Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March Madness

Originally uploaded by Hel Des
As many of you may already know, for many years I worked as an independent contractor for several professional sports leagues. Though my title was "Production Coordinator - Entertainment Department", I frequently left it out preferring, instead, to tell people that I was a stringer for the Cubs or a goalie for the Habs. The lie/joke vascillated wildly based on who I was working for at the time and what I was trying to get for free. Usually drinks on a plane.

Despite the fun-sounding title, the job was challenging: the work was detail-oriented, the hours long and the rewards tremendous. I met interesting people, got a bird's eye view of a rarified environment and ate more convention centre sandwiches than seemed humanly possible.

I also got to see how professional athletes were treated. Most of us know that the world of the professional athlete is a one of entitlement and esteem - some rightfully deserved and earned, some not. Regardless of where you fall on this issue, though, there can be no disputing that most of us would like to know what it feels like to step into their Air Jordan's for a day or two.

For one glorious month in 1999, I was mistaken for a professional athlete. I was doing a show in Cleveland for Major League Baseball where we'd been set up in corporate apartments not too far from the convention center where we worked. The apartment complex was one of the few of its kind in the downtown core and what set it apart from the others was that it provided "Valet Service".

Our valet was Mary. Mary was a well-coiffed matronly black lady well past retirement age who was blessed with the sweetest temperament but virtually no skills that might serve her as valet. She frequently botched simply dry-cleaning orders ("Oh, you wanted these pressed? I thought you said steamed.....), couldn't recommend a single restaurant in the area ("I eat at home, dear. And so should you!") and when you were able to to talk her out of giving you a casserole recipe that you might "whip up in NO time!" and make a reservation, she frequently got the time wrong or made it at another restaurant entirely. She was more grandmother-let than valet.

Though Mary was the one who had checked me in on the MLB dime, handed me my key and given me a full tour of the workout facility, she got it in her mind that I was a member of the Lady Cavs basketball team, who also just happened to live in our "full-service" building. And so every night, after I'd drag my tired ass back home, I would be greeted by Mary, a giant smile on her face, asking in the most coquettish of voices: Did you win your game last night?

The first few days, it took me beat or two to respond. What the Hell is this lady on about? Who does she think I am? And then I would remember the lithe, attractive pituitary cases that I worked out with every morning at 6 and think, Ah yes! Mary thinks I'm a Lady Cav. And, like an idiot, I would make an effort to set her straight.

I don't play professional basketball, Mary, I would say. I work for MLB. In their entertainment department. You checked me in. Remember? To which she would respond, in what I couldn't distinguish as either mock-outrage or utter confusion, You DON'T? HMMMMM......I thought you did!!!

The first week, it was funny. I came to look forward to it. By the second week, however, it was driving me nuts. How many times do I have to re-live this moment, I kept asking myself. By week three, I had reached acceptance. I am a Lady Cav, I decided. I accepted Mary lie and ran with it.

My game was fantastic, Mary. I scored 12 points.
My achille's heel is killing me , Mary. I'm going upstairs to soak it.
The girls aren't passing enough, Mary. It may jeopardize our play-off chances.

Each time, Mary would respond in kind: clapping her hands, tsking bad behaviours, oooh-ing and ahh-ing on cue. We even high-fived once. Mary wanted to adore me as a professional athlete, not as a Production Coordinator. And who the Hell was I to stop her?

And then it dawned on me: Mary wasn't bad at her job, at all. No, she hadn't been able to do a thing that I wanted the entire month but she had provided something that I didn't even know I needed: A story to dine out on for the rest of my life. Thanks for that, Mary. Thanks a bunch!

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