Monday, August 25, 2003

Anton, Tiger Woods and First Energy

This is an unlikely trio, to be sure: my friend Anton Zuiker, the world's most famous athlete and the Akron-based utility. Still, for various reasons, these subjects are at the top of my mind today.

We begin with Anton , both because of his latest blog, a simple, genius idea, and because of a recent comment he made about blogs that seems especially fitting given today's NYT. A story whose central focus is about a blog has finally hit the front page of the Times, for what I'm reasonably certain is the first time ever. And I was thus reminded of a sage observation Anton (for all of his ever-expanding stuff, go here) once made in the comment section of our mutual pal Jack's gassho: Mr. Z noted that he's increasingly come to think that blogs in themselves are about as interesting a subject about which to write as pencils. What he meant, of course, is that the medium/instruments themselves are utterly neutral and lacking in importance themselves. It's the conversation, communication and ideas which flow from them that are the notables. The parallel to today's story by Amy Harmon is apt: she rightly writes not about blogs themselves, but highlights a great application of the medium, as a support-building community by and for people trying to lose weight. And Anton is due for a second salute, for yet his latest blog, this one that he set up for his JCU Class of '92. It's a brilliant way to better stitch together a scattered cohort and offer some communications/updates on class members in between the quarterly class notes published in the alumni pub. Every class in every university ought to start one tomorrow. A tip of the hat to Z man for leading the way, as always...

Worst Energy. That's of course the predictable nickname that wags have assigned the energy company First Energy that's increasingly being fingered as the source of Blackout 2003. I was amused by the outpouring of shock and surprise by more than a few NEObloggers to the recent PD piece about First Energy's lobbying power in Columbus (which only skimmed the tawdry surface of the story). On the one hand, it's a positive: a vivid reminder of the general earnestness (as opposed to "snarkiness," the adjective reflexively used to describe bloggers' tone by lazy web-phobic journalists bent on finding a universal description for millions of highly individual voices). Unfortunately, their surprise over the idea that a Fortune 500 giant operating in an indutry undergoing a transition from highly regulated to largely deregulated would have an extensive lobbying/influencing structure is also a reminder of their unsettling naivete about politics and business. In any event, the Village Voice's excellent muckraker James Ridgeway points out here that First Energy has some serious juice not merely at the state but at the federal level, as well.

And finally, we come to Tiger Woods. Yesterday, thanks to mom generously giving up her tickets, my oldest son and I were blessed to be able to head down to Akron to take in the spectacle of the NEC golf invitational at the beautiful Firestone Country Club. But let's cut to the chase, here: mostly, this served as an opportunity to follow Tiger Woods around 18 holes and marvel at not only his skill (Michael's focus), but also the entire raucous pageant that surrounds the appearance of one of the five most famous people in the world (my focus, as a rare golfer).

It was a blast to be able to get within 5-6 feet of Tiger on several occasions, though not without some serious hustle and strategy (for instance, occasionally traveling two or three holes ahead of where he was at the time). The sheer size of the crowd following him, the equivalent of the infamous "Arnie's Army" that used to follow Arnold Palmer, is breathtaking. On most holes, you could observe people lining up shoulder-to-shoulder, three, four and even five people deep, along both sides of fairways 400-500 yards long! Do the math on that for a moment. And around the tee and the green (the beginning and end of each hole, for the golf-challenged), it was often a dozen or more people deep. In short, a sea of humanity.

Living as we do in the age of pro sports spectacles that blare rock and rap music at the kind of ear-piercing decibels that seem to suggest no one under 30 is in attendance, golf's pastoral, 19th-century gentleman's rules can seem pretty welcome, if at times annoyingly prissy (like when the raised-hand "marshalls" insist that you stop walking, even though you were slowly and quietly soft-stepping 200 feet or more from where a player is about to take a shot). I spent half the day trying to imagine NFL referees insisting on silence before a goal-line stand play begins.

Anyway, as for Tiger, he was amazing. Who cares that he finished several strokes back? Through much of the day, he was just two strokes back and coming on. More importantly, the whole look and demeanor were amazing. His laser-like concentration is cool, and it never flagged. When once he bent over to pick up a branch that fell on the ground just in front of his ball (the scene unfolding not 10 feet in front of us), Michael whispered in my ear (though waiting, of course, till after the shot): "You could sell that branch on e-bay".

Now, Jack, I know that I've teased you for years about your love of golf, which I tend to casually dismiss as too much a reminder of the Eisenhower era. In truth, my take on golf is a tad bit more complicated. I rather enjoy playing myself, but never get in enough rounds to really improve. More to the point, I think it's one of the dullest games on the tube, ranking just ahead of bowling. But as a pro sport witnessed in person, it's sublime. Not only do you get in some serious exercise (I was pressed to my lungs' capacity keeping up with my 14-year-old greyhound), but up close, the golf swing of a professional is a thing of chilling, chiseled beauty that only a person lacking in all the senses could fail to be impressed with.

And then there's Tiger, who takes it into almost a theological realm, like Ted Williams did in baseball. All I can say is that the scene on the 14th tee yesterday will vividly stay with me for years, in large part of course because of the shared memory with Michael, but also owing to the graceful majesty of Tiger's gifts. Golfers, for the most part, are thin, compact guys (and local boy Ben Curtis, who wed the very night before, seems downright tiny). Tiger is a tad bigger than some, though all in the shoulders, not the torso. But to watch him from a dozen or fewer feet swing into his tee shot on 14 was something akin to reading a great poem the first time, or seeing an impossibly beautiful woman who seems to redefine the idea of beauty itself. The unbelievable concentrated explosive energy that went into the ball, and with the smoothest, most graceful controlled effort, took the breath away momentarily. The energy unleashed by the swing seems not unlike that of an NFL linebacker's savage hit after running at full speed in the open field.

It was yet another pungent reminder that greatness and the quest for unattainable perfection--whether in painting, poetry or the least exalted pursuit you can imagine--is a wondrous thing to behold. And doubly so up close.


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