Sometimes I catch a stranger's eye on the streets of Montreal and, worried that I’ll be bothered once again, I say, "so you want to know how I became Life's Champion, do you?" Before this admirer can gush out, "Je ne parle pas anglais," I've already begun: "My friend, I thought you’d never ask.”
A hero of suffering, a steward of the bed, a muse of melancholy, the Life Champion’s perpetual failures serve as a rebellion against conventional, commercial concepts of capitalist success, theories that dictate that a 35 year old adult man should be capable of paying off his student debt, buying his parents birthday presents, and not crying in public settings like weddings or the bus. Must we all say, “I got this” before grabbing the cheque at a lavish dinner and placing an extravagant cash-money tip directly into the waiter’s mouth as we wear enormous 1980s power suits, smoke Montecristo Double Edmundo Cuban cigars, and tell Karl Marx to go fuck his own beard? Must we? Is that something we have to do?
No, says the Life’s Champion.
Instead, we must turn to the sticky, gooey, sweaty, clogged, dyspeptic, physically and emotionally disgusting world of art and humanism, a gateway back to your gross soul, to the true understanding that we are all just lovable, fallible bags of meat, bones, and shit. No more masquerading around town in your best clothes acting like you’re on schedule for something when in reality you’ve spent the last few hours wondering what ponies think when they see a man with a ponytail. No more pretending to finalize your LinkedIn account when you just want to continue cursing at small, multi-colored birds on your balcony because you haven’t felt this alive in years. No more trying to find the proper corporate lingo to explain violently hurling up sangria during Professional Development Day. No more responding to people who ask, when you tell them about your water-colors of hard boiled eggs or sculptures of pterodactyls, “what are you going to do with that?” You’re already doing it, you beautiful freak.
You’re free to fail; you’re free to fail miserably. Why? Because you’re a goddamn human being.
The Life’s Champion lives by scepticism, rotisserie chicken, and compassion. He hurdles his way through life without dignity, utensils, or a firm understanding of how a mortgage works. He would rather get shot in the face in the lawless Old West than ever fill out another bureaucratic form. He cannot apply numerical temperatures to his experience of the weather, but will respond appropriately to your emotional cues when you give him a number. The Life’s Champion doesn’t understand your poetry but, lo and behold, there he is in the front row of your reading looking confused and uncomfortable, confused and uncomfortable like a true friend. The Life’s Champion will appear from a four-month, marijuana-induced coma to eulogize the best parts of your grandma then take you out for post-funeral, grieving burgers.
The Life’s Champion is the one you just remembered you gave your book to; you shouldn’t have given him that book. You will never get it back. It got all uglied up in the Life’s Champion’s revolting apartment: it’s covered in feta cheese, blood, rib sauce, and something indefinable that might still be alive but doesn’t have much time left. However, what will you get back four to five months later? An apology, a kiss on the cheek, and a pristine replacement copy of the very book that you’ve forgotten you’ve ever lent, and we will become better friends for it.
Sounds like a lazy loser, did I hear someone shout? Get this apathetic aesthete out of my face, did I hear someone jeer?
You know what, Earth? Fuck off.
You couldn't be more wrong: the Life's Champion loses to win, falls to fly, and sinks to swim (full-disclosure, the Life’s Champion once almost drowned in front of his cousins at a Cape Breton, Nova Scotia watering hole during the summer of ‘94), thereby redefining society's standards for achievement and basic hygiene. Would you rather listen to another celebrity tell you about a lucky break, or listen to the Life’s Champion tell you how he used a kiddie pool to “fix” his leaky air conditioner during a nasty bout of depression? Is there not more humanity, democracy, and empathy in exploring suffering I said to my lamp while eating a donair alone, than hearing about the cinematic successes of veneered scientologists starring in the latest action movie featured at the downtown cineplex? Tell me again how you always knew you were going to “make it” from a young age, and I’ll tell you how my parents once worried that I had a brain problem when I was 12 because I kept throwing a tennis ball at our chimney.
