(This story was published in 2006).

By: Dan Majerle

Sunday, July 23
The Final Day

Can’t believe this is the last day! The first few days went by really slowly because football kept me so busy, but the last few days went by far too quickly. One thing that I didn’t get to mention……..a few weeks ago I won a year membership to a new car rental service called Zipcar. It’s an amazing deal……. you can rent cars for hourly rates, it’s cheaper than most rentals and includes insurance AND gas, you can just walk up to the parked car and swipe your card to unlock it, but the best part is that they have COOL CARS to rent. Normally you have to be 25 to rent anything even remotely nice and it costs a fortune, but with Zipcar I was able to rent a mustang convertible to take to the Indiana Dunes last Saturday. So today when Troy and I somehow managed to wake up before noon I jumped online and rented a mini cooper for the afternoon. The car was this crazy, futuristic little machine that didn’t handle very well but looked pretty damn cool. I spent my last two years of college cruising around in a tiny old ’94 escort hatchback with no power steering, so getting to drive a car like this for even a day is a treat. The Dunes itself isn’t anything spectacular– just another public beach with filthy Gary, IN looming in the distance. We went mostly for the drive and to get out of the city for a day, though, and the water was really warm and nice. Being a hardcore active gay guy for an entire week takes a LOT of energy, and it was nice to be there without the pressure of who’s looking at me and who I should be looking at. It didn’t stop Troy though…….I really don’t know what chance he thought he had with the straight Polish volleyball players down the beach, but it didn’t stop him from disappearing now and then.

In our nightly, hour-long conversations about absolutely nothing, Troy and I like to discuss the “realizations” we’ve made that day (I know I’ve mentioned this before). Mostly it’s just a stupid, dramatic way to refer to the lessons we learn from the small, seemingly insignificant things that happen to us every day. It’s really done in jest, but as I was lying there on the beach I got to thinking about what I wanted to take away from the Gay Games before heading back to reality. The one thing that I want to be better at because of everything that happened to me in the past week is to enjoy the moment more. Time and time again I find myself planning for the future and thinking about what could make a great moment even better. During football I thought so much about was how I couldn’t wait for a time a few years down the road when I’m this great player, but I shouldn’t let myself forget that I came to the Games because I love football NOW. I play because I enjoy the game NOW and not because I might be a little better at it and therefore enjoy it more in the future. Football was one of the best things to happen to me in NYC– I will never forget playing in our semi-final game this spring as the sun set over the NYC skyline and pier 40 and it occurred to me for the first time in a year that win or lose, I love this game and this city and that I was going to be OK no matter what. Same thing on the beach– I found myself lying in the warm sand, totally relaxed in the perfect sun but wishing that a certain guy were there to share it with me. But why? He and I have many great moments to come, plus this moment was perfect already, and once I realized that it was even better. Working 2 jobs and dealing with the insanity of NYC doesn’t give me a lot of good moments, so from now on I am going to enjoy the ones that I get for all they’re worth.

Flying back to NYC at 6:00 AM tomorrow and ready for Cologne 2010.

Saturday, July 22
Junk food: The breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions

At an inflexible 6-foot-3 and with no real sense of movement I can’t really hold my own on the dance floor. In fact, I usually need to be beyond tipsy to even consider being dragged out to dance. On Saturday night at Charlie’s however I stepped outside of myself and danced like it was my job with only a couple of drinks under my belt. Troy was busy pursuing his week-long dream of meeting an Eastern European guy and Steve was running around somewhere too, but I was mostly on my own. That was, however, until I made my way toward the edge of the dance floor and stumbled upon the one person who the evening would not have been complete without. I didn’t so much greet Coach Becker as I did booty grind my way up into him to say hello. He went with the flow and danced right along with me.

“I think I wrote in my Outsports blog that you’re cute,” I yelled over Heather Small’s “Proud.” “I hope your boyfriend doesn’t mind.”

He just laughed and shook his head. I knew that he wouldn’t mind.

I have been keeping a terrible, shameful secret for the past week, and my lack of interesting stories or life revelations today makes it the perfect time to fess up.

I have been eating nothing but junk food and garbage for the entire week.

