Thursday, July 22, 2010

Am I Tough Enough? Um, that would be a no.

I must be out of my every lovin’ moyind.. oops, I meant to type “mind” but my arms resemble cooked spaghetti. I can’t even lift my finger to scratch my nose which itches from the caked dried sweat. I’ll just leave it until someone starts to stare. I will then ask for help. Perhaps a wet warm tissue please?

I have reluctantly agreed to participate in a male dominated chest pounding macho-fest in the mountains. The event is scheduled for 78 days, 15 hours and 32 minutes from now, but it could be 1,078 days and I can admit right here and now that I still wouldn’t be “ready”.

Apparently, “ready” means being of sound mind and body to run through fire, climb over a bus, wade through waste deep shivering cold mud all at a lung exploding altitude - 8,000 feet.

I combed through the pictures and descriptions of what is aptly called The Rough Mudders event (not a race, they don’t keep time that’s probably because most sane people don’t finish), and a overwhelming sense of anxiety washes upon me. That’s because I know in my gut this is not a good activity in which I should engage.

I turned the ripe old age of 38 last May. For those math wizards, that’s two years shy of the biggie. And when I parooze the pics of said Rough Mudder participants, I hardly fit the demographic: mid to late 20 something men, likely single with muscles atop of more muscles. Sure, there are a smattering of women who participate, but those women belong on stage of the Body Builder USA competition, something my body (and mind) never aspired to do.

So here I sit, after my first hard workout (well, hard for my standards) thinking is it really worth it just to say I did it? Just to have bragging rights over those too smart to join in this rugged mud slurping sausage fest?

But something within me (call it foolish pride) just can’t say no. When this little project presented itself through an impulsive and irrational friend, it looked like a fun challenge. What appealed to me the most was the team environment. I envisioned my band of brothers and sisters hoisting me over the 8 foot scaling wall or pushing me through the mud filled tubes as I army crawl my way to sunlight. It gives me tingles, really, to know that we will suffer through the throws of hell and come out singing and dancing and having a celebratory beer together.

The course is only 7 miles. I use the term “only” very loosely here because I probably couldn’t run 7 miles on a backroad in Kansas right now. I use “only” because that appears to be the less daunting part of the event. It’s set up at the Bear Valley ski resort. I have season passes up there so I am pretty familiar with the gnarly downhills.. which translate to uphills in this race. Along the 7 mile course (it’s assumed that participants will run the entire route), there are 17 obstacle courses that were developed by British Special Forces and I am not kidding about that. As far as I can tell by the website (and I stopped looking after my stomach started to turn) there are swamp swims, river crossings, army crawls into and under really scary things, and yes, there’s a fire run too.

Here’s what the website says to do in order to be ready:
A general tip
We suggest starting off each day taking cold, freezing showers to prepare for the icy water and mud you’ll have to wade through from start to glorious finish.
After your shower, look at yourself in the mirror. Punch yourself in the mouth. This works on two levels: the first is that you get used to pain.

Nutrition: What you put in your body has a direct effect on how you preform on May 2nd – mentally and physically. We recommend a meal of raw baby cow, preferably one you found and wrassled yourself (for city dwellers, any form of rodent, bird, or next door neighbor will do.) For dessert, snort two lines of protein powder and call it a day.

To replicate the burning conditions of our ring of fire, cover the inside of your pants with cayenne pepper for a 5k run through the park.
Alternate: Put tigerbalm in your eyes. Stare at the sun.

Strap some steaks to your legs and take a run through Michael Vick’s dogpound.
Alternate: Strap some pill bottles to your legs and take a run through Lindsay Lohan’s house.

We also recommend wearing a hat with a swim cap underneath and a pair of tough, thick gloves to prevent any burns from the ropes obstacles and splinters from any walls.

After reading these suggestions for training, I almost fainted from fear. This has got to be the dumbest thing I have decided to do in my life.

