Facebook Politics and Decorum

Ghost

I’ve noticed some Facebook unrest recently, people equating it to the devil and whatnot. Actually, the unrest isn’t all that recent. It’s been this way pretty much since the onset. Really, it’s a testament to how powerful a tool Facebook is that it’s remained so prominent. The way people, and by ‘people’ I mean the people I’m friends with, use it has evolved through the years. But I digress. First allow me to enunciate the different types of users. The list is in ascending order of contribution frequency.

The Tree Who Fell in the Woods: Doesn’t have an account. It begs the question—if a person eats, sleeps, and breathes but doesn’t have Facebook, does he exist?
The Abandoned Building: Having an account but not checking, updating, or participating in any way.
The Ghost: Having an account and pretending to be an Abandoned Building but secretly consuming like The Whore.
The Whore: Likes everything but contributes nothing beyond birthday posts.
The Moderate: Contributes and consumes in a thoughtful way, successfully toeing the line between doing so too frequently and too infrequently.
The Old Person: Over 60 and very actively participates on threads held by those who are more than 30 years younger and with whom he’s very tenuously connected.
The Advertiser/Activist: Uses it primarily to spread word about his, his company’s, or his favorite causes’ latest endeavor.
The Spazz: Posts at least once every 48 hours. The content is usually inane and reveals some sort of gap in awareness. The Spazz is a lot like The Old Person but doesn’t have the excuse of being old.
The Narcissist: The most damnable of users, The Narcissist posts at least every 24 hours and is clearly in love with him/herself.

Most people consider themselves either an Abandoned Building or a Moderate. I consider myself a Moderate. Such an indulgent word, isn’t it? I’m sure more than half of you think I’m a Spazz. I’m not! I’M NOTTTTT!!!! Convinced? Oh shit, this is very Narcissist of me, isn’t it? I know, right!

But enough about me.

But more about me!

One trend I’ve noticed is that it’s somehow more desirable to be seen as an Abandoned Building than as a Moderate, and that’s why there are so many of you Ghosts out there. I know for a fact that Ghost is the most common type of user among my friends because the previous roaming20s post, the one about the value of money beyond functionality (you should know, you read it), got 300 views but only 5 Likes. As I have around 700 friends, it means 3 out of 7 of you clicked on the link. The low Like-frequency (LF) could be attributed to poor content quality or generally not wanting to associate with me in a visible way, but that’s obviously not the case. I mean, seriously, you read the article. You know how perfect it is! No, there are greater issues at play.

This leads to an excerpt from a recent, rather Seinfeldian, conversation with the photographer of my most recent profile picture:

Ghost: “It’s perfect! I stared at it for LITERALLY 15 minutes! With the umbrella and the sunglasses! At the same time! And the shirt! Oh my God! Everything just came together! The Eiffel Tower in the middle, and the spire on the far left to give it balance! It was just too good! Unbelievable!”

Me: “If you liked it so much, why didn’t you Like it on Facebook?”Facebook Interaction

Ghost: “I’m not a Liker.”

Me: “Why not? It’s one of the most non-zero-sum things you can do. Nobody judges you for Liking a photo, and the recipient appreciates it. Don’t you like it when others Like your stuff?”

Ghost: “Ya, that’s true. I guess I just don’t want to be known as someone with a social media presence. If people see that I use it, my anonymity is gone.”

Me: “What’s so bad about a social media presence?”

Ghost: “I just don’t want a footprint. There are so many people who I like less just because of how they use Facebook. People don’t think better of you based on how you use it. At best you break even, and that’s rare.”

Me: “But you liked that photo you took, didn’t you?”

Ghost: “It was glorious!”

Hence, my thesis: Spazzes and Narcissists scare the layman into Ghosthood, or, worse, into becoming The Tree Who Fell in the Woods. Because of a chronic and persistent lack of awareness among the most vocal 5%, Facebook has been ruined for the majority. Otherwise-Moderates have lost their voice!

The saddest part, I think, is that one of our generation’s most useful tools carries such stigma. It’s faux-pas to reference something from Facebook in a face-to-face interaction. Or information gleaned from any form of Internet stalking, for that matter. A former colleague of mine famously let slip about another former colleague, “She’s younger than me. She was in First Grade in 1998.” Is that creepy? Come on. Don’t pretend to have never had a conversation with a person in which you had to be careful not to let slip knowledge gained from a nice little Google search. It should be assumed that people know everything about you that’s on the Internet. That’s what admissions and Human Resources personnel say. In that sense, it’s a good idea to minimize, or at least manicure, your digital footprint.

At ease with the generally creepy, I, for one, love Facebook. A person’s relationship with social media requires some customizing for it to be enjoyable. The majority of Facebook malaise, I contend, results from finding it frustrating that a digital medium requires so much psychoanalysis. The reason I love it is I’ve eliminated the annoyances. I’ve chosen not to follow all the Spazzes, Narcissists, and people I don’t particularly want to know about, such as Jabronis and ex-romantic interests. Another thing I’ve started doing is Liking favorite sources of news and information. Now that Grantland, Quartz, The New Yorker, and Rafael Nadal appear on my newsfeed, my procrastination has been streamlined. If you use it the right way, it’s an incredibly practical tool!

Facebook CartoonIt’s the human part that makes it tricky. It’s a trilemma, participating yet remaining the least bit fetching. The individual has to align the way he sees himself, the way he would like to be perceived by others, and the way others perceive him outside of the platform, all in an appealing way. This leads to another rule, Rule #1, in fact. It dictates: there’s nothing you can do on social media to get someone to like you if they don’t like you outside of it. Thus, altering one’s identity is strategically ill-advised because the only result is to turn off those who might’ve wanted to follow you. The biggest truth about social media is it exposes major insecurities and delusions among its contributors, whether they’re aware of them or not.

There are subtle ways of pandering to the loosely connected while appeasing the masses though. One might, purely hypothetically, change his profile picture to a glamor shot in front of the Eiffel Tower before sending a friend request to a jolie femme he recently met. Such scheming is only petty once an audience is aware that it was calculated, purely hypothetically speaking. (Throat-clear).

As has been illustrated, the politics of Facebook are difficult to navigate. It’s been made even trickier, especially for The Old Person, because usage trends evolve both naturally and due to changes in age and location. Back in 2006, when Facebook got started and I was in high school, Wall Posts were competitive because Facebook displayed how many posts you had. Further, a large number of friends was representative of high social standing, and we talked poorly about people artificially inflating that number.

These days, Likes are the currency. The super-competitive socialites have moved on to Instagram. In my Insta-episode, my 12 hours on Instagram, I mistakenly chose to “Follow” all of my Facebook friends. This was before I realized Instagram prominently displays how many people “Follow” you and how many people you are “Following.” The game is to “Follow” fewer people than are “Following” you. After 12 hours in which I was “Following” 300 people and only 40 “Followed” me back, I felt very uncool. It’s funny how a 25 year old can feel like he’s 15 again. I cut my losses and quit Instagram after a person I dated briefly in October Liked my profile picture but opted not to “Follow” me. What a bitch. It should be noted that she was very IN on Insta, as she had over 3,000 “Followers” and only “Followed” 250 people.

Rest assured, I’m still very much on Facebook, where Likes carry almost as much caché. Liking-frequency (LF) behaves a lot like an inverse tangent function (pictured below) that’s been shifted up and a little to the right. What usually happens is your Facebook Allies (FAs) Like everything you post. After a critical number, say 20, second-degree connections join in. At another critical point, those second-degree connections have been exhausted, and the likes begin to plateau around a limit. This tailing-off is the most interesting part because that’s when the real randos, the ones you haven’t seen or heard from in years, make themselves known.  Unfortunately, most of them are Spazzes.

Inverse TangentMajor life events such as engagements, career successes, graduations, and births of kids garner the most Likes. If you’re particularly wealthy or prominent, Like totals are artificially inflated via suck-ups becoming FAs. And if you’re going for glory, if you want to test out your upper-bound, there’s a formula: Alert people that something awesome has happened to you in a ‘humble’ way. My personal favorite has been, “Didn’t know I looked like such a slob until I saw this picture of me on Forbes’ 25 Under 25. Honored nonetheless!” That one got hundreds. If nothing else, Like-a-Palooza tells you who in your network you should be jealous of, and if you’re anything like me, you’re a bit scornful, secretly liking these people less, even though you don’t actually know them.

