Another Olympics is already upon us, starting just over two weeks from today!
I’ll confess—I mostly lost interest in the Olympics after it became, basically, a global big business and mega-marketing opportunity, which happened already decades ago when I was old enough to be aware of the process as it occurred. Various doping scandals haven’t helped my opinion, either, from long before Lance Armstrong to the present cloud hanging over the Russian team. I can still remember the reports coming out of the former East Germany of systematic doping and other medical interventions that helped to make the East German women’s swim team effectively male, and so on.
I guess one particular incident that sort of turned me off to professional and de facto-professional sports in general was reported in a magazine I was once reading while waiting in a doctor’s office for a medical appointment—the story of star gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi’s gymnast-factory in Oklahoma, where the pressure to win and compete was so intense that one young gymnast, a Hispanic girl, was forced to compete even though she was sick, took a serious fall off a piece of equipment, and wound up paralyzed. Although I can sort of understand that it might take that kind of intensity and determination to win and win consistently, it also makes me realize that both winning in any particular sport, and sports in general, really don’t matter that much.
I suppose I still enjoy watching the Winter Olympics more, because of the particular speed and grace that snow and ice lend to the various events. Also, every so often, there’s a fun surprise like Jamaica fielding a bobsledding team—“You go, guys!” [No, you probably won’t get the better of the winter sports powerhouses like Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States—but you definitely get my vote for having spirit.]
Regarding the present Olympiad XXXI, as readers already will have heard, there are all sorts of unfortunate reports coming out of Brazil regarding the conditions in which the Olympic games will take place—not just the Zika virus, but severe water pollution in parts of the bay where various boating events will take place; serious crime and poverty in various neighborhoods close to the Olympic stadium that have been worsened by recent economic troubles; the omnipresent threat of terrorist acts; and so on.
Yet, for the sake of the many Olympic competitors from around the world who are not components of corrupt, substance-abusing, state-sponsored sports factories and who have worked hard and trained hard in good faith for their moments on the world stage, I hope that the upcoming games go relatively smoothly and fairly, notwithstanding my misgivings mentioned above. Also, the entire world, frankly, needs a happy event to feel good about amidst the recent rash of horrific terrorist acts together with ongoing wars and global economic uncertainty. So, good luck, Brazil; good luck, Rio; good luck, all you honest competitors; and best wishes for a happy and successful 31st Olympiad.
What follows may admittedly not be properly in keeping with those hopeful sentiments, but it’s my Olympics story that I repost every four years, so—here goes:
Olympic Gold, 2124
“Oh BYOOOO-tiful, for SPAAAYYY-shus skies . . . .”
The recorded music blared out, bouncing off the upper tiers of the cavernous Olympic stadium. Down in the center of the stadium, a pair of gymnasts from the North American Confederation twirled through the air so fast that they dissolved into two whirling blurs of color. Dressed whimsically in matching Superman/Wonder Woman costumes with star-spangled tights—“Angling for a home-court advantage,” the television announcer observed—the lean, muscular young man and woman with the perfect chiseled features were in perpetual motion as they spun through their intricate routine. At times, the stunning pair would intersect briefly to do fancy stunts on the same trapeze, or even elaborate jumping, twisting, and tumbling on the same giant trampoline. At other times they were off on separate equipment, but they always stayed perfectly synchronized as they flipped and twirled around their many-leveled uneven bars and rings.
“And CROWWWWN thy good with BRUHHHH-therhood from sea to shyyy-ning SEEEEE-EEEEE-EEEEE.”
The gymnasts’ time was almost over as the canned music slowly shifted the harmony upward for a grand finale. In the middle of their perfectly timed spinning, twisting double dismount from the uppermost uneven bars, there was a blinding flash, and the young gymnasts simultaneously vanished in a fireball. Roaring their approval, the 400,000 spectators in the Olympic stadium all leapt to their feet in thunderous applause.