It started out with a huge, greasy pizza that arrived in Troy ‘s apartment shortly after I did on Friday night and was accompanied by cinni-stix and a 2 liter of coke. I figured what the hell– I’ve worked hard at eating healthy and avoiding everything good for a long time, so now that I’m on vacation I’m going to eat whatever I want. It quickly spiraled, however, into multiple trips to McDonalds every single day, gallons of soda, and sugary desserts that followed every meal. There is a restaurant in Lincoln Park called RJ Grunt’s that has this dessert called Cookie in a Bowl. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to create a giant cookie that is made of almost 100% butter– SO GOOD. I’ve forgotten how good food can be, but at the same time I can’t figure out how I ate all of this garbage every single day for years in college and never died of a heart attack. Needless to say I am enjoying cheat week. Back to protein bars and V8 juice on Monday

Actually maybe I did make at least one realization today. For my job I had a lot of promotional stuff going on during the Games (if you were at a club and received a Beatport / Silver Label download card at the door, it was me who got it there) and ensured that I’d be on every guest list for every major party. No paying $35 covers for me, I work at a record label! But when everything was said and done I didn’t want to be on some boat cruise or at some big circuit party downtown– I just wanted to be in the places I’d been coming to for years. It might sound stupid and pathetic to say that a bar is like ‘home’ or ‘where I grew up,’ but at the end of the day I just wanted to be at Sidetracks and Charlie’s. Sidetracks, the first gay bar I went to on my 21st birthday, and Charlie’s where I learned to let myself go and dance like nobody was watching. I’ve always had so much fun in these places and Saturday was no exception. One more day, then back to reality.

Friday, July 21
Ah, the ex

“What is that thing?” Joey scoffed at me outside of Sidetracks. I was standing by myself in line and he was walking out.

An Ipod, Joey. It’s an Ipod.

“Well you know us young kids,” I replied, always ready to reference another of his flawed views on my generation. “We need to be entertained all the time. It comes with the ADD.”

“I think I saw Troy in there,” he said. “I don’t always recognize him, but I think that he’s in there.”

Yes, it was Troy. You recognized him, the same way you have done for the past three years.

He didn’t leave me waiting very long for a snotty, predictable Joey comment.

“What a trainwreck,” he said, flipping a hand dismissively. That took me back. I mean, I don’t expect every single one of my boyfriends to love every single one of my friends, but there is something to be said for respect. How could somebody 20 years older than me still put so much energy into hating my best friend after not even giving me the time of day for over a year?

“That’s cool that you saw him,” I said sarcastically, “I’m glad that you guys finally had the chance to catch up.”

“I’ve been here for awhile,” he said, “I’m heading home now. I’ll catch you later.”

“That’s cool, we should get together for dinner or something.”

“Yeah, whatever,” he laughed. “Maybe YOU can buy ME dinner for a change.”

Three digs in under a minute– this was a new record, even for him. Now lets be real here. I have a lot of regrets in the few relationships that I’ve had. But for every guy that I’ve ever dated I can look back and at least understand what I was attracted to in them at the time or what I learned about myself from the relationship. I gave Joey a good, long look and realized for the first time that there wasn’t a single thing that I liked about this guy. He was sarcastic, tactless and arrogant and I couldn’t believe that I’d given up a year of my life to his mind games. I wasn’t the same weak, impressionable 21-year-old that I’d been when we met, and I didn’t need to put up with his bullshit anymore.

“I’m heading in,” I said as the bouncer checked my ID. He looked at me confused for a moment, as if I was just supposed to stand outside and play his ridiculous games. “Have a good night.” I walked into the bar and never looked back.

People like Joey need to take a lesson from Texas Brian (left in picture to the right). Seriously, if every 42-year-old gay man on the face of the planet were more like Brian, it would be a better world. I headed south one last time to catch his softball finals and was treated like a king the entire time. He immediately introduced me to everyone on his team, spent every minute before, between and after his games at my side. I even got a wink and a nod from him as he stepped up to the plate a couple of times. This guy made me feel like I was at the very least a dear friend– not just someone he’d picked up in a bar a few days earlier. A guy like that made me wonder why on earth I’d keep around anybody in my life that I’ve know for years but that treat me with zero respect. He’s the real deal. His team was for real, too– Woody’s Dallas won the Gold in B Division Softball. It was great to watch in spite of the fact that the weather had turned and I spent the afternoon very cold and wet.

