The Olympics are here again, and I can’t rally up much interest. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I keep finding out who won and who lost each event before it’s broadcast (thanks a lot, New York Times). Maybe it’s because, as I’ve written before, there are no characters anymore; everyone is slick, smooth, and tediously decorous. No real drama, not even in the athletic performances, which are uniformly excellent and hinge on the tiniest millisecond.
I used to love to watch the swimming and diving events. I love to swim, even though I’m neither fast nor elegant in form. As for diving, it’s always been a mystery to me how you get good at it without breaking your neck. In fact, I will agree that, even now, of all the summer Olympic sports, diving provides the most suspense, because even a gold-medal diver can misstep or over-rotate, so you catch your breath until she safely slices into the water.
I learned to swim at age five in the Officers Club Pool at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. EA is notorious for two things: LSD experiments on soldiers in the 1960s, and a stockpile of deadly chemical weapons dating back to World War I that they finally disposed of only about ten years ago. My father was a civilian employee who worked on post. We lived in a development a few miles outside the gate, but as a little girl I spent a large chunk of my time on the post grounds themselves.
When I was a kid, no one talked about the tripped-out soldiers or the weapons stockpile; I’m not sure how much of it was publically known in the late sixties. There were “deadly force” areas tucked into remote corners, but they were largely invisible and you had actively go find them. For me, the post was a wonderful place, with shady, tree-lined streets, and deer so tame they’d walk right up to your parked car. There was a riding stable with horses you could pet, and a small airfield where, each 4th of July, the Rec. folks put on a carnival complete with pony rides, a tiny ferris wheel with four cars, and about twenty-five ramshackle booths. You bought a bunch of tickets for five cents apiece, then you made your rounds. There was Pitch-Til-U-Win, where, if your aim was good and you were lucky, you could win yourself a small pink plastic poodle with sparkling blue eyes, and even if you weren’t, you’d at least end up with a Hawaiian lei made of paper flowers. There was the Wheel-of-Fortune, where if you were very very lucky, you could walk off with a stuffed dog with vinyl ears, and the Pick-a-Duck game, where you could win a straw hat. There was the Spin-Art booth, where you poured primary-colored tempera paint out of Tupperware ketchup bottles onto a piece of spinning cardboard and got your own work of art to hang up on your wall. The air was redolent with sizzling hot dogs (for the kids) and pit-beef sandwiches (for the grownups), and for dessert you had your choice of snowballs or cotton candy. Then, as darkness fell, your dad got the blanket from the car, and the whole family, smelling now of OFF bug spray, headed down to the grass field by the runway to swat mosquitoes and watch the fireworks.