The Tug-O-War was the only contest that didn’t involve booze, so it was a bit of a let-down in one regard, but in every other way it was awesome.
Our team consisted of a bunch of pro wrestlers, a few big monsters like Stumble and Eehah, and a gang of scraggly drinkers who would fight you even if they had no hope in hell of winning. Ten tuggers per team was the rule for player numbers and, given our pounds per person, this was a big advantage. The whole contest was simple; each team pulled and battled until the final two met. It was like a final four tournament for the NCAA basketball, only instead of basketballs there was a rope, and instead of highly trained athletes at the top of their game there were highly drunk non-athletes scraping the bottom of sobriety. Both competitions are all heart though, and the accompanying party probably about equal. I can’t say this for sure, but after winning the national championships in Rugby 3 times, I know how hard athletes party, particularly Rugby guys. In the immortal words of a buddy, they pre-drink harder than most people drink. That is true. I’ve seen it and been it. I don’t think basketball players party quite as hard as that, but The Barnyard Cocks come close. I feel comfortable saying The Animal Olympics crews were good at celebrating.
In the Tug- O-War, our advantage was that we had a few guys on our team who actually gave a fig about being in shape and others who were some very large boys. I was about 230lbs Jer 220, Dan a solid 235, Stumble close to 300, as was Eeha, and to top it off, we had JC Owens, who was 400lbs + by himself. There really wasn’t a way to get more weight on our side of the rope, and we also had a secret weapon; a coordinated pull.
Usually, tug-o-wars are just a bunch of random people pulling without any coordination or thought put into it. We decided to have a cadence of one-two-three, pulling on three. All we had to do was dig in our heels, lean back, count, and then pull on three. Our leaning back was enough to take the strain of most teams pulling on the rope, especially the Chemical Kats who, as their name might imply, were a bunch of ravers and young partiers.
They were cool and set up one of the best tents/raves at the whole event, but as far as the contest goes, we steamrolled them, as well as a couple other teams. We beat one team so badly that we all ended up running into the fence a good twenty feet behind our last man, JC. We sandwiched him into it, jumping around, hollering and hooting like we’d won the world cup or something.
To keep us inspired for the next round, Slim passed around a bottle of whiskey. We all took long pulls then yelled as we yanked down our pants and waved our privates at anyone nearby. It was strange. We reflected between rounds, huddling with our drinks. I kept running to the front of the mound, which I thought was a great idea but Jer didn’t.
“Bomb, you gotta stop running up front like that. Stay with the pack” he slurred.
I didn’t even know what he was talking about, like when I was in grade 5 playing ukulele and my friends told me to stop dancing around while playing. I had no idea I was doing it, but I was swaying back and forth to the music, jamming out the songs and singing my heart out.
Only after my dad said something to me about how enthusiastic I was did I recall actually nudging up to Scott Morrier with my shoulder, bumping into him and singing away, looking at him like I expected him to join in some sort of improvised ukulele rock-out moment. He stood there, shaking his head and mouthed, “What the hell?” It was the same lack of awareness in the tug-o-war.
I looked at Jer with his plastic Viking helmet complete with horns and his Billy Cosby-esque blue wool sweater, complete red and white stripe. “K” I confirmed.
As soon as the next round began, of course I ran right up to the mound when the pull started. I got to lean back more and the mound made it less about traction, more about doing a squat/seated row. I didn’t even realize I was doing it this time either, but the strategy was sound.
Our final two challenges were tough. Our first battle was against The Sweaty Hog Nuts. As their name implies, they were a bunch of farmer types from somewhere in Ontario, or at least a bunch of big guys who knew a thing or two about drinking and pulling a rope. As we waited tensely for Martin to sound the starting gun, it was more than a little surreal and very much like the scene from Braveheart where the Scottish first fight the English.
