(note: links may have sound)
54 hours after the completion of the last event, most of the pain has subsided. The pain is now limited to the following areas: my triceps, shoulders, upper chest, ribs, lower back, left hip, outer thighs, knees, shins, and the top of my right foot. In other words, I'm feeling much better than I have been for the last two days. The pain I was feeling at the bar and the airport after closing ceremonies was nothing short of excruciating. The handful of beers I slugged down while watching the Pats game was not abating it at all. It was as if I was being filmed by one of those fancy Matrix 360 degree cameras, except that the cameras were shooting knives and acid at me. But good times, of course. And it was a dream competitive weekend for old friend bachelor CA, so worth the temporary pain.
The weekend began on a weird note as an elaborate prank was planned on the two participants who weren't arriving until midnight (delaying opening ceremonies for the whole group). The prank was conceived by the NYC gang and my high school friend Albs and I were conscripted into service as the actors, apparently because we were the most credible looking criminals. Kind of an insult, but whatever. I was sporting a mohawk, after all. We were to pose as North Carolina rednecks, stop their car on the drive into the camp in the woods, and do some (if not all) of the following suggestions: get their shirts, get their wallets, get them out of the car, pretend to beat up the driver (who was in on it), call them "fags" ambiguously so they weren't sure if they were about to be the subjects of a hate crime or a solicitation, call them "jews" or "kikes", call them "nigger lovers", get them to lie face down on the side of the road. I didn't know the prankees and all of it seemed extreme to me. I told them straight away that the harsh name calling was out, as I was opposed to the homophobic/racist/anti-semitic stuff, even if it was in the context of a joke. not cool. They were fine with that and kept reassuring us that the rest of it was cool, the prankees would think it was funny, they wouldn't try to attack us, everything would be fine. So, assuming that this was the type of thing they did amongst themselves, Albs and I agreed to be the muggers. He had an army jacket and was smoking a butt, I was in my jeans and an "American Dreamz" t-shirt in the 30 degree weather. It was totally dark and the rest of the gang was hiding in the woods. When the car stopped (because we were in the middle of the road), Albs stood in front of it and I went up to the window. I was channeling some deep inner darkness and playing the part as sort of desperate, fucked up, junkie type of psycho rather than a loud, aggressive psycho. Albs was the silent heavy. The driver rolled down the window and I said to Albs "he doesn't have a coat, man..." Then I told them I didn't want to hurt them but I really needed a coat. To my surprise the guy in the passenger seat immediately gave up the coat, saying "is that all you want? here's my coat. just leave us alone". I took the coat, repeated that I really didn't want to hurt them, and said that I just needed to get to Tallahassee: "I don't want your wallets, keep the wallets, I just need $50." The driver gave me his money. I then said "what about you?" to the passenger seat guy. He gave me the $40 in his wallet and said "here you go, just leave us alone." I went to the front of the car, and Albs and I talked it over and then he went back to the driver's window and told them to get the fuck out of the car, which, being in on it, the driver did. Then they started to get freaked out, and the passenger started to climb into the driver's seat and I yelled at him to stay the fuck where he was (because I didn't want either of us to get run over), and then we told them to get out of the car. They did and we carjacked them. They asked if they could take their bags and I said "whatever" as they did and I drove away peeling out into the dark with all the doors open. We parked the car as soon as we got around the corner and away a bit and waited to hear the laughter when the joke was revealed. But there wasn't any sound. We started walking back because it sounded like we ran over something and then heard "SURPRISE!" about a full ten to fifteen seconds after we had driven off. We walked to where they were in the woods and there was a lot of laughing, apologizing, and welcoming going on from the gang, but not from them. They were not amused. I gave the guy his coat and money back, apologized, and explained that I was just playing the part they had all orchestrated for me - it wasn't my idea. They both said it was OK, but they were not happy about it, and I didn't blame them. We all went way deeper into the joke and the characters than anyone had expected, it all happened very fast, and the prankees thought it was 100% real. Joke or not, those were their real reactions to the situation, and that was something that they were left with after the joke was over. I, for my part, was left to deal with the fact that I was so easily capable of becoming that psycho convincingly. It didn't sit well, and it took about 24 hours and a few conversations about it for me and the passenger side guy to be cool with it (though I'm not sure he ever fully expunged the image of me as that guy who did that to them - the architects were at fault, but I was the face of the prank). It wasn't that big of a deal ultimately, but it was a mentally harsh way to begin a weekend that would be all about ultra-competition and mental and physical toughness.
Once things were smoothed over from that, we had the opening ceremonies: An outdoor bonfire, boombox playing "Thunderstruck" by ACDC, a somewhat homoerotic display in which a guy stood on stage in his briefs and a mask holding the olympic hammer throw equipment, and the "tap outs" where each participant was called onto the stage and assigned to either Team Balboa or Team Drago (the two fighters in the Cold War inspired, totally over the top, Rocky IV). We all got shirts and the teams went to opposing cabins to bunk together to promote team unity. I was assigned to Team Balboa, along with the passenger side prankee and every other major player in the prank (architects included).
