Monday, August 2, 2010


My senior year at Harbor Creek High School, our swim team made it to County Finals. In those days I swam the 100 yard backstroke, & it was suggested to me that I could trim some portion of a second off my time if I shaved the hair off my chest, belly & legs to cut down resistance in the water. It was just a little high-school-kid fuzz, but I was so flattered by the recognition that I had noticeable body hair that I willingly complied.

It amazed me how much it seemed to improve my performance. I felt like a porpoise, a torpedo, I slipped through the water like I was greased. As a team, we came in second to our rival Fairview, but I did indeed manage a personal best.

When the hair on my chest & legs came back, it was significantly thicker.

Some four years later I got my first professional acting job, in the epic Tecumseh! at Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheatre in Chillicothe, Ohio. I was hired, in what I suppose might be called nontraditional casting, to play a Shawnee Indian. My costume was a loin cloth and knee-high moccasins. I had been fully-clothed at the audition, so the casting folks didn’t know that I carried some extra wool on my torso.

There was no alternative: I had to shave almost my whole body—even my butt-cheeks & the outer edges of my pubic area; the loin cloth wasn’t wide—then apply a coat of liquid Bronze Egyptian body makeup. The makeup had an alcohol base & stung brutally, especially after re-shaving, which I had to do every few days. It was a long summer.

When the three-month run was over, the hair came back with a vengeance, & it’s been werewolf-thick ever since.

As a kid, I was proud of my body hair, regarded it as a sign of fast-approaching manhood. Retrospectively, as is so often the case with growing up, it seems like a classic example of Be Careful What You Wish For. I’ve regretted the repeated shavings I’ve agreed to, & the density they seem to have added to my pelt.

Until this past Friday, that is.

Friday evening, you see, Tempe Marketplace hosted a “Manstravaganza,” a testosterone-fueled party to promote Sylvester Stallone’s action movie The Expendables...

...opening August 13, in which Sly & a bunch of other middle-aged tough guys like Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Bruce Willis & even Governor Arnie all act manly. The Manstravaganza featured attractions like tattoo artists, comic book vendors, Army recruiters, free pizza & beer, vitamin water—because nothing says “man’s man” like vitamin water—&, as a grand finale, a hairy chest competition with a prize package consisting of sizable gift certificates to Marketplace restaurants like Dave & Busters & D’Arcy McGee’s.

This would mean that I would have to remove my shirt, on the open-air stage outside San Felipe’s Cantina, in front of a bunch of howling strangers. I need hardly say, I no longer have the physique I did when I swam the backstoke for Harbor Creek High, or wore a loin cloth in Tecumseh!

Yet when the host for the event asked for ten guys to participate, I was the second one to leap up onto the stage.

“Eight more guys,” the host said. “Eight more guys.”

A few more sorry specimens shuffled reluctantly up to the stage. A couple of them had been egged on by their wives, who perhaps saw, at long last, a chance at payback for what they’d put up with all these years.

“Two more guys,” said the host, a note of pleading in his voice at this point. “Don’t we have two more guys…?”

with minimal dignity? I thought.

In the end, he settled for nine.

He then introduced the guest hosts for the hairy-chest competition: Channel 3 News siren Kaley O’Kelley, & vintage rap legend Young MC. These two alternated interviewing contestants, then asking the audience to vote by applause, & when Young MC asked me why people should vote for me, I suddenly realized how “reality TV” works. The cheap braggadocio kicked in immediately: “Once I take this shirt off, Young MC, that question will be answered!”

When he instructed me to show my stuff, I whipped off my Erie Seawolves polo shirt without hesitation & slapped my chest like an ape.

The audience cheered—less enthusiastically than they should have, in my opinion, but they still cheered.

I kicked it up a notch, turning & slapping my shaggy shoulders.

“Do backs count?” I asked.

“He has it in stereo,” said Young MC.

Backs didn’t count, apparently. My sheepish fellow contestants, clearly nice guys all, were simply not in my league, until…

…a thick-bodied, balding, bespectacled fellow, exuding quiet confidence, stepped forward & removed his World of Warcraft T-shirt.

The crowd went wild. The contest was over. My consolation prize was a ten dollar gift card to Dave & Busters & an Expendables t-shirt.

Driving home, I had this comforting reflection: If I would have had to be hairier than I am already to win the contest, I wouldn’t have wanted to win it.

Anyway, here I am with Young MC:

I didn’t get my picture taken with Ms. O’Kelley. Having seen me shirtless, I feared she might not be able to control herself.

RIP to actor & voice-over artist (& Phoenix resident) Tom Basham. The voice of the Phoenix Cardinals during the ‘90s, Basham appeared on TV in the likes of Ironside, Bonanza, Adam-12 & Dragnet, & starred in such movie oddities as 1975’s The Psychopath

…& the 1971 gay biker movie Pink Angels.