When I say that I had always yearned to be an Olympian, what I mean of course is that I am ass-over-teakettle nuts about jocks, and my life's primary ambition has long been to fuck as many Olympic athletes as possible. The first time I ever clapped eyes on Michael Phelps' extraordinary body in nothing but a Speedo, I knew that world-class athletes were my sexual destiny, and I set my sights on the Olympics at an early age. The shortest distance between two points being a straight line, I figured bunking up in a dorm full of them would provide me the easiest possible access to the Hottest Guys in the World.
A foolproof plan, you'll agree, save for one detail: I was nowhere near a World Class Athlete. In any sport. Certainly not swimming, which--a bed full of broad-backed Aquamen being my primary target--I naturally tried first. I was fit enough, and at six foot three I would eventually grow flippers for feet, but I never had the shoulders, and why does everybody act like swimming pools all go dry at ten o'clock in the morning? If I have to roll out of bed while the neighborhood rooster is still sawing logs and get shirtless and wet before the damn sun comes up, I am unlikely to excel at any pursuit. Swimmers are hot-bods, to be sure, but I figured I'd have better access to them in the Olympic Village cafeteria than in the pool, anyway, so I hung my Speedos out to dry after one unremarkable summer-club season.
Wrestling was no more of a success story. It occurred to me that if my objective was physical proximity to jocks, a sport that required me to intertwine with them during the course of competition might be the ticket. I cut an encouragingly sexy figure in the singlet, but I was still growing like kudzu--taller this week than last, skinnier tomorrow than yesterday--and I couldn't muster the coordination to do much more than hump every boy they put underneath me. Which suited me fine, but didn't jive with the sporting objectives of most of the rest of the team, and my season was cut short when I came in my singlet during a particularly frictional exhibition match against the star of the all-boys Catholic high school from across town.
Like a slew of blond Californians before me, I turned to volleyball, for which I lacked the vertical leap; then to table tennis, for which I lacked the focus, to say nothing of the speed. Boxing busted my nose, rowing was hard, and rhythmic gymnastics, for which I had a sparkling flare, turned out to be only for girls. I shot my archery instructor in the leg during our first (and last) practice, and my taekwondo instructor laughed out loud when he overheard me use the words "me," "Olympics," and "taekwondo" together in a sentence. I briefly entertained a foray into Winter sports--an ass-lover like me could do a lot worse than a speed skater, after all--but my ankle snapped like a twig my very first time in ice skates, and as I spun across the mall skating rink, sequined five- and six-year-olds effortlessly dodging my tumbling, bladed limbs, my dreams of snow-flaked Olympic glory died along with the damage deposit on the rented skates that the paramedics had to cut off of my ballooning foot.
And then, as often does in stories like mine, a funny thing happened. I was laid up with what had come to be known as my "ice dancing injury," flipping half-heartedly through a badminton supply catalog, wondering if I could get my parents to spring for an Olympic-quality horse for my next birthday, when my mother hove into the room, locked in a struggle with an upright vacuum cleaner.
"How's your ankle?" she shouted over the clatter.
"It hurts," I pouted.
After a prolonged tussle against the root beer shag, she yanked the cord from the wall, and the vacuum cleaner sputtered, clattered, and eventually stilled. The smoldering metal monstrosity had been my mother's first purchase, from a door-to-door salesman, when she'd come to this country to be with my father, and she persisted in using it "in his memory," never mind that he wasn't dead, but had rather run off to Florida--with, of all things, a door-to-door saleswoman. "C'est la meme chose," she insisted; same difference. Because it weighed twice what she did and spread more dirt than it sucked, my mother always needed to rest for a considerable spell after an outing with her favorite household appliance, and she sagged dramatically into the recliner that faced the couch across which I was splayed.
"What are you doing?" she asked, jerking her chin towards the catalog.
"Plotting my triumphant return," I told her.
I shrugged. "Unless you want to buy me a horse."
"I wish you'd go back to swimming," she said. "There was very little equipment to buy."
"There was also very little sleep," I reminded her.
She rolled her eyes. "This again. My son the athlete--will do anything at all to get to the Olympics. As long as he doesn't have to get out of bed."
"I'm just saying, the Olympics are on TV all day--there must be a sport that competes in the afternoon."
"It's a question of dedication," she declared. "You must be willing to get up at four in the morning for your sport, whether you need to or not. Nobody ever got to the Olympics by sleeping in." And then, from out of nowhere, "Ask your cousin Marcel."
"I have a cousin Marcel?"
"Mmm," she affirmed, a lazy French yes. "Your auntie Francine's oldest, from her first marriage."
"Francine had a 'first marriage'?"
"And what would cher Cousin Marcel know about setting your alarm for the Olympics?" I asked, missing the connection.
"He's been to the Olympics," she said, leaving her duh! unsaid but well understood.
"What, you mean like as a spectator?"
"You mean he's been to the Olympics?"
She nodded. "A few times. He went to Atlanta. And Sydney, I think."
I sat bolt upright on the couch. "I have a cousin who's been to the Olympics, and you're just telling me this now?" I cried.
"Have I never told you this before?"
"You never even told me about Marcel before!"
"Well, that's pretty much Marcel in a nutshell: he went to the Olympics. He was Luxembourg's first medal in like fifty years."
"Mmm. Bronze medal," she said. "He might actually have two of them."
"In what sport?"
"He's a shooter."
"What is that, like a position in field hockey or something?"
"No, a shooter." She pointed her finger at me and cocked her thumb. "Pow, pow," she said.
"Shooting's a sport?" I asked.
She shrugged. "In Luxembourg it is."
And just like that, my plan fell into my lap from the sky, fully formed and only an e-mail away. I felt like a jackass; I had never even considered the Luxembourg angle. It had been made clear to all observers that I had neither the drive nor the talent to rise to the top of the highest-funded Olympic program in the world, but I had a Luxembourgish passport--somewhere--and I was immediately and fully confident that I could be a star in what had to be a tiny program. I hadn't been to my mother's speck of a country in ten years, and I had never lived there, but I whipped out an e-mail to my long-lost bosom cousin professing a love for shooting that would not be denied, and when his gracious invitation to come and train with him appeared in my inbox, my bags were already packed. I was still on my ice dancing crutches when I hobbled onto what was literally the very next flight to Luxembourg.