Scalpers, skiers and cultural schizophrenia

Cintra Wilson reports from Nagano on scalpers, skiers and cultural schizophrenia.

By Cintra Wilson
Published February 20, 1998 1:00AM (UTC)
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Japan has got to be the most culturally schizophrenic society in the world, especially if you're like me, and you have a tendency toward the dark and vulgar. Right before I came to Nagano I got some dirt from a half-Japanese friend of mine who told me that the hot new pornography (available in the outskirts of Tokyo in a little shop called Baroque) features women either vomiting or getting penetrated nasally. It is virtually unthinkable that the Japanese people are furtively getting off on that kind of thing when you've been around them for even a small period of time. These super-clean, sing-songing Playmobile people live in an excessively gracious pastel world of happy electric wonder toys. The clock of pride in the main train station of Sakudaira is a huge plastic chrysanthemum from which bug-headed fairy children emerge strumming vegetable instruments on the hour. It would seem that an appreciation of velour ducklings singing Casio love songs and a desire for expensive photos of women upchucking would be mutually exclusive.

Nagano is a confusing city that doesn't seem entirely prepared for the world's hordes of elite, fur-coated sport-industry wives with frosty blond ponytails sticking out of baseball caps, or the clots of high-cash professional scalpers; big sleazy guys who evidently gypsy around to all the world's major sporting events and slickly stand around in GoreTex sweat suits with bad cases of chap and windburn, hustling tickets.

Nobody really speaks very good English here, even the designated English speakers, who roam around with green armbands that say "English." Nobody really knows how to operate an international telephone or a fax machine. Our modems invariably work on a strange, roulette-type frequency of success; the janky phone systems tick out the numbers on some internal abacus and persistently lose the connection. There are often baffling displays of poor organizing; the shuttle buses, for example, will often drop you and all other spectators in a parking lot light years away from the athletic events and you will be required to walk the distance to the event uphill in the snow (which wouldn't be as outrageous if the bus didn't pass a point miles closer to the games en route to the parking lot), but at the top of the hill you will find a mysteriously deluxe handicapped-only port-o-let with an Astroturf floor and liquid hand soap and electrically heated toilet seat, just in case a handicapped guy happens to drop from a helicopter shaped like a magic bunny right at the foot of the event. There are fabulous, if puzzling, accommodating touches almost everywhere, but they, like the goods of Baroque, serve mainly to make you short out and sputter-ask yourself, "But why?"

There is also a strange randomness to the Games themselves; some days you wake up at 6 a.m. and find yourself scuttling madly to attend back-to-back world snow skirmishes all day long, and sometimes your event is canceled and there's nothing you can do but stumble around Nagano and feast on such local delicacies as "child hornets."

The big news Tuesday was the men's team ski jump, wherein the Japanese team flew flatly and beautifully through diagonal blizzard and kicked ass over everybody in the world, then wept and embraced and flag-clutched on television in the finest gale of super-pitched emotion I'd seen since Michael Jordan sobbed face-down on the locker room floor after acing the playoffs again, shortly after the murder of his father. It was wonderful to see the Japanese homeboys win in Japan, particularly since the eldest and most endearingly sentient-looking member of the team had botched their medal four years ago in Lillehammer. Gary Kamiya and I watched the victory again and again on the big TV in the train station and smiled warmly at the Japanese businessmen who were smiling warmly. I was supposed to go to the perplexing ski 'n' shoot biathlon event, but I got the wrong train information and the gig was canceled anyway. There seems to be about a 30 percent chance of your outdoor event not happening on a given day.

The strange life and current of tickets makes scalping a very necessary bottom-feeding role here. Gary had to wheel and deal with a particularly smarmy moose in order to get me a women's downhill ticket, which culminated in Gary's cleverly chewing the guy down to a reasonable swapping fee, and the guy "accidentally" giving Gary the wrong ticket, a switch that we discovered at the foot of the shuttle bus. Gary sprinted back and miraculously found the big creep, who shrugged it off as a simple misunderstanding and handed us the right ticket. Gary believed that it actually was a mistake, but I gave the lout the fish eye.

I have to deal with those virulent scalp-flunkies today and attempt to trade my excellently valuable hockey tickets for a seat at the figure skating on Friday. For all my savvy and suspicion, I'm still probably going to get fucked up the nose.

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Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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