It’s these Like-related stresses causing most of the Facebook unrest, causing people to equate it to the devil and whatnot. Disagreeing with your network on who has been crowned king and queen, and so forth. To enjoy Facebook, it’s important both to know that the high-schoolish part exists and to not pay it much credence, focusing instead on the positives. And Facebook’s positives are so powerful! With it you can keep up with people you don’t see or talk to regularly. That’s a huge upgrade on the nothingness that it replaced! This brings me to my issue with Ghosts, beyond them not Liking my shit. It’s selfish to consume without contributing every once in a while. More so, it’s creepy to covertly keep tabs on everyone. We want to see you, provided it’s from neither too close up nor too far away, and we want to hear from you, provided you’re neither doing too well nor too poorly.

The Value of Money Beyond Functionality

Gatsby

Having attended some of America’s most elite institutions, I’ve experienced my share of decadence. Think Sunday brunches, champagne fountains, and concert pianists.

Having worked for a development organization and traveled widely, I’ve been surrounded by debilitating poverty. Consider living under a cardboard roof, having to walk miles for fresh water, and not knowing from where the next meal will come.

What separates these circumstances?

If you guessed ‘money,’ you were close. ‘Wealth’ is more accurate.

The relationship between wealth and money is similar to that of a square to a rectangle. A wealthy individual most likely has a lot of money, but someone with a lot of money is not necessarily wealthy. The difference is wealth encapsulates all things of value amassed by an individual or family unit. Money is merely a medium of exchange, the most liquid asset in a portfolio.

Wealth is obtained and passed down in many ways. The most obvious is through inheritance of an estate. But that’s only part of it. If you come from wealth, you most likely go to elite schools and liaise with the other products of the grand patriarchy. You are endowed with better learning environments and bullet-proof networks that comprise all the friends of your very successful mom and dad along with the very successful moms and dads of all the people you happened make sand-castles with at four years old. Real wealth is the type that transfers across generations on the back of superior opportunities, and it does not require an agent to do anything particularly dynamic to sustain it.

If you were born without wealth, the reasons to accumulate it are countless. Financial stress is very highly correlated with depression, anxiety, and other physical maladies. A couple of weeks ago, I got coffee with someone who is passionate about drawing but doesn’t want to pursue it professionally because she’s seen how difficult financial stress has been for her parents. According to this Forbes article, “The wealthier people are, the more satisfied they are with their lives, at least when you look at nationwide figures. They also find, contrary to what many economists believe, that there is not a point of wealth satiation beyond which happiness levels off.”

In a hypothetical situation in which you are presented two sums of money and in which the world is in no way impacted depending on which you choose, I, for one, would choose the larger bundle. Doing otherwise, I further contend, would be masochistic.

But why, I wonder, would someone from the trust-fund class make it his life’s ambition to accumulate wealth-above-all-else (WAAE)?  Isn’t that redeundant?  Isn’t there something worthier?

There are a few practical explanations. First of all, it isn’t inconceivable that a person makes a lot of money by contributing something of value while genuinely enjoying the process. In this case, bravo. These individuals, I would argue, are the most valuable in a society and should be compensated thusly. The second completely understandable reason someone from privilege might pursue WAAE is out of a sense of duty to his offspring. We want our kids to be at least as advantaged as we were, for better or for worse.

There is a level of wealth, though, that supersedes practicality. Warren Buffett once said, “I should write a book on how to get by on $500 million because apparently there are a lot of people who don’t know how to do it.” Beyond a critical point, there is no pragmatic reason to pursue WAAE. Beyond that critical point, it’s about ego.

In a conversation with an investment banking friend who comes from wealth and who aspires to billions, I finally got an honest response to the burning question, why? He gave three reasons. The first is that he wants to know that no matter how badly his kids and grandkids fuck up, they’ll end up fine. The second is that, after a certain level of wealth accumulation, the world becomes your toy.  Excess becomes an art constrained only by imagination. The third is ego. He wants to walk into a room and have people whisper about what he’s done and how much he’s worth.

businesscard-2gan793

Reasons two and three are related in that if a person leverages wealth in a creative way, people will whisper about it. A different friend of mine, a guy who worked at SAC Capital, visited Stephen A. Cohen’s house one time. Since then, whenever I’ve seen him, he’s heralded how his former boss has a room filled with original Picassos, just because he likes Picasso. Next to the Picasso Room is the Monet Room. My first friend, the one who divulged his three reasons for coveting billions, started salivating when recounted The Tale Of The Picasso Room. He wants private planes.

A private plane is just a symbol, though. How can a person work 16-hour days with a private plane as his salvation? No, it isn’t about the plane at all. What he wants is to win one of the most competitive games on Earth. To him, money is a scoreboard, and his competitors are the other prospective billionaires. What really motivates him isn’t a private plane, it’s the person sitting next to him making more money but who he thinks he’s better than. In the halls at work, all he hears about are people cashing in on jackpots. He almost screamed to me, “There are those rats all around, doing it in so many different ways!”

In the wealth game, only one measurement matters. How you got it carries far less weight than the number at the bottom.  After all, Stephen A. Cohen plead guilty to insider trading. What my friend wants isn’t a billion dollars or a private plane, it’s the knowledge that he played a game very, very well. He wants to win. I understand that. I understand that very, very well, and I hope he gets there.

The well-wishes are mutual, too. He sees that I’m playing a different game. He respects more than most the fact that I wrote a novel, and he hopes it finds a good publisher. The competition (ie. those rats), it should be noted, are the others playing his game who he thinks he’s better than but who are currently ahead of him. I feel that same spite when reading a book I don’t think is as good as mine but somehow found a publisher.

The venerable Donald Trump once said, “(Money) is but a scorecard that tells me I’ve won and by how much.”  Later on he retreated, “You have to measure somebody by more than that. There are a lot of guys that I respect a great deal who don’t have much money. And there are guys who do have a lot of money whom I don’t much respect.” What he means is that everyone is playing a different game, and a person should be judged not based on how well he plays your game, but on how well he plays the one he has chosen. More so, what he means is that you can be good at a game but still be a sleazeball.   That Trump said so himself is either ironic or self-aware.

As someone who recently learned he’s too ego-driven for humanitarian work, my threshold for condemning a behavior as ‘greedy’ extends further than that of the otherwise like-minded, New York Times-quoting Liberal. I do not believe a person should be chastised for acting within his best interest, and I do believe it’s primarily the state’s responsibility to make sure an individual’s interests are aligned with society’s. However, I also contend that there is a point at which money-mongering is more detrimental to the individual than the alternative, not making as much money. That’s when I judge.

DogCatCartoonI respect a person who has a goal, no matter how obscure, and works towards it. I respect billionaires, especially the ones who got to that level by making a significant and positive contribution. What I don’t respect is the person who is so consumed by the game and with the scoreboard that he forgets how fortunate he is to be playing it at such a high level. He forgets that money has a functional purpose. He forgets that the majority of individuals are more accustomed to cardboard roofs than to champagne fountains. What I don’t respect is the person who leverages the status achieved from being very good at a game in order to excuse poor citizenship and mistreatment of others. The biggest challenge, I imagine, that faces a person society exalts as successful, is to maintain a sense of perspective. The riddle is that, by losing perspective, no matter how many pundits or sycophants hail your victories, you’ve lost in the most important game, the one everyone has to play, the daily challenge to reconcile one’s own humanity.

Tennis’ Warrior King

Nadal Muscle

The first time I saw Rafael Nadal on television was December 3, 2004, when the unknown 18-year-old stunned world #2 Andy Roddick in 4 sets to lead Spain’s Davis Cup team past a flummoxed American squad. A casual fan glancing scorelines would’ve attributed the result to Roddick’s notorious record on clay. But those who watched knew. Across the net from Roddick, bedecked in sleeveless-and-capris, was a tornado of competitive grit and pasión the likes of which the sport, and perhaps sports in general, had never seen. The first point I ever saw of Nadal, he lobbed one of Roddick’s missile serves back in play and then shuffled to 10 feet behind the baseline, where he ran from side-to-side, refusing to secede what would, against anyone else, have been a 3-shot rally. After an exchange, Roddick lashed an inside-out forehand into the ad (left) corner and closed on the net. At that point almost 15 feet behind the baseline, Nadal sprinted top-speed, barely getting a racket on the ball, not just floating it back, like a human would do, but blasting it with his trademark top-spin in such a way that it looked like it was going wide-left but barely curled to catch the outside of the line, highlighting everything with a 360-degree fist-pump and yelling “Vamós!” To all of this, the immediate reaction was a deferential silence, our collective shock paying homage to a shot of the caliber tennis might never see again. Then a thunderous applause and closer examination of the artist.

