This column originally appeared on boomerconnections.com October 1, 2016. I was reminded of it during a recent high school reunion event where several people felt it necessary to remind me of this unfortunate chapter in my life…
I’ve been seeing commercials for the Netflix movie Mascots lately, a mockumentary premiering Oct. 13 about sports teams’ mascots created by Christopher Guest (For Your Consideration, A Mighty Wind, Best in Show).
Guest’s past movies were all hilarious. Mascots, however, is a threat to my sanity. The roaring crowds, the sports stadiums, the cheerleader uniforms… the horror… I think Mascots is triggering my PSSD: Post-Stupidity Stress Disorder.
I’ve never said this publicly before, but to head off this crisis, I feel I must:
I was Super Hokie.
During the spring of my first senior year at Virginia Tech (one freshman year, one sophomore year, one junior year, two senior years – that’s normal, right? Well it was in my fraternity…), the Hokie sports department put out a call for two volunteers to be “mic men,” a special kind of cheerleader who would use a microphone to lead the 40,000 fans in Lane Stadium in cheers and chants.
Our fraternity president suggested I try out, thinking it would be good PR for the fraternity (major miscalculation, there). It also would get me lots of attention, and since that seemed to be my highest priority back then, I was on-board.
The night of the audition, I psyched myself up in my dorm room, then ran across campus to the gym for the try out, only to find I was the only student interested in the role. When you are the only person who shows up for an audition, you need to stop and ask why. It’s like the old scene from the movie where the sergeant says, “Any volunteers, take two steps forward,” and every guy but one takes two steps back.
So I “won” the job. Somehow they recruited a female student as my counterpart. When we met with the director of the program, he unveiled our names (“Super Hokies,” which seemed a bit of a stretch, but OK) and told us he’d be ordering our uniforms soon. My female counterpart, whom I will call “Jane,” asked that the uniform be reasonably modest and not too skimpy. The director must have misheard her request, because when Jane’s uniform came in, it was unreasonably NOT modest and very skimpy. As for my uniform, he must have thought I asked for a one-piece, solid maroon, velvet-looking leotard with bell-bottom legs and coated with some sort of co-ed repellent, because that’s what I got.
Oh, and capes. We got capes. Because, capes.
Oh, and no masks. NO FREAKING MASKS. NOT EVEN A ROBIN-STYLE EYE-MASK. How do you put two kids out in front of their entire world in uniforms like that and NOT GIVE THEM MASKS?? If I’d realized what being Super Hokie without a mask was going to do to my social life, I would have insisted on designing my own mask made out of a black trash bag with no air holes. Instead, being Super Hokie saved me lots of money I otherwise would have spent on dating during my last year in college.
As for training, they sent us to a national cheerleading camp that summer hosted at Virginia Tech. There wasn’t really a lot to train on, though, since our job would be to just chant into microphones. Mostly at that camp I watched really good-looking female and male cheerleaders effortlessly socialize and dance like professionals while I stood in the corner.
One day at the camp, the woman in the lunch line in the cafeteria saw my “Super Hokie” patch on my leotard and asked, “What’s a Super Hokie?”
“I am,” I replied with very little conviction.
The lunch lady gave me a long, skeptical look. “Hmph,” she finally said, and tossed a scoop of crusty mac and cheese on my plate.
Turned out the crowds at Lane Stadium shared the lunch lady’s opinion. Fans at football games, and random people on the street, called me a lot of names starting with “Super,” but it was rarely “Super Hokie.” And they called the female Super Hokie a lot worse.
The most positive bit of feedback I got was when an older woman at a football game stopped me as I ran by and said, with a boozy smile, “I like the way your uniform fits.”
Oh, one other thing: they never gave us mics. So, in fact, we were never “mic men.” We were just two completely recognizable college kids in skin-tight uniforms and capes running through crowds of drunk peers and potential employers.
By the time basketball season came around, the female Super Hokie had decided (VERY understandably) that she’d had enough, and declined to join me on the hardwood floor and steep staircases of Cassell Coliseum.
As for me, I had become more jaded and a little subversive. I started wearing army boots as I ran around the stadium, instead of my Spirit Squad-issued tennis shoes. During games, I would carry a big sign singling out a player on the opposing team for the crowd to harass. Then, during breaks in the game, I’d flip the sign over to reveal to the crowd of 10,000 people the date of the next Kappa Sigma keg party. I got in trouble for that… It might have been the only thing I’m proud of from the entire experience.
For years I used to tell myself that I didn’t regret being Super Hokie… that, if I had it all over to do again, I would still choose to don the maskless cape-and-leotard. But the fact it, becoming Super Hokie is one of those decisions that cause me to grimace and even mutter “what the hell was I thinking?” when I have too much time to think.
People like to say that everything happens for a reason. But there is a meme going around on the Interweb that says, “Everything happens for a reason. But sometimes the reason is that you’re stupid and you make bad decisions.”
I recently came to the uncomfortable realization that, between the ages of 15 and 27 or so (and possibly much longer), I was usually either an idiot or an asshole (or both).
And while my bad decision to be Super Hokie had only one real victim, there were many, many other bad decisions, and many of those caused real pain to family, friends, coworkers, peers, and even strangers. These are the worst regrets of all, and even as I try to be a better person, it is very hard to move past those and not think I’m still the idiot/asshole I once was.
What the hell do you do with that?
Perhaps start by treating yourself as you would treat a close friend who is punishing himself with regrets. Tell him about meditation leader Tara Brach’s advice for when regret is eating a hole in your heart.
First, remind yourself to not believe your thoughts. Because, while thoughts are real, they’re not true.
Second, ask yourself to pause those regretful thoughts and bring yourself into the present. Right now you are not doing those things you wish you hadn’t done. You are only thinking about them.
Finally, remember love. Remember how you would relate with kindness to a friend having these regrets, and treat yourself as you would treat that friend. You would tell that friend to forgive himself for bad decisions… so do the same for yourself, and forgive.
The truth is that, as musical group Blind Pilot sings in their song Which Side I’m On, you are not those bad decisions:
I have done wrong I’ve done wrong I’ve done wrong,
and that weight will follow me.
But that weight is the world’s.
The world’s not mine,
it is the place where I am.
And I have lost, I have lost, I’ve lost,
And that won’t let go of me.
But that story’s not me.
It’s who I can’t change,
and not who I can.
And if a friend ever tells you they have a chance to be Super Hokie and run around a stadium in a cape and no mask, tell your friend that is a stupid, stupid idea.
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