Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tina Rowley: The Bittersweet Symphony of Sports

Sports, you say? You’d like me to talk about sports. “Excuse me, ma’am. You appear to have two hands. If you could just run over here for one second and perform the other half of this appendectomy, that’d be tops. What? I SAID, You APPEAR to have TWO HANDS. Oh, well. Be off with you, sissy!”

Sissy is right. Well, no, sissy is wrong. I mean, screw you! I’ve been through two childbirths, and was a rubber-stamped hero during both of those deals. And you can march up to me with your worst, most horrifying emotional problem, and I can look at it smack in the gruesome face with you. You can’t scare me. Whatever it is, it’s peanuts, and we can crack it together.

Just don’t ask me to come out and play softball with you on a Saturday afternoon because I swear to God I will BREAK.

It began early. It was piped into our house like Muzak*, pumped into the air like laughing gas*. Weee’re noooot spoooorts peeeeeople. And we weren’t sports people. We were brain people. (Oh, well, my mom’s brothers in Finland - my twin uncles Jorma and Esko - they were local soccer stars/ladies’ men. But blood doesn’t travel all the way over the sea, am I right? No, it stays in soccer player’s bodies, right where it always was.) My dad and brother both went to Harvard. My grandfather was a brainy, bespectacled fellow who’d been known to have tea with Heisenberg of an afternoon. Education was his baby. No, it’s a miracle I was born with a body at all.

*What positively dental images. Apropos. What do I fear as much as I fear participating in sports? That’s right. That guy. I require valium and nitrous oxide to merely open my mouth in your office to say hello, Dr. Svore. Thank you for hooking me up. See you soon. Don’t be alarmed if I appear to have aged.

At our house, we read books, and we watched the two hours of TV we were allowed to watch in a day, and I made my dolls act out Jane Austen storylines. (Occasionally, it was Jane Austen After Hours, but that’s another topic altogether.) When I was seven years old, my older brother was diagnosed with Perthes disease in his left hip. He was on crutches for ten months. Big black and silver numbers. He got very fast with them, and could give terrifying chase around the house if I crossed him. David’s Perthes diagnosis marked the onset of the Atmosphere of Infirmity that pervaded our household approximately forever after that. We were all sick all the time. Bronchitis, nervous breakdowns. Migraines. The vapors. It was almost a daily competition to see who was the most ailing. Competition! Hey! Sports!

Thanks to a congenital heart murmur, I was eventually able to get P.E. waived. Sweet relief. No more making up fake excuses to sit out T-ball. No more, “My doctor said I’m supposed to sit down and rub my leg every day at 10 am.” No more crab soccer. Little sorry to say goodbye to that big nylon parachute thing that they’d bring out some days, where everybody grabbed an end and we whooshed it into the air and ran underneath it and brought it back over our heads. I’d do that right this minute, if there were enough of us and somebody had a parachute.

I want to say that I don’t hate sports. Once every five or so years, I love them for a minute. The Mariners in 2001? Right after they got Ichiro? Oh, dreamy! Ichiro. Ichiro is a sportsman I can get into because he doesn’t seem like a person, quite. He seems magical and fake and elegant, like Bugs Bunny*. He’s not going to beat my brother up behind the junior high. And the Seahawks in 2006? They were in the Superbowl! They lost, but they were given no choice. The song that was played for them when they ran onto the field? The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony. Really? Really? That whole thing was rigged. Something special is bound to happen in 2011, though. I’m due.

*Yes, I think Bugs Bunny is elegant, in his way. Not vocally, maybe. And his feet aren’t. Other than that, though.

Watching sports is fine. Playing sports is horrific. When I was in junior high, and trying to finesse my way into some measure of popularity, I fell in with a group of little ladies that were known, forgive us, as The Preps. A softball team was formed, named eponymously. We played in Levi’s and Top-Siders, and sewed little alligators onto our jerseys. Our coach’s dad worked for Domino’s, so we got free pizza every time we won, ergo we were undefeated, no thanks to me. All the other girls were sporting wizardesses, so all I had to do was show up with a nice personality and try not to get in the way. The feeling of being out on the field, or at bat*…oh. Horrid heart-pounding responsibility. And the shame. Everyone was so nice, “Hey, Tina! You made contact that time!” Thanks, thanks. Feels GREAT. My body vibrated with terror during every play. I didn’t want to let everyone down and I knew I was going to, every time. Nobody cared, we won every game and went and collected our pizza, but I ate mine shamefacedly, because I knew I hadn’t kicked in.

*A group of friends and I used to have a game where we’d pick the wrongest at-bat songs ever, if we were professional baseball players. Best choice ever: Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair”.

There was an exception. I had a brief and joyful affair with tennis when I was a freshman in high school. I somehow forgot to care that I was a terrible tennis player. The “fwoomp” sound of the ball hitting the racket hypnotized me into a state of oblivious bliss, and there wasn’t really a team to let down. I could only harm myself. But that’s a story for another time, a time that has already passed, a story that I have already told somewhere else.

I’m trying to imagine what I would do if I were suddenly forced into an afternoon’s softball game. I’m older, now, and wiser, and maybe kinder to myself than I once was. I could probably wangle a couple hours’ worth of character-building out of it. The inner monologue would probably be worth transcribing. But it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t resemble anything close to fun. Tell whoever’s putting that shit together that I have a dentist’s appointment.


  1. Absolutely brilliant. Which is precisely what I was expecting from the charming Tina Rowley.

  2. I can relate. Participating in sports petrifies me. Well said.

  3. crab soccer! why did anyone think that was a good idea?

  4. that was great! i can totally agree re: bugs bunny. that rabbit was dapper as fuck.

  5. You made me laugh at least three times :)

    I got out of P.E. too, due to a neuromuscular disease. Gym class is stupid. Everyone else had to take it but we all turned out just fine. It's stupid!

  6. I love you, Tina. I really do.

    There's nothing constructive here. I am in awe.

    Ha! I finally learned how to post with my SwirlyBear account. I R SMART!