The first thing we noticed were the biceps, bronzed and bulging, glistening with sweat. Then we saw the shoulder length hair outlining a snarling face, raring for the next rally. Who was this guy? Surely it was a gimmick. Certainly this level of intensity could not be sustained. There was something raw about him. Something at once Aboriginal, with his boomerang forehand, and Spartan, with his spear-like two-hander. The guy was more of a boxer than a tennis player, and when he was on court, it wasn’t tennis, it was battle. His essence was that of a man the Greeks might’ve honored with statues. We were watching Achilles.

Three points later, Nadal hit the exact same full-extension, running forehand, the ball barely clipping the line. Then he did it again. And again, quickly settling the debate about whether or not he was a gimmick. I’ve seen this shot hundreds of times by now and have grown numb to it in the same way society is tired of marveling at having put a man on the moon.

For such a masturbatory article, it’s only natural to spotlight the world’s most well-constructed left wrist. Among a plethora of endowments, it’s this carpus potentis, this muñeca poderosa, that roots the impossibility of what he does. Without it, he’d be Fernando Verdasco, another big, strong, left-handed Spaniard. It’s the flick of this hallowed joint that bases the most devastating shot in professional tennis, a top-spin forehand that has reached 5,000 and averages 3,200 revolutions per minute. For reference, Sampras and Agassi averaged around 1,800 rpm, which is considered high. It’s a shot just as functional as its helicopter follow-through is flashy. Top-spin is to tennis what a hedge is to an investor. It allows the actor to target more volatile, higher-potential opportunities without broaching recklessness. The effect of the surplus top-spin on Nadal’s forehand is that the ball rockets off the court and above the opponent’s shoulder. The action on the ball gives it weight; thus, the major conundrum a tennis player encounters is not one Nadal runs into: He doesn’t have to sacrifice power for precision, or visa versa.

The forehand, though the most potent arrow in his quiver, is not his most supernatural one. That honor goes to the backhand overhead, which he hits as if it’s a forehand overhead. This shot is the credential that might confuse Professor X into bringing Nadal to his Westchester mansion along with Cyclops and Wolverine. Literally nobody else can do this. In fact, it shouldn’t be physically possible. To do it, he jumps, contorting so that his back is parallel to the net and his chest is facing the baseline. At the point of contact, his eyes are not watching the ball, yet the sacrosanct wrist flicks at exactly the right time, as if endowed with, in addition to strength, telekinetic capability. The result is a smash of the variety where its first contact is with the court just across the net, and the second is with the hand of a lucky individual sitting in the third row.

Nadal belongs to the special class of modern athletes who might be branded as ‘next-evolution,’ meaning that 30 years from now, when athletes are bound to be more athletic than they are today, Nadal would still be among the elite. Past such athletes are Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali. Rafa’s contemporaries are LeBron James and Calvin Johnson. He is an Adonis among Adoni. He could have played any sport and been among the very best. In fact, Nadal’s athletic prowess has been so entrenched in tennis dogma that it’s referenced more to belittle than to opine. Detractors minimize his game as ‘hulking’ and ‘brutish’ to insinuate a lack of nuance. But such a neg only betrays blindness to the finer points of tennis on behalf of the utterer. Grueling physicality is what’s easiest to spot, but it’s the nuance that makes his game beautiful. It’s a game that accessorizes in ways that would make his sponsors at Armani drool.

Nadal Armani

The most obvious rebut to those pigeonholing him as power-sans-finesse is that in an era where most top players serve in the 130s, Rafa’s serve barely breaks 120 mph. Though he doesn’t serve big, he serves smart, employing an arsenal of lefty-slice body serves that handcuff opponents in the deuce court and not fucking around on break/game points—serving wide to the opponent’s backhand. His serve is broken at a rate of 15%, and he saves break-points-against at a clip of 64%.

Which brings me to my real jones for Rafa. Saving break points is much less of a tactical feat than a psychological one. Anyone can string together a few good shots when pressure is low. In the critical moments, only the toughest can reign in emotions and give the point a special focus such that he’s both playing within himself and raising his level, trusting the process rather than going-for-broke after a stunted exchange.

Even his opponents acknowledge Rafa as the toughest competitor on tour. This is a statement that’s difficult to dispute, as he has a winning record against everyone currently ranked in the top 32. The only person who has played him more than 10 times who boasts a winning record is Nikolay Davydenko (6-5), whose bald head has suspiciously lost in the round prior every time it looked as if Nadal might get a chance to even the score. The reason, I submit, that he’s so good on clay is that it’s the surface that most rewards the fiercer competitor, the slower pace and higher bounce inducing longer, more grueling rallies. The viewer experience of Nadal is the opposite of that of Federer. The Swiss is a Rolex, doing it with seemingly effortless refinement. Nadal is one of those clocks without casing, in which the turn of every cog is visible. He wows not with simplicity and ease but with the distance he’s willing to run and the duress he’s able to sustain.

The externality on sport of a man who never beats himself is entirely positive. When facing Nadal, a player knows he’ll be steamrolled if he cracks just a little bit. He knows Nadal doesn’t lull. In fact, on the rare occasion when he isn’t the best player on the court, such as in 2011 when Djokovic went on his tirade, Rafa fights even harder. The most vivid instance was the third set of the 2011 US Open. Djokovic had won the previous two sets, and Nadal was clearly out-classed. Somehow, though, he willed his game to a level it had never reached and thus willed the sport to a level it had never broached, as at that point, tennis had never been played at a higher caliber than Djokovic was straddling, and Nadal had inched above that mark. In the third set, he hit every backhand, which for the previous 9 months had been wobbly and uncertain, as hard as 188 pounds (so we’re told) transmitted through titanium alloy permits, fist-pumping and snarling after every line-clipping laser, winning the set 7-6. Djokovic was then forced, in the fourth set, to raise his game to an even more never-before-seen level to win the tournament.

Even though Rafa lost, the match illustrates the value of Nadal’s competitive grit to his greatest competitors. Without Rafa pushing them, nobody would’ve seen how good Djokovic and Federer truly are. The highest quality matches of these two legends’ careers have been against Rafa. For Federer it was Wimbledon 2008, and for Novak, it was the Australian Open in 2012, when he fought from down a break in the fifth to hoist the trophy.

Nadal’s impact on the overall level of the sport was evidenced by how conspicuous his absence was in 2012 and early 2013. Unfortunately, these long-term absences have been a mainstay throughout his 10 years on tour. Nobody wants to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award twice. His first hiatus piggy-backed his maiden French Open defeat to Robin Soderling in 2009. The second came in 2012, following a second-round Wimbledon loss to Lukas Rosol, who was at that point ranked 100 in the ATP world rankings. In both cases, the culprit was a shaky knee, screaming with agony at all the punishment it had endured. He’s human afterall. Instead of Achilles, we’ll call him Patellar.

Another injury is one of three things that might derail his assault on Federer’s record of 17 Grand Slams. The second is another 2011-like coup by Djokovic. The third is a doping scandal. A side-effect of a muscular physique, doping allegations have hounded Rafa since his career began. His accusers point to a few sketchy episodes. Some believe his absences weren’t injury-related, that perhaps it was the ATP’s way of silently punishing him for a positive test. The main instance accusers point to is Operation Puerto. In 2006, Spanish doctor Eufemio Fuentes was busted for running a massive doping ring linked to cycling, tennis, soccer, boxing, and track. In the sting, over 200 blood bags labeled with code names were collected. In 2012, against the wills of the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Italian doping authority, the Spanish doping authority, the International Tennis Federation, and even Dr. Fuentes himself, a Spanish judge opted to destroy all the evidence, an action prompting Andy Murray to tweet, “beyond a joke… biggest cover up in sports history?”

