The once and future stooge

There was a recent article in Sports Illustrated exploring what makes Peyton Manning so doggone funny.  What struck me was a quip by David Letterman hailing Peyton’s remarkable ability to to transform himself into a “likeable, condescending TV stooge.”

Before we grimace with preconceived notions of what a stooge is, the head writer for Letterman stated that to call someone a “TV stooge” is the ultimate accolade from Dave.  To be a stooge is to willingly participate with no ego, no concern for how it all looks.  Ah to be so liberated!

As a public speaker and performer who attempts to let it all hang out on the platform, I’ve decided the best career move for me right now would be to become a stooge. Not ‘stooge like’, but a full on, no holds barred, throw caution into the wind, like-able and condescending stooge like Peyton.  I knew the first step toward that goal was to do business with my ego.

Believe me, I don’t lack for opportunities to decimate my ego.  It’s not just something I’m prone to do.  I would rather stab my eyes with knives then kill my precious, beloved ego.  Like the fallen hobbit Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings”, clinging to one’s precious most often leads to a diminished downfall.

But life has an uncanny knack for dealing the ego some vicious blows.  Often they strike without even looking, blind siding you into stoogeness.  I enjoy riding my road bike.  I quickly realized I am just one of thousands of aging wannabes vying for space on the road.  It still doesn’t stop me from fooling my ego into believing that I’m a pretty good rider and can handle most of the excruciating challenges thrust in my path – very similar to what Tour de France riders face.  That is until a manhole cover got my comeuppance.

Half way through a very enjoyable ride I slightly swerved to avoid a manhole that sprang up suddenly in my path. Physics attest that the faster you go the more accelerated your reactions become.  I was cruising along around twenty miles an hour when my slight avoidance maneuver caused my bike to undulate suddenly underneath me with accelerated response.

In the slow motioned perspective of hindsight, I clipped out of my peddles from the inertia of momentum, my body flipping over and over, head over heels then hip over hip and visa versa like some great lumbering beast trying to right itself after a surprise encounter with a trap.

It was over as soon as it started.  I was flayed upon the asphalt like fresh road kill, my legs twitching now and again as proof that I hadn’t completely expired.  The stench of gaping wounds was wafting into the air. They were steaming in the cold air. Grasping for some semblance of comfort I slowly opened my eyes and adjusted to the sight of two people looking over me as if peering down the abyss of a dark chasm.  They had witnessed a near brush with death and they wanted to make sure they could recount all the vivid details that night over dinner.  When my slowly rising body and expelled moans of painful released gave them further evidence of dodging a dicey situation, they helped me to me feet.

It struck me that my ego and its bodily housing just took a licking. My left arm was unable to rotate at the elbow without a searing jab of heat like intensity.  My left upper buttock was so tender that the slightest touch was enough to induce nausea.  My right knee and lower calf was ripped of its epidural casing and replaced with shimmering plasma and flecks of industrial tar.

One witness looked into my eyes to see if there was any dilation of the pupils.  An indication, at least to my young son, that the end is near.  He stated that I would be okay and that I rode well as a “clydesdale”. 

“Arrgghmmm?”, I inquired, fluids dripping from my nose.

In biking vernacular a clydesdale is a rider passing the 200 pound threshold. 

“I have to admit, for a big guy you fell pretty gracefully”.

I had to wonder if he saw the explosive residue of dust and tar embedded in my elbow and shins, but I acknowledged his kindness anyway, eaking a faint, unappreciative smile from my chapped, dehydrated lips.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized the extent of my injuries.  I had a crimson colored oblong bruise slightly to the right of my high upper groin area.  Much too close to the bone if you know what I mean.  I also had more extensive scrapes around my butt cheeks and left hip, shrapnel of asphalt gleaming in the light.  There was a small bruise on my left hip.

My guess is that the impact of asphalt with my middle age spread around the torso caused that bruise to become much more apparent 24 hours later.  The injury was sustained deep within the adipose tissue and allowed to express itself fully after seeping upward to the skin like injected dye from the slow wringing of a sponge.

It is impressive – large and colorful.  I’m half tempted to snap a digital photo and post it online for the sheer novelty of it all.  The bruise is in the exact shape of Australia.  I kid you not.  There’s even some discoloration off its eastern coast that looks like the Great Barrier Reef.  It is physically situated a few short nautical miles north of the scab on my knee that is, I kid you not, in the shape of Jerry Seinfeld. 

As it continues to heal, the bruise is shrinking in size and becoming the team colors of the University of Notre Dame: black with gold highlights.  If only I was a fan of the fighting Irish I could provide a unique souvenir to some rabid alumnus.

The whole experience, though by no means an isolated one, helped jar me into the reality of my fragile existence, strengthening my foothold on the beauty of life and keeping it all in proper perspective, while at the same time crushing my ego and putting me well on my way to becoming a stooge…are you on your way to stoogehood?

Posted in adaptation, Attitude, crisis, Embarrassment, Humor
One comment on “The once and future stooge
  1. Kim says:

    Jeff- Easy Does IT!!!!! Sorry for your crash – sounds awful! take good care- Kim

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Jeff Vankooten is a speaker and author focusing on the power of resilience to effectively engage the challenges of change. He helps leaders, businesses, and organizations develop the skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly unpredictable business environment.
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