February 18, 2014 § 2 Comments


“Damn it,” Jeff says. “That’s it. I can’t see the Olympics. I’m ordering cable.” He has always been a fan of figure skating; he had a huge crush on Surya Bonaly.

“No! Can’t we just get a new antenna or something?” I say.  “We can’t go back. Surely there’s a way.” NBC is a snowy black and white dream image, but we can kind of make out the skaters. Enough to know who wins.

See, it has gotten to be a thing with me. I refuse to pay for nine million channels I don’t want, just so I can watch sports. We learned how to get Duke basketball games from a European website (from a friend who shall remain nameless). We got a digital antenna for most of the local channels. Everything was perfect. We could get Netflix and basketball—what more did we need? My children were totally used to the scantily clad women advertised in the millions of pop-up screens before each game.

“Delete the girl with the butt,” I’d say, and they’d do it like I’d said, “turn up the volume.” Even early on, when we were offered Russian Brides who were really hot for us, we weren’t phased. The ends justified the means. This was ACC basketball we were talking about, after all. My boys understood the urgency. We made jokes about the bad feeds and rebooting. “Look, Mom,” Jack Henry would say when the feed lapsed and players were stuck in motion. “That guy has some serious hang time.”

My sister with a background in copyright law was a bit concerned, but I argued it was not like ripping off artists. “We already pay for Internet, but they won’t give us access to the ESPN websites.” She turned a blind eye, even though I could tell she didn’t approve. Like I said, it’s basketball.

Let me flash back here to the quadrennial family gatherings of my and Jeff’s youth: The Olympics really were an event, and not just an advertising bonanza, though they were that too. No, my children, in the olden days, we gathered around the television and watched the USA as a family.  We hung on the announcers’ every word. For every sport, But this was before Slope style and Ice Dancing. This was in the days of the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat. For both my family and Jeff’s, this was patriotic. We had, after all, just boycotted the Olympics in Russia. Still, I was in love with the most Russian of sports: gymnastics in the summer and figure skating in the winter. My birthday falls smack in the middle of the winter games and I would imagine myself ascending the podium and Peggy Fleming or someone saying: She gave it her all, on her seventeenth birthday, and it was enough to bring home the gold for the USA. Never mind that I was never outstandingly athletic in any sport. I could still imagine it. Never mind that when Jeff sees CO4U on the screen, he sees a weird code; when I see it, after studying four years of Russian in college, I read Sochi in Cyrillic. The Olympics in Russia! We knew we could not miss the games, even if it meant giving into the capitalist system. It was our duty as Americans.

At work, on one campus where I teach, I sit in a cube behind a Russian woman. She sits behind a Brit. You can’t help hearing everything in a cube farm, and I’m nosy.

“What do you think of the Olympics being in Sochi?” the Brit asks the Russian.

“It’s great! We used to gather around the TV,” the Russian says. She is maybe a few years older than me, “The whole family would watch figure skating,” she says. She still has the accent you imagine. “Even my grandmother. It was a big deal, even though it was in black and white.  We would listen to the announcers because we couldn’t see the colors. They would describe everything. I miss that.”

I don’t say anything, since I’ve been like, spying on a Russian speaking to a Brit, but I want to tell her I know how it feels. I miss it too, the imagining the Olympics as they happen. Now, I’m willing to pay anything. I want be nostalgic  the American way: in HD.


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