In fairness to Nadal, he, to our knowledge, has never failed a drug test, and, when he was out for 7 months in 2012 and early 2013, he was the subject of a record 7+ out of competition tests. That said, reasons for speculation about not just Nadal, but about the entire sport of tennis abound. Djokovic, for example, attributes his rise in 2011 to a gluten free diet. Tennis might be experiencing the same type of chronic doping that baseball saw in the 1990s and cycling saw in the early 2000s.  This is exactly why the athletes will never get caught. Positive tests by Nadal and Djokovic would act as astroids extinguishing the sport’s global popularity. No sport depends on the likability of its ambassadors more than tennis does.

And aside from doping allegations, Nadal is very likable. It’s the quirks that charm us. Famously OCD, he can’t sit still in his chair on changeovers, jittering his legs like a 5 year old that needs to pee. There are a host of similarly juvenile superstitions that wholly clash with his gladiator persona. In the pregame sit-down he spends over 30 seconds pulling his socks up and down so they are exactly the same height. He’ll bring two water bottles, one slightly warmer than the other, to every match, stationing them meticulously next to his chair. Before serving, he’ll pick his shorts out of his butt and brush his hair behind his ears. While waiting for the pre-match coin toss, he’s bounding from one leg to another, and, after service is assigned, he sprints in a zig-zag to his baseline. Between points and after games, he never steps on lines, and, on changeovers, he’ll wait for his opponent to cross the net before he does.

There are other mannerisms, too, that are a little more overt, and, though some are annoying, they add to that sense of watching a 9 year old who was never forced to grow up. He, for example, takes an inappropriately long time before serving. The rule is 25 seconds between the end of a rally and the toss of a first serve. Nadal routinely exceeds this. When warned by the umpire, he gets irrationally angry, as if he did nothing wrong, and ends up winning the next three points before glaring at the ref while avoiding stepping on the lines as he walks to his chair. Other examples of Nadal’s seemingly innocent graying of rules are his tribulations with in-game coaching. Before serving, he’ll look to his Uncle Toni for a signal on where to serve. After a close call, he’ll look to his coach for advice on whether or not to challenge. To be clear, in-game coaching is not permitted, yet somehow it’s accepted that Rafa receives it, a tidbit that is both adorable and gives credence to those who promote steroid-theory.

These self-entitled ticks disappear after the match. He is shy with the media and overwhelmingly gracious to opponents. After suffering a hamstring injury in the 2011 Australian Open and subsequently losing to David Ferrer, he refused to chalk up the loss to injury, even though it was clearly the only explanation for the result. In the trophy ceremony after the 2009 Australian Open Final, the best match Rafa has ever played, where he beat Federer in a 5 set thriller, he at the same time paid respect to Federer as the greatest ever and apologized for beating him. And he didn’t see the irony. In fact, he hates when supporters hail him as the greatest ever, so, out of respect to Rafa, I won’t make the case. (If you’re interested, it was made here by Andre Agassi, and again here, by roaming20s).

Nadal the tennis player can be most succinctly described as Uncle Toni’s masterpiece. He isn’t just a product of his uncle’s coaching, he’s his uncle’s robot. Rafa’s unquestioning respect of his uncle’s authority is comparable to that of a Nazi to Hitler. Luckily for Rafa, his uncle hasn’t misled him. In his nephew, Uncle Toni created a tennis game analogous to a Picasso painting. Something seemingly disjointed, deviating from the norm in a way that’s better. The most galling of Uncle Toni’s experiments was putting a racket in his left hand even though Rafa was born right-handed. Left-handedness is an advantage in tennis, as lefties serve wide to the ad court. The double-handed backhand on his dominant side also allows him flick the ball cross-court even when it’s behind his natural strike-zone.

Writing a person off as someone else’s minion is, in most circumstances, insulting. About a soldier, however, there’s no greater compliment. Perhaps what allows Rafa to remain so tough in big moments is that the internal dialogue is non-existent. He’s outsourced all decision-making and is simply doing what he’s been programmed to do. Perhaps his biggest advantage has been an ability to disregard ego.

He does this with his business decisions as well. His dad tells him which sponsorships to take and which advertisements to do. In these endeavors he’s been very successful, at least financially. This website estimates he made $21 million last year just from sponsors. However, his branding taints him a bit. It tested my loyalty as a fan when he published a mid-career, ghost-written autobiography. The 250 blandest pages I’ve ever read, the main point was that even though he’s a celebrity, he isn’t the celebrity type. There wasn’t an authentic sentence in the entire thing. The day after reading it, the ATP World Tour website had a feature about him teaming up with Bar Rafaeli in mixed doubles at a fundraising event. A couple of weeks later, I stumbled upon a Shakira music video with Nadal prominently featured. I felt like a chump. The only reason for that book’s existence was to take advantage of his most loyal fans’ desire to believe in him.

Nadal-Bar

The fact is, the book sold, he made money, and I can’t fault him for capitalizing on his celebrity. I learned a valuable lesson: never read athlete memoirs. Even though I didn’t learn much about his internal philosophy, I learned how his advisers have chosen to brand him. More than anything, they’d like us to see a family man, someone who’s unassuming and comes back home to Mallorca, where none of his childhood friends acknowledge his global celebrity. While the bit about his friends ignoring his status seems far-fetched, I really do believe he’s a family man. The only non-injury related setback to his career came when his parents divorced. He’s kept his uncle as his coach. His parents, sister, and girlfriend travel with him to every tournament, the awkward part of the arrangement being his sister might be more attractive than his girlfriend. And at major tournaments, such as Wimbledon, he stays in big houses for groups of 9 or 10.

From what I can glean of his non brand-enhanced personality, he loves Spain, he loves soccer, and he loves Spanish soccer. Every month or so he’ll be photographed with Spanish royalty. When Spain won the World Cup, he went down to South Africa to party with his buddy Iker Casillas, goalie for the Spanish national team. A good three-quarters of his Facebook activity involves him playing video games with other Spanish celebrities. It seems to me, that, contrary to what his book says, he loves everything about the celebrity lifestyle except for the fact that the media controls his narrative. In a perfect world, he’d be making all the money the ads bring in and hanging out with Spanish royalty and sports stars without having to talk to journalists. I don’t knock him for that. I just wish he’d said it in his book instead of treating his fans like idiots.

Nadal-Queen-Casillas

Sometimes, I admit, I get so fed up with Nadal’s branding that I break up with him. I vow to cheer for Murray in the next tournament. Murray is a good choice because he’s the best player who isn’t Federer or Djokovic. Unfortunately, love is chemical, not logical. The moment I see Rafa grunting and snarling on court, I’m reminded of the 18 year old dripping with pasión, curling a forehand past an outstretched Andy Roddick, fist-pumping for Spanish glory. When he hits a backhand overhead as if it’s a forehand overhead, I can’t help but marvel at the world’s most well-constructed left wrist. After a few rallies, I apologize to Murray for having teased him and sheepishly retreat to the Nadal camp.

So beyond felatio, what was the point of all this?

Love, I’ve heard, is an addiction. The same brain regions light up for someone in the midst of deep romance as for someone addicted to cocaine. Both cocaine and romance trigger a dopamine surge. When accustomed to this instrument of dopamine release, if a person goes without it for an extended period of time, he becomes depressed, aching for nothing but that one thing that sets him free.

In the same way, a sports fan can grow attached to a certain player. Not to the person, but to the way the person plays a game. Rafael Nadal’s top-spin forehand, backhand overhead, and general mental fortitude have instrumented so many dopamine surges, so many moments of euphoria, that I can forgive him for almost anything. I can forgive his likely doping. I can forgive childish entitlements, like receiving in-game coaching. I can forgive having been victimized by one of the most ceramic branding campaigns in sports. I can forgive all of that because what really matters to a tennis fan is the game, and Rafael Nadal’s tennis game is something in which I have seen and recognized beauty for a sustained period of time.

So the point of this article, as with felatio, is that all anyone wants is a thrill, and, when one has been delivered, it’s nice to acknowledge it.

