Strange Radiation

Andrew Willett, unreliable narrator.

Category: chicago 2006

ggvii: epilogue

Well, I’m back.

My final race was the 400 IM, and it went okay. Not the best time I’ve ever done, but certainly far better than I thought I’d be capable of, given my erratic training schedule. Oh, and I got disqualified for a wonky turn at the 150-meter mark. That was a drag, but there wasn’t much to be done about it. It was a fair cop. Our team saw a number of IMers get the hook over that particular point of protocol (I’ll spare you the specifics, but they involve the timing of the rollover in a backstroke-to-backstroke flip-turn); that’s clearly we something need to reteach, because so many of us—including a couple of coaches—misunderstood the legalities. Whatever. It’s not like it cost me a medal. With a time of 5:55, I was a good 30 seconds out of contention. And from where I was, it felt like a great race: very strong, very controlled, exactly according to plan. I’ll take it.

Thursday was the Pink Flamingo. The overall theme was “underwater fantasy.” Our contribution avoided the obvious elements (mermaids, fish, and anybody who would normally be seen swimming) and references (the musical Chicago, e.g.), instead going for a series of ten quick vignettes: a Top Ten à la Letterman listing the “Ten People We Fantasize Are Underwater… Permanently.”

Who were they? Dick Cheney (avec hunter’s cap and gun); David Blaine Paris Hilton & Nicole Richie; Kristin Chenoweth1; Lindsay Lohan Cirque du Soleil; That Albino Dude from The DaVinci Code; Ann Coulter That Annoying James Blunt2; and Dubya. Lindsay was a five-and-a-half-foot rubber skeleton in a pink cowboy hat, which we’d rigged to projectile-vomit Gatorade. Ms. Coulter was a guy in a blonde wig and black minidress who did a hilarious, wild-eyed Nazi goose-step before being thrown into the pool by a pair of 9/11 widows. I was part of the two-man Cirque du Soleil act, running around wearing a black unitard and a manic expression as I waved a bunch of long rhythmic-gymnastics ribbons in the air. Dubya wore The Flight Suit and went into the water beneath a —MISSION ACCOMPLISHED— banner. The presentation moved at breakneck speed, with the shortest vignettes about four seconds long and the longest about thirty seconds. We got our costumes from 99¢ stores and thrift shops. We held our first real rehearsal about 2 hours before the event started. Frankly, it was pretty deranged. Here’s the only picture I’ve found so far, and though I know it shows Dubya’s apotheosis there’s no way anybody else could tell.

When we won the ‘Best Costumes’ award, we assumed the judges were on crack. And when we won the grand prize, we were utterly gobsmacked. The crazy continued from there: Matthew Cusick was in the hall and loved our Cirque parody—he climbed down out of the stands to get his picture with us. We got interviewed by two different TV crews.

And then we were done. Friday everybody had an entire day to wander around and eat and sleep and take pictures and drink and whatever on a more normal human schedule. Saturday was the closing ceremonies, which were mercifully shorter than the opener and included Cyndi Lauper dressed as the Rainbow-Striped Statue of Liberty and also a dance routine by the DC Cowboys that gave all the guys the vapors. (Whoo.) Saturday night we went out and danced until dawn. Sunday we caught flights back to NYC, or tried to, and took naps and did laundry and tried to put our heads back together.

It was good.

Just as happened after the last two Games, though, I now find myself in a weird little funk. You spend ten days getting to know your teammates and trashing your eating/sleeping schedule and making friends from other cities and flirting with strangers and generally pushing your body to its limits, and when it’s all over the return to ‘normality’ is jarring. I spent a lot of today questioning every decision I’ve made in my life. How did I get here? Is this what I want? Gimme a couple of days, and I’ll be fine; but on that note I should really get to bed.

1 Let the record show: I like KC. I think we put her on the list to be ‘edgy’ and make sure people were paying attention.

2 On the other hand, I had no idea who this Blunt guy was. I’m told that audience members under 28 thought our send-up of his latest video was genius.

ggvii field report: wednesday (ii)

Along similar lines to the ‘in Chicago the restaurants are mostly closed by ten PM‘ observation: the bars in this town all close at 2. What the hell? What kinda burg is this?

The 400 was, in a sense, a huge success. I mean, I did it in 5:55.something, which is, if not the fastest I’ve ever done, certainly the fastest I’ve done it in a good while. And that felt good. I got disqualified along the way, unfortunately: a bad turn at the halfway point of the backstroke did me in. But I’m not going to fret overmuch, because what tripped me up was a point of order which we as a team had not really understood. I was not the only New Yorker to get caught in that particular net today. On the other hand, I sought out a full explanation afterwards of what the hell went wrong, and communicated it to my teammates, and a later swimmer swears that my explanation made the difference between getting tossed out of the standings and the gold medal he won later. So my brave sacrifice was worth something in the end. (Donations to the author’s memorial fund may be sent in care of his website.)

And now I’m done! Huzzah. First thing tomorrow, I’ll be picking up a life-size rubber skeleton for the Pink Flamingo; but for now, I’m off to bed.

ggvii field report: wednesday (i)

Am still having a ball. Swam the 100 IM yesterday (1:14-point-something), and later the 4×100 medley relay. We may have won a medal in the relay; won’t know for sure until I get back to the pool. When we got there yesterday we discovered that our end-of-Monday relay had in fact taken a bronze. Yahoo! Souvenir!

Today holds my final race of the Games: the 400 IM, my favorite. The 400 is a terrifying monster—100 meters each of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. The opening hundred meters is the really scary part for me, but frankly the whole thing is grueling. It’s an overachiever’s race. On the other hand, when you finally finish the thing you really feel like you’ve accomplished something.