In the Ramachandra-Guzman home, the fourteen amazed sets of eyeballs that had been glued to the TV screen all through the gymnasts’ routine widened in unison at the grand finale. The children broke into cheers as the TV cameras showed how bits of flesh and bone had spattered ringside spectators and even flecked the screens protecting the judges. Then the announcer broke in again, spluttering enthusiastically, “¿Total increible, no? This one’ll be sure to go down in the Record Books in bold print, folks. Probably with a picture, too! We haven’t seen a double routine that perfect in at least twenty years!” There was a sudden hush in the stadium as the judges prepared to raise their scorecards. The crowd exploded into even louder cheering at the unbroken line of perfect scores.
During the long commercial break that followed—more boring pitches about floor wax, cell phones, acid-reflux pills, and how to look young forever—seven-year-old Joon-Li Ramachandra-Guzman asked the adults if he could go to the refrigerator and get himself a can of Coke. Grandma Jackson-McCabe answered first: “Sure, Jackie—just don’t stand there with the door open; ya know how much it costs to run that thing.” So Joon-Li climbed down the ladder from his perch up on the wall, passing his elder sister Navanita and his elder brother Rajiv on the way down before reaching the floor between Grandma Jackson and Grandpa Guzman-Zhou. He went diagonally across the room to the small kitchen area at the other end. He opened the refrigerator door and hurriedly grabbed a small red-and-white can before quickly slamming the door—he didn’t want yet another scolding about wasting electricity!
As Joon-Li turned back around toward the television-viewing seats stacked up on top of each other along the wall, Rajiv called out from his seat in the middle tier, “While you’re there, could you get me one, too?” Grandma Jackson immediately snapped, “No way, Reggie. Ya had one the day before yesterday. The stuff don’t grow on trees, ya know.” Then she chuckled a little at her own joke. Nothing grew on trees anymore; there wasn’t room for them. Joon-Li had never even seen a tree, except for old pictures on his electronic document reader for school.
In a few steps, Joon-Li was back at the base of the ladder. He ducked his head a little as he walked in front of the grown-ups sitting in the first tier of five chairs nearest the floor, but there was no need—he was only about a meter tall, just a little taller than the refrigerator, and the television, like the viewing seats, was mounted up on the wall to save space. Grampa Zhou gave him a kindly wink as he climbed back up the ladder; Rajiv playfully poked him in the ribs, saying, “If you drop it, it’s mine!” When he got back to his seat, the TV station was only on the fourth or fifth commercial, so it would be a while before they got back to covering the Olympics.
But thinking about Coke had gotten Grandma Jackson started again. Navanita rolled her eyes; Rajiv looked over at her and up at Joon-Li with a grin, opening and closing his hand like a flapping mouth. Farther down the line, their cousin Mohammed groaned audibly. Whatever Granny was going to say, they’d probably heard it a hundred times before.
“Coke!” she snorted. “They call that piddly little three-ounce plastic thing a can of Coke! Why, I remember when I was growing up, they had twelve-ounce cans, and they cost less than a dollar. And they charge almost ten dollars for one of these! I tell ya, it’s highway robbery. . . .” As she paused to catch her breath, Rajiv tauntingly started to whistle the musical jingle from the latest Coca-Cola ad campaign. But Granny was just getting started, and like usual, she turned to complaining about the refrigerator. “And that poor pathetic little fridge,” she grumbled. “Three feet by two feet, and ya can’t put nothin’ in it. When I was a girl, they had fridges ya could walk into. . . .” Rajiv’s white eyes and teeth glinted devilishly in his dark face as he murmured to his siblings, “Somebody should’ve closed the door on her.” But their mother overheard this, and she leveled a stern warning glare at Rajiv from down below.
Dee Dee Ann Jackson-McCabe had been born more than ninety years before on a type of primitive animal-protein factory that they used to call a “ranch” in the southwestern part of the former United States. Like everybody else in the world, she was a mix of various blood lines—some East Asian, some Latin American, some Middle Eastern or East Indian, maybe a dollop or two from elsewhere—but she was almost three quarters “pure good ol’ American Okie,” as she put it, and proud of it.