Unfortunately Brian was scheduled to leave on a flight on Saturday morning, and I was honored that he spent his last few hours in the city with me by his side. We relaxed in his hotel, got some great Chicago deep dish pizza, and walked around downtown before we had to say our goodbyes. It never ceases to amaze me how two people can connect with one another so intensely in such a short period of time. It was hard to walk away from him tonight, although I knew that I’d probably be seeing him again soon. I guess it’s sort of like I said it was with Coach Becker– sometimes you meet someone and you just know that you’re going to know them in some capacity for a long time, and that both of your lives will be better for it.

These Texas Guys. They’re killing me.

Thursday, July 20
Catching some sports and a glance

I never thought that a vacation could wear me out like this, but damn, I am absolutely exhausted. There is just so much going on and so much to do that it is almost overwhelming. At least my body is starting to recover from the intensity of 2 days of football– the soreness and sunburn are finally backing off and I feel a lot better– I’m just tired. I can’t imagine having to play in the tournaments that last for the entire week, or playing in multiple sports like a lot of the guys do. I’m loving Chicago more and more every single day that I’m here. I mean, I spent every other weekend in college here, but there is just something about knowing that I don’t have to get up in the morning and drive back to Kalamazoo that I love. I thought about going back to visit some college friends for a day or two while I was here, but I figure that the Gay Games are only in Chicago once, and Kalamazoo isn’t going anywhere. Also I am far, far too lazy to make the trip.

Today I went to watch a couple of friends play basketball. AJ from the L.A. Freeze was playing Paul from NYC. I decided to root for AJ since he, unlike Paul, has never addressed me as a ‘twink’ in a public place. One of the things that continually surprises me about the Games is the level of competition. The guys that I saw play basketball were incredible, and I’m sure that most of them had at least some college experience. I sure couldn’t have kept up with them but it looked like a lot of fun. It made me miss playing basketball, which I haven’t been able to do at all while living in NYC. Maybe it’s something to think about for the next Games. The NYC team came back in the 2nd half and beat LA in the semi-final game.

So I met this guy last night. I don’t know if it’s the spirit of the Games or if I’m just a lot more brave about talking to people than I used to be, but this cute guy and I were checking each other out in Sidetracks so I just walked up behind him, put my arm around him and started talking. He’s a personal trainer from Dallas and actually knew Coach Becker and a few of the guys on the team, and I’ve had nothing but good experience with Texas guys during the games, so I thought what the hell. We didn’t have long to talk because the bar was closing but he seemed like a lot of fun so we made plans to meet up there again tonight. The guy (Brian is his name) looked even better than I remembered and couldn’t be more my type– big, beefy dude with an even bigger personality. A character. We had a lot of fun there and somehow found ourselves at a lesbian bar (the Closet, I think) and then a wonderful walk on Lake Michigan at 3:00 a.m. Once again I thought about how much I loved this city– NOWHERE in New York could I have a moment like this, outside along the water in the clean air, completely safe and with nobody around. I liked this guy more with every passing minute– I didn’t think that there was such a thing as a sweet, gay gentleman who wanted more than to just hook up. Can’t wait to see where this one goes.

Wednesday, July 19
Finally grabbing #27’s attention

“Hey there,” I said to #27, my hand extended and my heart pounding. “You guys put up a great fight back there, sorry it didn’t work out.” The Flames had just lost to NYC in a thrilling overtime in their semi-final game, and I caught him as he walked between fields by himself.

“Thanks man,” he said as he shook my hand, exhausted and disappointed from their loss and maybe a little confused. Good as he might be he probably didn’t have a lot of ‘fans’ coming up to him after games. “Which team are you with?”

“Texas Bulls,” I told him. “You guys just barely snuck past us at 72-0 on Monday. I’ve seen a few of your games and wanted to tell you that you’re amazing fucking player……..If I’m ever half the player that you are I’ll be really, really happy.”

“Wow, thanks,” he said. At this point I couldn’t really tell if he was flattered, annoyed, confused, or some combination thereof. “That’s cool, I really appreciate that,” he said. “Thanks.”

