In a broad interpretation of Dr. Spock, my parents let me extend my usual four hours a day of allotted TV time if I played with other kids or did a sport. Unable to catch, throw or run, I was forced to convince them that bowling was a sport, thereby staving off continued humiliation on the soccer field. But walking around Sydney's Olympic Village, where I witnessed a giant blond Norwegian couple making out, Brazilian basketball players scootering by and Cuban boxers hogging the snowboarding video game, I was once again reminded of how out of place I am among the athletically inclined. I was about to slink back to the fun-exempt press center when, just past the florist, I spotted three tiny 16-year-old gymnasts waiting for a manicure in what was an obviously desperate, misguided attempt to appear as if they had reached puberty. I decided to get a manicure and haircut at the Olympic Village barbershop to achieve the jock look I had always craved. It seemed easier than working out.
I was momentarily distracted when I spotted U.S. swimmer Misty Hyman and followed her into the gift store because she's cute and I figure she'll marry anybody to lose that last name. My hair, however, along with my couch-potato-esque fingernails, kept her from returning my glances, so I went to see Laura Novell, who has been doing athletes' nails for 10 hours a day, six days a week without a break for the past three weeks. She assured me that male athletes, particularly Europeans, had got their nails done. This did not make me feel better. Then she told me that most of the U.S. basketball team and Tommy Lasorda had been in. I told her to pile on the cuticle oil.
Novell dished to me that the Russians were arrogant, and if any more American swimmers gave her attitude, she'd "push their cuticles back to their elbows." Just the day before, she had given Cathy Freeman acrylics, and now feared the extensions cost Freeman some time out of the starting blocks in the 200-m race, where she came in seventh. That's Olympic-level manicurist gossip.
With the nails of a Dream Team member, I headed to Natasha Matthews, a hair stylist recommended to me by swimmer Jenny Thompson. Matthews thought that even with a severe trimming, the best she could do was make me look like a chess player. Annoyed, I sat down in front of Donna Bushell, who worked in the next chair.
Bushell, in a clear bid for a tip, immediately asked, "What sport do you play?" I foolishly asked her what sport she thought I played, and the charade quickly ended. I told her to "give me something very athletic but not too trampolinist, if you know what I mean." She told me I could get my hair dyed in my country's colors as the Venezuelan team had done or have my country code dyed into the back of my head or Olympic rings shaved in. I started to wish I'd waited for Natasha. But in just 10 min.--a personal haircutting best for me--I was out of the chair, with a short haircut about which Bushell, when pushed, could only say, "Looks like you might play field hockey." I skulked out of the Athletes' Village and back to the press center, where I sadly discovered that my cuticle trauma was impairing my performance on the keyboard.