Granny didn’t like the new world, and she let people know it. She didn’t like the language people spoke—basically English, but with snippets of words and phrases from Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, and Arabic thrown in, spoken with a mix of accents and dialects from all around the world. “Why the hell can’t they learn to speak English proper,” she would rant. She still spoke like an old-timer from the cowboy movies, her words a mess of diphthongs, so that “Go to the store” became “Gaouw teuw the staouwr.” Rajiv had endless fun imitating and provoking her, saying, “Yehys, May’mm,” “Naouw, May’mm,” and “Ah jess doahn’t knaohw, Grammahw—whahy cain’t nobody tahwlk proper any moahr?”
Granny also hated the metric system, and refused to use it. For her, the family’s fourteen-square-meter living/dining/kitchen area was still a “crappy little ten-by-fifteen-foot animal pen,” a 100-milliliter can of Coke was a “three-ounce rip-off.” Above all, Grandma Jackson hated the crowding. “Too may goddam people,” she’d grumble. Joon-Li had seen pictures of her when she was a young woman—a strapping, red-haired, freckle-faced country girl who’d ridden horses and motorcycles and even shot off guns. Now, even in her nineties, a massive, stern woman with a craggy face that looked like it was hacked out of granite, Granny had a lot of energy, and when she got wound up, she could go on for a long time.
“And the plumbing!” Granny spat out venomously. “Back when I was little, the crapper and the shower were separate, and when ya flushed the crapper, it took the stuff away. Ya didn’t have ever’thing sittin’ in a tank for a week to come back at ya!” Joon-Li thought of the family’s composter—a closet less than one meter square that fed into a fermentation tank, then a sludge compactor, than a dessicator. Joon-Li had seen all this in cutaway diagrams on his electronic school document reader. It cost a lot to run the equipment, so Joon-Li’s parents let stuff collect in the tank as long as possible before processing it further and sending it all down to the Metropolitan Sanitation Authority. The waste-collector part of the composter worked by gravity, helped along by the shower mechanism—a weak, one-minute-long film of moisture that was all you got. “No better than somebody pissin’ on ya,” Granny growled disgustedly. You could use the different parts of the composter separately, but in the morning, when all the family members lined up to take their turn, if you didn’t get finished the first time, you’d have to wait an hour for another chance.
Joon-Li hated the claustrophobic composter closet. “Clean, convenient, and 100% odor-free!!” the manufacturers claimed in their television commercial jingle. But it was never as great as all that. Then, at least once a week, the system backed up so that foul-smelling gases from the fermentation tank vented up into the closet. Rajiv always ribbed Joon-Li about this, as though he were to blame—“Jackie, whatcha doin’ goin’ stinkin’ up the composter?” The system was also supposed to be silent, but as he lay in his upper bunk at night, Joon-Li could often hear the fermenter, burbling and groaning with indigestion right behind the wall of the family’s ten-square-meter sleeping area, even over the snores and grunts of the thirteen other people in the room. He shuddered a little, recalling a few of his least favorite composter episodes. Whatever system Granny’d had must have been better. Even sassy, thirteen-year-old Rajiv didn’t taunt her about this claim.
Then the Olympic theme music blared out, and the Olympics coverage was back on TV. Granny was still wound up, but at least she piped down, muttering her complaints to Grampa Zhou, who accepted them, as always, with patient nods of the head and encouraging grunts.
The TV cameras had shifted to some of the cultural exhibitions. These weren’t really athletic events, but more a chance for contestants to showcase some part of their ethnic backgrounds, performing ancient rituals of long-lost cultures. First up was Ernesto “Ernie” Prahdnavati-Hiyashi. A handsome, well-built, dark-haired young man in his early twenties, he was “part Latino, part Indian, but a full half pure Japanese—and that’s a rarity nowadays!” chirped the announcer excitedly. “Tonight he will present a demonstration of some of the ancient culture of his mother’s ancestral homeland.”
