Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Olympics

The Tour de France is over, and the World Cup won't start for a couple of years, so we're stuck with the Olympics. Athletes from the world over will be traveling to a totalitarian nation with one of the poorest human rights records in recent history. They will compete in an environment where the air and water are so polluted that some participating countries will fly their athletes in for an event, and then fly them out again lest the Beijing atmosphere do permanent damage to their lungs. The situation is particularly onerous for long-distance runners, bicyclists and swimmers, who will have to gasp and gulp air so foul one athlete likened it to eating charred chicken wings while sprinting.

So I wonder, did anyone ever ask the competitors what they thought of the site selection?

I can imagine the conversation Ethiopian marathoner Kenenisa Bekele did not have with the Olympic committee of his country. "So, Kenny, sit down, have some injera, have some teff. We want to talk to you about running some 26 miles in a little more than two hours. We know you can do that, but here's the rub: it's kind of nasty out there in old China. There are, well, particles of stuff in the air, and some of them are kind of big, like ball bearings, you know? So maybe, while you're running, you'll have to hold your breath. Think you can do that, Kenny? Oh, and it would be nice if you could break a record or two. Good for tourism and such."

I have a friend, a young trainer who hopes to become a member of the US skeleton team and compete in the future Winter Olympics. He thinks athletes in next week's opening ceremonies should all march into Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium wearing the white surgical masks favored by ancient Asian ladies out on a stroll in Los Angeles. Then, at the closing ceremonies, they could fling the masks into the air, much like Midshipmen toss their caps when they graduate from the Naval Academy. Personally, I think that's a nifty idea.

Here's installment 35 of Wasted Miracles.

Within minutes he was at Orin’s. The man in the wheelchair at first looked at him incredulously, then roared in genuine and vast amusement.
“You mean you did the daughter too? You did the mother and the daughter and didn’t even know it? Jesus, Colin, you’ll never ever cease to amaze me. That’s the most hilarious thing I’ve heard in weeks!”
Orin took two deep breaths. “Jeez. The doctor told me I shouldn’t get over-excited. Bad for the heart.” He pulled a large handkerchief from his shirt pocket, cleared his throat, moped his forehead.
“So what’re you asking me, Colin? What do you want me to do with that little bit of juicy information? Course you got to tell her. That’s a no-brainer. Is that all you wanted to know?”
He wheezed, coughed, cleared his throat again. “You know, that reminds me of when I was a kid, and I finally got this girl, Amy, I think her name was, into the sack after weeks and weeks, and then her sister, I forget her name, started to come on to me really strong. So--”
Colin could hear Marsha bustling inside the house. In a moment she was at the screen door. “What’re you tryin to do to my husband, Colin, make him laugh to death?”
Orin cleared his throat a third time. “But that’s another story.”
Not much help to be had there. Colin went home.
It took Joe the Cop less than three minutes to find the name of the owner of the limo bearing the license plate ‘Africa 1.’
“Kind of an interesting guy, Colin, into lots of stuff, apparently, in for questioning a bunch of times but never once charged. Caters to both the African diplomatic corps and some of the higher class dealers. His name is Dioh, Mamadou Dioh. Owns the Africorps Limo Service, five cars, family business. He’s from Africa, Senegal or something, naturalized a couple of years ago. If you want, I can probably get more information.”
Colin thanked him, said no, he wouldn’t need anything else, hung up the phone, the photo still dancing behind his eyes.

