|Ending on a low note
By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2
Day 13: But lucky for some, especially Italy
June 13, Room 1206, The Osaka Hilton, 12:15 a.m.
Next up, a sports news report. I select "Bilingual" on my remote, and the dubbing track disappears. I don't recognize the U.S. anchors, but they piss me off pretty quickly with their tiresome, unoriginal and, frankly, played out, snarky attitude toward the World Cup. I paraphrase here, but this is basically accurate. They begrudgingly, and with all the enthusiasm, respect and, dare I say, talent of ninth graders reading Shakespeare aloud in English class for the first time, show a couple of World Cup highlights (including the two mind-blowing Danish goals that eliminated defending champions France). They then proceed to report in the staggering ratings success of the USA's vital first-round game with South Korea, screened at 2.30 a.m. ET on Monday. The game was "voluntarily" watched by (something like) 1.36 million households, one of them reports, "as opposed to those who were conscripted and forced to watch by their boss." The other one points at him and winks. Ha, ha. Poor you, forced to watch sports and report on it for a living. You truly have our sympathy.
And by the way, have you been known to fly the U.S. flag outside your house? Still have one of those little ones for your car? I'm sure you hold your heart when you sing the national anthem. You're a hypocrite.
Monday's U.S. game was one of the rare times in your lifetime your country will play such an important, landmark game of anything, laden with political, social and sporting overtones, in such a hostile environment. The U.S. players deserve your respect, as do the few hundred members of Uncle Sam's Army who've traveled thousands of miles to support them in person, not to mention those 1.36 million who "voluntarily" stayed up and watched. Patriotism is all about voluntary, mate; when you're forced into it it's totalitarianism; when you just do it because everyone else is doing it, it's spineless.
Christ, I must stop ranting. I'm hungry.
I get into bed and watch something called "Matthew's Best Hit TV. I don't understand a word of it but I fall asleep dreaming of making millions importing it into the United States.
Central Osaka, 10:30 a.m.
But I'm not there. I'm not good with puppets. Except the ones on "Crank Yankers," and I really doubt this is anything like that.
I head off instead to investigate Osakan culture at Starbucks and, overcome by a sudden and overwhelming desire to purchase camping attire, head upstairs to L.L. Bean. Also stop at the Dee Do, like a Circuit City, and buy a personal voice recorder.
Quick note: "Osakans are the most miserable-looking human beings on Earth. The Japanese economy might be in recession, but cheer up, fellas. Your football team is quite useful."
The Automatic Café, 1:10 p.m.
Seat 14B, ANA flight 87 to Oita, 3:15 p.m.
Quick Note 4: Must buy new World Cup Edition of FIFA 2002 and replay every game.
Somewhere in the middle of Beppu Bay, Kyushu, 4:45 p.m.
I have been in this car for more than an hour. They say that Japanese civilization actually started in this region, but by the looks of it, it left pretty bloody sharpish. This stadium is miles away from anything. We have finally reached it, but it is on top of a hill, hidden by towering fortress walls, and guarded by a 20-foot security fence. What a surprise -- nobody knows where the media entrance is. No I'm not getting out here. Drive, drive on, my man! Kita! That's my new word, it means north.
The Media Tribune, Oita "Big Eye" Stadium, 8:25 a.m.
I have no rooting interest in this game whatsoever, other than the fact I suspect my father is really Rossi the Ice Cream Man, who used to swing around the neighborhood when I was a child playing the theme to "The Third Man" over his VW Bus speaker. He always treated me differently than the other children, a knowing wink, an extra sprinkle, incorrect change. That would not explain, however, how much I look and sometimes act like the man who (when forced) actually claims to be my father.
It does occur to me though that one of these teams will probably end up playing the United States in the (fingers crossed for tomorrow) last 16.
The Media Tribune, Observer Seats, halftime, Mexico 1, Italy 0, 9:20 p.m.
I take it back, Trapattoni's a genius. He subs Totti (having a bad, bad hair day in the humidity of Kyushu's rainy season) for the diminutive Del Piero 77 minutes into the game and, five minutes before full time, the Juventus forward nips in and scores.
Fortunately, extremely fortunately for Italy, Croatia somehow manages not to beat Ecuador (according to Taki ,who is at that game working for ESPN, and calls me as soon as it's done, he's not sure Croatia really tried). It seems hard to believe. Oh, Croatia. Yes, I understand. Italy qualifies with 4 points. Not a lot. But I like it.
Or do I? If the United States wins its group, it now plays Italy; if it finishes second (less likely, it seems to me), it plays Mexico. Psychologically, I think the Americans would rather play Mexico, but as Rob Stone wrote Wednesday on ESPN.com, they absolutely cannot play for a draw. Que sera sera. In this World Cup, that might be the only thing we can all agree on.
Sentences I never thought I'd write:
I must run now, I've got to catch a hovercraft.
Michael Davies, a native of London, is executive producer of ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He'll be filing five diary entries per week from the World Cup for Page 2.