“No, thank YOU…….for the………..inspiration.”

Inspiration. Inspiration! Had I really just said that? God I must have sounded like an idiot. I made my way back to my teammates, my heart still pounding out of my chest and feeling amazed that I actually had the balls to say hi to a hot guy outside of the bar while sober. I guess anything is possible this week. I did see him at the bar later on in the evening and spoke to him briefly, but he was less than receptive. Oh well. His ass is going down in Gay Bowl XXXIV.

Crazy night at the bar. Where to begin. The evening started with a piano singalong at Troy’s friend Brett’s new condo not far from Boystown. It is the kind of apartment that makes Troy and I want to murder Brett in his sleep and steal his identity– brand new, beautifully designed and in the perfect location. The kind of place that I might not be able to afford in NYC for another 10 years. Anyway, I was happy to run into the New York guys at the bar for the first time, celebrating their silver medal in flag football (they lost to Outsports in the championship). I also met a guy named “Chip” who asked if I was ‘obedient’ and requested that I be tied up in is dungeon downtown. Normally when something like this happens what I like to do is feign interest and see how long I can possibly drag it out before the guy gives up. I also like to interrupt dirty sex talk with mundane questions about work and family. “So you work in an office. That must be really interesting.” It took Chip about 5 minutes to walk away from me without saying a word. Then when I’d see him in the bar for the rest of the night I’d approach him with a huge, fake, gay, awkward greeting and hug as if we were old friends. “OMG Chip!!!! How ARE you? No, really……how are you?” Funny stuff.

A group of us ended up at Charlie’s where the gay drama went down. Now I describe it as gay drama, but in reality I was pretty pissed off. I was having such a great time listening to the music and dancing with the NYC guys when one of them decided that it would be a good idea for me to take my shirt off. I politely declined, but this didn’t stop him from literally tearing in half my favorite blue Express polo and only J Crew gray undershirt right off of my chest. I even held the guy’s hands at the collar to try to force him to stop, but he just kept on doing it. I was irate– not only had he destroyed $60 in clothing that I CAN’T afford to replace, but I was there at the bar, humiliated with my gut hanging out for all to see. I didn’t want to go home, but I couldn’t stay looking like that, so I went to a Shell station near the bar and purchased the only t-shirt that they had– a hideous, oversized Cubs t-shirt more suited to a filthy trucker or homeless man than a vacationing New Yorker. I stormed back into the bar, presented the receipt to the culprit and demanded that he pay me the $20 that the awful Cubs shirt cost. He did. I apologized later for being so upset and harsh, but damn. Fun night though.

Tuesday, July 18
Football playoffs and a hottie from Chicago

I literally thanked God when I stumbled outside early this morning to find a much more mild, overcast day. The sun had come out by the time our 10:00 game started but I knew that the day would be a much easier one to get through.

Game one vs. Salt Lake City. FINALLY, a cute, spunky lesbian opponent with pink hair. A couple more Texas guys who were tied up with beach volleyball during yesterday’s games came to play and it was a huge help, especially since we finally had a few subs to take the pressure off. When the new guys were plugged into the defense though I started having a little trouble. I am the kind of player who needs to be told exactly who and where to cover, but I felt like I was getting some mixed messages on the field that left me not knowing where to be. I felt like some people wanted me to play a closer man defense off the snap but that others wanted me to drop back into my zone more, so I was sort of lost. We were playing a zone, and I always have a hard time letting go of a receiver that runs out of my zone. But then the best thing happened, I got to rush, and I LOVE TO RUSH! That’s not to say that I’m especially good at it……..there is just something about not having to worry about anything other than charging full steam ahead into the QB. In the end we beat Salt Lake and earned our first win.