Clad only in a loincloth, Hiyashi first beat out elaborate, throbbing rhythms on a set of beautiful, antique Kyoto drums, their heads decorated with ancient symbols and designs. He dashed from one drum to the next, trying to stay within the time for his routine. Then, quickly donning an ancient Bushido helmet and suit of armor, he gracefully danced through an exhibition of traditional martial arts movements, leaping, kicking, and effortless twirling a sturdy wooden staff all around himself, even behind his back and above his head.
When his floor time was almost over, the young Olympian kneeled down, pulled out a short, wicked-looking curved knife, held it with both hands far out in front of him, then savagely plunged the knife into his middle and twisted the handle. All the spectators in the packed cultural arena were on their feet in seconds, cheering as the cleaning crew quickly but respectfully carried Ernie Hiyashi off the floor. As the cameras panned over the enthusiastic crowd, the announcer chimed in, “That was so quick and clean, the cleaning crew won’t have anything to do but haul away the drums!”
The TV coverage then flicked back to the outdoor track arena, where contestants were getting ready for the 500-meter hurdles. “500-meter” was just a traditional label, since nobody ever made it too the finish line. Just as they were about to complete their first loop around the oval track, the runners ran into the hurdles with the tripwires that triggered plastic explosives. The winner was the first to get blown up, and his time would go down in bold print in the Record Books. As usual, the East African Union had the strongest contender, but this year, the South Americans and Southwest Asians had unusually competitive teams, so the bookies weren’t sure how to figure the odds.
The audience was more tense than usual as the slim, long-legged runners took their places, stamping and scuffing their feet like racehorses from the old movies. The favorite from East Africa, Atieno Nguyen-Shobayo, exploded off the blocks like a rifle shot and took an early lead, but Mustafa al-Habib-Yurechenko from Southwest Asia stuck close behind him. As they rounded the far end of the track and broke out into the straightaway with the first set of hurdles, al-Habib-Yurechenko even momentarily took the lead. Nguyen-Shobayo pulled ahead again through the hurdles, but the other runner kept on fighting, pulling nearly even as they approached the tripwire hurdles.
The lanky East African and the Southwest Asian cleared their first hurdles at the exact same moment. As the East African runner leapt over his second hurdle, there was a loud bang, and he vanished in a cloud of smoke and fire. Al-Habib-Yurechenko was caught by the blast just a millisecond or two before his own second hurdle went off. The third- and fourth-place runners soon followed.
Taking up the rear, a few seconds behind the rest, Wolfgang Tomasini-Abdul of the Western Eurasian Union had time to be aware of what had happened up ahead, but he kept running as hard as he could. As he jumped over his tripwired hurdle, he gave a slight shrug of his shoulders before he was blown to bits. “Honkies never were no good at sprinting,” Joon-Li heard Grandma Jackson snort.
In the stands, the spectators were spontaneously hugging total strangers, while the TV sportscasters were frantic with excitement, their words tumbling out on top of each other in rapid staccato bursts. “Namaste! Folks, you just saw history being made!” “Did you ever see such a close finish before? That was almost a tie—and we’ve never had a tie since they brought in the new-format Olympics sixty years ago!” “Yes, they’ll probably give al-Habib-Yurechenko an official second place, but they’ll have to give him a special note in the Record Books. And that’s what it’s all about, ¿no?” The two younger announcers turned to their older companion in the sportscasters’ box to ask, “Abuelo, do you remember anything like this before?” The older announcer grinned, saying, “Not really, muchachos. The closest thing was thirty-six years ago, when the South Asian Federation had an Australian runner who almost caught the Caribbean competing for South America. That race was close enough that the second-place got caught in the winner’s blast, but only just barely. And the crowds went crazy over that. Think how they’ll be carrying on in Southwestern Asia tonight!”
Another sportscaster asked, “How’d you like last-place finish from Western Europe?” They all chuckled. “I’d call that grace under pressure. And he’ll get a note in the Record Books for it.” “Yeah, you know everybody who didn’t make the last cut would have loved to be in his shoes—if they couldn’t be in Shobayo’s or Yurechenko’s!”
