As a child in Dayton, Ohio I was competitive. Wait, combatative. Wait, is there a word that means those two things together? Competatative. (pronounced KOM-pah-TAT-a-tive) I was the most competatative kid I knew. It manifested itself in the usual ways – tennis teams, basketball games, test scores. But also in some more troubling ways – how much butter I could eat at one sitting, for example.
But, it was an important part of me. For better or for worse, I was constantly defining myself in terms of those around me. I’m not sure when “percentile” became the ideal way for schools to describe kids, but if there was a percentile to be had, I was going to have it.
As I moved into college, excited for the freedom and intellectual sparring I was sure awaited me, I found that there were fewer and fewer opportunities for actual competitions. More and more, I found myself turning, as I’m sure many of the “competitive” among us do, to simple arguments. So I did. I was studying at George Washington in DC, so politics was obviously a hot topic, but it didn’t stop there. I’d argue about anything.
There was an argument that went on for three days with friends about which was the awesomest city in the country, New York, or Dayton Ohio. I still maintain it’s Dayton.
There was an argument in which I contended, with the utmost sincerity, that the greatest actor of our times was Brendan Fraser. Want to see a film student upset? Tell him that the best actor of all time is Brendan Fraser. The best part is that the argument always proceeds along the same lines:
“Then who’s better?”
“How about Marlon Brando.”
“He’s good, but he’s no Brendan Frasier.”
“Have you seen Streetcar Named Desire?!”
“Have YOU seen Monkeybone?”
Fortunately, film students always degrade into an argument based on quantity of work, instead of quality. A couple back and forths, and they’ve already played their “On the Waterfront” card, and I’m just warming up to “Airheads,” “School Ties,” and “Looney Toons: Back in Action.”
But then you drop out of college and find that people in the “real world” don’t want to argue as much. In fact, people in the real world don’t seem to want to compete over anything besides the armrest on planes and who can discover good bands first. So what’s a competatative 20 something to do?
What every 20 something does – look for answers on the internet. Fortunately, I found mine on Craigslist.
I was working as a bartender in Dayton, Ohio when I saw the “gigs” posting that read,
“Are you eco-friendly?”
“Do you live a healthy lifestyle?”
“Do you want to spent two months traveling across the United States for free dressed up as a gigantic smoothie and get $5,000?”
More than anything.
That was the first time I saw an “online video contest.” So I entered. I tossed together a quick song and video titled, “I wanna be your Cupman.” I won’t bore you with the details, but my favorite lines were:
“I wanna go to the beach and get awkward lines from a cup-tan,
I wanna found a new country in asia and call it cup-i-stan.”
And every day, I’d get on my computer, and I’d get in touch with everyone I knew or had known, and I told them to vote for me. And vote for me. And vote for me. And I won.
It felt fantastic. The winning, the being acknowledged for a piece of comedy by a company that wanted to give me money, the pink leotard and cup-suit, all of it. So I kept going. And I kept adding to the group of people I’d bother for votes. And I kept winning.
Delta sent my brother and I on all-expense paid trips to Dubai, Buenos Aires, Budapest and Copenhagen. Fairvote.org gave me thousands of dollars for a song about democracy. The California Beef Council gave me an iPod touch for my rap song, “More Beef in More Places.”
Sometimes I lose. I was a non-winning finalist in the Magic Hat Brewery on-hold music contest. I got a large t-shirt.
I was a non-winning finalist in the Dos Lunas Tequila video contest. I got a woman’s large tank top.
But I regroup, and I learn. Just like the competitive butter eater from my youth, I come back stronger. I won a Nature Valley granola bar contest for an all-expense paid 2 week cruise to Arctic Svalbard and a 3 week cruise to Antarctica on board National Geographic Endeavor Cruise lines. A 7 night/6 day trip to Sydney Australia to tour wine country from Little Penguin wines. 1,000,000 Best Western points.
In the 2007 and 2008, I will have visited 6 continents without spending a dime of my own.
But what I’ve found is that I don’t just represent myself. I represent the strange, dormant, competitive dreams of all my friends and family. By not having a day job and pursuing these contests, I have become the embodiment of some strange, fantastic dream for the people I know. Or, more accurately, I’ve become their horse. I’m their hometown team. I’m their reason to tune in and watch the race.
Not just that: in this race, they have the power to help me win. And some of them love it. They get on board. They root, they drum up support, they spread the word. As often as I get emails telling me I made a “great entry,” I get emails telling me, “The videos you’re up against are lame.” I’ve got one in my inbox right now that reads, “Those idiots don’t have any idea how to make a funny psoriasis video. You’re going to cream them.”
It turns out I’m not the only competatative person out there.