The next day in designer track pants and expensive shoes, we arrived for tryouts. To my untrained eye, the group looked like an odd, un-athletic bunch. However, I wasn’t in a position to talk, because my svelte waist was beginning to look like a spare tire. The tryout turned out to be a jog up and down a mild incline five consecutive times, dodging beer cans in an obstacle course manner. At the end, we were told perfunctorily by the Coach that everyone had made the team and the tryouts were over. This too seemed odd to me, but despite that second warning sign, I still showed up the next day.
At the beginning of the third day, we were shown the rowing machines, not the boats. At this point, we hadn’t seen a scull, a boat, a yacht, or even an oar or life preserver. Our glimpse of the machines was even reluctant, following an hour long talk by our Coach, a man with a ponytail, baggy shorts, an indeterminable amount of beard growth, and a dirty baseball cap. He spent most of the time rambling about how he had married his wife in three days, and that he loved his wife almost as much as crew. It wasn’t the inspirational tack I would have used to motivate the team, but I kept my mouth shut and tried to ignore the third abnormality in three days.
We also met the Assistant Coach before we viewed the broken down pieces of rowing equipment. He stood ramrod straight and liked to yell pointlessly. Nevertheless, I watched intently as he explained proper rowing technique on the rowing machine. After all, I had no idea what to do or how to do it. My new teammates then paraded onto the machine only to have their pants torn asunder by the slick slide, or their shorts consumed by the frenetic wheels. In a matter of minutes, an awkward line of men shifted uneasily next to the machine, attempting to hide their various forms of underwear. Finally, it was my turn. As I began to row, one thing was abundantly clear to me. It only mattered to the Assistant Coach if I was abysmal, because no one else knew how to row either. For those five awkward minutes, despite poor form, I actually thought that despite my total lack of knowledge, training, skill, and inability to listen to shouted criticism, I could row with the best rowers in the world.
Then, hungrily, my shorts were gone in that common afternoon clothes eating sound and I was off the machine. As I stood there, in my boxers, I realized two more simple things. I had avoided the snares of the immortal virtues, only to find myself caught in the demonic net of an inept secular brotherhood of sporting. Despite everything, it wasn’t an awful revelation, because at the moment, I actually looked good in my boxers in the public eye, because the choices next to me were much worse.