As Good as It Gets At the flick of a finger, we travel to sporting events around the globe--and we take it all for granted

June 11, 2000

Congratulations. You've won the cosmic lottery. The universe is
10 billion years old, and modern man (Homo sapiens) is 35,000
years old, and yet--somehow--you were not among the three
million souls on Earth at the end of the Ice Age or the 30
million spinning pottery in 2000 B.C. or the quarter billion
sweating through sackcloth at the time of Christ.

In the whole history of the heavens, you have had the
inexpressible good fortune to live now, in a time and place of
unprecedented technological marvels so mystifying they are
tantamount to magic. Existence is but a flashbulb--"a brief
crack of light between two eternities of darkness," wrote
Nabokov--but your bulb has popped at the most auspicious moment
in all the millennia.

Few of us appreciate that. Humans can screen movies six miles
above the earth in a 500,000-pound flying machine, and the only
expression of disbelief we can muster upon disembarking in Tokyo
13 hours after leaving Chicago is "I can't believe they ran out
of peanuts." Likewise, sports fans will dwell on the
unconscionable cost for a family of four to attend a Knicks game
($455.26) without ever recognizing the many miracles that allow
us to see games--every day, from around the world--at little or no
cost.

On any given day this week we can watch some combination of the
NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup finals and French Open tennis and
half a dozen baseball games and golf and auto racing and
inevitable highlights of Australian Rules Football--pictures fed
into our homes intravenously, by basic cable, for little more
than a dollar a day. What's more, with the press of a thumb we
can switch from Paris to Dallas to Perth and back. Think about
that. Channel surfing, far from instilling a couchbound malaise,
ought to fill us with awe.

Magellan's crew required three years to circumnavigate the globe,
but we--whose numbers came up in Cosmic Powerball--can witness via
satellite a soccer match from London's Wembley Stadium as it is
happening. Such technology leaves me agog, feeling like the Phil
Hartman character Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, a Neanderthal restored
to life at the turn of the 21st century.

Occasionally I open the South China Morning Post and imagine that
I am overlooking Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor. In reality I am on
the Internet, an even better place to be, for it lets me travel,
instantly, to the Himalayas. There I can watch a man climb Mount
Everest in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I will never
know. That punch line, originally spoken by Groucho in Animal
Crackers, was in fact written by a screenwriter named Morrie
Ryskind. Or so I just discovered in Bartlett's Familiar
Quotations.

See? We are the first people in creation to have instant
access--all at once and in limitless quantity--to affordable books,
virtual libraries, foreign newspapers and Marx Brothers movies;
the first who can, in an eye blink, go anywhere. Such a
civilization should, it seems to me, put the Renaissance to
shame, and perhaps one day it will.

What makes me think so? Seeking momentary diversion at home last
week, I touched a button and was taken live by ESPN to the
National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., where 12-year-olds
puzzled out such words as eudaemonic ("producing joy") and echt
("genuine, authentic"). Upon being given the word lucifugous
("avoiding light"), a lucifugous boy named Sean Conley asked the
judges, "Does it contain the Latin word luci, meaning 'light,'
[and] the Latin word fugue, meaning 'avoid'?" Told yes on both
counts, the kid then spelled the word without pause.

At that moment I felt privileged to live in this age of potential
greatness, of latent enlightenment. The realization came
suddenly, in an epiphany that was both eudaemonic and--I know
now--echt.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)