So my television viewing this past week or so has given me a front-row seat to an intense competition, where the protagonists shift wildly between near victory and total defeat, where the the challenger who's spent years building an aura of inevitability finds that aura dashed in an unexpected defeat, where pundits and commentators dig into mounds of data to find the deeper meaning in it all.
I'm talking, of course, about the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year currently unfolding under Melbourne's summer skies, where, given my druthers, I'd rather be at the moment.
January is all too full these days. Once, not long ago, the month seemed more manageable, a time when you could focus on living up to your New Year's resolutions or, at minimum, on losing the weight gained through the holidays. The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was a nice respite from the initial rush of a new year, combining a needed breather with some deserved reflection on where the nation has been and is going. And the State of the Union address gave the country a chance to fulfill its civic duty by suffering the pre-emption of The Bachelor and one of the multitude of CSI variants.
Now January has turned into one headlong rush of political campaigning, as the escalating electoral arms race pits rural, non-representative states into a fierce competition to determine ever earlier which flawed GOP candidates the rest of the country will have the opportunity to choose from come November. It's like getting all excited about going to a fancy buffet, only to find out your visiting grandmother has sent back everything but the swedish meatballs and tuna casserole.
Not that I'm denying some giddiness over the once-again resurgent Newt Gingrich. Sure, I've written multiple times that I hope the Republicans nominate the most reasonable candidate because in slow economic times no Obama re-election is guaranteed. But, you know, it's Newt Gingrich. It's hard to see Obama losing to a hypocritically philandering historian, short of the opening of a dimensional rift that brings through Cthulhu and an army of hellish minions, in which case Newt's the man because he already has an idea on how to handle pre-emptive attacks by Lovecraftian old gods (it's on his web site, under ''policy papers'').
Still, as the GOP beast slouches toward Miami-Dade, I find my attention more firmly focused Down Under. Unlike a Republican debate where an audience boos an openly gay soldier, tennis professionals and fans alike have been outspoken in their defense of gay and lesbian players in the face of anti-equality comments from Margaret Court, the legendary Australian player turned Pentecostal preacher who has an arena named after her in Melbourne. An arena where Martina Navratilova and more than a few lesser known but equally lesbian pros have played their matches.
Where I find the GOP race dispiriting, I find the Australian Open (and all professional tennis) inspiring. Like society at large, it's not nearly open enough — plenty of players, male and female, are obviously a product of their times in their acceptance of LGBT people, yet only a handful of women and no men at all have come out. But it's growing and changing, yet another example of society moving out ahead of its leaders.
I believe we'll see more pro players coming out soon, including the one who's probably thinking right now about being the first to bring down that final barrier in the men's game. Until then, I'll just have to spend the rest of the week enjoying the last of the tennis, and the respite from the circus in Florida.
Something tells me February's going to be an awfully long month, too.