I guess I never got the memo on WINNING. The message? Contrary to Shakespeare, "All that glitters IS gold." Really? Winning may have been Charlie Sheen's mantra, but maybe we should all just take a chill pill, and try zen.
Unless you've been hibernating on a beach in Bora-Bora, or cut off from civilization, you cannot have missed the recent string of competitive events, from Westminster to Sochi. Amidst the rivalry in the dog show rings and ice rinks, we may be missing the sportsmanship for the skates.
It's not that I don't enjoy a good team sport. I loved volleyball in junior high school gym and supporting my team, but I honestly think I loved my navy blue short shorts more than getting ahead. I also loved All-Borough Chorus, but what I loved most was the blending of altos and sopranos, the mingling of our female voices. I never really wanted to win the solo.
Now I can't deny that I had Olympic fever. Yup. I was just as glued to the ice as the next fan, up every school night watching ice hockey, ice dancing, and free ice skating. I had NBC insomnia all the way from the Iceberg Stadium to Bob Costas, from Scott Hamilton to Jimmy Fallon. From half-pipes to hockey, snowboarding to slalom, I was obsessed with commentaries and comparisons, ocd'ing on over-achieving athletes and over-analysis of swizzles and lutzes.
But why the endless emphasis on Olympic gold, Oscars, Best in Show? Can't we simply smile and enjoy the game? Why the grimaces, the glowers, the frowns? We know the U.S. Women's hockey team was heartbroken, but why the constant harping on winning? What ever happened to grace and good sportsmanship?
Who can ever forget Kerrigan and Harding, Dueling Ice Queens -- the twisted sisters knotted up in their rival ice skate laces.
In the Los Angeles 1932 Olympics, Shunzo Kido, from the Japanese equestrian team, chose humanity over glory. Kido was leading the steeplechase event and noticed his over-fatigued horse was faltering. Instead of risking injury to his horse Kuy Gun, he dropped out of the race.
And, in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, German competitor Carl Ludwig "Luz" Long defied the Fuhrer, who warned German athletes not to fraternize with black competitors. Long offered African American athlete Jesse Owens a tip which helped him move on to the final round, eventually winning gold. The support meant everything to Owens. "You could melt down all the cups and medals I have, and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long."
Fierce competition is not exclusive to Dog shows and Olympics. Let's not forget awards show mania: the Grammys, the Golden Globes, and the ultimate trophy gold: the Oscar. And what about tv late night wars and Leno/Fallon frenzy? Between the rumblings and rantings about network ratings, I almost missed Jimmy's premiere.
Okay, I'll admit it. As a comic performer, I too am addicted to the Tonight Show and Late Show monologues. But enough about who's the coolest, the savviest, the funniest. Talk about over-analysis. Stop comparing and let them all be clever. Just enjoy the entertainment.
It's not just about team spirit and support. There's also a self-esteem factor. Watching champions from Westminster to Sochi, one can begin to feel a tad inferior. After all, it's a dog eat dog world, Westminster being a prime canine example. At first I didn't feel like an underachiever; competition never even entered my mind. I just felt the bliss of doggone delight, getting up close and paw-sonal to see the salukis striding, the Irish wolfhounds stretching, the sheepdogs lolling, the bloodhounds strolling. But when I saw the the obsessive grooming and primping, and handlers circling the rings during final rounds, I felt a tad queasy, almost deficient in dog bedazzlement.
Why was I not setting higher goals and reaching for the stars or even the gold?
The answer is simple. Perhaps some of us have stars that twinkle a bit lower on the horizon. Maybe one's personal star is taking an elderly friend to lunch. Or giving someone an unexpected gift for no reason. Making someone smile. Learning a language. Petting your dog. Going ice skating with a friend.
Why all the agony of the race instead of the ecstasy of the experience? Why is it always about getting ahead of the next one in line? Why do girlfriends steal boyfriends to get what her BFF had and "win"? Why do Leonardo, Chiwetel, Bruce, Matthew and Christian have to wear plastic smiles as the Academy Award winner is announced, when all are stellar performances and only one gets the gold statuette? Why does one hound have to be scrutinized and rated better than another?
Does competitive fever diminish the simple joy of the bark and fetch, erasing the pure essence of the relationship between man and dog?
Does rivalry -- along with rigidity of rules and stiff eligibility requirements -- take the enchantment out of the art? What ever happened to just sitting in an armchair with Fido retrieving your slippers and newspaper? Or taking your dog for a walk in the woods ?
Back to Sochi. Sure we see lots of phenomenal girl groups, from the Spice Girls to the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, from Business Forward Females to Redstockings. But watching stunning 15-year old Russian star skater Julia Lipnitskaia's exuberance drip out of the "tiny genius" as she lost, seeing her ecstasy turn to ferocity, sends a sad message: don't honor your competitor, just get ahead of her.
Sure, I entered and won the spelling bee in 4th grade and won with "bibliography". And I came in second as salutatorian in high school, second to Irving Leon. And yes, I loved that I made the final cut to our junior high school play under Nat Segal's direction. And yes, he encouraged me during the audition to sing my heart out, and yes, I felt elated when I beat out the others, landing the leading role of Laurie in Oklahoma.
But in the end, it was more about the chartreuse skirt with the red bric-a-brac that my "costume designer" Mom lovingly sewed for me; it's still hanging in my closet to bring back the remembrance of sweet things past. It was more about the Surrey with the Fringe on Top duet I got to sing with Ricky "Curly" Jorgensen, my teen-age crush. Sorry, Charlie Sheen. It wasn't about the winning. It was about the playing.
It was about being true to myself, feeling exhilarated during the process, loving the frolic, and yes, enjoying the ride.