The Jewish Book Council is delighted to launch a new blog series in partnership with Ask Big Questions, an initiative out of Hillel International aimed at getting people to talk about issues of heart, soul and community. Each month, Ask Big Questions will feature a JBC author on their blog, shared here on the JBC ProsenPeople blog page, and in campus programming reaching over 10,000 college and graduate students.
Hanging on my father’s studio wall is a newspaper clipping, ripped from the 1973 Richmond News Leader. The headline reads: “Freaks vs. Pigs.” In one of my earliest sports memories, the sculpture department where my father attended college — a.k.a. The Freaks — beat the City of Richmond Police Department— a.k.a. the Pigs — in a fundraising softball game.
My father scored the winning run, his plumber’s butt became famous, and a celebration ensued that lasted months.
Underneath the article a photo shows my shirtless father and I standing beside his freaky, shirtless artist friends on the softball field. To his right is Frank “Half Man” Creasy, a painter who shaved the hair off the entire right side of his body. This included the hair on his head, face, eyebrows, eyelids, armpits, chest, arms, legs, and big toes. To my father’s left is Britta Garrison, a tiny printmaker who rode a pink miniature horse to class. I’m nuzzled into her elaborate softball uniform (an ornate gold and silver Elizabethan gown) basking proudly, romantically (and shirtlessly), feeling like I’ve just won big at Bingo. A moment after the picture was taken she kissed me on the lips. I was instantly in love with winning.
Unfortunately, this would be the closest I’d ever come to winning at sports again. Yet, the hook sank deep. Girls liked winners and as a five-year-old batboy Casanova who liked being kissed by girls (especially ones in Elizabethan gowns), the syllogism seemed logical. Play sports. Win. Win the girl.
Finding (and winning) the girl of my dreams set my subsequent quest for happiness on a hapless course that included a long and risky sports career, scores of painful trips to the emergency room, and plenty of broken hearts. Along the way, I learned a thing or two about winning. Mainly, that I was an artist trapped in a jock’s body who probably wouldn’t live his life as a professional athlete.
Whether your intentions are to win a heart like Don Juan, win a game like Peyton Manning, or win big with personal success, my list below is sure to help you feel like a winner:
1. Win the “Emulate Your Hero” Award
My grandest romantic obsession involved winning the affections of my beautiful and single third grade teacher, Ms. Ottenbrite. For an entire year, I dressed in a white denim pantsuit with a red pillowcase tied around my neck and imagined myself as the infamous daredevil Evel Knievel. I’d see myself flying through the sky in slow motion and into her arms as John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” played in the background. Win this award with your best iTunes playlist.
2. Win the “I Won by Losing” Award
I joined the varsity wrestling team to win the heart of our homecoming queen Savannah van Houten. As a result, I became the only wrestler in the history of my high school for two years straight to lose every match within the first five seconds. Yet, Savannah never knew I existed. This was the ultimate personal homage to the wrestling uniform — an outfit tailored to resemble a girl’s one-piece bathing suit with strange ear protectors that remind me of a yarmulke thong. Win this award with a big slice of humble pie.
3. Win the “Fashion Forward Podiatry” Award
Jewish mom’s are famous for their guilt, especially when it comes to leaving the house wearing clean underwear. “Just in case you’re in an accident,” they always say. Take it from a guy who’s accident prone, undergarments are way overrated. Let’s be honest. The first accessory anyone notices about a man is his shoes. My dad won that softball game in a pair of Chopines, a lace-up boot made of wood and covered in deer skin. Win this award by downgrading from boxers to briefs.
4. Win the “Wet Straw and Stale Horse Smell” Award
I started wearing Brut by Fabergé at the age of ten. This is the cheap cologne that comes in a plastic green bottle made famous by Muhammad Ali, Wilt Chamberlain, and James Bond. This is the smell that screams, “Go where no man has gone before!” Follow your heart to the men’s personal grooming products isle at Walgreens and then follow your nose. Win this award exclusively at Walgreens.
I once bought a one way ticket to Alaska (with my remaining bar mitzvah money) and lived like a caterpillar in a tent without poles (I’d forgotten them) for nearly a year in an attempt to woo my very first girlfriend. I thought my larger-than-life gesture would win her heart. Instead, she left me for the curmudgeonly, wrinkled manager at the fish cannery in Nikiski. Win this award by crying on your best friend’s shoulder.
6. Win the “Small is Big” Award
As a southerner, I was raised with a certain flavor of manners that has always translated into small gestures of kindness towards others. These days kindness has become some sort of radical mitzvah that needs to be added to a to-do list. Be nice, period. Win this award with small, kind gestures.
7. Win the “I Really Feel it” Award
Coach Monday called what happened during the competition an “anatomical enigma.” I would be the only gymnast in competitive history to be knocked out of my tights during a Big Ten Conference competition after slinging myself off the high bar and knocking myself out on one of those halogen lights on the gymnasium ceiling. I woke up in the arms of the lone female judge and then threw up on her blazer. Win this award with your sensitive side.
8. Win the “Power Through Patience” Award
On my honeymoon, my wife and I shaved our heads to prove that love was based on more than just physical appearances. I’m ashamed to say I realized the very next day the depths of my shallowness. I felt like I’d married a big bald man! It took Raleigh’s hair nearly two years to grow back. By then, I’d won my superficial freedom back and lost my wife. Win this award with patience.
9. Win the “Boring Excitement” Award
Every day after school and on weekends until dark, I’d lay in the garden behind my parent’s house under a huge stack of old car tires. I thought if I distributed the weight of the steel-belted radials in just the right way I could get my leg to break. You see, I craved wining the kind of personal attention that might only come with a leg cast and a set of crutches. Grappling with my personal issues like a modern day Don Quixote became a metaphor for grappling with life. Ultimately, many more obstacles will stand before me and my dreams, but only I can ever prevent myself from achieving those dreams. Win this award with your next dream.
10. Win the “Change Your Story” Award
Ultimately, our words create our beliefs, our beliefs create our actions and our actions create our reality. What do you want your story about winning to be? You’re the writer. Change the words and you’ll change your reality. Win this award by writing inspiring words on the back of your hand.
Slash Coleman is the author of The Bohemian Love Diaries, the personal perspectives blogger for Psychology Today, and an advice columnist at howdoidate.com (Ask Uncle Slash). He wrote, produced, and starred in the PBS Special The Neon Man and Me which also won the United Solo Award for best drama and is creatingThe New American Storyteller for PBS. He is the February 2014 featured author for Ask Big Questions as part of a new partnership with the JBC,