We drew New York for the first playoff game, and I wasn’t quite sure how to feel. I can’t say that there was any incredible drama behind my decision to play for Texas or that there were any hard feelings on either side, but it was a little weird. Realistically though only one of their players had been a teammate of mine, so I’d spent the last two seasons playing against rather than with the other 17 members of team New York. New York lost all three of their pool play games, but if they were having any problems on the field it sure didn’t show once our game started. They had some amazing plays and really worked well together. We, on the other hand, were a complete and total disaster, at least in the first half. All of the same problems plagued us– drops, interceptions, and a lack of organization on defense. Our roster was continually rotating due to involvement in other sports and injuries, which gave us the energy of some fresh players but threw us into total disarray defensively. I took a couple of hits to the head early on and had to sit out, which I probably shouldn’t have done because by the time I was ready to come back into the game our defense was such a mess that I didn’t know who to go in for. I didn’t play for most of the 2nd half, which really sucked. I wanted to make a good impression on my fellow New Yorkers even if we lost, but I guess this just wasn’t the day. We had a few great plays in the 2nd half but still lost in the end by a TD or two. The tournament was over for us.

For the past couple of days this guy has continually caught my eye, and there is no possible way for me to segue into this so I’m just going to throw it out there– Chris, #27 from the Chicago Flames, needs to be at Sidetrax tonight for me to meet. There, I said it. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that his incredible good looks were what caught my eye initially, but the more I watched him the more I realized what a solid player he was. Fast, smart, and aggressive. For some reason it really made me think about my own skills and where this whole football thing was going. I know that I’ve come a long way since I started less than a year ago, but do I even have a shot of playing at this guy’s level years down the road? Realistically, the guy has probably been doing this for years and is a naturally gifted athlete who didn’t need to learn to catch the ball at age 24 in a rec league like I did. But when there is so much room for improvement isn’t anything possible? He’s so damn fast….. can I increase my speed on the field, or is it something that you’ve just got or you don’t? Will practicing catching and cuts with Hot Nick make me a worthy opponent for #27 someday (maybe in Gay Bowl XXXIV)? I think too much.

End football, begin vacation.

Monday, July 17
A Football Awakening

“You’ve got to give me something inspirational right now or I’m not going to make it,” I told Hot Nick over the phone, shamefully sprawled across the grass out of the view of the other football players and gasping for breath. “I don’t know if I can do this.” His reply brought on an epiphany about sports and competition that had already begun to make it’s way into my exhausted mind. Now if I could just buy into it I might survive game #2.

I’ll probably never get to say this again, but today was without a doubt the most physically challenging day of my entire life. When the final whistle blew on my high school basketball career 6 years ago I never would have dreamed that I’d face athletic challenges like this later in life.

I met the Bulls at their hotel in the morning and we headed over the field together as a team. The nerves were taking over me again in a bad way on the train ride…..I was afraid to eat, and I was afraid not to eat. I knew that the feelings would dissipate once I was actually in the game, but it was really getting to me. I just threw on my headphones, clicked on my ipod and tried to force myself into a good place. It reminded me of the bus rides to away games in JV basketball. I’m pretty sure that I was the only 10th grade guy using the Spice Girls to get pumped up for a basketball game, and yet it never occurred to myself or anyone else that I was a raging homosexual. Interesting.

The first day of flag football can be summed up in one word– HEAT. It had to have been over 100 degrees and humid in the sun. I was drenched in sweat after a light warmup, and things didn’t look any more promising when I learned that we would only have at the most 1 sub for the entire game against the Chicago Flames. I never knew this before, but I guess that Chicago is home to the largest gay flag football league in the country– even larger than New York. From what I could tell, the Flames were hand-picked as the top players in their league……they were all big, fast, and aggressive. The game was a total disaster from the beginning and we all knew it. We struggled to click as a team both offensively and defensively and the Flames exploited every single opportunity that we presented to them. A 72-0 loss that I’d love to forget, but we pressed on.

The heat absolutely destroyed me. I felt like if I was in even a little worse physical shape than I’m in right now, I would have either gotten sick or passed out at some point. The thing that really gets to me is that it didn’t seem to be as hard on everyone else. I mean, everyone was worn out and hurting, but I was like a corpse out there. Maybe other people are just better at hiding it, but I felt stupid falling to the ground and pouring gallons of ice water over my head on every single time out. We had a few hours until our 2nd game against Boston so I was able to recover a little, but I still didn’t feel great. The Boston game was much, much better……. we started completing some passes and we eventually found some comfort and organization on defense. We weren’t able to win, but this was another great team that only beat us by a couple of touchdowns.

