Sunday, July 4, 2010

Air Dry, or Why Soccer is Working

I've been cheating you people by giving you just the stuff you like (aka, the snarky lists), and not enough veggies (aka, the esoteric "think" pieces that make you read too many words for relatively simple concepts). So sit back and eat some greens. I'm going deep.

About six weeks ago, my dryer stopped working properly. It still spun, but didn't turn off, and soon afterwards, the heating element failed. So I got it fixed, but in the meantime, there's laundry to deal with, and that's something I take care of in my house, mostly to avoid household tasks that I'd rather not do. And I'm OCDish, and we're a family of four, so I'm not letting it slide. So I went out and grabbed a dryer rack on the off chance that the repair wouldn't happen quickly, and I'd still have the chance to get a load or two done. I also, well, just wanted to see what like might be like without a dryer.

The dryer got fixed, then stopped working again a week later. Which made me hate getting it fixed in the first place, but I'm testing your patience as is, so let's get back on track. For the past month, all of the laundry has been air dried. It's also been hot, sticky and miserable, and we've been running the air conditioners... and yet, my utility bill wasn't as bad as feared. Because I'm not using the dryer. And not missing it. If I kick the appliance to the curb, I create more room in the space, too, and could finish my 0.1 man space toilet into an actual functioning bathroom, as part of my continuing dream to make my house worth what I paid for it.

Moving away from the dryer isn't a panacea. It takes more time, both in setting things up and needing to come back later. Fabric softeners don't really do the same job if you like your towels fluffy. But I really think I'm done with the dryer for the previously stated reasons, along with the sense that it's just a better thing to do for my energy bill and the environment.

Oddly, it reminds me a lot of watching the World Cup.

The rest of the world, of course, generally hangs clothes on a line. It's cheaper, keeps your clothes longer, and hey, it's not like they've got the same space for dryers that we do, or the same consistent source of electricity. And if they had grown up with a dryer, maybe they'd keep using it. Or maybe not.

When you watch European football without growing up with it, you give up a lot of the things that you have come to expect from sports. A strong interest in the success or failure of individual teams -- quick, give me three reasons why you'd favor Brazil over the Netherlands, or vice versa. A lack of knowledge about the star players, their various peccadilloes, or the usual track record of knowing who hates who and why. And the real kicker of why Americans don't quite cotton to this game -- an utter absence of bone-crunching hits and violence.

But the actual game? That's pretty good, really.

Last Friday at the Day Job, there wasn't that much going on. We closed up two hours early, I had stayed up late the night before to do some deadline work, and I was more or less as weak as a kitten from two days of a stomach bug. I was there to do QA and make sure we hit quotas, which is to say, I was about two-thirds there.

Which meant that, well, I was twice as committed as the rest of the place. A Friday before a three-day weekend is always a license to flake at any start-up; when you up the ante by making it a summer three-day weekend, then go even further by pushing it with picture-postcard weather, you could pretty much walk through the place with tassels on your teats without anyone caring very much. (Note: This is theoretical. As far as you know.)

So I did something that I've never done before. I watched a sporting event at my desk. It was Netherlands-Brazil.

If the only World Cup that you've watched in this tournament are the U.S., you really haven't seen an offense yet. Brazil and Holland's were so good, they could just stand still and wait for the defense to move, then blow past them. You also haven't seen players that seemingly can score from any spot 45 yards and in to the goal, or passing attacks that can produce a dangerous chance seconds after a seemingly innocent midfield turnover. It's pretty awesome, really.

People who talk about what needs to happen for the U.S. to really care about this game are kind of missing the point. It's not just that a long World Cup run would make us all excited. It's also that we just need to play the game differently. American football used to be a poor also-ran in the list of sports. We cared more about baseball, boxing and wrestling even. If we watched the game, we only did so for college teams, as the pro gram was considered a snooze. Only the advent of television, and the visual intensity of the Johnny Unitas air game, kicked things up a notch.

If the US team played like the Brazilians or, much more realistically, the Dutch or Germans, we'd care about this game. We'd watch them in non-World Cup events. If players who have the imagination and dexterity of Argentina's Lionel Messi or Brazil's Kaka were named Smith and Jones and had a healthy disdain for each other when they weren't playing for the flag, we'd want to see who was better in their club games. We just would. Maybe never to the level of NFL/NBA/MLB, but to the point of tennis majors or Tiger-Mickelson.

(And yes, Soccer Nerd, I know that Messi didn't really have the best World Cup. I could still see the quality when I saw him play.)

Unfortunately, there really are only a handful of people in the world with the Messi/Kaka skill set and level, and we might never have a guy like that in our laundry. The economics of the game aren't likely to change so much that the next Allen Iverson is going to want to play soccer instead of something more lucrative.

But then again... consider this. The demographics of the country are getting more brown by the day. We haven't really seen a land rush of Hispanic talent into the NFL, and there's only so much baseball that they can play, especially if they don't have a plus arm. It's not beyond the realm of possibility.

And in the meantime, there's always the World Cup, a game that isn't choked to death by ads and timeouts, and doesn't require you to think about salary caps, fantasy sports, free agency or anything else beyond the moment. And which has gotten a lot more of my TV time in the past month than, say, baseball.

Even if I didn't grow up with it, or have to live with the fact that if I watch this, I might be doing something they do somewhere else...

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