Another commercial jingle blared over the Ramachandra-Guzmans’ TV set. Granny took that as a cue to start her harangue again in earnest. “And why’d they ever hafta change the Olympics into people killin’ themselves, anyway? I remember with the old Olympics, you’d get to see the athletes more than once.” She paused, and a dreamy look came over her craggy face. “Like that diver from Brazil back in the twenty-thirties and ’forties. He won the gold in three straight Olympics—and he musta been about the best-lookin’ man who ever lived. All us girls were crazy about him . . . .”
Grampa Zhou, his face crinkling around the corners of his eyes, gently interjected, “But that’s hard on the other athletes, isn’t it? To never get a chance to really shine, because one of them is taking the limelight over and over again.” He paused, shaking his head. “And there are so many of them competing. You know this is their only chance to really feel like somebody, to get in the Record Books. It’s that, or be a pop music star, or somehow get in the movies. And you know you can’t do that unless you know the right people. . . .”
Grandma Jackson’s face darkened at the mention of pop entertainers. “It’s them musicians and creeps in the movies who started all this,” she growled. “When that syrupy, phony, good-for-nothin’ pop singer Diego in his bullshit leopard-skin Spandex bodysuit killed hisself on stage seventy or eighty years ago. That’s when ever’thing changed. Ever’one started copyin’ him. Soon they were doin’ it in the music videos, and then in the movies….”
“And the audiences loved it,” Grampa Zhou broke in. “That was the way somebody could really stand out and get some attention, go down in the Record Books, even get their pictures in there.”
“And then when ever’body was doin’ it, it wasn’t enough just to kill yerself anymore,” Granny continued, her face reddening with anger. “Ya couldn’t just hang yerself, or jump off the sixtieth floor. Ya had to fall off a three-hundred-foot platform above a reflectin’ pool, and blow yerself to smithereens just before hittin’ the water.” She spat out her words scornfully. “And I still say it’s nothin’ but crazy, sick nonsense.”
At this, Navanita, who’d been rolling her eyes impatiently all through Granny’s diatribe, emitted an audible sigh, noisily pulled out her electronic document reader for school work, and put on her white noise-generating hood to shut out the sound of Granny’s voice. She opened her reader and booted it up with a petulant frown.
Granny turned her head upward to glare at her. “What’s that she’s readin’ now?” she asked grumpily.
“Oh, just some of her North American History,” Rajiv said tauntingly, giving Joon-Li a devilish grin and making his dark eyebrows jump up and down twice. “All about the guy who predicted how everything would get better and better as the world got more and more people in it.”
This was one of Granny’s least favorite subjects, and it always set her off. “That damn idiot,” she snarled. “How could he think everthing’d be better when ya can’t even get outside and go anywhere, ‘cause it takes ya two hours just to go half a mile? When ya can’t even visit one of yer friends in the same damn building, ‘cause ya hafta wait more’n an hour just to get on the elevator? That’s better, he says?”
Grampa Zhou broke in soothingly. “Well, you have to admit he was right about some things. There never was mass starvation, and they did find substitutes for most things the world ran out of, like wood and paper and metals—just like he said. And if people can’t go places, they can telecommute. . . .”
“Substitutes!” Granny snorted. “You call dessicated plankton and algae biscuits a substitute for real food? Now, John”—she called him John, even though his name was Jun-Quan—“you can remember real food, like fried chicken, right? You say it’s better now?” She twisted in her seat to look directly at him. “And so there’s ‘telecommuting’ and ‘televisiting’ and ‘telefriendships’ and ‘telelearning’ and all the other tele-crap the Cellular Solutions people are always yammerin’ about on TV. What good is that? Ya never really get to see the person, except on that little screen. And ya hafta wait for forty-five minutes just to get online, ‘cause ever’one else is trying to do the same damn thing at the same time. And the kids can’t even go to school the way we used to, ‘cause they’re too many kids, and ya couldn’t even build enough schools for ‘em all, and there’d be no way to get ‘em there, anyway, with all these damn people cloggin’ the streets and the subways and the interbuildin’ connector tubes and the elevators and ever’thing….”
