5 EXTINCT OLYMPIC SPORTS Sport: Tug-Of-War Last Year Played: 1920 Reason: Today, tug-of-war is relegated to grade-school gymnasiums, misguided team-building exercises and reality shows such as Survivor. But once upon a time, yanking on a length of rope and sending your opponents tumbling to the ground was considered the height of athletic achievement. The rope-a-dope lasted till 1920, with the group from Great Britain immortalized as the last men standing.
Sport: Jeu de Paume Last Year Played: 1908 Reason: Centuries ago, the French developed a forerunner to tennis called jeu de paume—that is, “palm game.” Contestants took to an indoor court and, using their hands, thwacked a ball back and forth, before the sport evolved to include rackets. In 1908, jeu de paume made its Olympic debut—and departure—during the London Olympiad, where American Jay Gould II bested a field of 11 and won gold.
Sport: Croquet Last Year Played: 1900 Reason: Along with bocce ball, croquet is one of those lazy-Sunday lawn games best played with a drink in hand. Croquet’s first, and only, Olympic appearance took place in 1900, in Paris. The French Olympians did their nation proud, sweeping all the medals—mainly because no one else entered. The 1904 Olympics featured the one and only roque competition (a croquet variation called played on a hard surface instead of grass), which the U.S. swept because, once again, no one else entered.
Sport: Cricket Last Year Played: 1900 Reason: Just like Brits can’t understand American football, cricket perplexes most citizens on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. And thanks to the sport’s poor showing in the 1900 Olympics, Americans will never need to decode the phrase “sticky wicket.” During those Games, a quartet of teams from France, Great Britain, Belgium, and the Netherlands were scheduled to compete. However, the Belgians and Dutch dropped out, leaving Great Britain to battle France—a team mainly composed of British expats. Soon after the debacle, the sport was shown the back door.
Sport: Golf Last Year Played: 1904 Reason: Perhaps if Tiger Woods had been alive in the early 20th century, golf would not have been nixed from the Olympics after the 1904 event, which was an “international” contest only in spirit. Of the 77 competitors that year, 74 were from the United States, while the remaining three golfers hailed from Canada. But don’t shed a tear, lovers of holes-in-one: The sport is scheduled to return to the Olympics in 2016.
GPOY I attended my cousin’s wedding yesterday. The reception was held at the beautiful Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. This was actually my first “American” wedding and it was great celebrating this joyous moment with my extended family. The food was fantastic. The first course was a spinach salad with walnut, sweet onions and tangerines. The second course was chicken with lemon garlic sauce, roast beef with mushroom sauce, herb rice, and vegetables. And desert, of course, was a slice of wedding cake.
There was a photo booth at the wedding, so my family (+ my sister’s boyfriend) decided to take one together. Awe. It came out really nice.
Congratulations Angela & Derrick, may your time spent together be joyous.
THE ‘BUSY’ TRAP If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”
Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.
Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.
The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Not long ago I Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college — she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. (She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”) What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’être was obviated when “menu” buttons appeared on remotes, so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.