the Joy out of Killjoy
by Mad Dog
Once the glow of
having scaled Everest an unlucky number of times started to wear off he
probably felt bad because he didn’t have any fabulous stories to
regale everyone with, such as how he had to amputate his arm with a
plastic spoon to free it from a rusty yeti trap.
||It sure would be nice if
our feelings of accomplishment could last a little longer. Take this
past weekend for example. I went on a hike with some friends. What
started out as a moderate hike on fairly flat ground wound up as a
pretty strenuous 10-mile roundtrip trek to the top of a waterfall that
included scrambling up sheer rocks which someone in the National Park
Service had the sense of humor to call a trail. By the time we got back
we were a little sore, mildly sunburned, very hungry, and extremely
proud of ourselves. At least until I read the newspaper.
It turns out that the very same
day—possibly the same time if you adjust for being halfway around the
world—a 35-year-old Sherpa named Lakpa Gyelu took a jaunt from Mount
Everest’s base camp to the highest point on Earth in just under 11
hours. Four minutes under to be exact. To put this in humiliating
perspective, he hiked about 11,000 feet higher than we did—on ice and
snow with precious little oxygen to breathe, no less—in just about
twice the time, a climb, by the way, which takes most people four days.
His climb, not ours. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he did it alone,
partly because no one else could keep up with him, but mostly because,
as my mother always told me, no one likes a show off.
Although he stole our thunder and
made me feel like the out of shape American I am, at least I can console
myself with the knowledge that he probably felt bad afterwards too. When
he got back to the Internet café at base camp he discovered that a
Sherpa named Appa had set his own record that same day by becoming the
first person to reach the summit 13 times. “Big deal,” Gyelu
probably muttered in Nepali. “Do it 13 times in one day and I’ll be
impressed.” Face it, none of us enjoy being one-upped.
No sooner does
someone set a record than someone else breaks it, usually by one point,
1/1000th of a second, or in the case of major league contracts, an extra
million dollars a year.
I suspect Appa’s feeling of glory was also short-lived. Once
the glow of having scaled Everest an unlucky number of times started to
wear off he probably felt bad because he didn’t have any fabulous
stories to regale everyone with, such as how he had to amputate his arm
with a plastic spoon to free it from a rusty yeti trap, sauté that
obnoxious woman in his expedition who had more money than muscle tone so
he wouldn’t starve to death, or place another Sherpa under citizen’s
arrest for exceeding the uphill speed limit of 2,900 feet per day. And
who can blame him? After all, it’s hard to sell the movie rights to
your story and retire if all you did was the same thing 13 times in a
row. Unless, of course, you’re Danielle Steel, Ron Jeremy, or the
producers of the Friday the 13th series.
Feeling cheated out of personal glory
isn’t confined to hiking. At least not for me. Not long ago the House
of Representatives passed legislation that would raise the maximum
amount of money the government will insure in a bank account from
$100,000 to $130,000. Damn! Just when I was 2 percent of the way towards
achieving my personal goal of having more money in the bank than the
government will insure, Congress goes and moves the goal. It’s like
being a pole vaulter and having someone lift the bar just as you’re
about to go over it. Or, in an analogy most of us are better able to
relate to, lowering the limbo bar as we’re about to go under it. Or
try to anyway.
One person who probably doesn’t have to worry about being
outdone is Takeru Kobayashi, the Japanese professional speed-eater. Yes,
despite what your guidance counselor told you, there is such an
|| Athletes have
to contend with this all the time. No sooner does someone set a record
than someone else breaks it, usually by one point, 1/1000th of a second,
or in the case of major league contracts, an extra million dollars a
year. That’s why instead of being better, it’s more important to be
first. It’s something no one can take away from you. Except maybe the
referees, but they only do things like that because they’re cranky
since they’d rather be playing and earning the big bucks
except—whoops!—they just don’t happen to have any talent.
person who probably doesn’t have to worry about being outdone is
Takeru Kobayashi, the Japanese professional speed-eater. Yes, despite
what your guidance counselor told you, there is such an occupation.
Kobayashi is the guy who won the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July
International Hot Dog Eating Contest for the past two years running. In
2001 he chowed down 50 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, easily beating
the previous record of 25 1/8. It’s true, the judges actually measure
hot dog eating by the eighth of a hot dog. Or rather the seven-eighths
that’s left. Last year the 113-pounder beat his own record, but only
by half a dog. Okay, so it hit 100 degrees that day. And the 50˝ hot
dogs he swallowed equaled 6 percent of his body weight. We’re looking
for glory, not excuses.
The contest is coming up again soon
and, unlike Sherpas, athletes, and me, he’ll probably hold onto his
feeling of accomplishment. I’m happy for him. I truly am. After all,
accomplishment is the one feeling he’ll have that I would want. He can
keep the fullness and nausea. I have enough of those when I read the
newspaper and find out I haven’t accomplished half of what I thought I
©2003 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country.
Read them while seeing how low you can go.