A U.S. World Cup To Remember

You may know by now that the U.S.A. went out of the World Cup Tuesday in a thriller, losing to Belgium 1-2 in extra time.

Had a late corner kick while the game was 0-0 landed in front of world-class striker Clint Dempsey (instead of someone else who proceeded to make a meal of the best goal scoring chance the U.S. had had all game), it would almost surely have ended up in the back of the net – and the U.S. would have been improbable 1-0 winners. For through 90 minutes goalkeeper Tim Howard had kept the U.S. in the game. If he had not made the saves he had been forced to make by a lackluster (and at times simply outplayed) defense, the U.S. might have lost by a lot more than one goal.

Throughout the tournament, playing every game hard until the last whistle, the U.S. team had kept American fans in their seats. The country clearly appreciated the effort and entertainment. The U.S. Embassy in London even tweeted this today:

U.S. Embassy London says "Thanks."

U.S. Embassy London says “Thanks.”

The growing U.S. interest in soccer is not being lost on marketers and companies. They see it; that’s their job. For instance, if you had looked yesterday to a book a flight on Emirates, this was the U.S. homepage that greeted you:

Emirates.com in the U.S. on Tuesday.

Emirates.com in the U.S. on Tuesday.

That’s not something you see every day. One suspects quite a few other advertisers might also like to see the next U.S. men’s World Cup broadcast on free-to-air U.S. network TV, rather than niche sports ESPN. Uh, and by “network TV” I mean not just in Spanish. ;-)

Sharing Champagne

One of them has already arrived. My wife’s Irish long-time friend‘s mid-twenties niece took a coach to us from Orlando, via Miami. She got here to the Keys two days ago.

I knew her, although not very well. As we three have spent the last couple of days together, I’ve discovered she’s an absolute dry-witted riot: “I texted my friends back in Dublin, ‘Ah, sorry, I can’t go to see a film tonight. Oh, I’m busy by the poohol.'” (Note: You have to read that in an Irish accent.)

Next, having (we believe) just about worn out their two kids – a boy 11 and a girl 9 – for the last week at Disney, Universal, the Kennedy Space Center, and who knows where else (we’ve been receiving intermittent WhatsApp updates), our Irish friends’ contingent are due to descend upon us in full later today.

However, on a somber note, someone else won’t be here of course. And I’m now getting somewhat upset thinking about her while typing this short post.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of champagne glasses with a transparent background.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of champagne glasses with a transparent background.

“We’ll have a glass for Kam,” my wife’s friend has already decreed.

I have to admit, it is going to be an exceedingly difficult moment for me when we open the Champagne on her behalf. We are determined to remember her with smiles – even if coupled with tears. I’m sure you understand what I mean.

Before the big group arrives this evening, I’m going to try to take the opportunity to get some more writing done. I awoke with some further revisions in mind. And I doubt I will have much time for tinkering, to say nothing of composing, for at least a few days after today.

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UPDATE: And the U.S. plays Germany at lunchtime today. Have to work around that too. Another distraction. ;-)

Presumably it won’t be on ABC. It’ll be Univision once more. We have to watch Spanish-language TV to see the U.S. national soccer team in World Cup action….

Saved By Univision

Although it had shown the Algeria v. South Korea match earlier, ABC in the U.S. chose not to broadcast the U.S. v. Portugal game. Thus U.S. television network priorities. It relegated the U.S. game to cable sports channel ESPN – which is majority-owned by the Disney Company, which also owns ABC.

Our rental house does not have ESPN, so we watched the game on free to air, Spanish-language, Univision. Thank God for Univision. Our Spanish isn’t great, but you did not have to be Spanish-fluent to have understood what was going on when “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!” was screamed out by the play-by-play guy.

Speaking to my Dad in Pennsylvania yesterday, he said the coverage on ESPN – a supposedly cutting edge sports channel – was itself irritatingly subpar. He told me the announcers’ voices were not even in synch with the action on the pitch for the entire game. Frankly, if we had had ESPN I might have watched the game on Univision anyway…. just to not give Disney/ABC’s ESPN the rating.