“Well, he did miscalculate,” Grampa Zhou agreed. “Everyone did. Back then, they thought the world population might level off at twelve billion, not twenty-one.”
“Yeah, he was off by a little bit,” Granny snorted derisively. “Damn shame they couldn’t’ve figgered that out before it was too late. And now the land’s covered over with apartment towers or water recyclin’ plants, and the ocean’s covered with algae and plankton trawlers, and ya can’t even stretch yer arms out without hittin’ two or three people.” Turning back to glare at the TV screen, she growled, “That dumb bastard. . . .”
While this discussion was going on, Joon-Li’s mother had gone over to the kitchen area to flash-irradiate the dishes and utensils from dinner. When Granny saw this, she scowled. “I never did trust that radioactivity,” she started to say. But the Olympic theme suddenly drowned her out.
On the television, the Olympics coverage had returned to the cultural demonstrations. A pretty young woman of largely South Asian extraction with a dark skin, long, thick, flowing black hair, and brilliant white teeth and eyes was completing a demonstration of traditional Indian dance and yoga, gracefully stretching, bending, twirling. Then, as her time was almost up, she climbed onto a bed of reformulated petroleum products made to look “just like twigs and tree branches used to,” as the announcer cheerfully observed. Lying in the center of the bier, with graceful motions, the young beauty lit the bier in several places with a small lighter she pulled out her flowing, colorful costume. A blue flame danced around her in a ring, and then the bed of pseudo-twigs flared like a torch. The audience cheered and applauded. The woman made a final, graceful acknowledging gesture before the flames hid her from view.
Then the announcer’s voice broke in again. “Since it will take a while for the cleaning crew to clear away the remains of that beautiful performance of a traditional suttee ritual, we’re presenting a tape of a dramatic accident that happened earlier in the diving competition. Li-Peng Aquino-Zhiang from the East Asian Democratic Union appeared to be doing a perfect dive; then look what happened.” The television showed the diver on his platform, carefully judging the distance to the bottom of the pool below. He sprang off the platform, arcing high into the air while twisting and tumbling, first forward, then diagonally sideways, his arms tight to his body. Yet after he’d fallen to the bottom of the empty pool below, the audience gasped—he was weakly moving his left arm. As the cleaning crew moved in to administer a lethal injection, the announcer intoned, “Yes, señores, after that incredible dive, he was still alive. He failed to position his head just right for the impact, and the judges had to dock some points from his score. However, the rest of the dive was so flawless, he will probably still win second or third place. And he’ll be in the Record Books.”
The coverage flicked back to the cultural events, where the cleaning crew had cleared away the last of the embers. The next contestant was getting ready for his routine while the audience clapped politely. The newscaster announced, “Twenty-three-year-old Buck Chavez-McClanahan is a local boy, brought up here in the southwestern district of the North American Confederation. He says that his great, great grandfather was a cowboy and rancher back in the 1900s, and that he’s ‘real proud’ to get to represent North America tonight at the Olympics here in Denver-Phoenix-Tucson-Vegas. Like the other contestants, he’s worked for nearly five years on the routine he’ll be showing us tonight.”
Granny perked up at the mention of “cowboy” and “rancher,” and she watched with renewed interest. On the screen, Buck McClanahan wore a garish white cowboy outfit, with white plastic chaps made to look like old-fashioned leather, a broad-brimmed white cowboy hat, and big fancy cowboy boots with exaggerated faux-metal spurs. Above his jutting chin and reddish face, he had sandy-brown hair—“Natural,” the announcer pointed out.
The young man in the cowboy suit picked up one of the ropes he’d brought and deftly made a lasso. Then he began twirling the rope all around himself, down at the floor, then up around his head, then changing the spinning loop from horizontal to vertical and back. He kept the rope always in motion as he leapt into or out of a wide, spinning horizontal loop, then jumped back and forth through vertical loops, spun the loop around his neck, his arm, his outstretched leg.