Chapter 9

Mamadou Dioh didn’t dislikes whites, they were an alien species even though he believed they’d done some beautiful things, though not so much recently. Offenbach, Rimbaud, Saint Exupery. All white. Balzac, Cocteau, Delacroix. White. Mamadou had a particular admiration for Charles DeGaulle, one of the ugliest man ever to walk the earth (a white giant), was fascinated by Napoleon as well (a white midget). The fact that most notable men he admired were white and French was not lost on him. He was, after all, Senegalese, and the decades his country had spent under French rule had forever skewed its people and culture.
Still and all, they were different, whites were, occasionally downright bizarre. History has a tendency to gloss over the eccentricities of the greats, and it was his considered opinion that whiteness had contributed to strangeness, which in turn had permitted the ones he so admired to become historical figures in the first place.
And Mamadou was not a fool. He knew that if he himself had been white, life would probably have been very, very different.
For one thing, many of the tragic events that had befallen him since his arrival in the United States probably would not have happened. Had he been white, he was certain, he would not have had to spend the first few years in his new country as an illegal immigrant. His first home most assuredly would not have been a damp and stinking basement shared with eight other illegals from four continents. He would not have lost his sister. Whites ran the world and that was that.
On the other hand, were he white he would not now be the owner of the Africorps Limousine Service; he would never have been a policeman in Dakar; and probably never have migrated to the West in the first place.
All in all, Mamadou Dioh thought, events had a way of evening life out.
He double-parked the limo near the corner of M Street and Wisconsin, adjusted his chauffeur’s cap, walked into Georgetown Pipe and Tobacco and bought three packs of Gauloises Disque Bleu. Back on the sidewalk he opened a pack, pulled one of the thick cigarettes out, lit it with a gold Dupont lighter and watched with interest as traffic flowed around his illegally parked automobile. No one gave the car a second glance. This was Washington, where limos were as ubiquitous as Toyotas. Drivers in the nation’s capital were used to circumnavigating the obstacles of the rich and powerful. The trappings of the wealthy gave Washingtonians a particular vanity they could revile in public and embrace in private.
He took a great deep puff, exhaled blue smoke through his nose.
He smiled at two black women waiting for a bus, was gratified to see one of them grin back. For awhile he watched the pedestrians, shoppers, tourists.
Wisconsin Avenue and M street, once the hub of Washington’s entertainment district, had changed, become seedy. The streets were dirtier and unswept, victims of the capital’s drastic budget cuts. A condom store was cater-corner to the Farmer and Mechanics’ Bank, whose gold cupola still dominated the corner but now looked in sore need of regilding. The panhandlers were out in force, squatting on their thin haunches at every street corner and impeding traffic, brandishing paper cups from McDonalds. Some, he knew, had been there years, taking home more than a hundred dollars daily in change and single dollar bills. It seemed as if there were more tourists, many Nordics and Germans, fewer Japanese, and that non-English speakers outnumbered the locals at least three to one.
He dropped the cigarette, ground it underfoot, dusted imaginary lint from the shoulders of his black suit and returned to the car.
Life was good. He was a wealthy man by most standards and eventually, when all the business he needed to take care of was finished, he’d go back to Senegal, perhaps buy a small house near the sea, and life would be even better.
He eased the car back into traffic, whistled tunelessly to himself. Tonight a party of 20 had rented his four cars. They were, like him, Africans, not Senegalese but from some impoverished nation that had recently changed its name for the third time in hope of erasing its sad past and even bleaker future. The Minister of Finance and his entourage were in Washington to celebrate the signing of a World Bank loan that would line their pockets and perhaps, with luck, build a few schools and health stations back home. Mamadou had never seen that particular minister but could describe him perfectly, probably knew by sight the expensive women rented for the night.
Mamadou shrugged, took his chauffeur’s cap off and carefully placed it on the seat next to him.
The minister would no doubt be generous. The imminent windfall provided by the World Bank would make His Excellency drink perhaps a bit too much and indulge in other vices not approved by any religion. Mamadou anticipated a good tip, somewhere between seventy-five and a hundred dollars, more if the hired girls were particularly adept. The girls would be white, he was sure of that. And blonde. One more example of how whites ruled the world.
Mamadou could even anticipate the exact proceedings for the coming night. First there would be a reception at the Embassy. The minister and his minions would show up late, dressed in flowing national garb. They would be very serious, the minister would don the glasses he’d purchased in Paris to make him look professorial, and there would be a speech followed by much talk about development, about poverty alleviation, about the necessity for macroeconomic reform and how to encourage the nation’s private sector. The hired ladies would not be present.
After the reception the group would eat at one of the better restaurants--Mamadou made a small bet with himself that it would be the Lion d’Or--and drink a few bottles of good wine. The minister would ask to be taken back to his hotel so they could all change to Western wear. After that, Mamadou would drive them up Massachusetts Avenue to an elegant apartment building near American University to pick up the ladies.

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