We were lined up and they were lined up, tensed and ready, then, “FREEDOM!” burst out from someone in our line, and we all yelled “YEAHHH!” and barely heard the starting gun, which put us at an immediate disadvantage. We slipped in the mud, dancing and trying to recover our footing so we could start our one-two-three count. Of course I ran up to the mound and heaved with all my might, and as I was there, I could distinctly hear something that was not yelling; the bastards were counting as well!
“One-Two, One-Two, One-Two!” They chanted, trying to outdo us with quicker version of our strategy. Adding further insult to injury, and to me in particular, the captain of their team had stolen my gimmick and was way up front holding tight onto the line with his feet dug into the mound. It was building for a humiliating defeat. Things looked dire. Then, hope flickered.
“*%$! these guys, they stole our gimmick!” yelled Slim from the sideline. Everybody got pissed off, and quickly hoisting our pride, we dug in our heels, leaned back, and took the strain of another massive hog-tug. Dan ran up to the front of the line, also digging his heels into the slope, yelling “On me, boys!” We all groaned as one more massive yank from The Sweaty Hog Nuts wrenched our backs and burned our hands. But, we held fast.
We slid but a few inches in the mud, then Dan yelled, “One, Two, THREE!” We pulled for our lives, like we were pulling our families out of a fire, like we had to pull or die, like it was our only shot at immortality.
Warrior poets eat your hearts out, The Barnyard Cocks came together, a pack of beasts tied to the same yoke of desperation and craving for the adventures GI Joe, He-Man, and Transformers promised us when we were young. When drugs, booze, and pride get involved, the miracle of modern man compounds with the resolve of primitive man into a genuine god or savage. If we couldn’t be great like gods, we would pull like beasts.
We took the strain again, snorting and cursing. Then, we slowly turned the tide. Three! We stopped sliding. Panting. Three! We moved an inch back, someone yelled into our ears. Three! Two inches was our gain. Three! Our pride swelled, our pace picked up, and then the “Three!” came quicker and quicker. We burned with elation. We started hauling back towards the fence we knew we could bulldoze over, rushing as the rope floated in our hands, our feet and souls weightless.
Not to die without a fight, the captain of the nuts held tight onto the rope until the last possible second, surrendering with a dramatic flip into the pond. All the onlookers cheered, including us. He had been sacrificed, and we all were saved.
After that, The Illegal Eagles were our final competition. Despite looking like a biker gang, they could not cut the mustard and their captain threw out his back trying to hang on. Victorious, crossed around the pond to see if he was ok; he fired up, took a shot of Slim’s whiskey, downed a couple Advils, (a great idea considering his blood was at least half alcohol by this time), and winked, “I’ll get you bastards tomorrow!” We all cheered, patted backs, and headed back to our fires.
Later that night we sat around, shooting the breeze, smoking, and drinking beer in Slim’s trailer. I stood watching a joint being passed around over the murmur of fraternity. We were not a bunch of guys; we were a team. Our voices were the effects of communication, not the cause of it. Oneness. Team. I wanted my beer. It was on the table. I put my hand over it. I concentrated. The force was strong around us.
“Ben…” I concentrated. I relaxed. I focused, closing my eyes, letting myself feel the energy of all living things that surround us in the universe, the force that joins us all together. “Ben…” The voices dulled to a breezy hum. Surely, if ever, now I could do it. Now I could use the force. Now I could make that beer can float up into my hand. “Do or do not; there is no try.” I breathed deeply, slowly, and peacefully felt the air, the warmth of the trailer, and sensed the cool of the beer can that was on the table a foot below my hand. I looked deep inside my soul, felt a change in the air. I relaxed into the Zen of being one with all. I didn’t think. I didn’t try. I was.
“Bomber…” And suddenly the beer can was in my hand!
I couldn’t believe it; I didn’t want to look, and didn’t need to look- the beer was in my hand!
“Bomber… here, dammit.”
Awakened, I opened my eyes; Dan looked at me in a funny, knowing way, cradling the bottom of the beer until I closed my fingers around it. I looked at him, puzzled. His answer came before my question.
“The force doesn’t work, buddy. We’ve all tried.”