After a night of very little sleep by most of Team Balboa due to the thunderous snoring of a couple of Balboaites, we headed down to the mess hall single file for an intimidating silent breakfast. Team Drago tried to draw us out of our silent solidarity, but we did not break ranks. This set the tone for the first event: The Hammer Throw. The "hammer" is actually just a heavy ball attached to a cable with a handle on the end. After watching the video in the previous post, I was concerned about injuring my shoulders on this event, but it actually wasn't bad at all. I went third and launched a massive throw of 65 feet 9 inches, which was the best for a while but ended up being average. The long was 95 feet by my co-criminal and teammate, Albs. Balboa had amassed such a lead by the time bachelor CA took the final throw, that he would have had to throw it 120 feet to bring victory to Team Drago.
This is CA's first attempt at the hammer throw:
Not so hot. Here's his second, more impressive effort:
An impressive 80 and change, but not enough. Balboa 1, Drago 0.
Victorious, Balboa headed down to the soccer field en masse and strategized for the second event. We had the advantage of having two high school goalkeepers on our team to their none. My buddy MM deferred to me as the starting keeper despite his unquestioned superiority; he was also a quite capable field player and that would certainly be needed for us to win the soccer match. We played 8 on 8 on a full sized field for two 40 minute halves. I was in the goal that was basically a giant mud pit so I decided to start diving in the mud right from the start of warm ups to set the tone. In the first half, I was nothing short of an animal. Breakaway slides, slide tackles out of the box, diving parry saves, punching out crosses, collisions, taking knees to the head, screaming instructions to my teammates and threats of violence at my opponents. It was universally acknowledged that my behavior and play set the tone for the rest of the competitions and established the level of intensity. Unfortunately, three goals got past me. One was unsaveable, one was a communication issue with a defender that I was partly at fault on, and one was a rebound off a diving save that I made. should have caught that goddamned ball and reeled it in. But Balboa was able to put in 5 goals, so we went into halftime up 5 - 3. Oh, also, it started raining about 15 minutes into the match and the pitch was a mess. I asked MM if he wanted to play the 2nd half in net, but the team decided that we were both excelling at our positions so there was no point in changing that up. After 20 minutes of scoreless play in the second half, MM twisted his ankle and we switched positions. The rain picked up and my glasses were fogging up and speckled with rain drops, making my visibility extremely poor. We were up 8 to 3 with 20 minutes to go to take a commanding 2-0 lead over those Commie bastards, Drago. Being exhausted and wearing treadless sneakers on a sloppy pitch, I was less effective but proficient out in the field; I made a couple nice steals and deliveries up to the wingers. MM performed well with his twisted ankle in goal, but was unlucky to have 3 own goals get past him. A 4th Drago second half goal had the score at 8-7 with 5 minutes to go in the match. Everyone was completely on fumes and they had the momentum big time. I was running as fast as I could to get to loose balls and colliding with everyone who tried to dribble up the middle of the field. Thankfully, the final whistle came before Drago could notch an equalizer! Balboa 2, Drago 0.
Covered in mud, and physically destroyed, we trudged back to the cabins for showers before lunch. A temporary truce was called at lunch so old friends could catch up on things and new friends could meet and converse (or "conversate") without the subtext of war. But the subtext was never completely gone. Not for me, anyways. Not until closing ceremonies.
After lunch, both teams refocused and met up at the gym for the third event: dodgeball. Most of us wore our muddied team shirts for intimidation purposes. What can I say about this event. who really cares about dodgeball. I will say that those hardwood floors were extremely hard on the old bones and joints. Also hard were the feelings developing between the two teams. Balboa 2, Drago 1.
Everyone showered their broken bodies and we drove the thirty minutes into Charlotte for a big steak dinner at a fancy restaurant where Michael Jordan occasionally eats. He wasn't there, but we did see Eric Sleepy Floyd and he was psyched to be recognized and gave my buddy Lads a wave when he yelled "Sleepy!". The dinner was also a truce. What else was it ... hmm, oh, yeah: ridiculously expensive. $150 a head. killing me. $150... ok, ok, stop thinking about it. On the bright side, it was a brief respite from the non-alcoholic weekend, and my ravaged body welcomed a few slugs of my old friend Jimmy Jameson. Everyone was tired afterwards so the Talent Competition was called off for the night. A few of us went down to the rec room to play pitch and Albs and I continued our weekend dominance in that department: 5-0. In fairness, it should be pointed out that most of the people we played were used to playing some mutated version of pitch that CA taught them 15 years ago based on his faulty memory of the game that we had originally taught him - this led to many arguments over the course of the weekend. Though the reality is, the whole weekend was one giant argument (and to clarify - that's not a bad thing). Every sentence that was uttered was some sort of superlative, statement of fact, rejection of some other statement, etc. To say that the weekend was over the top would be an understatement.
