Thursday, August 19, 2004

Olympic notes, part 3, and a bit of local news

The s.o. is a little disgusted with his dad. When he called us the other day, the s.o. asked him, "Are you watching the Olympics?"

"Nah," his dad replied dismissively. "The men's basketball team sucks. I'd rather watch the women if they're gonna play like that."

"So you're watching the women?"

"Uh, no."

This is the most interesting and thrilling Olympics we're ever likely to see. Fergodsakes, they're running the marathon on the actual original route from Marathon to Athens. They're shot-putting in the stadium at Olympia!

I toured Greece with a group of fellow students during the month of January, 1991 (which, if you're keeping track, means we got sent home a few days early when our country saw fit to invade Iraq the first time). I've stood in most of the places I'm seeing on TV. I've even run a little footrace in that stadium in Olympia (everyone who goes there does it--it's impossible to resist). I can't tell you what a thrill it is for me to see those sweeping vistas at Delphi on my television. And even if you don't get the tingle I'm getting, there's so much cool educational stuff interspersed with the sporting events. Yesterday we learned about the founder of the modern Olympics (an idealistic French guy who had his heart interred 1/4 mile from the Olympia stadium when he died) and the first person to win a track and field gold medal there (a very hung-over American, it turns out). These are things we would probably never have the opportunity to hear about otherwise.

The events have been full of drama, too. My respect for Paul Hamm has zillion-tupled after seeing him claw his way back to a gold after stumbling so badly on a vault that he practically ended up in a judge's lap. The s.o. was shouting "Rigged!" when he saw the final result. But I don't see how. The vault score may have been a little too gentle, but Hamm earned his scores in the last two events. He performed nearly perfectly, through sheer force of will. And nobody could have predicted that the other gymnasts would stumble, opening the door for him to sneak in.

In that same meet, our second-tier men's gymnast, Brett McClure, exceeded everyone's expectations. So did the South Korean gymnasts, showing that once South Korea puts together a slightly deeper roster, they're going to be very tough to beat in the team competition.

Meanwhile, our swimmers have proven that if there's anything more powerful and full of Olympic spirit than an individual athlete, it's a group of individual athletes working as a team.

And even the most jaded person can marvel at the sculpted, dolphin-like beauty that is Ian Thorpe. (I know I do!) There is something for everyone.


Yesterday the s.o. and I went to the town five miles south of us to check out an auction. Several months ago, the mayor of the town had called the sheriff on the phone and, sobbing, had shot himself in the head while the sheriff listened. The sheriff sent the ambulance, but the mayor was already dead when it arrived. It turned out the mayor's finance company had been bilking elderly people from here to Atlanta, and that the mayor owed millions of dollars to a great variety of people and was about to face a fraud inquiry the next morning.

Anyhow, the mayor owned buildings all over town, not to mention tons of farm equipment, pickup trucks, sports memorabilia, and a speedboat. All these things are being auctioned so that the people who were owed money have a chance at recouping some of it. Yesterday was the viewing of the items, and today they'll actually be auctioned off.

We looked at the stuff, but there were only a couple of things we wanted--some beautiful late-1800s buildings and the speedboat--and of course these were things we couldn't afford. Most of the rest was crap. All the man's Oriental rugs were cheesy reproductions. All his sports memorabilia were pointless. The art was ugly and mostly just prints. And the home and office furniture, needless to say, was hideous.

The strangest item was $32 in one-dollar bills, arranged in a grid and framed. Why would anyone hang that on a wall?

I guess it's true that money--especially ill-gained money--doesn't buy happiness. This guy cheated and stole...for what? Reproduction NFL lockers? Guns? Clown paintings?

It's a funny thing...when I look at the remnants of a life like that, I start thinking that the s.o. and I are somehow way richer than our paychecks would imply.