Believe it or not -- this lost art is more than a clean sweep.
I've always wanted to be an Olympian. Then again, at other points in my life, I've wanted to be a fireman, a molecular biologist, and an Elvis impersonator. In each of these cases, reality intruded. Until curling. Invented by the Scots, who gave us haggis and single malt, this game is democracy in action, a sport in which my lack of size, speed, strength, and coordination isn't a detriment. You don't even need to buy special shoes (which, depending on how you look at it, is sort of a drawback).
Basically, curling is like beefed-up shuffleboard on ice. You slide a large rock down a hockey rink toward a bull's-eye-like target. The rock is round, smooth, and has a handle on top. Imagine what Wilma Flintstone might have used to iron Fred's orange toga, and you've got the idea.
I meet 1998 Olympian Lisa Schoeneberg at the Olympic venue near Salt Lake and she shows off her form. Putting her feet in what look to be tiny starting blocks, she rocks back, pushes off, and glides effortlessly out onto the ice, crouched on one knee. The rock seems to float from her hands.
My turn. I rock. I push. I slide. I wobble. I grab onto the rock like granny clutching her walker. Just before the rock threatens to drag me down the ice, I remember to let go.
"Don't hurl it, curl it," Lisa chides. I swear that I gave up hurling after that last kegger in college. After a half an hour of coaching and practice, I manage to keep my balance and let go of the rock at the same time.
All that's left is sweeping. With two kids who approach the dinner table the way Jackson Pollock approached a canvas, this is something I know a little about. In an effort to make the rock go farther and straighter, your teammates run ahead and sweep the ice. Really fast. The keys to successful sweeping? Don't fall. Don't touch the rock. Don't knock down the other sweeper.
I am ready to play. My team captain, Jennifer Strett, will tell me where to aim and when to sweep. She points her broom to a spot just in front and to the left of the circle.
"Aye, aye, skipper," I say, feeling for all the world like Gilligan. At Strett's behest, teammates Carl Wolfram and Lee Stone sweep. "Go baby," I shout. The rock slides. And slides. And slides right past the circle.
"We broomed it right out," says Carl apologetically.
Down to our last throw, Jennifer shows us how it's done. She sizes up the situation like Gary Kasparov, and I trot alongside her rock, ready to sweep, and watch as it arcs improbably, gives one of Carl's rocks a love tap into the inner ring, and then stops like J-Lo's bodyguard right in front of the circle. Poetry in motion.
"Are we the man?" I ask.
"We're the man," says Strett, indulgently.
We win, beating the Youth Impact junior team. Them being teenagers and this being Utah, we bypass another tradition -- losers buy the drinks -- and head to the vending machine. I am undefeated, I say to myself as I knock back a Squirt. And I intend to stay that way.
I have a new mission in life. When I get back to New Jersey, I'm going to start a curling league. I'll revolutionize the sport, starting with warm-weather cross training -- a couple quarts of 10W-40 on a local cul de sac should do it.
"See you in 2006," says 18-year-old Youth Impacter Anthony Gonzalez, extending his hand.
"I'm there," I reply.