In the meantime, I must start getting serious about training. Today was a good start but I have to put it on hold for a while as I am headed out the door to Las Vegas to compete in the World Championship Beer Pong Tournament. I do have my priorities, afterall.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Man On the Street

I happened to be occupying a middle seat on a Southwest flight from Orange County back to Sacramento about two years ago. I was pissed because I didn’t have any reading material. My work files were tucked away in the overhead bin – likely a subconscious move in order to completely avoid whatever assignment awaited me after my work trip. My book version of a chick flick was abandoned on top of my comforter at home. I could envision it, sitting there, spread open so far that the spine was stretched to its max crying for me to come home.

To boot, I was sitting next to a snorer to my left and a loud iPod player to my right. I couldn’t recognize the thumping base. Probably not in my musical repertoire or I might have enjoyed having it blasted in my inner ear.

I tried unsuccessfully to catch a quick nap. I was on this rare occasion bored out of my mind.

I picked up the reading material that was stuffed into the pocket in the seat in front of me. I had no interest in breezing the airline shopping mall for nose hair pickers and six foot garden gnomes, so I put the magazine back.

And then my world shifted, just a little.

I picked up the Southwest’s rather mundane knockoff of Esquire and began scanning its contents –Vegas is lovely in the summer if you stay indoors; Willie Nelson is On The Road Again; the SWA President’s message – thank you for your business. But the article that completely captured my attention was one about Greg Packer, a resident of New York and native of Long Island.

I read and reread the article, soaking in all that this guy had accomplished to eventually come to be known as the most quoted man in America.

After graduating high school in 1983, Greg Packer eventually earned a living as a highway maintenance worker in Huntington, NY. He retired and began a very successful outlet of reaching out to the masses and being quoted in several hundred news outlets throughout the U.S. not as a reporter, but a regular guy on the street. How does he do it? By standing in line.

Greg has done it all. Google his name and there are an overwhelmingly number of hits of him at certain high profile events, offering sound bites to reporters that invariably get in the press.

Take the time he stood in line for 110 hours before the iPhone went on sale, becoming the first to not only purchase the devise but be filmed and photographed walking in to the store. His efforts don’t stop there, in fact, he has been quoted or photographed at least 16 separate times by the Associated Press, 14 times by Newsday, 13 times by the New York Daily News, and 12 times by the New York Post, according to Wikipedia. He has had the opportunity to meet people including Madonna, Hilary Clinton Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, Dennis Rodman, and Ringo Starr, as well as at least three presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Most of these people recognize him and know his name. He has been quoted on his reaction to military strikes against Iraq, the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the opening of the new Star Wars movie and at countless Yankees, Mets and Jets games.

He was also the first to sign Princess Di’s condolence book and the first to be scolded and called out by Anne Coulter as being a shill for the lazy media, “It was easy for the Times to spell Packer's name right because he is apparently the entire media's designated "man on the street" for all articles ever written.”

At the time I read this article, I was writing for the temporarily dormant magazine, California Conversations and decided to interview Greg. I was fascinated with his methods, the way he seeks out these events, his consistently quotable quotes.

I found Greg’s contact info – it wasn’t hard, and reached out to him with my request. He not only jumped at the chance to be interviewed, he suggested a trip to California so I could see this gig really worked – in the flesh. Now some may question the safety of connecting with a perfect stranger, but all potential fear dissipated with my first phone call with Greg.

His thick New Yawk accent captivated me during our first conversation. I began speaking like him right away, for even today I attempt to “talk East Coast” when I want to make a point while sounding tough and friendly at the same time. Our conversation went as follows:

GP: “Hey, Brown’a, how’s the left coast treatin’ ya?”

Me: “Yo, Packa, how’s it hangin’ out there in the lost coast?”

Our banter became almost instant, but so did our friendship. We began planning our trip to seek out Jesse Ventura’s book signing in LA. I started checking flights.

But then the sweet, successful magazine didn’t have the staff at that particular moment to ramp up another edition, so here I sit, itching to write about the (mis)adventures of Greg Packer.

