Rising to the occasion despite physical adversity is no easy feat; something I once discovered firsthand as a 20-year-old McMaster University student. As the vocalist of a freshly-assembled alt-rock band, I was gearing up for our first gig: a Thursday night talent competition at the campus bar.
I'd been in bands before, but this was my first time as the singer, and I took the role very seriously. My goal was to wow our inaugural audience right out of the gate. Our band, the Chunkdogs -- no, I didn't name us -- was in a position to not only win over the audience, but those ever-important judges as well. Bring it on.
Unfortunately, I made out with a girl from school and caught mono. Rock lesson #1: never kiss girls. And this wasn't just any kind of mono. It was bizarro mono. Instead of napping 20 hours a day, my aches, fever, and intense sore throat thwarted me from sleeping or eating. Can't people die from that? Maybe I'd heard that somewhere. I needed sleep. Craved it. Longed for it. Was obsessed by it. But it never came. Nothing could get me to drift off.
By the night of the big talent show, I'd been awake for five days straight and my weight was down to 140 lbs. Which, given my wavy long hair and distinguished cheekbones, made me look a tad less conventionally 'manly.' Below: my grad photo, taken two weeks later.
Nonetheless, in front of a packed house, I managed to stay vertical, keep my raw vocal chords in check, and muster up the inner strength to TCB. (*)
(*) Which stands for 'take care of business,' for those not familiar with acronyms or BTO. (*)
(*) Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Come on, get in the game, man.
In fact, my sleep-deprived, barely conscious state prompted me to spew out a series of enigmatic non-sequiturs between songs, giving me the combined mystique of Jim Morrison and a young Michael Stipe. I was told this after the fact, since I don't remember much of it. But one thing's for certain: the week-long insomnia had given me super powers.
That night, we owned the audience, the judges and the competition. You could have storyboarded the scene and pitched it as the feel-good movie of the summer. All because of my ability to rise above some pretty extreme physical discomfort.
Having spent every last iota of energy for my singing debut, my body and mind were now competing to see which would shut down first. But my spirits were flying high. Too sick and exhausted to hang around for the rest of the competition, I went home and promptly collapsed in a heap on what I assume was my bed. Finally -- sleep! The kind that only such a massive victory could bring. Thank God we were going to win.
The next morning, after a solid eight hours of slumber, I called a bandmate to find out the competition results. Had my insomniatic super powers propelled me and the band to triumph? Would one young lad's insatiable desire for rest propel him to rock n' roll greatness?
Nope. We came in third. Stupid, lousy third. The second place contestant was a cheesy magician who made a rather tasteless joke about ailing basketball icon Magic Johnson. (That kinda shtick played well in those days.) And the grand prize winner? A student whose act consisted of balancing a full-sized Mr. Turtle children's swimming pool on his chin.
I learned an important lesson that day. One that's stuck with me ever since. Although society loves a heartwarming story of conquering adversity and pushing one's mind and body to their absolute limit, it will always be a sucker for a guy perching a large, blue-green plastic tub on his GDMF (*) face.
(*) Best I don't spell out that acronym.