Years ago I found myself standing amid a raging crowd, attempting to appreciate the finer points of car racing. It was an evening event, brightly lit, loud and confusing. It’s been too long to remember much more than the cloud of smoke that enveloped us, giving a supernatural quality to the lights. I recall struggling to get in the spirit of things, being overwhelmed by the noise, and feeling lost in the crowd.
Later at home, I looked in the mirror and noticed my face was covered with little black flecks which I guessed were either asphalt, or rubber, or a combination. I couldn’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about. Whatever had drawn the other people there that evening was eluding me, and that was the last time I ever ventured onto car-racing turf.
I never understood football either, but I can bring chips and dip and join in, cheering for whatever team my friends are rooting for. Ditto for other mystifying passions such as curling, pinterest, caviar, mountain climbing, organized religion, fishing and romance novels.
I find ways to pass the time during a football game. Often, pondering the similarities between gladiators and the grunting, heaving group of helmeted men scrambling on the field is enough to keep me entertained. I think about the cultural importance of ritual warfare, sometimes saying out loud, “This is a big deal! After all, our team is the only thing standing between them and our women.”
Once, during a televised match, I made a study of the advertising, discovering that 16% of the ads were for fast food, 25% about the television network and its programs, 9% for cell phones and so on. (Anatomy of a Ball Game January, 2006)
To be fair, most people don’t ‘get’ my obsession with horses, either. Every chance I get, I launch into a horse story, quickly losing my audience with terms like overcheck rein, navicular and grulla. It only takes about 15 seconds before my victim’s eyes begin to dart around the room, looking for escape exactly as I’ve seen many horses on the lunge line do.
I try to rope them in with the story about how Jesse liked to eat his corn across the cob, while Penny preferred to eat around the cob, but it’s too late. I can see they are already thinking about their new drapes or what their kid said on the way home from school.
The whole horse thing is about so much more than just riding, or shoveling manure. It’s about the bond between human and animal, the freedom of flying effortlessly across green pastures and the secret world of dusk and dawn when hungry horses lure you outside.
I love the gentle swish of tails on quiet summer afternoons in the shade of a big tree. I have idled away countless hours watching an ultra-soft muzzle maneuver wisps of grass into a giant mouth with 2,000 psi grinding capacity. The footage of Rembrandt’s gold medal dressage performance in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games will always put a lump in my throat and no matter which handsome actor is galloping across the movie screen, I only have eyes for his steed.
But to an outsider, horses seem expensive, smelly, dangerous and a lot of work. All this fuss for saddle sores, gnawed fence boards, vet bills, busted ribs and broken toes? No thank you.
At the end of the day, a passion can only be truly understood by those who share the same passion. The rest of us are sideliners. Today is Super Bowl Sunday, when more than 100 million people will watch the greatest football game of the year. The rest of us will bring the dip.