Meanwhile, the ground crew was rolling out some additional props. The rope-spinner soon turned his attention to these, expertly throwing lassoes around the smallest knobs and hooks mounted on several upright or horizontal beams. Then he put down his ropes and pulled two matching antique pearl-handled six-shooters out of holsters hanging from his showy white, faux-leather belt and began twirling and juggling these all around himself—above his head, behind his back, underneath one of his legs. Without missing a beat, he picked up one of his lassoes again, flung one of the pistols high up in the air, and lassoed it.
While this was happening, the ground crew was rolling out the last of the cowboy rope-twirler’s props—a high scaffold with stairs leading up to a platform. As his floor time was about to expire, the cowboy took a rope in his hand and bounded up the steps to the platform. Wasting no time, his hands deftly formed a hangman’s knot—with all thirteen loops, as the announcer chirped. The cowboy then took the other end of the rope and lassoed the scaffold overhead. Removing his hat, he took a large, dark bandana out of the left chest pocket of his gaudy, embroidered white western jacket. He put the bandana over his head, then slipped the noose over his head and around his neck. Then he leapt high into the air above the open well in the scaffold’s platform. As his body fell back earthward, there was an audible crack, amplified for the spectators’ benefit. The figure in the garish cowboy suit then swung from side to side while the audience roared its approval. The children in the Ramachandra-Guzman home also cheered with delight.
But Granny wasn’t joining in. Rather than just glaring disapprovingly at the TV set as usual, Joon-Li was surprised to see that she was bent over in her seat with her face buried in her hands. “What’s wrong, Grandma?” he asked. As she straightened up, the other family members could see that the big, tough old woman who never showed much emotion was sobbing. Struggling to compose herself, Granny croaked hoarsely, “Oh, I don’t know what it is—I guess he just looked so much like people I used to know. . . .” Her voice trailed off. Then she slowly started to get up out of her seat. “I can’t watch anymore,” she said. “I hate these Olympics. I don’t care whose damn name goes in the precious Record Books, or where. I still say it’s nothin’ but sick, twisted nonsense, and it ain’t the way it oughtta be.”
Starting to shuffle slowly across the room, Granny announced solemnly, “I’m goin’ to bed.” Joon-Li’s mother, listening from the kitchen area, reminded her, “But Uncle Raffi’s sleeping in your bed, mother, and all the other bunks are taken, too!” “Well,” Granny replied crossly, showing some of her usual fire again, “he can wake up a little early, then. His shift downstairs begins in two hours, and it’ll take near that long just ta get down to the fifty-first floor.”
Rajiv, seeing how upset Granny still was, tried to bring her back to her normal, cantankerous self. He teasingly called after her, “I’ll be going to the Junior Olympics tryouts in two weeks! You wanna come?” But Granny wouldn’t take the bait. “You do whatever you want, Reggie. I don’t care, and I won’t be around that much longer, anyway.” Then, standing at the door to the bedroom, she turned around and looked at Grampa Zhou, saying, “You know, you’re right after all, John.” With her thumb, she gestured toward the TV set on the wall. “They are the lucky ones. Record Books or no Record Books, they won’t hafta wait in line for three hours just to buy some dessicated plankton that ain’t worth eatin’. They won’t hafta sleep fifteen to a room, stacked in bunks from floor to ceiling like cordwood in a crappy little ten-by-ten holding tank.” She nodded her head disparagingly toward the bedroom. “They won’t hafta sleep in shifts, and roust somebody else outta their beds just so they can lie down.” She paused to catch her breath and reflect for a moment. Then she continued: “Yep, they’re the lucky ones, all right. ’Cause who the hell’d wanta live in this godawful world, anyhow?”
With that, she walked through the doorway to the bedroom. After the door closed, Grampa Zhou clicked his tongue, saying, “That cowboy routine sure upset her. I haven’t seen her like that in years. She’ll get over it, though—she always does.”
Then the Olympic theme music blared out again, and the family turned their attention back to the TV. Hearing the announcer, Joon-Li’s mother called up to him, “Joonie, tell Nita it’s OK to come out from under her noise hood. Granny’s gone, and her favorite event is coming on—synchronized drowning!”