Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Superstar Interview, part 1

I'm getting close to being able to put up a dead tree archive of the original VIEW material and in the meantime here's a piece written in April of 2007 that was deemed unsuitable. See what you think.

I've been networking for months to establish a relationship with an important player in the world of Paintball. The following is excerpted from the resulting interview.

The Superstar is in a contemplative mood, leaning away from the tabletop that separates us in the quiet coffeeshop. Shadow falls across his face as he stares past me at the passing traffic. Unconsciously he tugs at hanks of his hair. Prickles of condensation on his iced mocha latte slowly soak into the napkin serving as a coaster.
The Superstar has bags under his eyes and squints constantly whenever the sun dips out from behind the rolling clouds despite the tinted window between our booth and the outdoors. I ask, "How you doing? You look tired." I hope my envy isn’t apparent. Wow, what a life he must lead. Play all day, party all night. Sweet.
He sighs, "You don't know the half of it, dude."
"Burning the candle at both ends, huh?" I say with what I hope is a knowing laugh.
"Not enough hours in the day–"
The waitress interrupts as she sets my Dr. Pepper down. After she leaves I begin with
"So what’s it like to live the life everyone wants?"
"What life would that be? Man, you got no idea." He hesitates, reaches into the backpack beside him and pulls out a pack of Camels before rolling his eyes and tossing them back into his pack. "Can’t smoke indoors anymore." He fidgets for a moment and asks, "What was the question again?"
"Living the life everyone wants," I say quietly.
"If they think it’s so great they can have it." He stares at me hard for a second and then backtracks. Shrugging he says, "It used to be awesome. All the attention. Everybody wanting to be your friend. Now it’s all the attention and everyone wanting to be my friend." The Superstar grinned his trademark smile. "It can still be a lot of fun and I still meet a lot of cool people but sometimes I can’t help wondering what all the fuss is about. In my darker moments I tend to think I don’t even really matter, just that guy who plays ball."
This isn’t going the way I expected. "One dream of every kid out there is playing for free. Can you tell them what it’s like and do you have any advice for your fans?"
"Free? Yeah, right. I’ll tell you about free. You’re always dancing to somebody else’s tune. Shoot this gat. Wear those goggles. Endorse that paint. After your second photo shoot the luster definitely wears off." He slurps a gulp of his drink and smacks it back down. "I don’t mean to sound ungrateful ‘cus I’m not. And there was a time when it was like the coolest thing in the world to get stuff for free and just play ball. But it isn’t like that anymore. There’s all this other stuff going on. All these other demands being made and you find out pretty damn quick just how free your stuff really is if you don’t do what you’re told." The Superstar looks out the window and sighs. "I understand it’s a business and all, I do, but the fact is it’s not free. Not really."
"I can see that," I respond, slowly, desperately trying to find a way to turn the interview around. I wanted something more than the usual canned answers but this wasn’t it. "Gotta be nice to make a kid’s day, right? Sign some autographs and take some pictures. I bet that helps recharge the old batteries."
The Superstar laughs and shaking his head says, "You’d think so. Truth is after awhile you feel like you’re always on display. Every time I smile my face hurts from doing it all the time. I used to get a real kick out of it, in the beginning, the kids clamoring to meet you, practically begging for an autograph. All the excitement when they’d yell at you for a headband, a pair of gloves or your jersey." He wrapped his hands around his cup and continued, "It used to be like that, I think. At least I believed it was. Now, you know anything you give away is gonna end up on Ebay. They like you for as long as it takes to get something from you. I want it to be like it was but it’s hard not to see all those kids as a horde of grubby, grasping rude obnoxious punks looking to see what they can score off you."
"That sucks."
"That ain’t the half of it. Don’t give ‘um what they want, pass up one autograph, don’t smile sincerely enough, whatever. One time you don’t jump when some a**hole says jump and the next thing you know it’s all over the internet that you’re an ungrateful prima donna. Have forgotten about you’re fans and worse. What a load of– " The Superstar paused for a deep breath. "All I’m saying is they should try it sometime. That’s all."
