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It is probably un-American, particularly during the week of July 4th, but John Papadopolis, who runs a dry cleaning shop in the town where I live, can't help himself. When he attends soccer games, which he has been doing for many years, John cheers for every good play, even when the guy making the good play is on the team for which John is not supposed to be cheering.
"They look at me like I'm crazy," he told me the other day. He was referring to the people with whom he regularly sits at professional soccer games. "But the other team's keeper dives across the goal and tips the shot over the crossbar, or their forward pulls the ball back with his left foot, hops over it and back, gets the defender to run by him, then crosses the ball with his right foot to the man he's seen out of the corner of his eye, making a run, and the ball comes to him so softly. It's beautiful."
"But your friends don't like it."
"They think I'm crazy," he says, "unless the guy making the beautiful pass is on our team. Then it's okay."
John Papadopolis laughs with his whole face. No, with his whole body. And his laugh is high and contagious. When he finishes laughing, he is smiling, but not smiling like a man who is crazy. He is smiling like a man who is grateful for beauty, wherever it appears. And the little shake of his head, maybe it's bewilderment at the people who cannot share his appreciation. They are like the kind of skiers who have no use for a summer afternoon on a mountain, because there's no snow.
Life is hard work and long hours, and there are lots of disappointments, John Papadopolis might say on a bad day, and beauty is rare, which he might also say, and if you artificially restrict your appreciation of beauty, perhaps it is impossibly rare.
Which is why, when I mention to John Papadopolis a game that has happened since we last saw each other...the game in which the U.S. men's team looked hapless against Argentina in the first round of the Copa America tournament in Venezuela, he nods sadly, but only for a moment, because then he remembers the way Argentina played, especially in the second half, with such touch, such flow, and such joy, and the little sadness has no chance. And even during the week of flags flapping and fireworks and anthems and parades and Blackhawk helicopters landing on the high school football field, he cannot help himself. He smiles. He laughs. He shrugs as if to say, "Argentina played so beautifully. Beauty is beauty. And what can you do about that but enjoy it?"
This program aired on July 5, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.
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