So here is the epiphany. We don’t play sports because they are ‘fun’ in the same way that going out with your friends or going to a movie is fun. In fact, during the competition, sports can feel like absolute hell on Earth. You can be upset with your performance or your team’s performance and your body can be broken down and beaten up to the point where you don’t know how you can go on. But you do go on. There has to be a reason for putting myself through something like this. Lying on the grass between games I could have gotten up at any minute, taken the train back to Troy’s apartment, taken a great long nap and never given football another thought. It occurred to me (and this might sound a little cheesy) that athletics are more about the challenges we face, both mental and physical, and the accomplishments that we make in striving to meet those challenges than whether or not we experience pleasure in the act. A year ago I wouldn’t have even imagined myself not only playing football, but playing in a tournament a thousand miles away from home and actually keeping up with some amazing athletes. This was exactly where I needed to be today and what I needed to be doing, and I knew I could keep on doing it for one more game.

“You can do this. You’re going to give it everything you’ve got, even if it’s not as much as you want it to be today. You’ll have no regrets, you’ll be greatful for the experience, and you will be a much stronger player for it.” Hot Nick was right. I got through the second game without a single break and made our only touchdown and interception.

Sunday, July 16
Letting Go

I’ll be the first to admit that my aversion to massages is not in any way normal. I always find deep massages uncomfortable or even painful, and since I hate giving other people massages (it always hurts the joints in my fingers) I rarely allow them. I also get sick of people telling me how tense I am and finding the dozens of awful knots that exist in my back and shoulders. The muscle pull in my neck had gotten really bad and turned into an abnormally large knot, so I knew that it needed some work. Coach Becker had done some amazing things to it in just a few minutes during our first team meeting and he volunteered to work on it for awhile longer in the hotel last night. It wasn’t the ‘full release’ massage that I’d requested at the door, but it was absolutely amazing (and not just because I didn’t have to pay $60 for it like the last one). It was pretty painful and the guys laughed at my groaning for most of the hour, but I knew it was helping.

“Let go of whatever it is that you’re hanging onto,” Coach told me at one point. I was lying on my stomach with my arms in front of me, but I wasn’t holding onto anything at the time. “Oh, I’m not holding onto anything,” I said. He didn’t reply and it took me awhile to figure out what he was actually talking about. He really was finding a lot of knots and it finally set in that I am a lot more tense than I’m aware of (or would ever admit to). I thought about when I played in the NYGFL earlier this year…there were practices and games where I couldn’t catch a single ball to save my life…days where I came close to giving up and walking away from it completely. My coach, quarterback, captain and teammates never once gave up on me, but it wasn’t until I actually started to trust myself that the great catches started to happen. I’ll always remember my first touchdown – I was running a corner route on the last play of the game. When I turned and saw the ball being hurled in the air in my direction I just somehow knew that I would catch it. It was the first time that the thought of dropping it never occurred to me and I picked it out of the air like it was the easiest thing in the world. That is the place I want to get back to when the tournament starts tomorrow – I just want to relax and trust myself.

Washington Park where the flag football tournament is going to be held is far, far, FAR away. I met the team at their hotel in the morning (I’m doing pretty darn well on four hours of sleep night after night) and we took the green line into the furthest reaches to our practice field in the furthest reaches of south Chicago. Practice itself went pretty well, I thought. I was really nervous about making a good impression on everyone. With limited football experience I couldn’t even begin to guess how I stack up against other players, but I kept up with them pretty well. I dropped a few passes here and there, but overall it went okay. My biggest concern is the heat – it was around 100 degrees and even a little bit of running drained me right away. I’m not one of those football players who has incredible instincts, talent, or experience, but I do feel like I can bring a lot of focus and intensity to the game when need be. I haven’t had to play in the heat very much in the New York league, but the couple of times that I have, I’ve felt like it takes away my intensity and leaves me with little else to work with.

