Whence loyalty? There I was on the goose-stepping machine at the Y, preparing my body for bathing suit season and catching up on my sports watching. Channel 24 had the NBA semi finals, Boston and Orlando in the second quarter. During commercials I clicked up to the French Open, and watched two women I had never heard of. I found myself disliking the brownette, a shorter chunkier woman with an awkward style. She had a habit of punching the air when she won a point, and reacted with disgust when she lost. Most of the time she wore a mean, grumpy, almost piggy expression. The lighter blonde by contrast was tall, slim, graceful, calm, mature, taking good fortune and bad with a small smile. They were in the decisive third set, the darker woman up by a break. Oh, well, I thought, and switched back to basketball.
When I returned to tennis, the blonde had caught up, but I was not pleased. I was horrified. Horrified, I tell you. The screen showed the full names of the players, and it turned out that the light blonde was seeded 5th or 6th, which made the brownette a serious underdog. I always like to cheer for the underdog. And she was Canadian! A Canuck doing well in the French Open. Instantly -- absolutely instantly -- my loyalty did a 180. And not just my loyalty. My whole perception of the two women changed. The Canadian was a feisty player, I saw now, with a lot of moxie and enthusiasm. She really got into the game. That's her in the picture -- don't you love her energy! The languid lifeless bland blonde princess type was hardly worthy of being in the same court. I hated that smug little smile of hers, the same way I loved the pugnacious battling grimace of the Canadian. Come on! I found myself saying out loud, as I stepped fascistically into the red zone of cardio-fitness. Come on!
I would not have called myself a strong nationalist. My heart does not beat faster at the thought of Wayne Gretzky or Terry Fox or Tommy Douglas or Margaret Atwood (well, maybe Tommy Douglas, that sexy prairie socialist). And yet the little icon on the TV set next to the name -- the red and white maple leaf -- had me cheering for a woman I had never heard of playing a sport I don't usually watch.
The girl on the machine beside me was watching the same thing on her TV set. She smiled over at me. Isn't she great! she said.
Oh yes, I said. I've been a fan for almost a minute now.