 

Delusion as it Relates to Sex Tourism in South East Asia

IMG_0363

On my recent trip to the Philippines and Hong Kong I was confronted with delicacies such as “Chicken Neck” and “Fried Pig Blood”. At the end of a day I would take a shower and the floor would be covered in black soot, the layer of air pollution that had accumulated having presumably washed off my body. The most repulsive deviations from Western sensibility, however, were the gray-haired white men walking around with South East Asian teenagers, the young girls smiling wide and ordering expensive drinks while the old men pet them in ways that would be inappropriate at a frat-house.

This scene is more revolting in-person than can be illustrated in prose because it isn’t just the smarmy buck-toothed grin of Mr. Grayhair while he rubs her inner thigh and ducks metronomically in for a kiss every minute or two. It isn’t just the 6-inch platform heels and plastic smile on the little girl as she rubs his potbelly. It’s that, when this guy planned a vacation and asked himself what was the closest he could come to living a fantasy, this was as far as his imagination went.

People have vibrant fantasy lives. And fantasies are necessary for orientation. We see ourselves, we see where we’d like to be, and we form strategies for getting there. Some of us imagine running major corporations. Others imagine winning an Oscar, discovering a cure for cancer, or running for President. Still others have more lifestyle-driven ideals. I’d like to split time between some combination of NY/DC/SF and Paris/London/Barcelona while doing inspiring work that generates an income at which I’d be able to enjoy luxuries and never feel financially stressed. I’d like to have a girlfriend/wife who is smart, pretty, confident, and fun and kids who are the smartest, best-looking, and most athletic in the class. In your twenties and early thirties, it seems, the major challenge is to build a world in which the fewest concessions from ideal circumstance are made.

We’re told to dream big, and we do. What we aren’t told is to lose proactively.  We are less likely praise a poker player who folded a winning hand because logic suggested his opponent’s cards were better. We are less likely to look at minor concessions and reassessments as necessary for preserving a long-term goal.

Everyone who has ever wanted something badly has reached the point at which it’s obvious a goal will not be met. When this happens, even though retreat is logical, most of us flail. When that smart, pretty, fun, and confident girlfriend/wife prospect hasn’t responded to your last 4 calls, who among us hasn’t made a 5th? For some reason Blackberry keeps releasing new models even though it’s been years since Apple and Samsung rendered it irrelevant. At this point, when it’s clear you’ve lost, what more is there to lose? It seems more appealing to ride that sinking ship as far out to sea as it’ll go than to swim back to the coast and build a new one.

Delusion, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “A false belief that is resistant to confrontation with actual facts.” ‘Deluded’ is different from ‘Misguided’ because the element of naiveté has been removed. Ms. Guided goes to Hollywood with dreams of glamour and stardom. D. Luded, after 3 years of nothing but commercial auditions, decides the solution is a nose job or implants. Delusion in others is both obvious and unattractive. Its adjective form, “Deluded,” carries none but pejorative connotations. Not because having grand fantasies is a bad thing but because remaining delusional is lazy.  It’s fixing a hole in the boat with bubble gum or replacing a broken tent leg with a tree branch. It’s too easy, a temporary fix that delays reality’s onset and thusly renders that onset even more severe.

aristotleAristotle is famous for his contention that virtue is the mean between excess and deficiency. For example, with respect to ‘pleasantness and social amusement’, deficiency is ‘boorishness’, excess is ‘buffoonery’, and the happy medium is ‘wit and charm’. Or with respect to ‘anger’, excess is ‘irascibility’, deficiency is ‘spiritlessness’ and the mean is ‘gentleness’.

On the subject of ‘confronting inconvenient truths’, I submit that deficiency is ‘delusion’. The opposite extreme, excess, your correspondent further submits, is ‘cynicism’. A cynic interprets facts honestly but is so magnetically attracted to the negative aspects that his thoughts and movements are rarely constructive. A deluded individual refuses to accept climate change as fact whereas a cynic says it’s too late to do anything about it. The deluded individual thinks the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved with a handshake between the right set of ministers. The cynic says it’s hopeless and we should let them keep killing each other. Cynicism, like delusion, is too easy. Harping on imperfections is a way of avoiding the effort required to remedy them. One could argue that cynicism is more perilous than delusion because both are inefficient behaviors, but a cynic’s incessant focus on the negative poisons the potentially positive.

So what’s the mean between delusion and cynicism? Is there a way to congeal these contrasting extremes in a way that magnifies their benefits while minimizing those unsustainable elements?

I believe there is. It takes the form of proactivity.

‘Proactive’ is defined as “Creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.” A proactive person assesses a situation honestly, reevaluates when necessary, and works towards a goal. The poker player who folds a hand that he would’ve won can win the next three if he notices that the opponent rubs his right eye when bluffing. The actress who, after 3 years of auditions, hasn’t landed a gig can transfer her skills quite profitably to marketing or PR. The guy whose calls have not been returned would do well to give up on this one and promise himself that next time he’ll wait until the second date to inquire about her SAT score and detail exactly how many kids he wants. The proactive person continues to have fantasies while drowning out delusion’s lullaby, and he sees the facts without shackling himself in negativity’s prison cell. Proactivity is neither easy nor certain, but it’s liberating, inducing confidence in a way that can only be done through energy well-directed.

And to the gray-haired, buck-toothed smarm in South East Asia, is there a proactive behavior? What do you do if you’re lonely and too old to attract your desired demographic? It could be argued that Mr. Grayhair’s behavior is more desperate and pathetic than it is deluded. Your correspondent maintains that it really is deluded, however, because the contention that a weekend with a South East Asian teenager will do anything other than deepen that loneliness and sense of being socially outcast is too absurd to consider seriously.  The challenge presented by affection-starvation is difficult, and simply paying for that affection is too easy. The more he accepts the smiles that money bought, the more he’s conditioned to believe that smiles only happen as a result of a transaction. The more derisive glares he deflects from people like me, the more accustomed he becomes to epithets such as ‘creepy’ and ‘pedophile.’ The cynic, at the other extreme, responds to affection-starvation by deeming resolution hopeless and holing himself up. The proaclolita-book-covertive play, it seems, is to concede to social norms. Is to become de, as it were, lewded. Use that money spent on the plane ticket to the Philippines to buy a nice shirt and a well-fitting pair of slacks, date someone who also watched I Love Lucy as a kid, and aim for wit and charm, the happy medium between boorishness and buffoonery.

And what to do with that pedophilic energy? Follow Nabokov’s example, perhaps. Isn’t writing just a medium whereby dissatisfied perverts spread angst? Err, I mean, uhh, isn’t writing… oh shit. I’ll just stop.

The Seductivity of Greatness: The Superstar Effect

Madonna

JK Rowling is worth $1 billion.  The average writer makes $37,000 a year.

Oprah Winfrey is worth $3 billion.  The typical actor/performer makes $50,000 annually.

Jerry Seinfeld is worth $800 million.  If a comic makes $35,000 in a year, he’s considered successful.

Economists refer to “the superstar effect” to describe top talent accounting for a staggering proportion of revenue in an industry.  And it isn’t just the entertainment industry.  A 2006 New York Times piece claims Executives at top firms make 4-times as much as those in the middle-tier.  In an increasingly globalized world, more people have access to ‘the best,’ and, therefore, ‘the best’ are rewarded in every way, especially financially, oftentimes at the expense of the very-very-good.  One hit every two weeks is the difference between a baseball player that bats .300 and one that bats .270.  The difference in salary could be $30 million.

This winner-takes-all society is a direct result of capitalism.  Whether or not it’s ‘good’ spurs the world’s ‘greatest’ economists into heated debate, from which the only takeaway is nobody really knows anything.  Conservatives claim rewarding superstars benefits the economy, as it engenders competition that improves the overall quality of goods and services, and the money spent by the royal-class eventually trickles down to the peasant level.  Liberals counter that superstar economics eliminates the middle-class.  Without redistribution, Liberals claim, class-conflict and revolution are inevitable.

Regardless of who’s right or wrong, one thing that’s certain is we live in an intensely capitalist society.  One where greatness is idolized and falling short by even the tiniest margin renders a person irrelevant to all but those in his immediate circle.  As a result, very early on, as one chooses a vocation, one must determine not only the field to which his talents translate most directly and whether or not he’s willing to work hard-enough to reach the frontier, but also if the gamble is worth it.

