing: moving to another apartment with more square footage and a washer / dryer, apparently. Good call, me.

^ Did you know you could get faux mink lash extensions? Why not real mink? I bet they have beautiful lashes.

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Olympics miscellany

+ The more I think about, the more I realize I’m not ready to win a gold medal. Not because I have no sport or a lifetime of training, but because I wouldn’t want the pictures of me in my defining moment on the podium with a track suit and wet hair.

+ Wouldn’t it be refreshing if athletes spoke their mind before their event, so that instead of the pat, “I just have to go out there, stay relaxed, and do my best” it was more like “I have to kick some serious ass and take what belongs to me.” Instead of the usual post-race response from a silver medalist who says, “I just didn’t get it done and I’d like to congratulate my opponent,” I’d rather hear “I am soooo pissed and cannot believe that chick won.”

+ There’s no crying in baseball, but there’s a heck of a lot of crying in gymnastics, swimming, diving and—I’m guessing, though I haven’t watched it—table tennis.

+ When do the boring sports start? These high-profile events are costing me sleep.

Olympic fever

I love how you can become a rabid fan of a sport in less than 10 minutes during the Olympics. All it takes is a story. A montage. An underdog. I watch supposedly washed up Alexandr Vinokourov from Kazakhstan duke it out with a young Colombian in the homestretch of the cycling road race. I’ve never wanted anyone to win more. The Colombian rookie turns his head for a second and Vinokourov breaks away and wins the gold, jubilant, even though the commentators are calling him the old guy. At 38. And for the record, I had no idea he was this adorable until he took off his helmet.

Was it me or was the tribute to the National Health Service at the opening ceremony a way to say In your face, America?

I wonder if Michael Phelps gets tired of hearing about Michael Phelps.

Diggin’ it

* Olympics fever. Already the commercials are starting. Did you see the one of the boy who ran for three days to escape being a boy soldier and now he runs for (insert Olympic-size descriptors here: glory, gold)?

* John Malkovich deep in conversation with Siri. Samuel L. Jackson flirting with Siri in his kitchen. Wait, do you think Sam is making gazpacho for . . . J Malk?

* The GE repairman diagnosing my warm fridge issue says he knows how to wield a blow torch. “It’s one of the few things I’m cocky about. I can fix sealed systems and compressors.” Now that’s a man who loves his job—and the opportunity to wield a blow torch. I want to whip up some creme brulee to let him use his tool. Yeah, I said it.

Confessions of a curler

Back in the 90s when curling was the hip new Olympic sport (what?), I saw a sign in my hometown inviting people to come and try it out for free with the local curling club. I was so there.

I arrived at the festive lodge in a bulky coat ready to step out onto the ice, until one of the members instructed me to first strap this plastic slider onto my shoe; apparently, the ice was not treacherous enough. The idea was that you’d grip a round stone with a handle and glide it as accurately as you could toward the target on the other side of the pitch. With an extra-slide-y shoe, it was easy to tip over.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, another member said, “Great, now let’s try sweeping!” with an enthusiasm that made me wonder if he was talking about the same domestic task that I did every week in my kitchen—the task that in my mind did not deserve an exclamation point.

While one team member released a stone, our instructor showed us how two other team members get out  in front of a stone and start shuffling along and sweeping the ice. Huh? This would smooth the ice, he explained, encouraging the stone to go farther. The key was learning when to stop sweeping. Usually, the team captain would yell, “Sweep!” or “Stop!” which all too often sounded the same to me. Turns out I was an enthusiastic sweeper.

With the firm belief that this was a sport I could handle, I signed up and got my league assignment. I was the only woman on a team of four, all encouraging guys who made me feel like I was a natural. I was not. Despite my lack of skills, we ended up in first place that season and celebrated with drinks in the clubhouse afterwards. The country club feel was not for me, but I had enjoyed that rare moment when I placed the stone exactly where the team wanted me to place it, even if what they thought was skill was really luck.

So, adopting the brilliant idea for an Olympic Persona Generator app over at Kim’s Tour of No Regrets, I declare myself Ingrid Bing, Olympic curler. After a devastating sweeping injury, I came back this year to win a team silver medal. We might have taken the gold had my teammate not dropped the stone on his own foot in competition.

In a sport that gets no respect—curlers spend half their time saying It is NOT shuffleboard on ice!— you have to hand it to this year’s Norwegian curling team. Their loud pants are bringing attention to the mild-mannered sport in a way that says, yes, this sport is a little ridiculous, and we embrace that.

I’m 16. Yeah…that’s it, 16

It’s hard to believe that all the female Olympic Chinese gymnasts are 16, the minimum age for competition. Clearly, some of them are little girls.  Athletic, limber, fearless little girls, but still.  Their proof of age? Passports. I suspect though, that unlike in the  United States, it doesn’t take 52 forms of identification and your mother’s sworn testimony to get a passport. They might actually be tailor-made, if you know what I mean. The argument is that younger girls are in their prime (!) and aren’t as affected by the magnitude of the games because they’re too young to understand what’s on the line. Those 21-year-olds? Over the hill.

Personally, I’d like to know how I could get a Chinese passport, because if reclaiming your youth is as easy as that…well. I imagine the exchange at the passport office might go something like this:

Me: Hello, I’d like to apply for a passport.

Chinese official: Of course. How old are you?

Me: How old am I? Um, I’m…29. Yup, 29.

Such a simple way to shave a few years off your age. Off to Beijing.

A gold medal in crying

Only four days into the Olympics and I’ve cried enough to fill an Olympic-size pool. I don’t know what happened. I usually don’t get mushy over big spectacles and those formulaic athlete profiles. But from the opening ceremonies when Yao Ming walked in with the 9-year-old earthquake survivor who went back into the rubble to rescue two classmates because he was the class leader to watching Michael Phelps’ family rooting and crying for him (let alone watching him win), I’m a mess.

The waterworks kicked on again when the Korean swimmer who was disqualified in Athens for diving in the pool before the gun, going home in shame, won the gold this year–the first swimming gold medal for Korea.

Then the men’s U.S. 4×100-meter relay team ratcheted up the drama in the pool, smashing the French team that was foolish enough to trash talk the U.S. team before the meet. Silly French swimmers.

The NBC montages, the athlete profiles (overcoming tragedy is required), man, even the commercials are conspiring against me (did you see Hank the Clydesdale??).

So, I’m ready judges. Just drape that gold medal around my neck for excellence in crying, play the national anthem, and damn, I’m crying again.