Tuesday, August 21, 2012

CrossFit Cult(ure)

What would a Sunday afternoon be without a lively game of Puke or Pass Out?  That's the street name.  In a garage-like gym full of crazy people, they call it CrossFit.  It's a strength and conditioning program which provides a convenient facade under which a cult of incredibly fit lunatics gather to wear goofy socks and compete in a series of made-up events called a WOD.  I'm told this stands for workout of the day, meaning this charade is carried out on a daily basis.

Curiosity, a philanthropic spirit, and a bat-shit crazy wife are the main factors that lead me to participate in my first WOD on Sunday.  I have been hearing about CrossFit for quite some time, because I have friends who belong to the cult and in typical cult fashion, they refuse to shut up about it.  A friend invited us to a charity WOD with proceeds going to fight cancer, and said he would keep an eye on the baby while we worked out.  I would have paid the $40 just for the babysitter, so why not get a sweat and fight cancer while we're at it?  WOD for a Cure is the kind of event you can write on the calendar in marker when you are married to a woman whose primary source of happiness is beating others in athletic challenges.

The problem with lying to impress a girl is, if you're successful, you are stuck in that lie.  The bigger the deception, the more dedication and sacrifice required to maintain appearances.  Early in our courtship, I took up running because my wife is an avid runner.  I also got a membership to the gym she worked out in, as well as her tanning salon.  I hate all that shit, but given it's the foundation on which our relationship was forged, I am now stuck doing things I absolutely despise, like CrossFit on a Sunday afternoon when Tombstone is on AMC.  Lest she discover I am a lazy fat-ass.

The entire day leading up to the 2pm WOD, I did everything I could to convince Summer we should bail.  

...That gym is 45 minutes from here (not quite) and I'm pretty sure we need an oil change (not true), can you imagine if we broke down in this heat with the baby (it was unseasonably cool, but looked hot and she hadn't been outside)...

Not a chance.

You tend to make certain assumptions when an event is for charity.  There is a lightheartedness that accompanies the very word.  Take golf, for example.  At a charity golf tournament there is often a large contingency of people whose ability levels range from average all the way down to piss-poor.  It matters not, everyone is just there to have a good time and support a good cause.  Driving to the charity WOD, I expected to be greeted with an equivalent field of well-intentioned participants.  Wrong.

The charity CrossFit crowd looks strikingly similar to a regular CrossFit crowd, the lone exception being a dopey heavy-set gentlemen wandering the gym in a "Will Play For Beer" slowpitch softball shirt.  I suspect they took one look at me and rightly assumed I would be gassed after the warm-up and that CrossFit is so foreign to me I actually believe WOD is a verb.  Both correct.  I suck at WODing.  Summer, on the other hand, WODs like a champ.  

While my wife obliterated the field in the women's division, I managed to take third place in a men's division that consisted of three men.  I estimated the second place finisher to be no fewer than 15 years older than me.  When my third place finish was announced I re-entered the gym behind the stroller containing my sleeping son, a shameless move to excuse my poor performance.  The "new" baby excuse holds up significantly better when the woman who actually gave birth to the baby isn't handed a first place prize four minutes later.

The drive home was wrought with silence, on my part anyway.  Summer was on cloud nine and wanted me to find satisfaction in a tremendous first step toward getting back in shape - remember, she still thinks that is important to both of us.

I know approximately how the CrossFit cult operates.  The good news for me as I walked away tired and dejected was I couldn't imagine a group of people with whom I felt less connected.  CrossFit is loaded with ripped guys covered in tattoos who remain strangely unintimidating.  I think it's their rigid Paleo diet.  I fear no man who fears complex carbohydrates.  By any account, I couldn't imagine a situation in which we would mesh in a social setting.  Cult averted.

"You know what was great?" Summer asked, somewhat rhetorically.

"Oh shit," I thought, but didn't say.

"I've been to a couple CrossFit places, but I think those people are more like us.  Like, I could actually see us hanging out with them"

Four years was a pretty good run for such an elaborate lie, but this is where I draw the line.  If anyone needs me I'll be on my couch watching Tombstone.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

P&G Thanks Mom, Pisses Off Sensitive Dads

For two glorious weeks, the United States kicked the world's Olympic ass to such a degree the mere rumor of water's existence was reason enough to send a mega-rover to Mars in search of a more competitive swimming adversary.  In between these dominant sessions, Procter & Gamble unleashed its 'Thank You, Mom' advertising campaign.  The ads were impeccably produced and struck an emotional chord that would make Hollywood's top filmmakers envious.

Thank you, Mom -  a universal message people can get behind.  With the exception of your run-of-the-mill misogynist blowhard, who could possibly find offense in a heart-string tugging homage to the amazing women often overlooked in the sports lexicon?  Needy dads with hyper-sensitive feelings, that's who.

In response to the claims of sexism and gender stereotyping, and to the call for P&G to apologize to dads and grant them equal time, I offer a response P&G's lawyers would rather they not deliver directly: get over yourselves, dads.

Yes, dads coach, encourage, discipline, and support.  Yes, dads are critical to the development of children, let alone children that become world-class athletes.  There are libraries of research to back up these claims, but I am quite certain a critical piece of market research also revealed something dads do with far less regularity - purchase shampoo and laundry detergent.  'Thank You, Mom' is designed to woo the demographic with greatest influence on purchase decisions for household products.

In other words, there is a subculture of dads who have caught feelings and congregated on the internet to demand an apology and lobby for equal time...in a shampoo commercial.  Is this where we are as a society, whining about equal attention from marketers regardless of the product?  If so, look out.  Hell hath no fury like a community of mommy bloggers spurned by the lack of strong feminine players depicted in commercials for jock itch spray.