And it is a gamble.  A huge gamble, especially in less meritocratic fields.  If you’re LeBron James it’s less of one.  As long as LeBron remains healthy, anybody with an iota of basketball knowledge can see he’s the best and most-gifted player on the planet.  In more subjective fields, however, the difference between stardom and starvation is the whim of one-or-two gatekeepers.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example, was rejected by 14 of 15 publishers.  If the 15th hadn’t come through, JK Rowling would be worth about a billion dollars less.

Although magnified in the most glamorous professions, luck and politics play a role in every career.  Whether a lawyer gets promoted to Partner has as much to do with how well he schmoozes and with the age and racial demographics of the current Partners as with his facility with the craft.  Darwin presented his paper on evolution a few hours before Wallace presented his.  A century later it’s referred to as Darwin’s theory.  If Darwin had never existed, the only change to science would be the name attached to evolutionary theory.

In this paper, Roger Callois calls superstars’ rewards “disguised lotteries” and a “special kind of game of chance.”  The insinuation is that even attempting to be a superstar is irrational.  Quentin Tarantino raising $50,000 to produce Reservoir Dogs was so unlikely to do anything other than bankrupt him that the risk-neutral individual would never have tried.  That the industry was able to recognize his talent and that he was given the opportunity to produce Pulp Fiction is an outlier occurrence.  For Tarantino, though, the risk paid off.

ArnoldAnd this is why a person even considers his own coup at greatness.  Everyone at that level at one point took a huge risk that paid off.  In this Grantland feature, Arnold Schwarzenegger tells the story of the luckiest moment in his life.  He was 18 and in the Austrian army.  At night he worked out for 3 hours while the others were sleeping, and he worked out for 3 more hours in the morning before the other soldiers woke up.  He sacrificed 6 hours of sleep as a member of the Austrian army because of an inextinguishable notion that he could become the world’s greatest body-builder.  This is insane.  More insane is that, one day, he broke out of the military base, hopped on a freight train to Germany, and won his first ever Junior competition.  When he got back to the Austrian military facility, his superiors called him into their office and reprimanded him.  However, after he told them he won, they engineered a plan to help him out.  They would ‘punish’ him by forcing him to exercise more.  If Arnold had not had a ridiculous vision, an inhuman ability to function without sleep, unparalleled natural talent, and supportive commanding officers, he would never have become the superstar that he became.

Callois explains, “A superstar has extraordinary natural talent augmented by an even more extraordinary perseverance and drive.”  A superstar has to be crazy enough to believe that if he works hard and risks everything the odds will bend in his favor.  The superstar is crazy enough not to see it as a risk but, rather, as destiny.  In the words of Lupe Fiasco, “If you are what you say you are, a superstar, then have no fear.”

Some people take risks and are rewarded handsomely.  “Why not me?” one might ask when regaled the unlikelihood of the pursuit.  In America, kids are told from an early age that they can do anything.  This is both true and false.  You can do anything, provided you’re willing to take on enormous risk, work harder than anyone else, and have the talent and resources to substantiate it.

What if you fall short on one of these metrics?  What if you decide on a risk-averse path?  What if you get good grades in school and go on to Med or Law or Business School?  If that’s what you did, you can still try to be the best doctor, lawyer, or CEO.  But that takes as much or more work and luck as anything else.

For those of us who realize we’re never going to be the absolute best at any one thing, we do what’s within reach.  We strive to make a comfortable income at a profession we enjoy and spend free time either with friends and family or developing hobbies.  We laugh at Seinfeld, refer to Oprah for advice, and follow along as Harry Potter searches for horcruxes.  We’re comfortable, perhaps happy, and hopefully not complacent.  We spend most of our time focusing on the details that would make our little nooks more lively.  Tuesday night dinner with a friend.  The swimming pool before work.  Finding a costume for Halloween.  Loves me, loves me not.  We occasionally wonder if we could’ve made it had we taken acting classes and gone to Hollywood, or if we had moved to Spain at 8 and focused on soccer.  The ego says there’s a chance, the brain says it wouldn’t’ve been worth the risk, no way.  Either way, we’re envious of the superstar’s income, talent, and acclaim.  At the same time, we’re removed enough to realize that glory, while seductive, isn’t pre-requisite to happiness.  It’s nice that people are willing to take those risks, and it’s too bad 99% are either not good or lucky enough.  There’s nothing more inspiring than the bright-eyed 23 year-old who dreams big.  There’s nothing more pitiful than the empty-handed 45 year-old trying to convince himself the risk was worth it.

Struggling Artist

The Big Tease: Squash’s Bid for the 2020 Olympics

Get Squash In

What do you get when you link blue, yellow, black, green, and red circles in a W formation?

The Olympics needs no introduction.  Odds are you watched the London Games.  NBC broke US ratings records in 2012, as more than 219.4 million Americans tuned in, an average of 31.1 million viewers per day.  In the UK, it’s estimated 90% of the country watched for at least 15 minutes.  The Olympics’ popularity is not exclusive to Anglophones.  The 2012 Summer Olympics saw 10,568 athletes from 204 countries compete in 302 events across 28 sports.  It transforms the likes of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt from relative unknowns into international icons.  From Wall Street’s monitors split between market-movements and beach volleyball, to the Empire Tavern in Auckland that’s full at 8am for the finals of the 100m Freestyle, to this village in Africa (pictured below) huddled around one TV to watch 8 men run a race that lasts less than 10 seconds, the Olympics is the world’s premier forum for expressing nationalism through sportsmanship.

africans-watching-olympics-on-tv1

With this in mind, it’s no surprise all 28[1] Olympic sports want to stay and those outside the rings want to do a double-twist-somersault into them.  Gold medal matches and podium ceremonies springboard lesser-known sports, providing them with both exposure and seed-money.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) allots 90% of its revenue towards growing its sports.  For a niche-sport looking to expand its base, the prospect of global exposure and an IOC stipend inspires hope.

For these reasons, the World Squash Federation (WSF) has pursued an Olympic bid for over a decade.  In 2012 and 2013, the squash community united in pursuit of a spot in the 2020 games, registering more than 124,000 likes on Facebook and with its ‘Back the Bid’ YouTube clip receiving over 153,000 views.  Nothing can advance a sport like the Olympics, and the squash base knows it.

*

Squash’s case is strong.  It’s played in 185 countries and has established professional tours for both men and women.  Unlike Table-Tennis, for example, which is dominated by one country (China), squash is a truly international game.  Of the top 10 men and women in the world, 7 are British, 5 Egyptian, 2 Malaysian, 2 French, 1 Irish, 1 Spanish, 1 Indian, and 1 Kiwi.  Not one waves an American, Russian, or Chinese flag.[2]  Gold, silver, and bronze would go to countries that cherish every medal they get.

Further, a gold medal would be squash’s most coveted prize.  In the ‘Back the Bid’ YouTube clip, Nicol David, the #1 woman in the world, says she would happily trade all 6 of her world titles for an Olympic gold medal.  In other sports, an Olympic medal is a secondary achievement.  In Golf, a green jacket outranks Olympic gold, and, of course, the World Cup outranks everything in Men’s Soccer.  The IOC must know that a major reason the Olympics is so special is the athletes in less-marquee sports wait 4 years for a shot at glory.

Squash in front of Pyramids

To bolster its case even further, in the last 3 years squash has turned its biggest knock into one of its strongest selling points.  That is, it is now extremely televisable.  The requisite lunging, twisting, and cardiovascular fitness impressed Forbes enough to rank it the healthiest sport on the planet.  It is often compared to chess, as the sport’s strategic element infuses drama into every point.  Further, it wouldn’t require many resources relative to other sports.  It would account for just 64 athletes (32 men, 32 women) and two events.  As a bonus, it could be played in the country’s most scenic area, which is perfect for another of the Olympics’ ambitions: promoting tourism in the host country.  Glass courts have been set up and tournaments have been played in front of the Pyramids (pictured above) and inside Grand Central Station.

