The Breakfast Table

The Cold War, on Ice

Hi, Randall:

I’ve been feeling bad about my McKay jabs. Last night he did an extended monologue on the “Flying White Sausage,” and something about the gentle way his mouth formed those words made me like him more and also like Costas less. Costas is great for something like the Thanksgiving Day Parade, filled as it is with mockable moments—I mean, how else is one meant to respond to a giant, inflatable Pokémon floating down the street? But he’s too snide for the Olympics. Perhaps there’s a happy medium somewhere between him and old Jim.

I would be happy to talk about patriotism—it’s just that my gut response is generally dark and contrarian and far too Costas-ian for the gravitas of the situation. I love America blah blah blah, I just don’t love big nationalistic displays at what’s supposed to be this one-world, unifying love fest (pace David Brooks). My off-the-cuff flag comment was genuinely how I felt when I saw that thing trotted out yet again—so we can grieve and honor and so forth—but I fear this impulse in me does not jibe with the rest of America. Perhaps with the French, and it irks me to be aligned with them.

Speaking of which, isn’t it curious that the judges who deemed the Russian ice skating pair best were from Russia (duh), Ukraine (duh), Poland (you get the idea), China (the Cold War lives), and … France!? To me, this speaks of ominous stirrings in the geopolitical sphere.

You’re dead on about the ungraciousness of the Canadian woman. During the pairs competition, the Westminster dog show was airing on a different network, and I could not help but notice the similarities (I swear they could have exchanged judges between the events and it wouldn’t have mattered—the Russian skaters are the Bichon Frisé of their sport). The big difference: Dogs never cry when they lose. They just scamper around the Astroturf hoping for treats.

You’re also dead on about snowboarding. It will never be as innocent again. When I’ve watched the X-Games on ESPN, I’ve always been amazed at the friendliness of the competition—even the losers seem ecstatic for the winners. And that feeling carried over to Olympic halfpipe, where that mohawked Finn looked stoked just for a chance to shred, never mind the medals. But next time will no doubt be different. More like pairs skating, with some whiny dude in goggles way bummed over the judges’ scores.

We’ve never met, Randall, but I’m getting a bit of a Richard Ford vibe from you. Partly it’s that you’re down there in the South. But there’s something about your first paragraph, where you long for the warmth of community built on small pleasures, yet are resigned to the bitter realities of the world … If you stop writing about sports and start selling New Jersey real estate, we’ll know I’m on to something.

We still need to talk about biathlon and curling, which I watched and thoroughly enjoyed yesterday, and, more broadly, about Scandinavians in general. Who are these people with their skis and guns and 42-pound stones that slide on ice?