The most fun you can have without doing something even more fun

Karen I need your help with something. I have an idea for a new Facebook profile picture, but I need someone who’s skilled with a dslr and has a reporter’s ability to get the goods and get em quick…

Flattery will get you everywhere.

Intrigued, I said yes without knowing much other than: “Planking. On 3rd Avenue, just after the light goes red, and the street is clear.”

I guess that’s all I needed to know.

A Saturday or two later there we were in his living room, discussing the game plan. I watched him do some test planks on the floor. I figured I’d take the picture from the sidewalk, you know, far away from traffic, potential cab mishaps, accidental bus run-ins, a delivery guy on a bike late for his scheduled drop-off or simply on a mission to destroy anything in his path (Those guys are not to be underestimated).

But then he kept saying “we” this and “we” that.

We?

Planking, of course, is that web sensation that went viral months ago. It even got celebrities in the act, from Justin Bieber to Hugh Hefner to Flavor Flav. AKA America’s finest. It caused unfortunate deaths, was labeled an affront to civil rights and became so mainstream the interwebhipsters said enough was enough. It was all about owling.

But Ryan didn’t care. He, of course, is the kind of guy who wears an ugly sweater to a non-ugly sweater party. Who says, “It was probably the most I’d ever laughed at a movie… but it could have been better” without a hint of sarcasm (For the record, he was talking about “Bridesmaids”). Who gets Bob Saget (or someone who eerily sounds like him[1]) to record him a personalized voicemail greeting.

Outside, we scoped out Third Avenue for the most suitable planking spot. We settled on a corner in front of a deli or maybe a bakery, with a life-sized statue of a chef holding a platter of some kind. It stood there flashing its smug, toothy grin as if to say, “Go ahead and try. You’ll never get the settings right.”

Indeed, the sun was so incredibly bright that all my test shots were washed out. These test shots involved me darting into the street at red lights, at which, for some reason no vehicle ever seemed to be waiting. Knowing I wouldn’t have time to adjust anything during the real thing, I had to get it right beforehand.

It didn’t help that I was wearing one contact in one eye, because I was unaccustomed to taking pictures wearing glasses. Even worse, I didn’t realize until I’d left the apartment that the one contact happened to be in the eye that before then had never touched the viewfinder.

Soon, Ryan was about three car-lengths away, waiting for the light to change. We’d decided that when it turned red, I was to run to the center of the crosswalk while he assumed position at the center of the hopefully empty avenue. I’d take a few shots standing up, a few crouching.

Green. Yellow. Red.

A truck ambled past. Ryan shook his head.

Green. Yellow. Red.

This time, a bus.

“Are you going to take my picture?” said a passerby, smiling.

I clutched the camera a little tighter. The universe was against us. I wondered what would happen if I were to fail. Let’s say the battery suddenly died or I tripped running out to the street or the contact in my one good eye spontaneously cracked. Are there do-overs in the world of planking? What if a stray cab squashed him the second time?

A cab stopped in front of me to let some passengers out. As I waited for it to pass, Ryan shot out to the middle of the street. I ran after him, cursing myself for my propensity to be easily distracted. He was already facedown on the pavement by the time I stumbled into my spot.

Click. Vertical. Click. Higher. Click. Crouch.

Just as I was getting comfortable, it was over.

“That was some serious planking,” said a guy crossing the street. “Cabs don’t care about that stuff.”

Ryan later said it was all very zen, until from the corner of his eye he saw a cab turning onto the street.

I told him this likely set a precedent for his Facebook profile pictures.

This old thing? he’d say to his admirers. I was swimming with swordfishes, bungee jumping atop a volcano, scaling the third tallest mountain on this side of the globe – at the same time, mind you – all for the sake of finding a profile picture worthy of all my profile pictures.

I wouldn’t expect anything less, really.

Ryan, after all, is the kind of guy who bikes across the country building houses, because it’s kind of fun and kind of noble. Who shimmies through cricket-filled cave crevices with 15-foot drops. Who lies facedown on Third Avenue, errant cabs and skeptical interwebhipsters be damned.

FOOTNOTE
[1] Ryan took forever to respond to my inquiry (Got to fact-check, you know), but his response to my question of whether that really was Saget was: “Hells yes.”

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From the city and beyond

Rice on the beach | Photo by Janelle

Summer is flying.

I just got back from an extended weekend at Myrtle Beach with 15 other nutty (current and former) Richmonders. I hadn’t seen most of them in a good while, and it’s nice we can meet up somewhere to wreak havoc.

I’d intended to take pictures and even lugged my digital SLR along (which eventually caused a minor delay on my way back when Myrtle security was at a loss for what this was. Hint: it rhymes with slattery). But the few times the camera left the bag were at airport checkpoints. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like documenting. It likely was the only time I went on vacation and seriously kicked back, soaked it all in and let my mind wander. I read about Bourdain’s culinary indiscretions, allowed the waves to mercilessly batter me and the boogie board, and let the sun coat my skin a slightly darker hue.

It was a welcome break from here. New York has a way of beating you up and making you think you want to move to a remote island or mountain or scenic hideaway, somewhere that doesn’t throw at you the day-to-day nonsense the city all too readily provides. But then you get away from it all, you get to what you think is your nice, happy place only to realize your nice, happy place is the one you so desperately wanted to leave behind. It just takes a bit of distance to fully appreciate that.

What keeps me sane is I’m surrounded by amazing people. From around the city, outside the city, on the other coast or a bus ride away. The last few weeks I’ve been hit by a wedding bouquet on a mission, lost my voice — multiple times — at karaoke, ridden in a crumbling limo, danced the night away with a chili pepper bouquet, laughed so hard my stomach hurt, gazed at fireworks on the beach, routinely ate quite possibly the best pizza ever to be consumed on a stoop, and we all know about that bike thing. Moments like that I wish could last forever. But alas, all great chapters come to an end. Summer is winding down; soon the leaves will fall. And one of my very favorite people has left for more mountainous pastures.

The city once again is changed.