Dave Barry

Classic '96: Mucus and a tight pair of chinos


This Dave Barry column was originally published Tuesday, July 23, 1996 .

One great thing about playing host to the Olympics is that you get a chance to show the world the unique facets of your nation's culture. For example, at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, the world discovered that Norwegian culture features an enormous amount of snow.

Well, we Americans have a culture, too, and here in the steaming, teeming streets of downtown Atlanta, our foreign guests have a chance to be exposed to huge throbbing wads of it. For example, Monday afternoon I came upon a stage that had been set up in a parking lot. On this stage were two men and two women dressed in authentic plantation costumes; they were just standing there, looking uncomfortable, while the sound system blasted out the traditional Old South song Dance to the Music by Sly and the Family Stone.

Directly in front of the stage were two people dressed in Power Rangers costumes; they were dancing with a third person dressed as Batman. Not far away was the Energizer Bunny. Off to one side of the stage, observing this

scene, were two giant plastic heads -- no bodies; just heads -- that were apparently supposed to look like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. They had vaguely puzzled expressions, as though they were thinking: "What are those things dancing with Batman?"

Also observing the scene, from on top of an adjacent parking structure, were heads representing the Statue of Liberty and Abraham Lincoln. Looming over all of this was a Budweiser balloon and the huge helium-filled Gumby that is rapidly becoming  the symbol of these Centennial Games.

We can only try to imagine what kind of impression our foreign visitors will take back to their homelands.

"It's very interesting," they'll tell their friends. "Apparently it is traditional in the American South to dress as licensed characters and dance around the heads of assassinated leaders under what appears to be a gigantic waving lump of mucus."

Meanwhile, the hostility level is increasing between the news media and the Olympic organizers, especially the volunteers. There are thousands of volunteers here, directing people, and I feel really sorry for them. For one thing, they have to deal with members of the news media, who hate to be directed. For another thing, the volunteers all have to wear the same uniform, which includes brown chino-style pants or skirts manufactured by Hanes, the Official Maker Of Garments That Make The Wearer Look As Though He Or She Has A Butt The Size Of Nebraska Of The Olympic Games.

This garment is NOT flattering, especially to the women volunteers. Claudia Schiffer could wear this garment and be easily mistaken for a water buffalo. The effect with a normal woman is catastrophic.

Despite this, and the heat, the volunteers have been trying sincerely to be helpful. The problem is that they have been scientifically positioned -- I'm pretty sure a computer was used -- so that they are ALWAYS standing directly between you and wherever you are trying to go, telling you that you have to go some other way, where you will inevitably encounter another volunteer helpfully telling you that you can't go that way, either.

One of these nights I'm going to get out of my hotel bed at 4 a.m. and stumble toward the bathroom, and there, politely blocking my way, will be a Hanes-butted volunteer.

I won't complain; these people are just following orders. I only hope that they get to keep their pants, so when this is over they can burn them.