*

Achieving ‘Olympic Sport’ status is more difficult than it used to be.  An ‘Olympic Sport’ is defined as “All sports sanctioned by one international sport federation.”  Swimming and diving are different sports, for example, but are cNicol Davidonsidered one sport by the IOC because the International Swimming Federation oversees both.  The Olympics started in 1896 with a core of nine, growing steadily until 2000, when the IOC capped the number of sports at 28.  The number of events was capped at 300 and the number of athletes at 10,500.  The latter two have proven to be soft caps, as the London Olympics boasted 302 events and 10,568 athletes.  28 sports is a hard cap though, and, currently, there are exactly 28 Olympic sports.  This means a new sport can be voted in only after one of the current sports has been cut.

Since this system’s inception, just one sport has been removed.  In 2008, the IOC eliminated baseball/softball from its program and replaced it with golf and rugby sevens.  In February 2013, the IOC cut wrestling only to vote it back in seven months later.  In the midst of the IOC’s tango with the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, squash was manipulated more than anyone at the dance.  Understanding why requires a review of events leading up to the IOC’s decision to reinstate wrestling:

In February 2011, the IOC shortlisted 7 prospective sports to be added to the 2020 program.  On the list were karate, roller sports, climbing, wakeboarding, wushu, baseball/softball, and squash.  Two years later, in February 2013, after it was cut from the games, wrestling joined the mix.  In May 2013, the IOC voted to reduce its list of prospects to three: baseball/softball, wrestling, and squash.  Of the three, Squash was the only one that had not been recently voted out of the Olympics.  Salvation was within sight!  Why would an organization add something it recently eliminated?  By this logic, squash was the choice.  However, when judgment day arrived, baseball/softball received 24 votes, wrestling 49, and squash 22.  Squash had been asked to the dance, took a trip to the barber, and bought a new tuxedo, all, it discovered later, to make an ex jealous.   How is a new sport supposed to join the Olympics if the IOC simply adds the sport it had removed in order to create space for a new one?

*

In reality, though, squash was doomed the moment wrestling was voted out.  When considering Olympic Wrestling, an astute audience might remember Rulon Gardner’s unlikely triumph.  The common viewer, however, thinks of Hercules grappling with lions.  Wrestling is the epicenter of Olympic folklore.  It’s not an original Olympic sport, it’s the original Olympic sport.  It was never going to be removed, nor should it have been.  Squash had a compelling case, but when wrestling became a competitor, squash and the other prospects were doomed.

Hercules Wrestles Lion

With wrestling’s sanctity in mind, why would the IOC even toy with the idea of eliminating it?  This chart separates Olympic sports into 5 tiers based on popularity among viewership.  Group A includes the cornerstone sports: athletics, gymnastics, and swimming.  Wrestling was in Group D along with archery, canoeing/kayaking, equestrian, fencing, handball, field hockey, sailing, taekwondo, and triathlon.  Wrestling is neither viewer-friendly nor a source of revenue.  However, there is a sport that ranks even lower by both metrics.  Alone in Group E[3] stands Modern Pentathlon.

What is Modern Pentathlon?  It’s a sport created especially for the Summer Olympics and was instituted in the games in 1912.  It was designed to simulate the experience of a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines.  Competitors ride an unfamiliar horse, fight with pistol and sword, swim, and run.  It’s cool for a Civil War re-enactment, but, if the ratings can be trusted, it’s not exactly what the sporting audience wants to watch.

So why was Modern Pentathlon not nixed instead of wrestling?  The Guardian and most other media sources give two reasons.  The first is that the IOC wanted to punish wrestling for failing to modernize and become more viewer friendly.  The IOC never intended to remove wrestling from the Games.  The cut was just a scare tactic.  And it did just that.  It was a complete surprise.  Before the vote, taekwondo and Modern Pentathlon were the sports presumed destined for the gallows.  The vote jolted the wrestling world, spurring a complete renovation.

The second reason the IOC opted to ‘scare’ wrestling instead of actually eliminating a sport, The Guardian explains, is family politics.  Juan Antonio Samarach Jr., the son of the former IOC president, marshaled a furious campaign to retain Modern Pentathlon.

Squash is not in the Olympics, one could deduce, because the IOC wanted to shock the wrestling body into modernizing its sport and because the former IOC president’s son likes Modern Pentathlon.  This should be unsettling to more than just the squash community.

*

The Olympics have always been a symbol of integrity and moral superiority.  It disassembles competition and keeps only its purist parts.  It transcends not only international boundaries, but also the boundaries that constrain every-day life.  From the 1968 Black Power Salute to Kerri Strug’s perfect landing, the Games inspire the world’s citizens, creating archetypes for words like ‘courage’ and ‘champion.’

Such a reputation comes with aRamy Ashourn obligation to behave in a dignified way, something the IOC failed to do when it promised to add a new sport to its program and, instead, used this promise as leverage to scare one of its current sports into modernizing its program.  Through such deceit, the IOC defiles the very values that make the Olympics great.  Simply put, the IOC wielded a power advantage.  What can a sport like squash do except redouble its efforts and hope the process is cleaner for 2024?

For the squash community, shifting focus to 2024 can only happen once it recovers from the 2020 slight.  The most difficult losses, every squash player knows, are the ones stolen by the referee.

Until the IOC addresses this issue, the squash community’s answer to the original question—what do you get when you link blue, yellow, black, green, and red circles in a W formation—is not an event that happens every 4 years that unites the world.  It’s merely the first letter of the first word of one question that still nags, even though we know its answer: What happened?


[1] The 26 from 2012 plus Golf and Rugby Sevens, which will be added in 2016.

[2] In fact, the best American in the 2020 games would likely look like this.

[3] Golf and Rugby are in Group E because they were not in this last Olympics.  Whether or not they merit the classification is yet to be seen.

An Unsolicited Encounter, Picking up a Prostitute by Accident, by Philip S.

Pretty Woman

On Tuesday October 15, I went to the DuPont Circle Starbucks and sat next to an attractive woman dressed in a sparkly silver long-sleeve and with blue eye-makeup.

“Can I share the outlet?”

“Of course.”  She had an interesting voice, sort of musical.

“Are you British?”

“I’m from everywhere.”

“Everywhere?”

“My dad was in the military and we moved around a lot.”

“Where?”

“We lived in Germany for two years and then all over the U.S.  I hate the ‘where are you from’ question.”

“How do you like D.C.?”

“I love it!  I don’t live here.  Just here for a week.  I live in Alabama but am constantly traveling.”

“Birmingham?”

“Not even.  A small town a few miles from the Georgia border.  What about you?  Do you like D.C.?”

“I like it a lot.  Sometimes it’s too familiar, though.”

“Too familiar?”

“Ya I grew up here, and most of my friends are people I knew in high school or college.  It’s hard to see new people and do new things.”

“Wow.  I can’t even imagine.”

“You must have old friends.”

“Not really.  I moved so much growing up.”

“What do you do now?”

“I’m a model.”

“Wow.  What kind of modeling.”

“Free-lance stuff.  I’ll be in San Francisco next week.  What about you?”

“I’m finishing up a novel right now.  My agent says it’s ready to submit to publishers.  Used this as an excuse to quit a job I didn’t like.  I was a statistician.”

“That’s great!  You’re doing what you love!”

“Most people think I’m crazy.”

“Most people don’t know what crazy is.”

“I bet you have some crazy stories.”

“You have no idea,” she smiled coyly, returning attention to Macbook Pro.

Thirty minutes later, we left Starbucks and went to the The Black Fox, a bar just down Connecticut Avenue with live jazz every night.  I couldn’t believe it.  I’d parlayed Tuesday night Starbucks into drinks for two.

“A glass of Chardonnay and an espresso martini.”

“Sorry, we don’t have espresso.”

“Umm.  Then I’ll just get a rum and diet coke,” she said.

On the walk over we’d talked about books.  She asked what mine was about.  I told her it was a satire on accountability in upper class America, and, really, everywhere else.  She said she writes poetry sometimes but doesn’t know if it’s any good.  She plays piano whenever she’s alone in her house in middle-of-nowhere-Alabama.  Russian literature is her favorite, she said, but it’s so depressing.  I’d just read The Luzhan Defense by Nabokov and didn’t like it precisely because it was so depressing.  It’s about a Russian kid who gets bullied a lot and becomes good at chess.

