The Surreality of 2016

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As I sit at my keyboard, I try to think of a word to encapsulate the year 2016. I do my best thinking while consuming coffee or sugary dairy products, so I had decided to combine the two and make a homemade eggnog latte.

Before I continue, I’m fully aware that eggnog can be controversial. It’s something that people either love or really, really hate. Much like Hillary Clinton. There’s no middle ground. But I’m one of those people that adores eggnog. I don’t care if my cholesterol takes a 15-point hike during the holidays, I’m still gonna drink it.

Sipping my beverage, I find out that dictionary tycoon Merriam-Webster already announced its Word of the Year – “surreal.” An adjective, it describes something “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” From happenings in politics, sports and culture, to local news around Patterson, it seems like an apt summation of 2016.

In national politics, we began the year with roughly 14 presidential candidates from the two major parties – among them former governors, U.S. senators and even a brain surgeon. Yet, of all those candidates, the eventual winner was a wealthy former reality television star with a questionable haircut.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games were the sport highlights of 2016. When the world descended upon Rio de Janeiro, we were treated to many feats of athletic prowess. Our local Paralympic hero Danielle Hansen earned a silver, while superstar Michael Phelps brought home 6 medals – including 5 golds. We haven’t seen that much gold pillaged out of South America since the 16th century.

If that wasn’t enough excitement, we also got to witness four-time Olympian Ryan Lochte’s performance as a drunken and idiotic man-boy destroying a Rio public bathroom. Good times.

Anyway, in terms of pop culture, I would like to discuss the dominance of superhero movies and why the hell we need so many television shows featuring zombies. I’m sorry to break it to you, but superheroes and zombies are fictional. There’s more of a chance of me leaping out of my wheelchair and dancing the Macarena than there is of anyone getting attacked by a zombie. I don’t care what you read on the internet.

Speaking of fictional things, this year we also had folks roaming around looking for cartoon Pokemon on their smartphones. While the popularity of the game has waned, the surreality of it has not.

Finally, in less time than it takes to find Pikachu, the new Flying J truck stop on Sperry Avenue was completed. I’m not sure what kind of super-fast wizard built that structure, but they were clearly in Slytherin House. That’s some dark magic happening right there. I wasn’t aware that something could be constructed that quickly. I think someone should refer those folks to Caltrans.

While 2016 may have been surreal, here’s hoping your new year is not. Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017!

Sport Fatigue

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After weeks of ingesting countless hours of Olympic and Paralympic (yay, Danielle Hansen!) coverage, I can easily say that I am worn out. Between events on television and those streamed online, it was nonstop action. As evidenced by my last column, I’m a huge fan of the Olympics. During these weeks, I show more devotion to watching sports than Donald Trump has to his assorted wives.

But, this kind of dedication was exhausting. I became a hermit, an anti-social, a puffy-faced recluse that ate too many Cheez-Its. Frankly, it was like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un had taken up residence in my house. When I wasn’t worried about the USA team dropping the baton in a track relay or vandalizing a Rio gas station, I was watching badminton birdies fly across my television screen like hypersonic gnats. It was all too much.

This led me to a startling conclusion. Being a sport fan is not good for my health. Maybe there’s a reason I don’t care for professional sports— it’s too damn stressful and time-consuming. Honestly, I don’t know how sport fans do it week-by-week and year-after-year. And I probably shouldn’t even mention the Chicago Cubs. Those poor fans have been waiting for a World Series for so long that they probably order Xanax by the truckload.

So, given my post-Olympic fatigue, I decided to do what most people do when they are experiencing distressing symptoms or ailments. I looked them up online. I discovered that the anxiety felt by a die-hard sport fan is a real thing.

Whether a favorite sport team wins, or not, is out of our control. Yet our brains are psychologically wired to think that we can still influence and impact the things that we care about. So when we can’t, we may feel helpless, anxious, angry or upset.

Unlike most other real-life relationships and friendships, the connection that a fan has to their team is not truly reciprocal. A fan may love and idolize their team— they can purchase game tickets, t-shirts and watch them every season. But, the team itself is not really reciprocating that adoration. How can they? They don’t know you personally. Yet, a true, healthy connection can happen— when a fan spends time with other fans in a meaningful way— and that’s great, and much more fulfilling.

Learning this made me feel better. Hope it helps you, too. Just remember, you truly can’t control whether or not your team’s quarterback scores a touchdown, fumbles the ball or refuses to stand during the National Anthem. But, you can control whether or not you are bothered by it.

Sports? You can have it. I’ll just stick to Cheez-Its.

Olympic drama

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At long last, the Summer Olympic Games have arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a self-proclaimed Olympic junkie, I’m quite excited. I look forward to the Olympics in the same way that some people anticipate other life milestones.

For example, you may get a bright zing of happiness when you meet your grandchild for the first time. I get that same feeling when I see Michael Phelps swim the anchor leg of the 4×100-meter relay. While this might have something to do with the tiny Speedo he wears, I really can’t be certain.

Given the recent world tragedies and the deteriorating political tone here at home, I think we all need a hefty dose of the Olympic spirit. I’m tired of listening to politicians that sound like schoolyard bullies. I’d much rather watch athletes hurl pointy javelins across a field than endure presidential candidates slinging insults on Twitter.

In 1896, the modern Olympics were founded on the principles of international cooperation and sportsmanship. Since that time, athletes from around the world have gathered together every four years to compete.

Despite the best intentions of the Olympic movement, it has occasionally fallen prey to world events over the years. In 1916, 1940 and 1944, the Olympics were canceled because of two messy and unfortunate World Wars. It’s hard to gather together in peace and cooperation when much of the world is too busy trying to kill one another.

Even geopolitical disagreements have left their mark on the Games. In 1980 and 1984, respectively, the Americans and Soviets decided to boycott each other’s Olympic Games. Like sulky teenagers refusing to attend a birthday party, the two superpowers decided that not attending the Olympics in their rival’s country was better than attending.

This doesn’t make sense to me. If you don’t go to the birthday party, everyone else is going to eat all the cake. And Olympic cake is the best. It’s shiny and comes in three flavors – gold, silver and bronze. Why wouldn’t you want a piece of that? Silly, silly people.

The Olympics can be a powerful economic and political tool, as well. In 1936, a dude named Adolf Hitler hosted the Games in Berlin. He recognized that it was the perfect time to convince Germans, and the world, that reclaiming their nationalistic identity led to success. By getting back to their pure Aryan roots, they’d be more powerful than ever and the world would bow at their feet.

Unfortunately for Adolf, an African-American man named Jesse Owens was a hiccup in this Olympic vision. Mr. Owens’s four gold medals made him the hero of the Games – a fact that made Chancellor Hitler’s little, ugly mustache burn most annoyingly. Gotta love the Olympics.

No offense to fans of the NFL, NBA and MLB, but you just don’t get this same kind of drama and excitement.

Four years is definitely worth the wait.