The Life’s Champion’s natural enemy is the know-it-all, a self-righteous being who represses the endless nuance of human vulnerability by presenting dominance as intelligence. One who abides completely by pre-set convictions convicts the Life’s Champion to his or her mind prison of yuckiness.
There is no key.
If the know-it-all goes to a job interview with all the answers, the Life’s Champion goes to a job interview with a big plastic bag of puss, dumps it on the floor, and says, “sorry for being so honest.” The know-it-all will find you at a party to tell you that you’re wrong about something. The Life’s Champion will never find you at that party. But he will always search for you without seeking to possess you, as he will always search for answers without coming to conclusions.
And so hark, readers or reader, below are entries from a hollowed tome recently stolen back from a group of adoring, militant nuns from Northern Quebec, a volume of diary entries known only and forever as “Another Victory for Life's Champion."
Entry One, March 26th, 2015
I once burnt half my body by dropping a steak from my fork into a hot pan filled with canola oil while shirtless. It was still delicious.
Ah, I remember it well. I had just done a seven-minute workout in some gym shorts and no shirt. I was younger then, and so it was a time when I didn’t put a shirt on while alone. After finishing my exercises and calling my father to tell him how well it went, I went to the kitchen to make a steak.
Butter. Canola Oil. Pain.
Everything was going just right, thought me, as I raised the steak on a fork above the sizzling pan filled with hot oil. Then it happened, and I truly understood what Charles Darwin meant about gravity when that pear hit him in the face.
The steak drops from the fork. The oil sprays all over the right, and let’s be honest, best side of my torso. I scream violently and high-pitchedly in a tone that once prompted the singing coach I had when I was 16 to ask me, “Do you smoke cigarettes?” I didn’t smoke then, but I sure was smoking now.
I dive into an ice cold tub that I prepared earlier just in case this event should occur and, as I cling to life, I hear the words of immortal French poet, Charles Baudelaire: “To solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery, my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches.” I whisper, “take me Charles, take me to the cemetery” but, as I press my pained head against a nearby loofah, he whispers back, “it’s not your time.”
And so, I decide to continue to live: I soak and curse like a wet pirate who was just burned by a steak. I think about the multiverse and what part my choices played in the forces that brought me here.
The steak was still delicious.
Another Victory for Life’s Champion.
September 8th, 2017
I'd be more free as a person if every day I fainted and fell backward off the bicep machine while no one noticed.
Recently, I summoned all my courage, tenacity, and parent’s money to help me finally finish my doctoral thesis in 19th century literature, an insanely un-lucrative undertaking that left me 35 and 60 thousand dollars in debt. If financial dread, my future death, and the largeness of Victorian novels weren’t enough, I also found myself, when the dust settled, with an awful case of acid reflux.
What is acid reflux?
This is what my make-shift doctor at McGill University helpfully said, “It’s like your body is eating itself.”
Ah, thank you for setting my mind at ease.
But honestly, doc, I didn’t ask for layman’s terms. Tell me about my remedial dorsal trachea in words I don’t understand. Fucking hell. Am I right, scared young man in the waiting room who I didn’t talk to? You looked like you were worried about an STD. I’ll never know, but I wish you well, you poor bastard.
I blame my eating habits.
I’m pretty sure I tried and succeeded to drink a pierogi a few years before. Succeeded? Or failed? My spirit was enlivened in the moment, but only years later did I realize the damage that may have been done by my youthful recklessness and by the allure of potato, mushroom and caramelized onions wrapped in a seemingly easy to swallow dumpling.
My doctor said I would be fine, and that I just have to watch my diet. She said I could eat the following:
1) The vapours of cured meats. Someone could blow over salami in my general direction. That would be dinner.
2) Almonds that have already been sucked on and spit out by a war veteran. When I questioned why it had to be a war veteran, my doctor said, because he or she fought for our country, and I felt bad for asking.
3) My doctor said that I could eat a mysterious fig that sits atop a mountain and may or may not exist. It would involve a life-long quest and she would accompany me.