"Never thought of it like that," I admitted, moving to safer ground. "I guess that makes the events themselves kind of like a break from the routine. A time to relax and enjoy playing?" I ask hopefully as I mentally cross my fingers.
The Superstar mulls over his response. "The times I like the best are practices, I think. Sure, there’s people around but practice is about the team, just us, and playing ball. At events the playing part is usually good–if we’re doing okay. And winning is always good but what is it when losing is worse than winning is good?"
I stutter like a moron. I don’t know what to say. I guess the question was rhetorical because before I can manage even a pitiful answer he continues, "It’s just a concentrated version of every other time you meet the fans. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. Sometimes the autographs and pictures are, you know, okay, fun even and sometimes you get the parents from hell who want you to watch their kid’s video of him playing some rookie event like if you only watch you’ll decide instantly the kid is perfect for your team and you want him to make the jump to the pros tomorrow. I mean they are practically pimping out little Jimmy and you wonder who wants this, is it really about the kid?
"And then there's the ones who wanna show off by playing too cool to care, come up to meet you but act like they're doing you a favor by showing up." Suddenly the Superstar adds, "Clinics are okay. It’s all about paintball and I know why they came. I like clinics."
"Yeah, okay," I say, "Travel around the world on somebody else’s dime. Must be sweet." I’m beginning to sweat. I hope he doesn’t notice.
"Like I said, the clinics are cool but the travel bites." He looks at his watch, "Is this the correct time? I left my soul three time zones east, I think. Try living your life out of a suitcase. Where’s home? What’s home? Before long it seems like most of your contact with friends, real friends, and family is on the phone. Texting." The Superstar leaned back with his fingers laced behind his head. "Maybe it’s just me. I know some guys who say they like it. Think of it as a constant adventure. I wish I did."
"Dude, I had no idea," I said, momentarily losing my objectivity, "but at least there’s the parties, right?"
The Superstar chuckled mirthlessly. "I admit I used to dig the party scene but, you know, maybe it’s just I’m getting older. Or I’ve already done it all. That and I’m really tired of waking up not knowing where I am and having people tell me how much fun I was but I can’t for the life of me remember. Sure, maybe the first time you wake up naked in a bathtub it’s a trip but it gets old fast. For real. Most days I’d rather take a nap."
"But the girls ..?" I stutter.
"When’s the last time you licked a penny you picked up off the ground?" he asked. Before I could respond he continued. "Sober most of ‘em ain’t all that and plenty of ‘em have been passed around more than the last blunt in a roomful of Jamaicans. I didn’t used to care..." He held out his hands, palms up. "Sorry but you asked."
Disappointed I blurted out, "If it’s so terrible you can always get out."
"And do what?" he demanded. "I didn't finish school. I got rent to pay. A car payment. You ought’a see my phone bill. It all costs money. Money I ain't got. If we ever stop winning the sponsor cash is gonna dry up faster than you can say Death Valley."
The Superstar smiled wryly. "I'm hanging on waiting for TV cash. When that comes through maybe I can save a little bit. Until then, open another store, sell a few more signed jerseys, teach a few more idiots how to play. On my good days I still love to play."

* Just in case a few of you are still wondering–No, it isn’t a real interview. To paraphrase Dan Rather it's totally fake but absolutely accurate. And if you’re now screaming incoherently and calling me names direct your anger in a positive way and send me some hate mail ‘cus I get lonely and your abuse cheers me up. Besides, I really wrote this for a special group of players and, yes, you guys know who you are.


Jeremy Manning said...

I really like this article. I wish this would have run in the magazine to give kids the idea paintball is a lifestyle. I really think this applies to all levels of tournament play. The endless practices, travel, and tournaments really wears on all outside aspects of life.
Hope you are doing well sir

Baca Loco said...

Hey Jeremy,
Appreciate it. I'm about as good as can be expected. ;-)