Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Before She Was Caitlyn

During the 1976 Montreal Olympics, when I was 17 and a young Decathlete, I hung out at the workout track behind the stadium. It was the best show in town and it was free. One day I talked to Rafer Johnson and grilled him about his training for about 20 minutes. What he ate. How he lifted. Did he sleep the nights before he won gold in Rome? Proud to say Rafer Johnson could not have been classier.

And I became friends with Fred Samara, one of the three US qualifiers in the Decathlon along with Fred Dixon and Nee Bruce Jenner. Fred was a smart and funny guy who had graduated from Penn. Fred was also an intellectual which is a bit unusual.

One day, I volunteered to rake the pit while Fred was working on the long jump. We talked for a while and when I told him Bruce Jenner was my hero, he sort of winced. At the time I marked it up to their competitive rivalry. Bruce was getting a lot of press, the two Freds, Samara and Dixon, were not. (Years later, I got to know Fred Dixon at UCSB while training with his younger brother, Dave. Both great guys) 

About an hour later, Fred Samara pointed to the discus ring about 50 yards away and said, “There’s your boy now.” It was an hour until sunset and Jenner was getting ready to work out for the discus with the eventual gold medal winner and Oregon Duck, Mac Wilkens. 

Excited as I could be, I ran over. Without saying a word, I retrieved their discuses saving them the 160 and 200 feet respective trips for each throw. Neither Jenner nor Wilkens said a word or even acknowledged me, let alone thanking me for helping. 

When Jenner was done at dusk, the sun setting over the stadium, he packed up his discs and was putting on his warm ups. That's when I politely asked, through the discus cage, if he had any advice for me, an Illinois boy headed to California to do the Decathlon in college?

Here was Jenner’s reply: Without looking at me - and in that oddly high-pitched voice for a guy 6.2, 220 - he sarcastically said, 

“Make sure you chew your food 20 times before swallowing.”

This resulted in loud mocking laughter from Mac Wilkens. Jenner laughed too. 

The next day, when I was talking to Fred Samara at the practice track, he asked, “So what did you think of your idol?” After a moment, I replied,

“What a dick.”

Fred had to sit down he was laughing so hard.

Monday, April 06, 2020

When I graduated from UCSB, my fraternity big brother, Tim Chambers, was killing it. 

Even though he was my Sigma Chi big brother, we were the same age. We were both going for the Sundance Kid look with shaggy blonde hair and a mustache and we were pulling it off pretty well, if I do say so. We both dated quite a few of our gorgeous little sisters who were mostly sorority girls.

Tim got a great job at Xerox right out of the box. He was personable and spoke a lot in slang. “Yo brah. This food is a killer grind, brah. Work it, brah, work it.” 

Tim got a company car - a dark blue huge BMW - and was sent on sales calls that were essentially done deals for large corporations. He owned ten suits and basically just had them sign the paper work for which he received a 5% commission. He was renting a house in the hills near the Santa Barbara Mission with a couple of Xerox buddies and their house was the weekend party house.

Me, while I was also technically working for a business machine company, it was no Xerox. It was the now defunct CPT Corporation who made stand alone word processors. At the time I drove a used Volkswagen Dasher red station wagon. When I went on sales calls they were cold calls. Nobody asked to buy anything. My job was to make mostly law firms think that they should buy a $40,000 word processor from a company they had never heard of instead of IBM or Xerox. 

The fact that I managed to sell one computer was a miracle, but somehow in my first year I sold ten. When I got  to agree to a demonstration, I would take a form they needed to be typed automatically and basically program the computer to type it in. It would work four out of five times, I just had to hold my breath and hope it worked at the time.

One day I went running along the East Beach volleyball nets with one of Tim’s Xerox roommates and all he did was complain about how hard his job was to drive to an office in a huge BMW wearing one of his nice ten suits and supervise them signing the contract and collecting the thousands in commission.

Meanwhile I was going door-to-door to sleazy law offices with sleazier lawyers until I talked someone into seeing a demonstration and then gave the demonstration and then strong armed them into going with CPT instead of Xerox or IBM which, looking back at it, was an idiotic decision. 

One of my favorite cold calls was a big, fancy Ventura law office called Alexander, Covington and Smith. The receptionist’s job was to keep guys like me out. (Picture Lily Tomlin’s phone operator character. )

So I told her I knew Mr. Alexander well and we had an appointment. 

“When was the last time you saw Mr. Alexander?”

“When we played golf.” I lied. She looked right at me and said,

“He died 20 years ago.” Without missing a beat, I said, 

“He didn’t look good the last time I saw him.” 

She called security.

After I moved to New York two years after college, I lost contact with Tim. Through the grapevine I heard he was bouncing around from firm to firm as a salesman. 

Two years ago, I heard Tim, my Sigma Chi big brother, died in the bushes of an offramp off the Interstate 5 freeway in Mission Viejo. He was homeless and an alcoholic. His heart gave out. Friends said his divorce was the final straw. He lost his battle with alcohol.

All during college, countless parties and dances,  I never saw Tim drunk. Not once. 

When my mind wanders during mindless tasks, like washing dishes or doing laundry, it often drifts to Tim. And how much he would love to still be alive and doing such a mindless task. 

Even during a pandemic.