Gather ’round, children, and let Grandpappy Jeff tell ya a story…
Imagine yourself on Main Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s December 2004, with cool, fleece weather; we’re not yet in the bitter, icicle-nose-inducing stretch of the new year.
Now, yer old grandpappy was at a holiday (not Christmas) dinner with his co-workers at Mongolian Barbecue (this was back when it was still Mongolian Barbecue and didn’t have that inexplicable “BD’s” prefix). Mongolian Barbecue, for those of you not blessed enough to have one in your neighborhood, is an all-you-can-eat meatfest which dresses itself up as a prepare-it-yourself place, since you get to choose all of your own ingredients (what sort of protein, veggies, sauces, etc.) and then the skillet-masters will stir-fry it up for ya. Gorge, then repeat.
All the buzz around the University of Michigan campus around that time was about how Olympic golden boy Michael Phelps (just coming off of his six golds at the 2004 Olympics in Athens) had chosen to attend our humble university (not to pursue any sort of degree, mind you. Just pointing that out…), following his coach who’d been hired by the U-M athletic staff.
So, of course, “Michael Phelps” as a conversation topic inevitably came up at our Mongolian Barbecue dinner, since, you know, it’s kinda exciting for most people. “OOH, and OLYMPIAN!” they squealed, as if being an Olympian was going to save them from a burning apartment building.
“I wonder if he’ll wear his medals around?”
“What frat is he gonna join?”
And my LEAST favorite comment, by far: “Isn’t he so dreamy?” [followed by a swoon]
Michael Phelps? Pssh. He’s not all that, I thought. So what he’s got like, six gold medals? Does he know the pythagorean theorem? Can he figure out how to eat Wendy’s for lunch for less than $3 every day? Did he get a 5 on his AP U.S. History exam? Well, DID HE??? Why was everybody talking about this jerk, anyway? So he can swim fast…so what, who cares?
So, yeah, when the topic of Michael Phelps came up at dinner, man, I let it all out. “Michael Phelps?” I asked aloud, to nobody in particular. What a chump, am I right? With his monkey ears and Neanderthal brow? What’s so great about him, anyway?” I went on for another four or five minutes, just to make it clear my distain for the Baltimore Bullet.
Man, I was pretty proud at that moment, disguising my obvious envy of his success in a witty repertoire of Michael Phelps digs. I did a quick pan around the restaurant to see who else would join me in my Michael Phelps Is A Big Doo-Doo Head Club.
And of course, there’s Michael Phelps, sitting right behind me with his coach, up until that point enjoying bowl after bowl of endless meat to fill out his 12,000 calorie-a-day diet.
…I sheepishly returned to my stir-fry, knowing that, unlike the soon-to-be Best Olympian of All Time, this was going right to my thighs.