So this is what I love about Chicago’s gay scene. I was walking through a parking lot downtown after my massage in search of the subway when I saw this really tall, hot guy getting into a white jeep. We made some eye contact, but of course he drove off – I certainly wasn’t going to introduce myself to him in the middle of an otherwise empty parking lot. He probably wasn’t even gay, for all I knew. WRONG. I was in a bar being lectured to about nothing by one of those gay guys that feels that his being ‘a few years older’ makes a melodramatic life lesson to a stupid 24-year-old in the bar mandatory, when a familiar-looking friend of his walked up to us to say hello. Sure enough, it was the guy from the parking lot. ONLY in Chicago. God I miss this place. He plays basketball and football for LA, so hopefully I’ll get to talk to him again. I’m 6’3″ and it’s not often that I get to look up at someone who is speaking to me – this feeling must be recaptured.

Football starts tomorrow at 11:15 a.m.

Saturday, July 15
The ceremonies and a big, Polynesian football player

“Sorry Dan, I could only get you one VIP pass for the opening ceremony,” Rosie told me unapologetically in front of Gate 14 at Soldier Field, the performer’s entrance. “I couldn’t get one for your friend – they’re being really strict about who gets them.”

A sinking feeling crept through my entire body. Troy and I had been looking forward to our all-access passes for the event for the entire week – I believe the term that Rosie’s assistant used in the office last week was the “celebrity tent.” We were on a hunt for some memorable myspace photos, and now it wasn’t going to happen. This really, really sucked. I mean, what was the point of working at a record label and booking your artist in the opening ceremony if you can’t even get hooked up with a backstage pass and loudly mis-identify Margaret Cho as Michelle Kwan?

“You should have gotten here yesterday like I told you to,” she said sharply. “We could have gotten you the passes and you could be handing out the postcards like you were supposed to.

That stung. So not only did I not get the passes that I was promised, but I was on vacation a thousand miles away from home getting chewed out by my boss for not working during my first real break since I’d started work at my company 14 months earlier. Was I supposed to hand out postcards? This was news to me. I bit my tongue.

Now I’m not very gifted in the art of talking my way past security. Generally, I think that the people who spend their Friday evenings in front of nightclubs in shouting matches with barely-literate bouncers need to find a new hobby, but I had to give it a shot.

“Give me 10 minutes,” I told Troy, “I’ll take care of it.”

I walked through security sporting my pass and immediately found a desk manned by two young, attractive, straight workers.

They seemed like good people, and I was right. It took no convincing at all for them to take a blank all-access pass off of a large pile of them and write it out for Troy. We spent the whole ceremony on the field near the players entrance by the performers and it was a lot of fun. I didn’t get the photo I’d hoped for (myself with Margaret Cho making the lewd gesture she makes while joking about fisting) but I did meet former NFL lineman and emerging gay sports icon Esera Tuaolo (right). This guy is about three times my size and I can’t BELIEVE I could be playing against him in flag football next week.

Esera was really, really, really nice…………but he and his team are going DOWN should they run into the Texas Bulls.

Speaking of which, reality set in when I finally met my teammates for our first team meeting to go over our playbook on Saturday afternoon. My assignments on some of the plays seem a little complicated but hopefully it will all click once we’re on the field.

They seem like an amazing group of guys and I can’t wait to play ball with them – especially Coach Becker. Have you ever met someone and known right away that you would learn a lot from working with them, and that you’d probably know them in some regard for a long time? I sort of had that feeling. He’s not bad to look at, either.

So, Saturday night. I basically grew up as a gay person in the Chicago bar scene and I thought that I’d been to all of them until I sheepishly entered Cell Block. I figured what the hell, I’ve survived trips down the back stairway at the Eagle in New York City on Sunday nights at 3 a.m. before, so I could certainly handle this. I was with Troy and Matt Alber, plus Matt’s partner Joe. Matt is my label’s artist that performed at the Opening Ceremony. He’s an out, California-based singer/songwriter/pianist, and he’ll be the new gay version of Josh Groban if I (and my marketing skills) have anything to say about it. We went into the bar because Matt was dying of thirst, and it only took him a few steps into the door to remove his shirt and start making friends. We all had a blast and finished the night at Hydrate.

First practice Sunday morning. I’m getting almost no sleep, and hopefully I won’t be hung over. I decided that I couldn’t go back to drinking beer, by the way. I’ll think of another way to make up the butch points.

Friday, July 14
Injuries and a cold

I’ve never really had any cool sports injuries.

