I always get excited about the Olympics; I find them extraordinarily comfortable and reassuring in that Weather Channel sort of way, pleasingly static yet always on, so that if you find yourself woken in the dead of night by a dream in which your pillows are suddenly crawling with spiders (erm, hypothetically), you could blunder out to the living room, ignite the flatscreen and discover that somewhere on the planet people are playing out their lives’ dreams on a court or a field or a mat or a luge track or whatever they do curling on. Shuttlecock, I think.
But that was before I watched parts of my first ever Winter X Games, and now I am officially amending my stance: the Winter X Games are the greatest sporting event in the galaxy and make the Olympics look like recess at fat camp.
I’ve never really paid attention to the X Games, thanks mostly to an erratic relationship with cable and an overriding impulse, which I spot-evolved sometime around my 30th birthday, to swear off interacting with, drinking or being in the same arena with anything “Extreme,” which is really too bad, as I can perform a version of “More Than Words” which will melt your face. But as deeply as I care about my work, I’m basically writing on my stupid not-iPad right now with one eye, as the other is glued to the TV, where athletes in Master Chief masks are achieving feats of airborne stupidness I defy anyone with a soul to ignore. At the time of writing I have gone “whoop” twice.
The Winter X Games live at the junction of youthful ambition, the simmering desire to remain forever outside parentally accepted career paths and a very real need to want to kill yourself, preferably on television, in a manner which, it will be enthusiastically agreed by everyone at your wake, was completely awesome. I haven’t shut them off in hours. Earlier I had my son with me, a 5-year-old spongeperson who I am secretly but firmly wishing will one day be one of these boneheads flinging themselves into the air upon heavy-looking snowmobiles, which could probably crush a herd of water buffalo, let alone a driver, who looks for all the world like the Velveteen Rabbit vying for control of the Batcycle. If anyone knows of a scholarship program about this, e-mail me.
It is a magical world. Everything in the X Games is identified by cryptic series of numbers — “He’s going for the 130 but if he can hit the 270 he can stay sitting on the 213, which is fierce!” someone just said. Announcers talk like this all the time on the X Games; they speak in the assured tones of professionals using as much logic as can be assigned to a situation in which this many people clearly want to expire violently. They’re not terribly accurate though; one guy just called something a “double,” though by my count the whirling dervish of stubble and Taco Bell decals on the board swiveled around like 15 times. I have literally lost count of the number of times on this single pipe run that I would have landed in a manner that would invert the whereabouts of my spine and feet. (Although that said, and because I’m a simple man, it’s tough to not meet every wipeout with a quietly satisfied, “All right.”)
Here’s my problem with these announcers, though: The athletes are rocketing themselves into the air on wafer-thin planks and spinning around and spinning some more and failing largely to land in a way that would force their organs out of their mouths, and all the announcers can do is complain. “Will he bring out something we haven’t seen before?” says one of them goadingly, as though ski-clad dingbats hurtling through space with sticks pointing, alternately, at their brains and special parts is the very definition of suburban boredom. “The judges are saying, ‘It’s great that you can do a double big hard move but can you do it with style?'” he continues, this last word punctuated in a way that you can almost feel the announcer’s hipster beard growing with every adjective.
For the record, I have no idea what that double big hard move is; they flashed the official name on the screen just now, but the words went fast and my eyes are old. Oh wait, there it is: SWITCH DOUBLE MISTY MUTE 440. Misty Mute may here be the name of a person or a maneuver, and that I will never know the truth is one of the pure wonders of the Winter X Games. Actually for that matter, Switch Double may be a person, too.