Rowing Down The Stream Of Consciousness


Monday, April 18th, 2016. 5:14 AM. I wonder how many people are up writing right now? Are they writing fiction? Perhaps something for work? We’re out here. Like rowers on the Cuyahoga River. Type, type, type instead of splash, splash, splash. Or whatever water sounds like when oars are pushing it away so the boat thingy can move.

I suppose I should know about these things if I ever write about rowing. J. Crew. Wouldn’t that be a fashionable bunch on the river? “Ladies and gentlemen, now rowing against Princeton…J. Crew!” The crowd goes wild.

Crew fans, by the way, must be really fit. They spend the whole race on the move; running and cheering on a worn path on the bank of the river. Running and screaming, with their heads turned to the side so they can look at their team. Sometimes tripping over their own two feet causing everyone behind to fall like dominoes. They have to be quick. If they’re not, the team they came to root for will make it to the finish line before they do.

“Hey, did you see our boys out there? That was some finish!”

“Unfortunately no. I saw them start, but I got a stitch 600 meters in and had to pull off.”

“Man, you missed some race! Edged out Harvard by an eighth of an inch. First time we beat them — ever!”

“Yeah, I really gotta stop eating Pop Tarts. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me.”

I guess rowing fans really can’t run out “onto the field” after a victory either. They could, but it would look kind of silly falling into a river. Someone would probably drown, and that would only steal tomorrow’s headline from the team. The crew would show up at the funeral because they’re a nice group of people. But they would hold a grudge against the dead fan because that was supposed to be their moment out there, not the dead fan’s.

The autopsy would reveal that the fan had eaten a Pop Tart just minutes before the race, then got a stitch after jumping into the river and was pulled under water by throngs of jubilant fans who had no idea that he was pinned against a rock, and they were using his head as a trampoline, murky water getting darker and darker. Lights out.

Of course I’m being hypothetical. I don’t think anyone has ever died this tragically while watching a rowing match. There have probably been some heart attacks. But that can happen in any sport. Adrenaline is pumping through your veins. Anxiety is high. You want your team to win so you won’t get ridiculed at the water cooler Monday morning. You wear your Cornell t-shirt everywhere you go. Not because you went there, but because that’s where your favorite rowers row. Because of that t-shirt, your girlfriend thinks you attended Cornell. You never tell her the truth. You hope she never asks.

You smell like river water because you are there for every race, every victory. You jump into the water and knock over their boat thingy and high-five them and slap their backs and make them feel uncomfortable. They want to transfer to Brown where maybe, just maybe, their fans aren’t as fanatical.

You spend so much time rooting for them you don’t have any time for yourself. You have newspaper clippings and maps to where their team is traveling tacked to the wall of your motel room because that’s where you live — in a motel.

Years later you stop following them when you become a famous rock climber. Then you are victimized by someone doing what you used to do and you tell them, “Bro, I really appreciate you hanging around when I do my thing, but I draw the line at you following me into the men’s room. It’s freaking me out. Please find something you love doing and leave me out of it. I’m a grown man and so are you. And take off that stupid shirt. You look too much like me.”

“Why are you talking to me like that? I paid good money for this shirt so I can look like you.”

“Because I threw away 15 years stalking a crew team and I don’t want you making the same mistake.”

“What’s wrong with me shaping everything I do with my life around you?”

“It’s not healthy.”

“But what’ll I do? Where will I go?”

“Go somewhere where the air is fresh, somewhere where you can hear yourself think. A place where you can reflect on where you’ve been versus where you should’ve been. I can’t tell you where to go. You have to find it yourself.”

“Like maybe the woods? Should I go to the woods?

“That’s a start.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. And, uh…deranged fan?”


“Are you gonna lose the shirt?”

“The minute I get to the woods.”

“And all the newspaper clippings and maps that enable you to follow me around?”

“I’ll get rid of them before I check out of the motel. Can I still follow you on Twitter?”

“Please don’t.”

Keep in mind that most rowing and rock climbing fans are not this over the top. If over the top is what you’re looking for, you may find it by joining the vast legion of super fans who rely on our nation’s 4 major sports for air. They’ll wear anything that has their favorite team on it. Shirts, pajamas, beach towels, sandals, lamp shades. Sometimes fans are allowed to wear their city’s home team to work on game day. That cashier at Giant Eagle dripping in Browns merchandise looks certifiably nuts and he’s touching your food.

Please let me explain before you smother me with your Lakers blanket. You don’t see professional ball players wearing your uniform where they work, do you? They don’t enter into a collective hush after you slip and fall in the parking lot, or give you a standing ovation when they see you walking off with just a scratch. They don’t follow you on Twitter, not that I suspect too many cashiers are on Twitter. And I’m betting not too many athletes have a bobblehead of Home Depot’s Employee of the Month sitting on their kitchen table at home.

So why do we obsess over celebrities? It obviously bothers me. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t have spent the last three hours writing about it. Wait, what time is it? Damn, the Boston Marathon is starting! I haven’t missed a race in 40 years! You like my Bill Rodgers headband? Made it myself in 1975.

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