Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mickey hits the Big Time!

On Saturday I was interviewed by KMO for his C-Realm Podcast. The subject was my blog post, "The Doomer's Course," which was published on Energy Bulletin. You can listen to the podcast here. KMO starts by reading my essay, which takes a while, and my interview follows that. I probably should've reread my essay before the interview. I wrote it a month before and hadn't looked at it since then. If I wanna make it on the podcast circuit, "preparation" will hafta be the name of my game ;^)

Interestingly, KMO is working at The Farm Ecovillage Training Center in Summertown, TN, the same place I went in 2005 for a two-week permaculture course shortly after learning about Peak Oil and collapsing into an insomnia-fueled emotional breakdown. For me, the healing began there, so I have extremely fond memories of the place.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How LeBron's Decision Affected Me

In case you haven't heard, LeBron James had a one-hour primetime special on ESPN last week to announce what team he was gonna play for. It was entitled "The Decision" and was almost as self-absorbed and un-self-aware as it sounds. He plunged a dagger into the back of the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team that had helped him achieve global superstardom during his first 7 years in the NBA, and for some reason he decided to perform this soul-reaping on national television.

But that's not what I wanna talk about. Plenty of sportswriters and fans have vented their rage on this subject, castigating LeBron for his egomania, obliviousness or maybe even vindictiveness for subjecting Cleveland fans to such a public abandonment. I'd like to talk about how LeBron's decision affected me. I've been a fan of his since he went pro straight out of high school in '03. He has always seemed like a super-nice, fun kinda guy. Now he kinda seems like a jerk. Or, at best, an idiot.

Not only did he show zero sensitivity to the feelings of Cleveland fans, he showed very little regard for the feelings of people like me, fans of his who aren't from Cleveland and don't care that much where he plays. We deserve some consideration too. Sure, I would've liked to see him stay in Cleveland and exhibit loyalty to a fanbase that has become the poster child for sports-delivered gut punches. But if he was gonna leave the Cavs, the least he could've done was pick a team with a decent jersey design that didn't already have an alpha dog. Allow me to explain.

The Miami Heat, LeBron's new team, has rather boring jerseys. The colors are dark red and white with black trim, or black and white with red trim, which is fine. But the design is sterile and unimaginative, just basic block lettering. The script is slanted in a lame attempt to add some dynamism to the look. Say what you will about the Cavs, that their owner's a jerk, that their new coach is a cast-off, that their city is where championship hopes go to die, but you could NOT say that their jerseys lacked pizazz. Whether they were wearing the white-and-navy-and-wine-and-gold home jerseys or the wine-and-gold road jerseys or the navy-and-gold alternate road jerseys, they always stepped on the court in style. Maybe the Cavs don't know how to win titles, but they certainly know how to put on the Ritz.

I'm not sure if I'm willing to split with $40 for a replica LeBron Heat jersey, even though he'll be wearing No. 6 as a tribute to one of my favorite players, Julius "Dr. J" Erving. (Bill Simmons,'s "The Sports Guy" and my favorite sportswriter, will surely have a field day with that choice, since he's already tagged LeBron as another Dr. J, i.e., an outlandishly gifted athlete who would belong in the game's pantheon if not for his lack of a killer instinct. Simmons may also find it significant that LeBron hasn't mentioned the other legendary player to wear No. 6, Bill Russell, winner of a record 11 NBA titles, a ruthless competitor and firmly ensconced in the pantheon.) It'd be nice to see the Heat wear their retro jerseys, the style they sported at the dawn of the franchise, back in those myth-wreathed days of '88. I'm sure they'll be churning out all kinds of throwback jerseys for the Tropical Trio of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to wear and for us to buy. I seem to recall the Heat donning the uniforms of the ABA's 38-years-defunct Miami Floridians not so long ago. Those may be coming out of storage as we speak.

As for the "alpha dog" argument, it feels almost like nit-picking. You see, we sports fans want our heroes to be deeply committed to winning, to the exclusion of nearly everything else in life. LeBron has shown an interest in winning by his choice, choosing to join forces with Dwyane Wade, at worst the third-best player in the NBA, and Chris Bosh, one of the league's best post players. But they have formed such a talented core that it seems like cheating for them to play on the same team. Anything less than a championship would be a disappointment, if not an outright embarrassment.

Also, we want LeBron to be the Man on whatever team he joins. As I've heard someone remark on ESPN, Jordan wouldn't have wanted to play with D-Wade; he would've wanted to beat him. And Jordan is the gold standard for competitiveness. He may've been a gambling addict who cheated on his wife and punched his teammates, but nobody fought harder to win. That's the ideal to which all NBA stars aspire, no matter how destructive the personal consequences may be. LeBron's desire to play with his All-Star friends undermines his basketball stature, even in my eyes. He should want to win but on his own terms on a team that automatically defers to him in crunch time.

It's too bad we've lionized these qualities in our sports heroes: obsessive competitiveness and anti-social individualism. Perhaps LeBron "Bron-Bron" or "King" James, Dwyane "D-Wade" or "Flash" Wade and Chris "I Could Really Use A Nickname That's Better Than CB4" or "The Texas Toothpick" Bosh will teach us all a thing or two about teamwork and friendship. I suppose if they rattled off 8 straight championships, that might be cool. But I think LeBron has forfeited his chance to supplant Jordan as the Greatest Basketball Player of All Time, which sucks because I really wanted him to be the Chosen One and, as we've all learned from the sacred parchments of countless cultures and endless viewings of The Matrix on cable, when the time comes, the Chosen One must stand alone.