The other day, my father-in-law and I walked into a restaurant to meet my wife and mother-in-law, who spent the day out and about while we watched the baby.  It was not all that long ago the idea of men watching the baby while the women went out would be laughable.  Fathers increasing their domestic responsibilities is progress.  Demanding the world give you credit every time mothers receive a tip of the cap is not progress, it's whiny bullshit, and it's embarrassing.

Let's spend less time worrying about public kudos from corporate giants with an agenda, and focus on preparing our children for success.  We'll need a collective effort to take gold at the Rio Games in 2016, especially if the Martians are as tough as advertised.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Glorious and Irrelevant Wrigley Field Scoreboard

It has been regrettably easy to lose sight of the Cubs in the three years since I moved to Dallas.  While my favorite franchise in all of sports has been sucking wind, I have been trying to justify my flirtation with the suddenly successful Texas Rangers.  Essentially the Rangers are the sexy girl you meet in college, with the Cubs playing the role of the high school sweetheart back home, who - between you and me - isn't helping matters by gaining weight and talking your ear off about the same stupid bullshit.  You're STILL hanging out with Alfonso Soriano?  You're closer STILL walks in the losing run in the ninth?  Jesus, are you ever going to grow up?!?  Whatever, I gotta go.  What??  No, it has nothing to do with the Rangers, we're just friends...

The Rangers and I have had some good times.  They've let me ride along to Division Titles, AL Pennants, and back-to-back World Series appearances.  The only problem is as fun as these successes have been to witness, they aren't mine to celebrate.  I am just a Cubs fan, living vicariously through another long suffering franchise that finally figured it out.  Being a Cub is woven into my DNA, but my son was born in Dallas in a time when the Rangers are the class organization in all of baseball.  He has the chance to cheer for a perennial winner, provided his father doesn't do something asinine like get him hooked on a team whose best shot at the big prize was derailed by a guy in a green turtleneck nine years ago.

Society would be outraged if an obese parent disregarded their child's natural affinity for vegetables and forced Twinkies on them to cultivate a common ground on which to bond.  So why on Earth did total strangers shower me with approving smiles as I carried my three-month-old son into Wrigley Field with a freshly purchased "My 1st Cubs Cap" atop his precious little Texan head?

There are plenty of insults lobbed at Cubs fans from the other side, and nearly all question the fundamental way in which our minds process the game.  South-siders marginalize our historic stadium as The World's Largest Singles Bar - an environment void of genuine passion and fundamental baseball knowledge, replaced by stacked plastic cups previously full of Old Style Beer and the carnal desires that accompany shirtless summertime day-drinking.

The most hurtful criticism, though, is not the one lightly veiled in truth, but backed up by a startling undeniable trend - that it is entirely likely we will spend our natural lives waiting for a championship which will never materialize.  That generations of Cubs fans - generations, plural - have suffered such a cruel fate.

With that harsh reality heavy on my mind, I stood at the street entrance of a parking garage on Addison with my son strapped to my chest, facing away from me, looking onto the diverse madness of Wrigleyville on a gameday, and my hand started to shake slightly.  Not the familiar brew-shakes from standing in line for a tallboy at a packed Murphy's Bleachers, but shakes caused by the question ringing in my head - am I about to condemn my innocent son to a lifetime of miserable heartache?

A comforting answer would reveal itself over the course of a typically beautiful day of predictably ugly baseball.  The results on the diamond are secondary to Cubs fans, at least to this particular family of Cubs fans.  Not second to the pursuit of hook-ups and hangovers, but second to the creation of life-long memories and shared experiences that transcend age, geography, and lifestyle.

The Ron Santo statue at Wrigley Field

We were a regular Chicago street gang making our way from the parking garage to the stadium.  Assuming, of course, intimidating Chicago street gangs consist of babies, toddlers, a pregnant woman, and the gang's patriarch documenting the whole thing on his Blackberry.  I married into a tight-knit nuclear family.  This Cubs game was an aggressive attempt by my in-laws to recreate memorable past outings with their children, with the addition of spouses and grandchildren.

Like many Wrigley Field experiences, this one went by too fast.  I fed my son, held him while he napped, held my niece with my free arm when she decided it was my turn in the rotation, and engaged surrounding fans in conversations about families, hometowns, and which Cubs players were due for a big hit, glancing momentarily at the field to see said players on their way back to the dugout.  Cubs players tend to stay "due" for weeks at a time.

But the lasting impression I will take away from this game was not the home runs the Cubs gave up or the runners they left stranded.  My attention repeatedly drifted back to my in-laws, who may have actually seen less of the game than I did.  They always had a grandchild in their arms, and spent a fair portion of the game smiling at the people in the row behind them when told, once again, their family was beautiful.  There is a look of pride a person gets when congratulated on a job well done.  Those looks pale in comparison to the look my in-laws wore throughout this game.

The question as we left the stadium was not whether or not this was the best experience I've ever had at a ballgame.  It was, and by such a margin I couldn't tell you which game is second place.  As I watched my father-in-law standing under the Ron Santo statue with his granddaughter and walked into the frame with my wife and son, I knew this was among the best days of my life.

Those of us lucky enough to have a comfortable deathbed will likely lay in it watching the Cubs lose while a new generation of opportunistic WGN cameramen lens-bang a new generation of busty 20-somethings who sip beer and occasionally glance toward the field of play, advancing the myth of the party superseding the love of the team.  But then our sons and daughters will take their children to Wrigley Field and share special moments not unlike the memories we created.  It won't matter whether it's been three years or 153 years since the last World Series title because the unique love we share in this beautiful ballpark never has to wait til next year.