When I was little I used to idolize the varsity basketball players at our local high school. My dad was the principal at the time and was required to chaperone many home basketball games. We’d be at the school by the start of the JV warm-ups and I loved to walk the sidelines chasing after stray balls to toss back to the players. I followed Michigan high school basketball fanatically from the time I could read the local paper and begged my parents to take me to each and every away game, which in rural upper Michigan could be as much as an hour or two away. For some reason I always thought that it was really badass when the high school players flaunted injuries that they’d obtained in the line of duty, especially anything that required the use of crutches. Nothing was tougher to me than a limping high school ball player who had sacrificed his body to the game. Someday that would be me, I thought.

Of course it didn’t really work out that way. The ‘injuries’ that I obtained through years of high school basketball, track and swimming were much more suited to a skinny, awkward, middle-of-the-pack closet case than some NCAA-bound football stud. had shin splints. I had a broken toe. I had a broken collar bone. I missed the 100-meter breaststroke at state finals my sophomore year because I’d made myself sick with nerves, and once I even missed an entire meet because I’d had an allergic reaction to a bar of soap the night before.

I wanted nothing more than to be 100% healthy for football at the Games next week, but as the days go by I’m getting more and more concerned. Leave it to me to injure myself while getting out of bed in the morning. My neck felt a little stiff when I woke up on a Monday a couple of weeks ago, so in my half-asleep state I started to roll my head around to stretch it out. While doing so I pulled or tore something in my neck and upper back so badly that I’m still feeling the pain two weeks later. I haven’t done anything athletic since then for fear that I’d injure myself further and not be able to play football at all. I paid $60 that I couldn’t afford for a massage that didn’t help, and all of the heat packs, ice packs and Icy Hot don’t seem to do much good. The mobility is better, but the pain is still there.

Our team is practicing on Sunday morning and I’m paranoid about making an ass of myself. I opted for the Texas Bulls over the more familiar faces and personalities of the NYC team because I knew that the Bulls’ smaller roster would allow me a lot more time on the field, plus the benefit of playing with new and different people. But now the pressure is o and this neck problem and a position as starting left slotback, and I think there are only one or two subs to jump in for me if anything goes wrong.

Did I mention that I woke up this morning with a cold? Time for some Emer’gen-C® (above). My flight leaves for Chicago in four hours.

Tuesday, July 11

Dan trains for the Gay Games

When one decides to eliminate all of the ‘bad stuff’ from their diet (sugar, carbs, fat, preservatives, etc…), it doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination. In fact, for the past four weeks, I have eaten exactly two different meals for lunch every single day: chicken and vegetable stir fry, and chicken salad with a little no-fat ranch and not much else. Four weeks, every single day.

I gave up beer for four weeks, too. Now my memory of Saturday night is a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure that as I projectile vomited while being guided up a hill by Hot Nick in White Plains at 3 a.m., I’d decided to go back to beer for good. It wasn’t so much that I’d made an ass of myself by throwing up in front of a guy that I liked or that it occurred five feet away from a parked police car. The bigger issue was coming to terms with the fact that I’d been reduced to this sorry state by only two small glasses of wine, two vodka-cranberries, and a test tube shot. Back to beer for me– I’d find a way to work off the carbs.

In the gym I discovered in the past four weeks that my ability to run five miles on a treadmill while hardly breaking a sweat didn’t guarantee that 15 minutes on an elliptical would prevent a limping, shaky walk back to the locker room. Coach Becker, captain of the Texas Bulls, the football team I’ll be playing with at the Gay Games, gave me four weeks to turn my cross-country legs into flag-football legs.

All of the cardio, lifting, and eating had led up to this moment. Examining myself from every angle in the dressing room mirror at the Sports Authority on 19th street and Sixth Ave. in New York City, I was pleased to see that for the first time in all of my 24 years I didn’t look that bad in skin-tight Under Armour. I mean, I won’t be mistaken for Brian Urlacher in Chicago next week but it was a start, certainly better than it would have been last year. If this was what the footballers wore down in Texas, this is what I’d wear.

I am ready for the Games. Now if I can just get over that nagging neck injury and find someone to toss a football around with me before Friday I’ll be set.