As the World Cup approaches I am reminded of a friend, B_____, who died last year. A physician, he was earnest, over-rational, and an assiduous problem solver. He considered himself very lucky to have married a man, H_____, who was his opposite in so many ways, a painter. 

B_____ once told me of an experiment he tried. He liked Wagner, but considered his music too long. 

“Wagner has moments of ecstasy,” he told me, “but it takes too long to get to them.” 

I remember we were sitting in a restaurant’s garden. I remember the sky as clear and breezy, the whitish sun lazy and indifferent, neither too warm nor too bright. I remember H_____ being a bit embarrassed, blushing and shaking his head. Not too embarrassed though, for he was terribly familiar with his partner’s foibles. 

“So I decided I shouldn’t be forced to wait for ecstasy,” B_____ said. “Who has the time?” 

I remember H_____ rolling his eyes at the sky. 

“I made a CD of all the great Wagner moments. I had about twenty of them. None of the setup. Just the peaks of bliss.” 

“You didn’t,” I said.

“He most certainly did,” H_____ replied.

“Wait,” said B_____, “let me finish. So I burned the CD, and made myself ready. I wore loose clothing, I set up my speakers on each side of the room, lay on the floor in the middle, and blasted the music. And . . . and . . . nothing. The music came on, and it was nothing. I felt nothing. No ecstasy, not even interesting, nada, nothing.”

I remember B_____ looking sheepishly crushed, his high hopes dashed so stupendously.

I remember H_____ somewhat smugly telling him that of course there would be nothing, that moments of ecstasy mean nothing without the setup, that there are no peaks without valleys, that any painter, any writer, any musician could have told him that.

I remember. I remember thinking that humans see nothing without contrast.

A soccer game is a Wagner opera. The narrative sets up, the tension builds, the music ebbs and flows, the strings, the horns, more tension, and suddenly a moment of pure bliss, trumpet-tongued Gabriel sings, and gods descend from Olympus to dance—this peak of ecstasy.

During these moments, I no longer am my usual self, no longer human. I am connected to life. Call it bliss, call it ecstasy, call it what you will. 

In that moment, I not only see God, I am God. 

I am not only connected to life, I am connected to my TV! 

Of course, not every game has these moments, just like not every opera is Wagnerian. Some games are delightful Puccinis, others are Verdis.

None are a Lady Gaga song.

I know many sports fans that don’t enjoy soccer. The argument is that there’s no action, not enough of it. If only there was more scoring like basketball. Now I love hoops. I’m a diehard UCLA fan, have been since my freshman year. But basketball is the 1812 Overture. Pomp and circumstance, fireworks and canons, lots and lots of fun, and in the end, still Tchaikovsky. Truly lovely, but really. 

I always considered the 1812 Overture to be the best allegory for the male orgasm, while Wagner, with its peaks, more female. Hmmmm.

So of course, I enjoy watching highlights. YouTube montages of players can at times be delightful, interesting, and even educational. At best they are the 1812, but mostly they are B_____’s CD. They have little to do with the actual game. A collection of peaks is basically bubblegum. A game of soccer induces more than enjoyment, more than entertainment.

During this tournament, I will ride with the Valkyries.