(Author's Note: Last night I read an abridged version of this essay in the Word Ninjas open mic at Kieran's. It went over quite well.)

There comes a time in every hirsute man's life when he must choose between two unpleasant options: either continue on his hairy way and invite unflattering comparisons to Big Foot and Robin Williams or declare endless war against his follicles in a desperate bid to join that elite group of men one constantly sees in ads for cologne and deodorant. For the most part I have yielded the field to my androgens (the male hormones associated with body hair). My eyebrows and the nape of my neck are generally only trimmed when I get a haircut. I shave every other day (all the way down to the collar), but that's a common practice among men hairy and not. Only once have I waged an all-out assault on this scourge, the prosecution of which took me to a place I'd never been before.

It was a chill wind that blew through November in that Year of Our Lord 2006. On my way down Hennepin Ave, across from the YWCA, I would pass a salon that advertised waxing services. Eventually, I overcame my fear of the unknown and made an appointment to get my back waxed. (Yes, I really am that hairy.) The salon was empty on that particular weeknight except for the man who would be servicing me. He was very friendly and chatty and led me to the basement, where there was a room with a table covered in sheets that looked very hygienic and white.

I removed my shirt and lay on the table on my stomach. In my memory there was a stereo in the corner playing soporific, Enya-style music, but that could've been a later addition by my unconscious, since every other room I've been in like that has had a stereo in the corner playing soporific, Enya-style music. When I said I went to a place I'd never been before, I was referring to the pain. Never before had I voluntarily subjected myself to the physical pain that this amiable, gregarious, smaller-than-me man was inflicting on my back. Do you remember that scene in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" when Steve Carell has his chest waxed? I now know for a fact that, if he was truly getting waxed, he did not need any motivation for that scene.

Luckily for me, I have a higher pain threshold than Steve Carell's character had in that movie. Very little sound escaped my mouth as he worked me over, and I was confident enough in my tolerance to flip over and let him do my chest. This pushed my stoic facade even closer to the breaking point, for the pain of a back wax turned out to be a mere warmup to the Guantanamo-esque torture of a chest wax. I soldiered on, though, leaving only a small patch of hair in the middle of my chest to mark my masculinity and maintain consciousness.

During the treatment, my waxer regaled me with stories of his other clients, mainly women who had no qualms about exposing themselves to him while he waxed their nether regions. One voluptuous black woman stripped to reveal a pubic area that the waxer said resembled a shar pei. My guess is these women felt comfortable with him because he set off their gay-dar as strongly as he did mine. As if to confirm my suspicion, he told me about his idea for a holiday show called "Gay Nativity." It was such a brilliant (and potentially lucrative) concept that I found myself wishing I'd thought of it first.

After we were through, my waxer explained that I would have to scrub the waxed areas thoroughly with a loofah when I showered so as to avoid getting in-grown hairs. This was news to me and made me wonder if the whole thing would be more trouble than it was worth. A few minutes of blinding pain is one thing, but spending extra time in the shower to use a loofah was something else entirely, especially since I did almost all my showering at the Y. I found it ironic that this attempt to make myself more attractive to women was making me feel uncomfortably effeminate.

When I put my shirt back on, the difference was visceral. The skin felt almost like a mannequin, hard and smooth. Upon returning to my apartment, I showed off my smoothness to one of my roommates. He was politely bemused by my appearance and perhaps slightly discomfited that I had seen fit to share this personal, physical secret with him. Duane and I were good friends, but we were also heterosexual men who didn't normally confide in each other so intimately. Our relationship was defined by Vikings vs. Packers, not waxing vs. shaving.

I decided to finish the job on my own and shave off my pubes. At the time, it seemed like the way to go in order to even out my body hair coverage (except, of course, for my still-bushy arms and legs). In case any other man is struck by the same fancy, let me be perfectly clear: There is nothing easy about shaving one's testicles. Films such as those in the "American Pie" franchise have done us a grave disservice in discounting the dangers inherent in such activities. Only a fool would attempt it without the proper training. That I am still living today to impart this advice is testament only to the grace of God.

Having survived that ordeal, I embarked on a lifestyle of near-hairlessness. It was remarkably similar to my former, hairy lifestyle, differing only in the degree of my self-consciousness while nude in the YWCA men's locker room. Even in my former life I had been quite self-conscious in that setting. Now I was even more self-conscious. I wondered what the other men thought of me as I traipsed about with my smooth torso and nearly-smooth crotch. Perhaps they thought I'd landed a small, but crucial role in a locally-produced porno, just the sort of artistic initiative one would expect from a member of the Uptown Y-Dub. More likely they were thinking the same thing I was: "Don't make eye contact. Don't make eye contact. Don't make eye contact."

Other than that, my life didn't change at all. After a month or two of scrubbing with a loofah at the Y, I was back to my hairy old self and feeling rather silly about the whole experiment. It hadn't given me the confidence to talk to any attractive women, nor had it gotten me any modeling work in the cologne and deodorant advertising industry (or the porn industry for that matter). I learned that, just because you're hairless, it doesn't mean you're smooth.