I’ll bet you don’t know who Jackie Gareau is, but some might know she was the real women’s winner of the 1980 Boston Marathon and she’s still running strong today, but I’ll bet you definitely know who Rosie Ruiz is. I should say was, because unfortunately she died in 2019 of cancer at the age of 66 and if anything, Ms. Ruiz was a true fighter. She went to the grave still claiming that she actually won that ’80 Boston Marathon and who can argue with that now? Of course, to ‘pull a Rosie Ruiz’ is shorthand for being a fraud and a cheater but Rosie made bald-faced lying seem almost funny. Bill Rodgers, the greatest American men’s marathoner and the men’s winner back in ‘80 is also still running strong today at 74 years old, but when he took one look at the women’s ‘winner’ Ruiz and her meaty legs and fake sweat, he immediately smelled a rat before anyone else had a clue that Rosie was a phony. Her time would have been the fastest female time in Boston Marathon history and after he asked Rosie what her splits were, she didn’t even know what the hell ‘splits’ even meant. He told the director of the Boston Athletic Association of his suspicions just before the awards ceremony, but no one believed him and shortly after that, Massachusetts Governor Ed King crowned Rosie Ruiz the women’s champion. Bill Rodgers was chagrined.
We all dream of being a champion in some endeavor, but only those who put in the work and actually beat everyone else in the world can truly be called the best of the best. Donald Trump has something to say about this but increasingly, nobody cares anymore about what this phony loser has to say about anything and interestingly, Rosie Ruiz would go on after Boston to a spate of crime; in 1982, Rosie was arrested for embezzling $60,000 from the real estate company where she worked and was sentenced to one week in jail, then she was arrested the next year for her involvement in a cocaine deal gone bad and was given three years’ probation. That’s all beside the point because she really was a winner after all. She beat cancer after she emigrated to Florida from Cuba in 1972 and by the time she cheated to qualify in the ‘79 New York City Marathon, getting away with it until her exploits in Boston became front page news, her only failure was that she actually won Boston, but since she didn’t finish in the top ten as she had planned, two Harvard students (and amateur runners themselves) recalled seeing Rosie jump out of the crowd of spectators on Commonwealth Avenue, a half-mile from the finish line and the gig was up. This is not dissimilar to the way our former president* cheated to win, because Trump expected to come in a close second against the real winner Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential election and simply winning the race changed everything for both of these liars — Trump and Ruiz — and the rest, as they say, is history.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit US shores last year, I felt I was ready to take it on and be a winner. I read detailed and troubling reports from Italy that this disease was something more than a flu, a novel (new) virus that was more closely associated with a bad cold than a bad flu. By late February, 2020, I was convinced to take this threat seriously, listening to the experts, I determined that this was a big deal and I predicted that it would take at least a year to get through the oncoming pandemic, however I had no idea what that actually meant. I suppose that my biggest goal in life — not be sick — animated my enthusiasm to avoid this weird new virus and at the age in life (54) when you start to brag to your friends about how early you get up in the morning every day, after quitting most of the vices that either kill you or make you miserable, I was a relatively healthy specimen of the human race but today, my good health, both mental and physical, is about the only thing I’ve still got going for me a year and four months after COVID-19 spread like wildfire across the globe. But everything is now changed forever. First and foremost during the pandemic, my financial health suffered a near death experience and now it’s as if my credit is on a ventilator because on July 1st, 2020, I decided to quit my job. Now when you quit your job, you don’t get unemployment insurance but that was fine with me because my mental health was suffering something fierce while serving clients who, frankly, went crazy on me as well, all looking for ways to keep busy, so for the first few months of 2020 all I did was talk about this damned pandemic with clients, family and friends.
Working without Zoom (with or without a bad internet connection) back then in my profession of television production, after setting up all the technical stuff, my primary job function could best be described as amateur psychologist. The thing with appearing on TV, beyond the jitters and butterflies in the stomach, is what the ‘talent’ should actually say and do in front of the camera in the first place and it’s 90% of the job. Most people tend to get very nervous when in front of a camera and even seasoned pros will admit that it’s not easy to record every move made, face expressed and word spoken for time immemorial, so amateur psychology has been a side hustle of mine since being the guy behind the camera over 20 years ago, but when the pandemic hit, (and with the advent of the hideous video and audio of the ubiquitous Zoom app that we all still rely on to ‘meet’ each other every day) everyone became a TV personality overnight and in 2020, I was robbed of my raison d’être.
