April 2005

Cinderella strikes again

By Janelle Holden

I briefly considered writing this column about current affairs, but had second thoughts when I scanned through recent headlines. About the only news that struck a chord with me was the tidbit that Martha Stewart used dandelions and wild apples to spice up her meals in prison. As much as it’s easy to make fun of Martha, she is at least adept at making gourmet lemonade out of lemons (one of many things that I am not capable of doing).

Part of my problem with current domestic and international news is the fact that it completely wipes away my sense of humor. Although I have never visited the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the thought of it being turned into an industrial wasteland so that more of my fellow Americans can fill their gas-guzzling hummers with inexpensive fuel makes me a little sick. And as my family has taught me, if you can’t talk about politics or religion politely, you should discuss either the weather or sports.

So, I’ll try making some pithy remarks about drought now. After one of the driest, mildest winters on record in Montana, I had finally resigned myself to the lack of snow and started dressing for spring when the sky began spitting snowflakes again, which I cursed, and then felt guilty for resenting moisture in the middle of a drought. The recent change in weather is just one more example of a winter that has defied me at every turn. Just when things start to look up I catch the flu, or the weather unexpectedly changes, or I sprain my ankle, or some such durn thing.

Spring is not a particularly fun part of the year here mostly because it doesn’t exist. After our nine-month winter we have approximately three days of spring before summer begins, and it’s not very romantic to live here during those three days unless you fly-fish. If you don’t fish you’re stuck recreating on half-thawed hiking trails that often harbor exceedingly hungry grizzly bears.

But I shouldn’t complain. I’m just trying to make conversation. For most people, March is about fasting, reflecting on the suffering of a great religious leader, and trying to give up important stuff like candy and swearing. This is just fine with me since it leaves me to enjoy my Cadbury Crème Eggs, and college basketball – the two things that I admittedly overindulge in before Easter.

I’m not the only person with sports on my mind. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that March Madness could have a $900 million impact for American companies because so many of their employees are distracted by the event.

I don’t have any money riding on an office pool, and I don’t follow college basketball during the regular season, but I’m always up for a good adrenalin kick, and there is no doubt that the NCAA basketball tournament provides it.

Without a favorite team, I root for the underdog. I love to see an upset, especially when an unknown team (known affectionately as “Cinderella”) beats a team that routinely hands out perks and fat checks to their new recruits.

And this year, March Madness has delivered quite a few upsets. When Vermont beat Syracuse, well, let’s just say that no one in their right mind would have made that pick in a March Madness pool. It’s unbelievable that a 13th seed could knock off a fourth seed in the first round of the tournament, but that’s why it’s fun to watch. And unlike politics, I sometimes root for a team that actually wins!

College basketball is real basketball. Unlike the NBA, which delivers slow, boring, and stupid basketball filled with prima donnas that remind you of Cinderella’s stepsisters, college basketball is about passion, luck, and the best nerves. It’s also a good place to shop for unique names for your future children like “Joah,” and if the phrase “student- athlete” doesn’t apply to many of the players, well, I’m just not ethical enough to turn off the television on that basis.

See, I have now successfully filled a whole column with nonsense about both weather and sports, and you have stuck with me. What that says about our society, I have no idea, but it tells me that small talk may actually be more important than I thought, and that Cinderella stories are always interesting.

I just hope this stuff is interesting enough to keep my attention away from politics for the next four years. Otherwise, you may end up with bitter, sarcastic columns rather than my usual Pollyannaish prose. I’m sure we all hope that doesn’t happen.

Janelle Holden writes from Livingston, Mont.