Sunday seemed to demonstrate that while increasing numbers of Americans now do get soccer, U.S. network TV executives clearly still don’t see it as mainstream. While the game did garner big ratings on their ESPN, it would have of course drawn even a larger audience on free to air ABC. They had this generation’s U.S. 1980 Winter Olympics hockey team playing World Cup soccer on Sunday at 6pm ET, and they didn’t realize it:

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Then again, maybe ABC’s “World News” got the network more viewers at 6pm? Based on what I’ve seen of it, though, that program has not contained much that could be honestly termed “world” or “news” since Peter Jennings. It’s little more than a couple of quick headlines followed by vacuous gossip and tabloid features that is passed off to viewers – and presumably the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – as “news.”

Happy Hour

After a dinner out on Thursday evening, we decided to have a couple of drinks in a Cocoa Beach bar that was also attached to our hotel. As we walked in, I spotted several other couples sitting at the bar talking mostly to each other; and the bartender appeared personable enough. As we took bar stools, I thought, “Fine. This seems okay.”

Hmm. However, I had missed that one customer was a 30-something woman sitting by herself near the end of the bar, one empty seat over from the one I had just chosen. As my wife and I settled in, we noticed her son – who could not have been more than seven or eight – was with her, amusing himself at an unused pool table.

While we overheard her (it was impossible not to) increasingly emotionally bemoaning (I suppose reasonably enough) to a man the other side of the semi-circular bar about how she had lost all of her iPhone videos of her late mother, I ordered a Courvoisier. Beside me, my wife asked for a white wine. Having quickly scoped out what others were drinking, after the bartender stepped away to get our drinks my wife joked to me under her breath that he had probably not poured Courvoisier for anyone in ages.

Free Stock Photo: A mug of golden beer with a white froth, against a black background.

Free Stock Photo: A mug of golden beer with a white froth, against a black background.

Indeed he did appear to have served up largely beers. Obviously having heard me order it, after the bartender put the Courvoisier down in front of me, the 30-something woman asked me about it. As she did, she began to get exceedingly talkative and friendly.

Free Stock Photo: A Beautiful Woman Sitting At A Bar With A Drink [Editor's Note: This photo is merely for illustrative purposes, but I gather you've figured that out already.]

Free Stock Photo: A Beautiful Woman Sitting At A Bar With A Drink [Editor's Note: This photo is merely for illustrative purposes, but I gather you've figured that out already.]

Within seconds it became clear she had had too much to drink already. My wife was sitting directly next to me, on the other side of me. Listening to the woman’s ramblings, I noticed my wife look down at the floor and start shaking her head.

Fortunately other customers strolled in, and the woman had a new bunch to distract her. Among that group was a 20-something guy who was apparently a newly minted soccer scholar. Amidst his World Cup bluster, he started regaling the bar about Argentina being the best soccer team in the world, and how John Brooks is the best player ever.

And that guy had only just started drinking. After hearing him hold forth for rather too long, my wife (who is English and usually restrained in her opinions) took hold of her wine glass, leaned over and whispered into my ear, “He’s an idiot.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a drunk man with a mug and a watch.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a drunk man with a mug and a watch.

I hardly needed her to point that out, though. Suddenly the boozy 30-something woman called it a drinking session and offered a loud, slurry goodbye: “You are my favorite bartender!” She did not appear to be headed to a car, and the bartender seemed to know that. (My wife later told me she suspected the woman was a hotel guest.) Taking her son’s hand, she ambled out the door.

We finished our drinks. After we left, my wife remarked to me, “That place was such a pick-up joint. She didn’t care you were with me, or what your situation was.”

As I’ve reflected on that evening, I realize I’ve always been mildly uncomfortable in most U.S. bars. I never really relax in them. They are not like British pubs, which are often social places and serve meals.

True, pubs have their drunks, loudmouths, and those out “on the pull” too. But U.S. bars are often dimly lit, excessively cliquish, and devoted primarily to drinking and “escapism.” They may have a “happy hour,” yet more often than not they have struck me as sad places. :-(

“Americans now get soccer”

As we all know – and as the #johnbrooksforpresident Twitter hashtag reminds us – the U.S. had a big, surprise win over Ghana at the World Cup on Monday courtesy of John Brooks’s dramatic goal as the game was ending. Reading Americans’ reactions to Brooks’s unexpected, last second header heroics, my [English] wife joked, “Americans now get soccer.”