4) My doctor said I could eat unspooled Norwegian yarn, but only while I’m asleep.
5) Finally, my doctor said that I should constantly be drinking apple cider vinegar and if the good lord takes me to heaven when I die, we’ll know it worked.
After receiving the doctor’s assessment, I was whisked out of the McGill clinic in a manner indicative of a school that treats its students like a nuisance. I then thought what any spoiled idiot would think when he or she is diagnosed with acid reflux: can I still drink and get fucked up?
I immediately accepted dying at 60 as long as I could have a few Miller Lights in the process. Miller Light has long been marketed to people who have a poor constitution but still want to have a good time and also accept that they will die at 60.
The one thing my doctor did do, after trying to double my anti-depressant dose before learning my name, was to give me medication to lower my stomach acidity until the sheer stress of having to read many enormous, 500 page Victorian novels about the audacity of ascots finally wore off. She said, and I swear, as long as you take this pill, you can still drink and get fucked up. I felt much more secure after hearing this from a medical healthcare practitioner.
In the next few weeks, I began to feel better. I could feel my pale, Scottish, Nova Scotian, incredibly ripped, medium-sized body begin to calm down. Bloating subsided. I stopped burping and sneezing continuously on the subway while apologizing to no one in particular.
I smiled more.
All the same, it did feel like things weren’t quite right. The medication made me light-headed and also made me call my mother to complain to her that I was light-headed and 60 thousand dollars in debt. These were alarming side-effects to say the least.
Feeling low about my health, I turned to exercise. Whenever my father buys me a pair of Nike Air Pegasus sneakers, he reinforces the importance of exercise as a means of staving off the many demons that engulf us throughout our lives, demons like the untimely death of a cherished loved one or being diagnosed with acid reflux. Remembering my father’s advice about the transformative power of physical activity, I headed to the Nautilus Plus gym for the first time in weeks.
I wore my Dry Fit gym shorts and shirt that are proven to take moisture away from the body.
After finishing an intense cardiovascular workout during which I hacked up a small amount of stomach acid and a piece of an apple from the early 90s, I went to the bicep curl machine. All seemed well, but after a few robust arm curls during which I loudly cursed the catholic church, the acid reflux medication’s side-effect of light-headedness came on strong.
Then everything went black and I fell off the bicep curl machine backwards.
When you’re falling backwards off a bicep curl machine backwards, you might be surprised how much thinking you can do: I wondered if my Dry Fit workout gear could not only take the moisture from my body, but also the tears from my eyes. I pondered whether what was currently happening to me could be used in an instructional video of what not to do on the bicep curl machine, imagining a juiced-up trainer saying, “Yeah, so one of the most important parts of the bicep curl machine is to stay vertical and stay conscious.”
As I hit the ground, I soon realized that my Nike Air Pegasuses would not allow me to accept death or gravity. I came to and got to my feet in what could have been 30 seconds or 3 hours.
I looked around.
All gym members were carrying on with their workouts. No one had seen me.
“Had anyone ever seen me?” I thought to myself in a deep, existential way that smart people do.
If you prick me, do I not bleed? If I fall off a bicep curl machine backwards, do you not notice? And if you knew I was acid refluxing, would you even give me Gaviscon or Rolaids or calcium citrate or oregano oil or coconut oil or Eno or even Pepcid AC?
“What is man’s responsibility to man?” I ruminated as I pulled my sweaty body off the gym floor. Are we all truly alone? Have I never existed? Have I only begun to exist at this present moment when the shackles of self-consciousness have been cast off in favour of a far more frightening but more exciting ideology that tells us that we can do anything we want because if no one sees a grown man falling off a bicep curl machine, then no one sees anything at all?
Yes, you can literally do anything. Not because you’re special (although you might be), but because no one will really give a shit either way, whether you win or lose, triumph or reflux.
And with that somewhat inspiring thought in my mind, I went home from the gym, chugged a Miller Light and prepared to die at the age of 60.
Another Victory for Life's Champion.