Spandex: It Keeps on Giving

O Mighty Crisis

Let me tell you the tale of an old college acquaintance–let’s call him Joe-O. Now Joe-O is a character in and of himself; he’s strident about leaving the smallest “footprint” he can on the planet, to the point that he only buys in bulk, composts everything, and, if he does create some small amount of garbage, he just burns it every few weeks. When he lived 30 miles from his job, that was not enough to make him drive a car…instead, he viewed the 60-mile daily bicycle commute as an opportunity for fitness. In addition to biking, Joe-O is a fan of all silent sports, cross-country skiing, in particular. For more than a decade now, he’s been into ski racing, with his season capped off by racing the American Birkebeiner, held in the Cable/Hayward, Wisconsin, area every February.

Many of you are doubtlessly acquainted with the Birkie, and some of you may have skiied it yourselves. You would then know that upwards of 10,000 skiers participate, and because of the heaps of steaming humanity standing on slippery pointed boards with sharp sticks in their hands, the race start takes place in “waves.” That means that it’s not a mass start, but rather large groups (each one a wave) begin the race in staggered fashion, every few minutes. The waves are also seeded, which means that the elite American and international skiers are put into the First Wave, and then successive waves are populated by skiers who have achieved certain times in previous races. The sum effect of these waves is that the best skiers start first, the next best skiers start second, and so on, all the way back to the final wave, which is populated by 85-year-old-retired pastors, 8-year-old Boy Scouts, and women in labor.

For old Joe-O, the first year he entered the Birkie, he had no race record and, therefore, was seeded in the last wave. This was a bit frustrating to Joe-O because he had proven himself to be a gifted skier, but he knew he had to rack up a tremendous race time this first year, in order to improve his start position for the following year. With skill and strategy, he knew he would, with a good race, be starting in one of the first few waves in successive years.

So he took his place on the course, having been up late the night before waxing his skis perfectly for the conditions, and now he was primed, waiting for the starting gun, the Eye of the Tiger glinting in his gaze.

And then.



He, well…He…how shall I say it discreetly? He felt a sudden, undeniable, overwhelming need to void his intestinal regions.And, naturally, with 9,999 other jittery and nervous racers feeling the same way, the line at the port-a-johns was not short. Suffice it to say, by the time Joe-O got back to the start line, his wave–the last wave–had already started. He could still begin the race, but his shot at a stellar time, one that would move him up in future years, had gone down the drain with his intestinal evacuation.

Here is the crux of my story, so stop slouching and pay attention: Joe-O took a moment to huff and stomp and mutter, and then he regrouped and came up with Plan B (this moment is also known as acceptance that Some Things Cannot Be Changed). His plan was this: since he was going to be the caboose in this train of 10,000 skiers, he would make the most of it–the sheer amount of detritus left behind by all those participants could be a windfall for Joe-O. He would, quite simply, forget about racing and, instead, pick up every discarded item he could find along the course: water bottles, ski poles, hats, mittens, fanny packs, and the like. Why, he’d never have to buy another cheap pair of UV-blocking sunglasses again, after this day! He’d never again have to invest in safety pins, or fleece neck gaiters, or half-eaten bags of gummy bears!

Hours later, after covering the 50K course as a lurching stop-and-start scavenger, Joe-O crossed the finish line; his one-piece lycra racing suit had been transformed into a bulging crap-carrier. Early on, he’d realized he couldn’t carry all the loot in his hands, so he’d unzipped the front of his suit and started stuffing in every wayward item he encountered, until, at the end, he looked like a red Michelin Man staggering away from a particularly fruitful rummage sale (one that didn’t happen to have any bags for customers).

What do we learn from Joe-O and his “let’s make espresso out of chicory” approach to the race? First, it ain’t over ’til it’s over, so continue to hang in there until the bloody, or junk-filled, end. Second, even if the race isn’t shaping up as you’d hoped, with the right attitude, you can reap unexpected rewards. Third, don’t shove a broken sharp metal ski pole tip so far down into your ski suit that you nearly become a soprano (or, more correctly, a castrato).

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Story of An Hour

Here’s the story of an hour of my life, an hour that felt like an eternity:

About nine years ago, when I was still young enough not to know better, I lived alone in what I called my “Unibomber Shack” down in Austin, Minnesota. That’s right, I lived in Spamtown, a place that speaks proudly of its ‘kill line,’ a place where no pig can feel secure that his snout and hooves won’t end up in a can, covered by a layer of gelatin, being passed off as nutrition. I had just moved to Spamtown when, one innocent night, my house was invaded by the worst kind of marauder…no, not someone trying to sell me Amway…no not a Girl Scout taunting me with the fact that she was all sold out of Thin Mints…no, not a man in a crisp white shirt, offering me brochures that could make me more Jesusian.

It was, in fact, a BAT. It flew in through an open window (what a way to find the screen had a hole in it) that humid August night, and it sent me screaming and flailing into my bathroom, the only room with a door that could be slammed, and loudly–the only room that could provide me with a barrier against the evil Vampira who had come to roost in my home.

After spending five minutes standing in the tub, wrapping the shower curtain around myself as armor, I decided to muster my wits and courage and take my fate into my own hands. I exited the tub. Then, still in tears, (I have deep rodent issues, and really, what is a bat if not a rodent enhanced by wings and malice?), I busied myself by fortifying my barrier–the door–by stuffing washcloths and bath towels around every crack and opening. Bats have been known to squeeze through openings as small as keyholes even, you know. I heard it on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” straight from Bob Saget’s mouth, so it’s got to be true.