I asked about her family.  She’s the third youngest of 9, living in middle-of-nowhere-Alabama but traveling constantly for work.  I then asked more about her job, and she continued to be evasive.  She asked about my family, and I told her.  I showed a picture of my brother.  She squeezed my arm and said we looked like twins.  “Well, we are,” I said.  Conversation hovered on the twins subject.  I put a hand on her knee.  It was a nice knee.  Very fit.  She’s half-Asian, Korean mother, Scottish father.  She has a bright smile, and she was just as pretty from up close as from far away.

A drink in, she was feeling it, and I again asked about her job.  She exhaled, leaned over, and whispered, “I’m not really a model.”  I said OK.  She leaned over again, “I’m an escort.”

“Wow.  Really?”

“Is that repulsive?”

“No.  People do what they need to do.”

“You really had no idea?”

“The sparkly shirt and the eye-make-up are a bit flashy by D.C. standards.  But I figured it’s normal wherever you’re from.”

“I never tell people what I do.  It’s embarrassing.”

“I don’t mind.  A writer just wants to hear stories.”

“Oh I’ve got stories.”

“What does your family think you do?”

She has a five-year-old son named Alexander, after Alexander the Great, living in Tampa with the parents of her ex-husband.  She’s 27, comes from an abusive household and an abusive marriage.  She started working a year and a half ago, after the divorce.  Her husband had taken out student loans in her name and bought cars with the money.  She’s Mormon and only started drinking this summer when a client introduced her to espresso martinis.  She got married at 18 because religion and family pressured her into it.  She was the prettiest girl in her high-school, and her ex-husband came from the most well-to-do family in their small town in Tennessee.  It was a logical match.

“Sounds like everything that can possibly go wrong conspired against one individual.”

“Ya I know. All you can do is laugh.”

“Ya.  You’ve been laughing all night.”

The band finished the bluesy ballad and the saxophonist bowed before taking a fifteen minute break.  We’re the only people at the bar.  At 10:30 on a Tuesday night in D.C., a jazz bar is an unlikely locale.

“What about you?  How can you just quit a job?”

“I have enough saved up.  I can job-search a few months.”

“No loans?”

“Nope.  I’m lucky.  My parents paid for all my college stuff.”

“Wow.  You’re lucky.”

“It’s sort of what my book is about.  Privilege.  Capitalism’s false promise of equal opportunity.”

“What do you mean?”

“It doesn’t take into account that family wealth is so important.  If you have parents who can provide, you can mess up four or five times and end up fine.  If you don’t, you have to get everything right on the first try.  Eventually you have the privileged multiplying their advantage and the less-privileged falling further.”

“Ya.”

“I just hate when people act like they deserve to be where they are.”

“It’s cool that you’re writing a book.”

“Never said it was good.”

“I’d read it,” she squeezed my arm again.

“Tell me more about what you do.  How do you get people to actually pay up?”

“I ask for cash up-front.  I don’t have problems getting people to pay.”

“Cash?”

“I do everything in cash.  Hotels, hospitals, flights.  It’s tough because a lot of times airlines and hotels won’t accept the money.  I can’t use cards though.  Most girls get caught either flaunting money or with drugs.”

“Do you do drugs?”

“Nope.  Never.”

“You don’t have a pimp?”

“I had one, but he stole a lot from me.  I switched to another who did as well.  So now I just have an online profile and demand cash up-front.  Getting paid isn’t a problem.  It’s other stuff.”

“Is there anything about your job that you like?”

She says there are parts she likes.  She’s free.  An entrepreneur.  Running her own business.  The only part she doesn’t like is client relations.  I asked if she ever liked a client.  “As much as a client can be a good client,” she said.  She’s never had a real orgasm but fakes so well nobody ever knows.  She repeatedly said she’s the best and seemed to take pride in it.  She’s the one-in-a-million who’s clean, all-natural, young-enough, pretty, personable, and willing to do WHATEVER the client wants.  This makes for degrading situations.  “Think bodily fluids,” she explained.  She hinted that she’s been “unlucky” recently, and I didn’t ask what that meant.  The job, she says, is lonely.  She can’t talk to anyone.  Around clients she’s acting, and to people who know her as Rachel, her real name, she hides her profession.  It’s how she maintains sanity.  When she’s with a client, she’s ‘performing’.  It isn’t ‘her’ who does those things, it’s the character.

“Are you performing right now?”

“No.  This is the real Rachel.”

“What does the other Rachel do?”

“She’s super touchy and tells guys how great they are.  I’m the best.  Clients post reviews online.  I really am the best.”

“Have you ever done porn?”

“No.  If I did it, the act would be over.  This is fine because it’s anonymous.  I wish I could be a better mom though.  I travel down to Tampa and visit every month or so, but it’s not enough.  It hurts to not be there.  I want my son to know his mom cares about him.”

“Do you have other options?  You’re smart and personable.  I bet you could teach pre-school or wait tables.”

“You think?”

“You’d probably have to know somebody who knows somebody.  But I bet you could figure it out.”

“My ex-husband’s mom was a teacher.  She got $40,000 a year.  That’s nothing!”

“True.  I bet you make a lot more.”

“The money is nice.”

“You can’t do this forever though.”

“I think I can only handle it psychologically for another three or four years.”

“Then what?”

“Who knows?”

After the second drink, the room was spinning, she said.  I got the bill, and she went to the bathroom.  I needed to go as well, so I followed.  It’s a coed bathroom, and there’s a picture of man and a woman on the door.  “Guy and girl!  Let’s make it a threesome!” she said in a joking way.  I waited for her to go, and I went after.  The whole time I was thinking that threesomes for her are probably as commonplace as spreadsheets for me.

New Yorker Threesome

Her hotel, the Hilton, was only two minutes away, so I walked her back.  It was drizzling, and we shared the hood of my grey Princeton hoodie.  I was wondering how the night would end.  She really couldn’t hold her liquor.  Just two drinks and stumbling everywhere.  About 20 yards from the hotel entrance, she stopped and said she had fun.  I said I had a great evening as well.  I did.  Then she stalled a minute or so.

“You live in Chinatown?  That’s so far away.”

“I’ll hop on a Capital Bikeshare.  It’s a ten minute ride.”

She then said something about how she has to change hotels every day and she’ll be in Chinatown tomorrow.

“I think I’ll go to a hockey game tomorrow night,” she said.

“Enjoy it!”

We hugged goodbye, and she took my number with a pen and paper.  Haven’t heard from her since.

A lot of things have passed through my mind.  I wish I’d asked her rate.  Just to know.  If she’s really the best and guys are flying her in and putting her up at the Hilton, one of the best hotels in Washington, I bet she makes 5-figures-a-week.  If she charges that much, she might’ve had a famous client or two.  I wish I’d asked.  It’d be funny to learn about Dick Cheney’s black dildo fetish, for example.  A lot of the money she makes probably goes to hospital bills, child-support, and body maintenance.  That said, she makes more money than she needs.  If she put in the effort to become a pre-school teacher, she’d make $40,000 a year.  She wouldn’t be staying at the Hilton or going to Capitals games, but she’d also be able to live with her son, and she wouldn’t have to tell a stranger to “think bodily fluids.”  A lot of prostitutes do it because they can’t do anything else, but Rachel, I think, does it because the lifestyle it affords allows her to forget she’s a single mom without friends or family and with debt that she has no real way of paying off.  This is the second saddest part of the encounter.  The saddest part is, given a different set of circumstances, her entrepreneurial attitude might be on display in Silicon Valley.

Part of me wishes I’d followed the night all the way through.  It would’ve been easy to ‘hang out a little longer.’  I’d like to know if, at the door, she would’ve turned and said, “A-thousand-an-hour, five-thousand-a-night,” or was it really as innocent and random as it seemed?  I was both saddened and impressed by my choices.  Under other circumstances, under the circumstance of her being a “model” and not an “escort,” I would’ve jumped at the chance to continue the evening.  But a model has better things to do than get a drink with a guy in an orange T-shirt and sear-sucker shorts wearing a Wimbledon backpack.  On my end, I was curious about what ‘the best in the business’ could offer, but I didn’t want herpes.  I wasn’t willing to believe she was as clean as she claimed.

Overall, though, I’m grateful for the interaction.  It was sweet.  It was random.  It was two people from completely different places exchanging stories and making a night a little less lonely.