In the meantime, Greg and I still keep in touch. He sends me a Mother’s Day card every year. Very sweet. I have even seen him on TV on two occasions – one time during the Today show as I got ready for work. It was Friday and the network was having a concert in the park – the New Kids on the Block. In the sea of middle aged moms, there stood Greg, holding a bright yellow umbrella in the rain, waving to the camera. I thought I might be seeing things so I rewound the program and paused it. Unmistakable. I called him. His voice mail box was full.

Another time, I was watching a program about Steve Jobs and the crazed outpour of the iPhone. Sure as day, there was Greg Packer being interviewed walking into the Apple store, albeit a little unkept, sunburned. Cameras were flashing from all different directions. It was then I realized that Greg is more of a celebrity than those he seeks out.

I follow Greg on Facebook and keep up on his daily statuses which are laden with sports and celebrity events updates. In fact, Tuesday’s status update was the following:

I will someday get my chance to spend what will undoubtedly be a most memorable occasion with Greg Packer, and I will live proudly to write about it.

Until then, I will have to settle on those updates from the man that continues to put a smile on my face:


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Finally A Little Perspective

I have had some really crappy jobs in my lifetime. I remember one summer I had a job as a seating attendant at the horse races, which on the surface seemed like a fine way to make some quick cash, but it was so degrading and laced with sexism, that I was fired after two weeks.

Prior to my blunt kick to the curb, I learned in short order that the tips I received from those rich old guys would exponentially increase the more I bent over to wipe off the dusty seat with the rag that I hung from my back pocket of the jeans that I painted on. After they were seated, they would chat me up, ask me to grab them a drink from the bar, “and make it quick, sweetheart”. I learned to reel in the attention, to smile, graze their shoulder, as if my summer money depended on it. I was seventeen at the time and heard that old men thought that they had hit the jackpot if someone within that age range even pretended to be interested.

After three days on the job, I walked away with tips that amounted to 200 in cash and a winning ticket. I later cashed it in for $500. I never had so much cash in my possession in my life. I began to understand the allure of the other oldest profession.

The job allowed me to fine tune my ability to flirt with men as well as women. Old ladies in grandiose hats would accompany their husbands and eyeball me as if I were the devil. After a few trial runs, I learned quickly that paying more attention to the wives with similar affection – a few winks and slight hand to arm combat – my tips ended up being the same dollar for dollar.

I also made a lot of jokes. In between races, I would stand before the crowd and indulge my audience in a monologue about my dating life, my father’s strict ways or my brother’s nerdy behavior. Some laughed. Others wanted to get into my pants and thought that giving me center stage would be just the way to do it.

Then I was fired. Well, technically, I wasn’t outright fired. I was moved up into the nose bleed section where teenage boys would pinch my butt and throw pennies at my head when I showed them to their seat. That lasted three and a half days and then I quit.

My worst job was at a popular gym. At the time I was attending UC Santa Cruz. I was a personal trainer for the morning shift, which meant I was up and manning the front desk at five a.m. on weekends and on those days I didn’t have class until after 11. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time. College perpetuates and fosters the ability to continue to sleep in the way we did in high school, except not just on weekends.

I guess you could say I wasn’t thinking. To boot, I had a walking sexual harassment case for a boss. To his credit, he wasn’t totally responsible for his behavior – he was on steroids which, as gym lore dictated, made him extremely irritable and shrunk his testicles to the size of blueberries.

Two incidences worth mentioning: I was cleaning the gym equipment one morning and Mr. Steroids showed up unannounced. He usually slept in which meant that he grumbled something to me about logging people in properly as I was leaving my shift.. something that was truly manageable, until he “noticed” me.

On this morning, the heebies crept into me something fierce. “You know, Brown, you would be kinda hot if you did your hair and wore makeup.” I tried to downplay his inappropriate comment by replying that he should be aware that I attended UC Santa Cruz and that his suggested get up would be condoned.

“No, I’m serious. Let’s see you with your hair up.” His Jersey accent and curly mullet made me want to vomit in my mouth.