With every possible entrance point stuffed, I relaxed momentarily and considered what I might do with the rest of my life, now that I had committed to living it alone in this bathroom. I could perfect my shampooing technique, taking the time to lather, rinse, and then, yes, repeat. I could organize ten rolls of toilet paper into a myriad of pyramid-type structures; I could then create an army of tampon people (drawing on their faces with various eyeliners), and they could move into ToiletPaperVille for the duration of my existence, visited on holidays by their distant relations, the Hotel-Bar-of-Soap family. Or I could finally read that VANITY FAIR magazine from 1993, the one containing an article in which Madonna explained how she hoped to get over Sean Penn one day and maybe have children.

As I pondered my options, I noticed something that had eluded me in my initial panic: a vent on the floor of the bathroom, one that opened directly into the basement below me. I could actually look down and see my washer and dryer, which meant, of course, that a rabid bat could certainly make its way downstairs, in its hunt for my blood, and then shimmy up through the vent.

Casting my eyes around the bathroom for something large enough to cover the vent, I realized that only the toilet could adequately seal it; but how could I unscrew the stool to then slide it over to the vent? I mean, really, my idiocy with flying mammals is only dwarfed by my lack of mechanical skills.Obviously, it was time to regroup. I would have to call for help. But who? I knew no one in my new town. But if I sent out an SOS across the country, surely someone would understand how dire my dilemma was and drive a few hours to come rescue me. The telephone would be my conduit to such aid.

But first, gulp, I had to unseal the door and reach my arm out of the bathroom, sliding it along the wall until it could reach the phone in its cradle. Naturally, the possibility that the bat might be hanging from my spice rack and, thus, interfere with my arm sliding made me wrap my forearm in a towel, so as to not be slimed by bat mucus, which would kill me instantly.

There. Nabbed it. Quickly, I dialed Billings, Montana, where I knew my parents could empathize and perhaps hire a neighbor to drive the 18 hours to come help me. Heck, I could do a night in the bathtub easily, enjoying a spa treatment until help arrived. But strangely, they listened to my sobbing with a sense of bemusement; after 15 minutes of hearing me rip off sections of ToiletPaperVille to blow my nose, my dad finally came up with a rousing bit of advice: “This is a time in your life where you just need to dig down deep and find that courage, to tell yourself that no one but you can handle this situation. Open the door of the bathroom and march out the front door of your house. Then you can get someone from Pest Control to come in.”

Right, Dad. You are some sort of crazy man, for sure. Like I could just open the door and walk out. Get real.

Next, I dialed up my aunt and uncle, who lived a mere 1.5 hours away–a doable distance in the face of their love for me. Again, though, nada. They had a little pep talk, too, something about how bats are really nice and eat mosquitoes and all.

At this point, I was wondering who in Hades had ever said that family will be there for you when you need them. It looked like I would need to call upon people who were paid to help, people who would be obliged to rescue me: the police.

After calling Information, I then dialed up the local police station, whereupon the receptionist told me that my situation was not one that merited the help of Spamtown’s finest. At this news, I heaved into a fresh round of uncontrollable sobbing, and the besieged woman took pity, saying, “I’ll see if I can’t send someone around.” She did tell me that I would need to open the door when the officer arrived. She, like my dad, was pure, walking crazy.

Five minutes later came the knock, and I realized that my single hope hung on my opening the door. I rushed out from the bathroom, screamed at the sight of a brown napkin on the back of my couch (it was so batlike!), and threw the door open as I called out, “I’ll be in the bathroom. Tell me when it’s over.”

This story is made even more ludicrous by the fact that my bat-savior was a human cyborg of a man: 6 feet, 6 inches tall, with the rugged jaw of Duke Nuk’em. After a quick search, he claimed he couldn’t find the beast; I then turned on my own radar, came out of the bathroom, and spotted Beelzebub hanging on the curtain in my bedroom. Throwing out a trembling finger, I pointed and ran again, tossing Mr. Schwarzenegger a bath towel with which to do his work.

Moments later, it was over. The bat had been released into the night (it later went on to fame as the subject of a MAGIC SCHOOL BUS episode), and I was free… …except for The Talk that Officer Hulk Hogan then laid on me–the whole “fight or flight” lecture that had bored me in 8th grade biology. After quickly assuring him that I was firmly evolved in the direction of flight, I shuttled him out the door, collapsed on my couch, and started thinking about how a big bowl of popcorn could be balm to my rattled soul.

Crisis over.

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O Mighty Isis Crisis

If you are over the age of 35, you may have watched the Saturday morning tv show called O Mighty Isis waaaaaay back in the mid-1970’s. It is irrevocably linked in my brain with another Saturday morning show called Shazam. At any rate, these tv shows, along with about ten thousand others (“Cause Eight Is Enough/To Fill Our Lives With Love”), were responsible for forming my psyche.

However, this blog isn’t about tv shows, necessarily, but more the many crises that make up a day or a life. When O Mighty Isis and Shazam went off the air, it seemed like a crisis; but now I know that having the neighbors’ yippy dog start in with her business before 7 a.m. is much more of a reason to conk my head on the counter repeatedly. Such things seem huge at the moment they occur but often, with time and perspective, can be seen as less-than-traumatic. So, from time to time, I’ll be posting little tales of crisis. That’s my theme.

Don’t wear it out.


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