When we awoke the following morning, Balboa was physically destroyed. The prospect of playing football, volleyball, softball, three legged races, etc., was laughable. There was no way. I could barely stand up. I literally had to get assistance to cross my legs while sitting down so I could put my socks and shoes on. Everyone else was in similar shape and we knew that Drago would be too. Balboa agreed that we needed to uphold a strong front and claim that we were not doing too badly. "pretty good, actually." Drago would claim the same, of course, so both teams had to make sure that we didn't end up in a mexican stand-off of bragging about how good we felt to the point that we ended up actually having to play football. This was going to be tricky. We couldn't show weakness, yet we had to nuance our way out of the more physical competitions (it reminded me of having to apply for jobs that I didn't want to get while I was getting layed off at my last job). This tenuous negotiation fluctuated throughout breakfast. No one would admit any pain and yet no one could stand up from the table in less than 5 seconds with less than a muffled grunt. Towards the end of breakfast, it appeared that we had worked our way into a pitch tournament and bowling as our final two events. Yes! We'd be out of there with minimal more damage and would be able to watch the 3:00 kickoff of the Pats game. And then somehow, someone blinked or something and we were scheduled to play football and "speedball" aka "kingpin", which was some sort of ultra-physical, made-up game involving the gymnasium, colliding bodies, and that unforgiving hardwood floor. what the fuck. How did this happen. I was not happy about it, but could show no weakness or dissent. The teams returned to our cabins to prepare. By the end of the 45 minutes of preparation, some sort of secret, back-alley negotiating must have taken place, because football was back off the table. Thank christ. But "speedball", "kingpin", "murderball", "whateverball" was still very much on the table and would likely determine if there would be a fifth event - a 2-2 draw would not have stood. We needed to come out and play smashmouth speedball and finish this thing. NO PAIN! NO PAIN! Did I mention that we were playing the Rocky theme song constantly throughout the weekend? We were. And we put it on again as we warmed up for Speedball. The ipod also churned out the Soviet national anthem, which got Team Drago pumped up.
The game was on a basketball sized court and about 7 feet from the end lines sat a half full water bottle, around which there was a 2 foot radius crease, in which was only allowed the goalie. The ball was one of those kickball/dodgeball things and the point was to knock over the bottle, which you could do by hitting it with the ball or by forcing the goalie into knocking it over through ball movement, passing, and such. You couldn't run with the ball; all ball movement came through passing. There was no such thing as a foul, though tackling was considered bad form and might lead to a turnover. It was 5 on 5, with 3 subs per side. Game to 7, win by two, best out of 3 games wins the event. Game on. It was actually a lot more difficult than you would think. Both goalies were very good. Balboa decided that Drago had a speed and agility advantage over us so we would have to rely on our size advantage and make it a physical game: hand checking, pushing, semi-tackling, tying players up into jump ball situations. It quickly devolved into a very rough game and I hit the floor several times in the first few minutes. I was the equivalent of a moderately skilled hockey enforcer who made sure that a hockey match was not all about finesse. My knees were fucked at this stage, so that was all I was able to contribute. Though I did manage one nifty backwards, between the legs, trick shot for a goal. Balboa won the first game and in the timeout between games we resolved that we absolutely had to end it in the second game; we did not have enough gas to go the full three; their athleticism would outlast us and give them the event, which might mean another event after that. A win in the second game would give us 2 out of 3 in Speedball and 3 out of 4 in the whole competition - a lead that would surely be conceded as insurmountable. The game was even more physical than the first and tempers and gamesmanship were running high. We were tied at 6, having to win by 2, and I could have sworn I heard someone on Team Drago mutter "They are not human. They are like pieces of iron." Like our namesake, Balboa dug deep, way deep, and found that last little scrap of heart that made us not want to be just another bum from the neighborhood, and knocked that 1/2 filled water bottle down 2 more times for the victory! Game 2, Event 4, The Weekend! "ROCKY! ROCKY! ROCKY!" we chanted as we mobbed our unlikely cigarette smoking MVP, Albs, at center court. We'd done it. We'd beaten the Russians.
The expected concession went without saying and that was the final event. Destroyed and united in the completion of the brutality, Teams Drago and Balboa all headed into Charlotte to have lunch and watch the Pats game. Soviets and Americans dining together, discussing global warming, John Locke, and whatever else came up. And it suddenly occurred to me: "If I can change... and you can change... EVERYONE CAN CHANGE!"
Happy Birthday, Paulie.