“No thank you.” And I grabbed my wad of hair out of his hand and began cleaning the mirror, horrified.

Mr. Steroid got the picture but he wasn’t happy with the rejection. In fact, after that he made my life at the gym a living hell. I was subject to write ups, delays in my checks, my friends who attended the gym (and paid) were harassed, and he told boys who would ask for my phone number that I was a lesbian and not to waste their time. He would whisper loud enough for me to hear, “She is a Banana Slug. She likes pussy.”

I should have quit then, but I liked the money. The beer money. So did my friends, so I stayed.

One day Mr. Steroid lost his mind and yelled at a 14 year old boy who was bench pressing. The kid was struggling to lift up about 120 pounds and asked for help. I was watching from my perch at the front desk trying to stay out of the way. Mr. Steroid yelled at the boy for a good 20 seconds before grabbing the bar and told him to get the eff out of his gym, that he didn’t allow wimps.

I should have quit then, but I liked the money. The beer money….

I had made a likely friend/ally during my time at the gym. We bonded over a common emotion – we both hated Mr. Steroid. She had dated him for a spell and told me how abusive he was. One time she told me that after they broke up, he forced himself on her while his pit pulls watched.

I asked, “So he raped you?”

Her response, “Well, since we had been together and since I went over to his house and drank too much, I wouldn’t necessarily call it rape.”

I wondered what she would call it then.

My new friend and I used most of my working hours to talk shit about Mr. Steroid. This was a brilliant set up in my opinion because I was getting paid by him to soil his reputation with her and others who would listen.

And then one day, my friend walked into the gym (don’t ask why she was still patronizing the gym if she feared for her life with this guy. I asked and didn’t get a straight answer, but I do believe the rape story. Mr. Steroid talked regularly about bringing girls back to his house and scaring them with Cujo and Killer). She hopped on the treadmill and began her cardio when Mr. Steroid approached her.

I watched from my perch.

They talked for awhile. She was seemingly uncomfortable. She finally pushed the off button on the treadmill and headed for the door. I perked up, watching every move.

Mr. Steroid followed her and as she was approaching the door, he grabbed her, pushed her to the wall and yelled in a rather Steroidish way, “these tits aren’t real.” And then he cupped them. She then began crying and ran out of the door.

That day I quit and three weeks later I was called by my friend’s attorney to be a witness in court.

I am thirty-eight. In retrospect, those are some pretty bad jobs. But they are only two. I have been working regularly since I was sixteen. I chalk those two bad jobs against several great ones to luck and success.

Without my education, I would probably still be in one of those windbag jobs, or worse. Thank you, parents, for giving me the opportunity and knowledge to get out of some bad situations. Thank you U.S. for affording me the ability to even know that there’s more out there.

In some places, my bad work experiences are norm, and that makes my heart sink.

I just finished a book that should be required reading for every woman in the world. It’s called Half the Sky and it’s life changing. If it isn’t, your empathy gene is non existent. The premise is set on women who have been violently beaten, verbally abused and oppressed all over the world – in Third World countries as well as ours – the good old USA. It covers the gamet – trafficking, genital mutilation, male only education, women as property to their spouses. Most, if not all of the examples in Half The Sky described women penniless, working for free, slaves in their own homes, or for some rich guy who wanted a prostitute and housecleaner. Sometimes these girls were as young as nine. Some were seventeen, like me at the horse races, wiping off seats with a rag. I never had to go home with any of them. I always got paid. I even got to quit. That’s freedom.

The book made me cry but then gave me hope. Upon finishing, I performed the quintessential clich̩ РI got online and spent $100 for a Nepalese girl to attend school for a year, which also earned her family a pig.

You could say that I am on a mission now. Call me a chestnut. Call me a poser. I don’t give a shit. What I have come to realize is perspective. What I have also come to realize is that if I sit back and do nothing in the name of Mr. Steroid or Mr. Richman horse race gambler or the woman who was sold into prostitution and became a mom at the age of twelve, I will be living in vain.

And that is the opposite of freedom in my book.