People are starting to leave for their homes at this point. Today will be the penultimate day of racing, which means that tonight will be a night of intensive partying for many swimmers. We get tomorrow off—it’s Pink Flamingo day—and then on Friday the 1500 Free is the only event, and there’s no way I’m swimming that. Those of us who remain are kinda ready for the fun to be over. The excitement on the deck is mixed with exhaustion. After today’s race I’ll have three whole days in Chicago. I’m not sure how I’ll be spending them. The plan was to spend a couple of days painting the town, hanging out with friends, and to stay for the closing ceremonies. But it’s still damn hot here, and I’m tired of eating in restaurants, and the pillows at this hotel are awful. I wonder if forty-eight hours from now I will be rethinking my decision.

On the other hand, I’ve not yet really taken advantage of how Chicago is a city of much public beauty. Art! Architecture! Parks! The lake! We’ll see how things go, I guess; but first I have a final dragon to slay, and before that I really must find some lunch. More anon.

gay games vii field report: monday

Am having a ball. Swam two races on Saturday (800 Free, time 11:02; 200 IM, time 2:46) and a relay yesterday (the 4×50 medley, in which we won our heat). Times have been—well, hardly spectacular, but definitely respectable given the intermittent nature of my training up until this point. I touched out one of my regular TNYA lane-mates in the IM, neener neener. Relay tonight; 100 IM tomorrow, 400 IM Wednesday. Possibly another relay in there somewhere. All the swimming events between now and Friday are to be held in the evening, for reasons I can only guess at, so the swimmers are all living like Spaniards, having dinner at eleven o’clock. This is more difficult than I’m used to, given that Chicago is not in Spain, and is a town that seems to shutter its restaurants at about 10. But we’re figuring things out. The boy-watching is up to its usual standards; there are a number of specimens who obviously live on chicken breasts and egg-whites. We admire their dedication, and the results thereof, but agree that life is too damn short. We are all losing our voices, because the pool facilities, like most of their kind, are a gigantic white-noise generator, and you have to kind of shout to be heard. And then there’s the screaming exhortation of one’s teammates, of course. I am rapidly turning into Thurl Ravenscroft.

Weather is outrageously hot and sultry, and promises to remain so until at least Wednesday. Apparently the city of Chicago has been in some sort of ‘heat emergency’ for the last day or two, and the various medical institutions around here are all saying that to hold outdoor athletic events in such weather is insane. But Chicago is bidding for the summer Olympics in 2016, and is therefore the city doing its best to demonstrate that it can handle such eventualities. There are firemen at some of the playing fields, hosing down the crowds. That sort of thing. (Word on the street is that the firemen are an added bonus unto themselves.)

We are a seriously motley crowd, as the (waay-too-long) opening ceremonies Saturday demonstrated: sweet grandparents and blue-mohawked twentysomethings and demure accountants and burly men with beards and bald heads. It’s great. I met a bunch of fabulous dykes in cowboy hats from London on the train last night, here to play soccer. I may go watch their match today.

Internet access has been spotty, so I don’t know when the next report will be. Hope everyone is well.

waving, not drowning

Oh, ye gods. I leave for Chicago and the Gay Games in about thirty hours, and it’s going to be a full-on freakout from here to the airport. I have a ridiculous amount of work to churn out to my freelance employer tomorrow. I haven’t packed. I have a writer’s group to attend tomorrow evening, which a little voice in my head is telling me that I may have to pull a no-show on.

Once I get to the Windy City, though, I am resolved to leave the crazitude behind. In past years (Amsterdam 1998, Sydney 2002]), I have spent most of my Gay Games week at the glowing nucleus of a ball of pulsing neurosis. What if all my hard work doesn’t pay off? What if I let myself down? What if my times aren’t the best I’ve ever done? What if all this was for nothing? What if my beard were made of green spinach? Aieeee!

Yeah, and like that. My friends end up having to scrape me off the ceiling; I can’t eat, and I can’t breathe, and I can’t sleep. Somewhere around my last individual race, I suddenly realize that I’ve been having no fun at all, and I get a grip, but by then five days of potential fun have gone down the tubes.

This year, there will be none of that. I’ve realized well in advance that my training has not been as rigorous as I had planned, and that I’m not in the sort of shape that suggests that I’ll be punching out personal bests in each of my four events.1 I look at my seed times, which it’s much much too late to revise, and I think: oh my god, no effing way, ha ha ha ha ha. So I’m just not going to worry about it. I’m going to hit the water and let my body do what it feels ready to do. I’m going to have fun, dammit, because that’s why I do this. And if nothing else, I’ll take the time to enjoy the boy-watching, which is truly world-class, because not to do so would be a criminal waste. And just maybe a miracle will occur, and I’ll boil the water behind me as I blast torpedo-wise through it; but if it doesn’t, that’s okay, too.

Watch this space for intermittent reports from the field.

1 Actually, there will be one guaranteed PR. I’m swimming my very first 800 Free, and I still have no idea why. Because my coach told me to do it, I think. It probably won’t be pretty, but it’ll be a personal best nonetheless.

2 It scares me that I’ve been keeping a blog long enough to be able to go back and read my Sydney journals.

chicago and/or bust!

Okay, it’s official. I am signed up for the Gay Games. Here’s my schedule:

Day I (Saturday, 15 July)
800 Free, seeded at 10:40*
200 IM, seeded at 2:28

Day II
4×200 Free relay

4×50 Free relay

Day IV
100 IM, seeded at 1:12

Day V
400 IM, seeded at 5:45
4×100 Free relay

Day VI will, of course, be the Pink Flamingo. Not sure what this year’s theme is.

Days I and V scare me. Day VI will, doubtless, scare everybody else.

All seed times in short-course meters. I am not presently able to swim these times, but I will be by then. I hope.—

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