What we are, what we aren’t, who and how that happened. A turned ankle, a border incursion. The waving of the spear and the crashing of the wave. You are nothing, you are nothing, you dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight, which you forget when you wear the red shoes. The snap of bone as the machine rolls this way. All that is important and serious in this world arrives, brighter than a thousand suns. All she wanted was the quiet of the shoe store, or so you believed. But it’s too late now.
The bomb will not start a chain-reaction in the water converting it all to gas and letting the ships on all the oceans drop down to the bottom. It will not blow out the bottom of the sea and let all the water run down the hole. It will not destroy gravity. I am not an atomic playboy, as one of my critics labeled me, exploding these bombs to satisfy my personal whim.
– Vice Admiral William “Spike” Blandy
That’s “Atomic Playboy” Vice Admiral William “Spike” Blandy, his wife (in the matching hat!), and Rear Admiral F.J. Lowry, celebrating the end of Operation Crossroads in 1946 with an ominously shaped cake. The photograph, titled “Atomic Age Angel Food” drew heavy criticism from around the world, presumably not because it wasn’t delicious.
Two weeks later, French fashion designer Louis Réard trademarked the name “bikini” for his latest swimwear collection. Bikini became famous shortly afterwards, because “like the bomb, the bikini is small and devastating” and the realization that “atom bombs reduce everybody to primitive costume.”
This guy in my office who is young enough to say something stupid to me now and then just said that the Olympic medal count was important because it gives us bragging rights. “It doesn’t,” I said, “I’m pretty sure I have nothing to say because I didn’t get up early and run a single lap.”
He said, “It’s the sports mentality! Aren’t you proud of your country?”
I said, “I come from a different sport. Every pushup I did I did for me. Not you.”
He said again, “It’s the sports mentality!” like it wasn’t stupid the first time. “What sport?”
I said, “I spent most of my athletic life involved with gymnastics, which teaches you you act for yourself.” What I didn’t say is that gymnastics schools talk big talk about team sports but they don’t really give a shit so long as their stars are going great guns, which means they’ll win anyway. Mostly. It’s complicated –
“Don’t you want to see your team win?”
“No.” I took a breath because I knew he wouldn’t understand: “I want to see each gymnast performing the best routines of his or her life and I don’t care who wins.”
So we talked about the mysteries of scoring, some of which I grasp. He walked away thinking, I’m sure, that professional sports with tribal identities are the only ones, and that I just don’t get it. I do get it, and I know that he is invested in his tribal identity to such a degree that he claims credit for the work of others.
Once, I visited friends in Wisconsin. We did what people do: we sat in a bar, talking. One guy said, “So, you’re from New Jersey. A Jets fan!”
“No,” I said. I was trying really hard to be nice. “I’m from New Jersey.”
“A Giants fan?” he asked, wide-eyed.
“No,” I said again. “I’m just from New Jersey.” When I refused to identify with a tribal structure he understood he didn’t understand. I felt a little bad about it. I was wearing a red sequinned dress, fishnets and combat boots and his wife was nice to me anyhow.
It’s tempting to remind the Guy With Guy Friends in my office that I was the only girl in the weight room in the seventies before he was born, that women athletes are real athletes, that individual accomplishments are seldom achieved without Mom and Dad getting up at 4 a.m. for long drives to the rink, the pool or the gym for decades on end and WE had nothing to do with it. In fact, if we had any contact with that kind of dedication, WE would probably regard it with scorn, because in real life, WE don’t believe anyone is that special and that person is not being realistic. So WE say, and I would tell him all this if I thought he would hear it, but I know better.
I know better because WE think that, even at 45, even in 2008, I am just a girl and girls don’t get sports.