With the advent of an earlier world-changing technology, namely cell phone video, I was already facing the prospect that almost anyone could do what I do with their iPhones in their guest bedroom and today, folks can now create better high quality videos than I ever could in the studio back in the days of analog, but thank the good Lord, people are always moving their phones all over the place when shooting video, creating sickening experiences for viewers (and of course the audio always sucks), unless these newly-minted directors of photography have a rudimentary understanding of 3200k and a wireless lav, (pro stuff I know about) paired with an Osmo stabilizer that anyone who wants to make good video should have, but I’d simply suggest a cheap tripod to anyone to looking to improve their phone video work, which they can buy for $5 on Amazon. Before the pandemic however, most folks couldn’t create their own high quality video productions without the help of someone like me, but that all changed when the only video tool I had available to me was the one that everyone else had access to and it’s still freaking free! Zoom changed our world in profound ways and for that accomplishment, Eric Yuan, the brilliant fellow who wrote the software for Zoom, should get a Nobel Prize, an Emmy, an Oscar and a Pulitzer for what he created and shared with the world, just in the nick of time to put me out of business — and now my finances are on life support.
In April, 2020, the implanted tooth in the very middle of my choppers fell out while eating a forbidden fruit, for which I paid many thousands of dollars to have installed, but to put a positive spin on it, after it popped out I figured, well, at least I’ll have my mask on in public and no one beyond my front door will be the wiser until dentists were back in the business of removing money from wallets. However on Zoom, bad connections or not, I would appear as a seasoned NHL hockey player, complete with a year-round playoff beard. The mask, it turned out, also irritated my eyes terribly and left reddened bags under them as an extra bonus, especially when I (proudly) wore my favored N95 mask because that’s how I roll. If you’re going to do something, do it right and today, I have a tattered and worn-out collection of old N95s that I will lovingly preserve for the rest of my life to remind me of this awful past year, but truth be told, I really hated wearing the damn things, however being on a ventilator or the prospect of a dead elderly friend (of which I had many, but fewer today) kept me masked-up until I was fully vaccinated. That mask became part of me, but now I say ‘was’ because I rarely wear one outside the house anymore unless a majority of those around me are wearing one and I’ll slip one of the old relics on to put folks at ease, Delta variant be damned — because we all need to get back to work.
My first mask-less job interview was few weeks ago, complete with hockey player grin (which I’m convinced is the reason I didn’t get the job) so last week I finally went to the dentist to cement that expensive sucker back in, then I emptied my wallet and can now flash my winning smile again for the first time in over a year, but I’m already missing all of those delicious nuts and forbidden apples that I ate with reckless abandon during the pandemic. Without income of any kind, looking back I was overly optimistic and naive when I quit my cushy television job a year ago, thinking I could pick up a few gigs until I found a hot new job, ideally, last Fall. In September, 2020, I had a white Apple Card ($0 balance) with perfect credit and a wide and wonderful network of family and friends. Now, after leaving my adopted home (where people and prices nearly doubled), I have $7,000+ charged up on my cards and now my Apple Card looks like a bright kaleidoscope of beautiful colors representing food, utility bills and a few annual charges for stuff I don’t subscribe to any more — but I would do it again because I survived this damned pandemic and my health is as good as it’s ever been.
Weirdly, I’m happier and healthier than ever because I know that I’ll eventually recover financially, but we are all still far from being back to ‘normal’ in my hard-won opinion. Those who chose to stay on and weather the storm while working a full-time job, I respect the hell out of what you went through and appreciate that this past year has been it’s own, intimately personal kind of hell for you and you’re all champions in my book. I also understand some of your resentment for us poor, healthy ‘freeloaders’ but I recommend you don’t quit your job while looking for a new start just yet (interestingly, over four million Americans left their jobs in April alone) because the pandemic isn’t ‘finally’ over. It just isn’t. The national emergency may be over, but the new reality of the economic backlash of the pandemic is just now settling in and we’re not across the finish line yet, after all, this experience has always been a marathon and not a sprint. Rosie Ruiz may have ‘won’ the Boston Marathon, but in reality she skipped out of the crowd, ‘outrunning’ the competition to win the coveted title, only to be caught in the act and humiliated for her entire life. I, too ‘pulled a Rosie Ruiz,’ but I happily join her on the dais of our lives, laurels in our hair to the cheers of well-wishers, but of course, Rosie and I don’t deserve the accolades, but for a brief and shining moment, we were champions of the world.
June 26, 2021