Monday, August 06, 2007

The World Famous Fat Belly Power Hour!


I never really understood why they called him Pudge.

Carlton Fisk, I mean.

After all, when I was a kid not quite paying attention to baseball because it was considered a sissy sport in our lacrosse/hockey/football/rugby-mad family I never thought of Mr. Fisk as portly.

And when he hit that dance-down-the-foul-line-assisted home run to win Game Six of the 1975 World Series Fisk looked positively Herculean on T.V. to me.


I saw Carlton Fisk, for real, up close and personal in 1993.

Which was a time when both baseball and American exceptionalism still meant a lot to me.

And on that particular day Fisk was toiling near the end of his career for the Chicago White Sox warming up a guy named Jeff Schwarz in the right field bullpen of Oakland Alameda County Coliseum.*

Truth be told, I was actually more interested in Mr. Schwarz that day because, after 11 years in the minors as a draft and follow straight out of highschool, Schwarz was finally getting his first shot in the show. To put that in perspective, Schwarz made more in meal money in that, his only full season in the big-leagues, than he made in all of 1992 when he was toiled for the Vancouver Canadians.

How do I know this?

Because Schwarz told me so himself later that very afternoon as we sat in the bar of the Oakland Airport Hilton where Goose Gossage was holding court a scant six feet away.

Another interesting thing about Schwarz was the fact that he liked to loosen-up by long-tossing with both his right and left hands.

I never did find out what a crusty old customer like Carlton Fisk, who by then had been in the majors for more than 20 years and had caught more games than anyone else in baseball history, thought about Mr. Schwarz' feats of ambulatory ambidextriosity.

I do, however, know that Pudge hated watching himself on T.V.

In particular he said he never, ever, watched video of himself hitting that walk-off shot in Fenway Park in 1975.


Because, Fisk said, he had his own memories of that moment and he didn't want the eye of the camera to turn them into something they were not.

Funny thing is, these days it seems to me that we now live in a world where everyone has to make the very same choice pretty much every single day.

To watch or not to watch.

Ourselves, I mean.


Last Wednesday, after work, I climbed on my bike and coasted down the hill to Jericho Beach which is an oasis of slowness on the southwest edge of Vancouver harbour that has green, birds, sand, beach and picnic dinners, especially on long, warm mid-summer evenings.

Which is exactly why I met my girls there last Wednesday.

The swimming was very fine also, and I was soon pulling little e. through the water, motorboat style, while Bigger E. headed to the dock which was populated by fellow teenagers bent on fulfilling their cannonball runs and not-so caviar dreams.

For her part the girls' mom, C., sat propped against our log next to the Lifeguard stand taking it all in.

Later, when we were no longer hot, and after a bit of a spat involving the latest Harry Potter book and spilled liquids, a herd of single-prop Cessna's pulling huge banner-ads for things like winter trips to Mexico began to circle the harbour.

Then, as the sun sank below the sailing club pier, the throngs of fireworks watchers arrived.

And that is how the log next to us came to be filled to bursting with a passel of kids frolicking about doing nothing more important than having a good time while they filled E., and maybe me a little too, with envy and wonder.

Because it looked like, based on their T-shirts and their demeanor, that this group of not quite grown-ups worked at some sort of summer camp and that this was a night off.

Which immediately shot me back 25 years to when I met C. over a camp-training orienteering map followed by an entire summer of days off spent at a funhouse C. and her roommates called 'The Judah Connection'.

But the weird thing about the modern day camp-kids on the log was the fact that every 8 or 12 seconds they had to stop what they were doing, freeze, pose, and flash a grimacing smile for the camera.

Which was all fine and good, I guess, but none of those Kodak moments was even remotely close to being a World Series walk-off home run-type deal.

Not even close.


When I first became a counsellor at a sorta/kinda wilderness camp I was, to put it mildly, pretty close to useless - especially when it came to the 'wilderness' part.

Lucky for me, however, late that first summer I hit on a gimmick that would make me famous.

Well, as famous as one can be on a tiny a strip of land that surrounds an even tinier lake located high in the Sooke Hills that was populated by 150 campers, 25 camp staff, and a camp director named Cheesie who made Morty from Meatballs look like a piker.

