The Wife joined me around the computer last Monday morning to watch a Denver Broncos football game played in Colorado a few hours earlier. She knows how much I love the Broncos, and wanted to share what she thought would be some pleasant time together.
Since I recently spent three days with her at a yoga retreat, which is not my natural default option, she figured she should now do something with me that I like: watch a Broncos game.
She was wrong.
It’s not that I don’t like the Broncos. I do. In fact I love the Broncos, and always have. I grew up on them, bonded with my father by going to their games in the freezing cold, and have followed them faithfully over the 30-plus years that I have lived in Israel.
I followed them even in those pre-Internet, pre-cheap calls to the States days, when we didn’t get the scores of a Sunday game until Tuesday morning. One of the best perks about working at The Jerusalem Post in the mid-80s was access to the telex machine where the news wires came across, so I could check the scores early Monday morning.
I have even had partial success getting my Israeli-born children to take an interest, or at least to feign an interest.
I also watch the Broncos religiously. In fact, this year I plunked down $100 and bought a computer sports package that allows me to watch each of their 16 regular season games – I can watch them live or, if they are playing at 3:30 a.m. local time, I can roll out of bed the next morning and watch it digitally taped.
The beauty of this system is that I can watch the game immediately after it is played, and thereby not worry somebody will spoil the suspense by blurting out the score. In years past I would often have to go hours without knowing who won, until I could get my hands on a videotape of the game. In those days I lived in fear of running into someone who would blurt out, “How about those Broncos, huh, amazing how they lost that game.”
So concerned about this was I, so paranoid, that once while waiting to see a game that had already been played, my phone rang and when I answered, I detected an American accent on the other end.
“Don’t tell me the score,” I snapped.
“This is Dr. Guttmann,” the person said, rather surprised. “Is your wife home?”
SO, YES, I do love the Broncos, and watch them every week. But – and this is the point The Wife cannot fully comprehend – this does not necessarily mean I enjoy watching them.
“I thought you like this,” she said watching me watch the game. “Then why is your leg shaking? Why are you clutching the armrest? Why do you seem so tense and nervous?”
Like, I tried to explain, was not the right word for this type of experience. I like listening to Mozart. I like bowling. I like eating ice cream – those are experiences that are enjoyable even as they are being done. Watching a Broncos game does not fall into that particular category.
On the contrary, I often find the experience of watching the games agonizing, knowing – from years of experience – that nine times out of 10 Denver will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. When they win I am happy afterwards, when they lose I am aggravated, but watching it all unfold is one nerve-wracking, anxiety-ridden experience.
I feel a knot in the stomach watching the Broncos, my heart pounds, I curse. It’s a feeling not dissimilar to being late for an appointment and stuck in a traffic jam.
After explaining this to The Wife, she pointed out that while it is difficult in life to avoid traffic jams, one need not watch Broncos games if they cause so much aggravation. Why voluntarily put oneself through such an anxiety- inducing situation, she asked.
Which is a darn good question, and one for which I really have no good answer, other than to say that we all do it, and often much more than we think.
WHY, FOR INSTANCE, do people voluntarily watch suspenseful movies? I’ve stopped watching “thrillers.” Who needs them? Who needs to pay good money to sit in a theater and watch a movie that you actually want to end, because you can’t take the suspense?
Long ago, at about the same time that I reached emotional maturity and decided I did not really have to go on roller coasters at amusement parks, I concluded that if I knew a movie was going to make me look at my watch to see how much time is left to the end – either because it was too suspenseful, too violent, too scary or too sad – then I wouldn’t go.
“Great policy,” my father said. “Enjoy Mary Poppins.”
It’s also a policy I advocate to people who complain about one columnist or another in this newspaper, or any other.
“I sent you an article by your buddy Roger Cohen,” a good friend said sarcastically on Tuesday, trying to egg me on, knowing that The New York Times columnist’s pieces on Israel raise my blood pressure.
“Thanks a lot,” I responded, vowing not to read it. Then I went home and read it, kicking myself for having done so; for performing this singular act of masochism, for this self-induced irritation.
Here I did not heed my own advice: Don’t read what you know is going to get you furious.
As an employee of the Post, I am not infrequently an address for all kinds of complaints against the paper, including why it runs one particular columnist or the other.
“Why does the Post keep running this guy?” the complaint will come in. “I can’t stand reading him.”
“Then don’t,” I advise. “Just don’t read him. Nobody is forcing you. Turn the page.”
At first, the person will say, “Wow, that’s right, that makes sense.” But then he will go home and read it anyway.
There are certain things in life we must do, even though we don’t enjoy them: washing the dishes, going to the dentist, attending parent-teacher meetings.
But those things fall into a different category: those are not things done voluntarily as a leisure activity, but rather as necessary parts of living.
But watching a Broncos game or reading a Cohen column? No, definitely not necessary parts of living, yet – despite the aggravation – I still watch, and I still read.
Why? Because every once in a while they surprise – the Broncos will win in a romp, or Cohen will write something about Israel that actually makes sense – and I will be washed over in unadulterated joy. And that, or the expectation of that, keeps bringing me back for more.