During World Cups, inevitably this question arises: Why isn’t soccer (football) even bigger among U.S. sports? And Americans are lectured (for the umpteenth time) that although it is not the top sport in the U.S., all the rest of the world is obsessed with it.

Technically, though, “all the rest of the world” isn’t: that’s always been an exaggeration. True, soccer is nearly a religion in Europe, Latin America, and parts of Africa. But it is often overlooked that it is far less important not only in Canada, but also in much of Asia and Australia/ New Zealand. Indeed the billion person Indian subcontinent is definitely not soccer-crazed: its passion is cricket.

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That said, U.S. soccer has come a long way in the last two decades – particularly the women’s game. The U.S. women’s soccer team has been far more successful than the men’s team: it is one of the best globally. Yet an interesting question is this: is it possible the “rise” of soccer within the last generation is a flip-side to the “decline” in the fortunes of U.S. professional tennis?

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I recall tennis was pretty popular when I was in high school back in, uh, the Middle Ages 1980s. However, soccer was well down the sports preferences list. For both women and men.

Yet when we consider how there is no U.S. man currently in the tennis “Top Ten,” and realize, the Williams sisters aside, among women only Sloane Stephens is in the “Top 40,” one wonders if many excellent American athletes who might in the past have played professional tennis – especially women – have instead taken up soccer?

My Day

Friday was a relatively ordinary day. I started early, at the PC after 6am re-reading Thursday’s writing output. I then had a read of what’s going on in the world, messed around on Twitter a bit, and put up a post here. Actually getting dressed and eating breakfast followed. I then tackled a few things around the house as well.

Around 9am, the new writing began. Here, I use a large-screen, desktop PC that sits on a glass-topped desk positioned on our loft office space. I have a comfortable office chair (which has wheels). If I sit back for a think, I can see Windham Mountain through a window.

The desk is large, and I’ve got reference materials scattered all over it and stuffed in hanging files sitting off to the side. For a background history refresher, on the desk right now is also a book I’m re-reading on the Algerian conflict (1954-1962). Reference material like that usually ends up supporting only a paragraph or two, or a few sentences in a conversation; but I firmly believe that, for this tale, reality has to support the fiction believably. (Think, in a similar sense, of the likes of, say, The Winds of War, but on a much more intimate scale…. and with no character becoming close to a U.S. president or a Soviet dictator.)

I had sat down with a detailed part of a chapter already firmly in mind. (I have the sequel outlined, but “the guts” are what need filling in.) I also had had a brainstorm about an unplanned, new chapter for the second half of the book, and which I felt I had to sketch out at least. I don’t really want to add to “part 2” just now; but when an idea hits, I have to write it down so I don’t forget it.

When I get going, I “zone out.” I put in earphones and play music (often older stuff from the 1990s as inspiration). My wife jokes that she knows not to talk to me when I’m writing. (“Your brain is elsewhere, thinking I don’t know what, about I don’t want to know who, and I can see that.”) As I tap, tap, tap, she leaves me alone, and goes off to do whatever she has to do.

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Hours disappear. If you want to see your life vanish, write a novel. Nine o’clock yesterday morning was suddenly 1pm. Four hours gone in a flash. After a bite to eat, and a quick shower, it was back to “the grind.” Four o’clock rolled around faster than I could yell “Patchogue!” – hint: that’s an obscure reference to the first book:

“No, I’m definitely not English,” James made clear. Trying to play it cool, he looked down again at his notebook for a moment, unsure what to say next. Finally, he voiced what seemed obvious. “And you aren’t from Patchogue?”

Uh, to be clear, I’m not asserting there that “Patchogue” is obscure. I don’t want to get into trouble! Rather I’m noting only that the reference to it in the book might be. ;-)

Aside from a sandwich and the shower, in all those hours I had barely gotten far from the desk. The result was worth it. I had pages and pages of (what seems decent) material.

At some point, I checked Twitter. I could see tweeting pals either exulting or bemoaning Spain’s being kicked all the way to Amsterdam in the World Cup. I was back in “the real world” again. :-)

Happy Saturday!