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Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2000

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

We must interrupt our bowling for a thrilling Olympic moment


Equality of the sexes I generally accept as a fundamental truth -- as certain as sunrise in the east, the rhythm of the tides and bubbles in the o-furo.

Yet -- curse me if you will -- there is one arena in which I feel women can never match up with men. An arena, in fact, which many consider the very core of life.

I am talking, of course, about sports knowledge. Specifically sports trivia and the command thereof.

Now I know there are female athletes and female commentators and even female sports bar operators. Women whom I realize know their stuff.

Yet until the day I hear of wholesale legions of women levering back their easy chairs and frantically surfing through channels to find any sporting event whatsoever -- and then slurping their beer with relief when they finally hit upon professional bowling from Peoria -- then, and only then, will I say women have the same heart for sports as men.

In my house, this interest gap is perhaps more dramatic than most. For even though my Japanese wife hails from a culture that absolutely adores athletics, her personal sports knowledge can be described in but a single word: zilch.

She can't tell a hockey stick from a 3-wood and if life as we know it depended on her ability to distinguish Tiger Woods from Mark McGwire, then that life would have but a 50 percent chance of surviving.

Most of the time, fortunately, she leaves the sports blubbering to me and my sports-hooked second son, joining in our earnest TV viewing only to add apropos comments such as: "How come they keep playing with their costumes dirty?"

But there is one time when she leaps right into our verbal fray. One time when she rubs shoulders with us sporty men and attempts to shout us into the sidelines.

One moment that turns her from a sports vacuum into a sports volcano. From a gentle wife and mother into an apron-wrapped Dennis Rodman.

That moment? Why, the friendly fellowship of the Olympic games. What else?

George Orwell once essayed that he believed the brotherhood born from international sports to be a blunt fallacy. That instead of uniting nations with hugs of competition, sporting events rather urged them to knock each other's brains out. While Orwell missed the mark about "1984," in this case I sense he might have had something.

Happily, much of any Olympics focuses on individuals. It's hard not to respect and cheer the singular efforts of each and every athlete, the heroes and heroines of Sydney being perfect examples.

Yet, when it comes to team competition, the situation can turn tense. In our case, we wisely clap for both our homelands . . . unless they face one another. Then . . .

"Hit 'em! Kick 'em! Sock 'em in the jaw!"

The fire of the moment overcomes my wife. Who cares that softball is not a contact sport. She roots to win.

"BEAT 'EM!"

Where she learned to scream like this I do not know. As for me, I was trained by my father who -- whenever the Chicago Bears pulled offsides -- would grab the TV set and roar "YOU MORONS!" so loud that all the players would spin and look at our screen.

"Watch the bunt! Watch the bunt!" I now bellow at the Americans, as if I was the only one who could sniff such strategy. The pitch, however, is a called strike.

"I think that judge is blind," my wife professes. "I think he has two glass eyes."

"That judge," I instruct, "is really an umpire with the vision discrepancy of a nuclear microscope. The day he makes a mistake is the day my hair grows back."

Now that day rushes upon us as the Japanese batter walks. "That guy is blind," I suddenly realize. "He's calling the game with his ears!"

"Ooh, you Americans. Such sore losers. I hope Japan beats you by a billion points!"

I hope not, as my wife's victory dance for a single run takes five minutes.

"Softball, bah! This is nothing. Now if these were men and Mark McGwire was in the game then it would mean something!"

She pushes her nose in my face. "That golfer? Bring him on!"

"Japan is gonna get crushed and you know it!"

For a moment she slips from sports into Zen philosophy and rears back her arm. "How would you like to learn the sound of one hand slapping?!"

Of course, this is all a tad exaggerated. We don't dive at each other's throats over mere games. Especially if we have company present.

And I secretly admit, even though Japan sometimes celebrates its victories with a bit too much zeal, America and other powerhouse nations do win far too often (like in softball). Olympic moments reach their peak in the applause for the underdogs . . . those little engines that could.

When our two countries stop clawing at each other and the tube turns to other venues, my wife -- like so many of her sex -- soon staggers in the swirl of jock lingo.

Me: How many boards does Kidd need for a triple double?

Son: Too many. He'll never get them from the point. They need to slip him into the four spot and let Payton run the O.

Wife: Huh?

Just like a woman. She rises from the sofa and announces she has had enough.

"Does anyone want to take a walk?"

We men don't budge. For until it finished this past Sunday, nothing could tear us from the Olympics.

And now?

Who knows. We are still searching for bowling.



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