I called the thing 'Fat Belly Hour' and I used to run it during that weird tweener time between dinner and the campfire songs when the light was waning and it was too late to do anything really adventurous like dangle from cliffs with ten year-old boys.

Which was exactly my target demographic at the time.

And one of the best things about my gimmick was that it only required a bag of marshmallows and a piece of string.

Well, that and a series of ridiculously complicated exercises with extremely technical names like 'rehabiliatory rectus abdominal reversinators' that meant absolutely nothing at all.

Once the kids and I had done the excercises and convinced ourselves that we had slimmed down as much as possible, we would measure our sucked-in stomachs with the string, record the result with goat's blood and/or red waterpaint from the crafts shed, and head down to the waterfront docks to gobble our hunks of puffed goo in a ritualistic frenzy.

Finally, and this was the really hard part, the kids had to float on their backs and stick their bellys high into the air in an attempt to make themselves as abdominally expanded as inhumanly possible.

Of course, this expansion was also measured with the string and the best percentage increase in size** would win the goat blood-encrusted belt and the last three marshmallows, regardless their actual body type.

Now you have to understand - I ran at least one Fat Belly Hour just about every single session I worked at camp for the next four years.

And when I left I was a changed man in all sorts of ways.

One of which is that, to this day, I hate both the taste and texture of all things marshmallow.


Now, as far as I know there are no photos or video images of the original Fat Belly Hours to be found anywhere, for love or money.

But that doesn't mean my own kids don't know all about them.

Because, lucky (or not) for them, I also developed a second gimmick while I was at camp that I still partake in pretty much every day.

And this second gimmick also does not rely on the use of manufactured images, digital or otherwise.

Instead, it involves a never-ending word scrawl that, over the years, has filled literally dozens of cheap, dimestore notebooks.

And my girls, the two E.'s own five of these books (so far) that I began as stories just for them on the Friday before Superbowl Sunday in January 1993.

Which, it turns out, was the exact day that a then tiny E. was born in Oakland's Kaiser Permanente hospital.

And the story of how I almost forced C. to deliver the tiny one amongst the working girls taking their Friday night strolls along San Pablo Avenue is a good story too, maybe even better than this one.

But that story will have to wait to be told at another time.


Because the tales of belly expansion re-surfaced again this summer whenwe were camping at Otter Lake in British Columbia's southern interior a couple of weeks ago and the no-longer-tiny, now Bigger E. was heard to exclaim:

'I've been hearing about this all my life. We've just got to do Fat Belly Hour!'

So we did.

We even added extra snacks, a whole round of nouveau high-tech uber-excercises, and a plastic sheet-walled-late-night rocks-heated-over-the-campfire sauna to plump up our brown adipocyte tissue moments before the final measurement.

And we learned a few things during this reprise of my finest hour, one of which is that, on the whole, the biggest belly expansions have a sexual bias that has no use for a Y chromosome.

We also learned that little e. can eat more junkfood, pound-for-pound, than George Foreman and all his kids put together.

In the end, of course, Bigger E. won the string/belt, which is another thing about F.B.H. and camp that I forgot to mention which is that the kid who needs to win most almost always does.

And finally, when it was finally all done and we settled down to a late night round of the 'International Rummy Conspiracy' under the glow of the Coleman lantern, one of the other kids, 'D', looked up and said.

"This was the best day ever! You get to eat all day, then go swimming, then eat more, and you never have to go to bed if you don't want to."

Now hearing a camper*** say something like that a quarter of a century after the fact, I would humbly suggest, is just about the biggest home run you could ever hope to hit.

Even without the video replay.


*Of course, it is not longer called that and it is no longer really a ballpark since Al Davis forced the county to rip out the bleachers so that he could sell more box seats for his craptacular football team.
**Regarding the actual stomach measurements....absolutes and accuracy definitely do not matter at summer camp, which is one of the reasons it is such a great place to be in the first place.
***For the record, D. does not belong to C. and me. He is also unrelated, at least by blood, to the two E.'s. Instead, he is the 15 year-old son of our friends, M. and C., whom we met while working at........ you guessed it....... summer camp.


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