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October 12, 2009

The Police Chief Cheated, and Other Tales from the Giant Pumpkin Regatta

-1 Sunday marked the first time I have ever sat inside a giant piece of produce. It also marked the first time I have ever rowed a giant piece of produce on Lake Champlain. But when you're a celebrity like me, you participate in quaint community activities like this, if only to give the fan(s) what they want — a sighting of me in the flesh. I also sign autographs at Borders on Saturday afternoons and give readings of my work at the University Mall Wednesday nights and alternate Tuesday mornings.

That's me at right, representing the 7D Crew, goopy-gourd styley.

Anyway, since I was deemed the "sportiest" Seven Dayser, it was my responsibility to represent the word factory in Sunday's Giant Pumpkin Regatta, which raised money for Linking Learning to Life — some program meant to help keep kids out of jail or something. I was happy to oblige, since it meant not only that I got to flap around in the water, but I also got to dress up. Yippee!

I decided my costume would be functional and fashionable, so snorkeling gear made the most sense. If I was going in the drink, as least I wouldn't get water in my eyes. Maybe I could even catch a glimpse of a zebra mussel or two underwater. I borrowed a wetsuit and fancy snorkel set from a friend and somehow squeezed my way into the three millimeter neoprene. And because no costume is complete without a wig, my boss graciously provided one from her enviable collection of fake hair.

Some people are reluctant to say they're competitive. I am not one of those people. I'm competitive as heck, so when I arrived at Burlington's waterfront for the races yesterday, I had my game face on. Incidentally, my game face is pretty much like my poop face, but with more nostril flare.

It's hard to keep your competitive spirit up when you're wearing a clown wig and sweatin' to the oldies in a skin-tight wetsuit. But when I saw the crowd lining the shore, I knew I couldn't let them down. As it turned out, most of them left before my race. Apparently, they didn't come for me. Whatever.

I was scheduled for the "celebrity race," the last race of the day. My fellow celebrities included Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan, Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling, Burlington Free Press "senior client strategist" Kathy Soulia, WPTZ meteorologist Jim Moore, WCAX meteorologist Sharon Meyer and some other meteorologists who were not Tom Messner.

I have to confess, when I saw my celebrity competition, I was a little disappointed. I thought I'd be in the company of people like Ben & Jerry, Jake Burton Carpenter or the demi-deity who goes by the name of Trey. No offense to my competitors, but none of us is really a celebrity, despite my assertion to the contrary in the first paragraph. Ain't nobody be wantin' our autographs, that's for sure. At least put me in a race with WCAX's Jack Thurston or Kristen Carlson or someone with some name recognition and equally immovable hair.

But whatever. Celebrity or not, I was going to win. I got in my pumpkin, which I was assured was a winner, and figured out my bearings. Boy, those things are tippy as all hell. The last thing I wanted was to have a 1000-pound pumpkin capsize on me, so I tried not to rock too much. Our only practice was paddling out to the end of the boat launch dock. Then it was go time.

This is what near victory looks like.

We all begin paddling like spazzes, some with more success than others. I beached myself twice, but I was still doing better than the meteorologists, one of whom was held back a bit by her princess costume. At one point I looked up and Schirling had already rounded the buoy and was barreling towards the finish line. Dude was clearly cheating. And his costume left much to be desired. He was wearing some cop jacket and a ball cap. BO-ring.

Seriously, how did the chief of police get so damn good at rowing a giant pumpkin? I'm pretty sure he worked a deal with the grower. He agreed to knock off the dude's parking tickets in exchange for the most hydrodynamic gourd of the bunch. Also, I'm pretty sure he greased his pumpkin beforehand. He was cutting through the water like Michael flipping Phelps.

After getting passed for fourth place by some dude with a soul patch (I can barely deal with the indignity of this. I got beaten by a guy with a SOUL PATCH.), I paddled in for a respectable fifth place. My reason for this--a wicked headwind, inexperience and abdominal muscles atrophied to the point of rubber band status by years of sitting at a computer. But if there was a competition for costumes, I'd definitely give myself second place.

Rowing a pumpkin is not easy, unless you're a cop and you cheat. But I'll know that for next year. The celebrity race will be mine.   

***Special thanks to the Vermont Giant Vegetable Growers Association for growing mammoth pumpkins and letting people row in them.

lauren ober, you were incredible. you totally had that soul patch guy, i don't know what happened. plus, your pumpkin was the widest load out there. way to row.

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