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Xtreme Imposter

[whitespace] Chas Lemon

Metropolitan shakes up the X Games

By Harmon Leon

Photographs by Dayve Morffy


To some, the X Games are a celebration of alternative sports. For others, they're a commercialized three-ring vertical circus. For me, the Games are a chance to finally get support for my athletic prowess. This is my goal: Go to the X Games in search of corporate sponsorship. But what sport? I decide on "Aggressive Vertical X-Treming," which I dub "aggres-vert" for short. It's a sport not yet included in this year's games (most probably because I just made it up). If anyone asks, I tell them it's even too "alternative" for the self-proclaimed "alternative" X Games.

First, I adopt a fictitious x-treme persona:

X-TREME NAME: Chas Lemon

X-TREME PERSONA: Injured aggress-vert athlete. Chas likes to refer to himself in the third person, and has an "x-treme" attitude. Chas is bitter about not competing, because if he had he surely would have pushed the envelope.

X-TREME OUTFIT: For no apparent reason, Chas roams the X Games shirtless but wears kneepads, elbow pads and wrist guards.

X-TREME ASININE CATCH PHRASE: "Push the envelope, wuss!"

X-TREME GOAL: To search the X Games for a corporate sponsor.

[line]

The Letter X: Advertisers rack their brains to come up with clever slogans.

X-Talk: Announcers liven up X-events with witty quips.

[line]

Chas Lemon: X-Treme Volunteer!

I show up Friday for opening day. A huge line careens down the Embarcadero toward the entrance marked with a mammoth red X banner. In order to get prior insight into this event, I've read an informative article by Neva Chonin of the Chronicle called "Counterculture Athletics to Take SF by Storm." This gives me a "real" feel of what to expect.

"These days, not every skateboarder boasts multiple tattoos and listens to Pennywise or Blink 182," Neva Chonin of the Chronicle writes. "They're just as likely to be low-key jazz enthusiasts or dreadlocked cosmic surfers with a Beastie Boys fixation." She must be saying that x-treme athletes can be just like you and me! Perhaps they even walk among us!

I look at the people waiting in line. The majority are shirtless, testosterone-pumped 17-year-olds wearing backwards baseball caps. Everyone is so-o-o-o x-treme. Aaaargh! They all appear to be from the 650 and 925 area codes. This is surprising because the "alternative" looks pretty darn like the mainstream. I don't see one low-key jazz enthusiast or dreadlocked cosmic surfer with a Beastie Boys fixation. Perhaps Neva Chonin of the Chronicle got it all wrong?

Regardless, a person of my athletic prowess shouldn't wait in line with the peasants. Forget the lines. I want an endorsement deal. (Here's a tip for next year: avoid lines by simply going to the security gate at Pier 32. Approach the security guard. He'll most likely be sitting in a chair eating something. Tell him you're an X Games volunteer. Not only will the gates immediately be opened, but directions will be given where to go.)

According to Neva Chonin of the Chronicle, "The graffiti are on the wall: Extreme sports are big and getting bigger." This "graffiti wall" Neva Chonin of the Chronicle refers to is nowhere to be found. I do see multiple booths representing copious amounts of corporate sponsors. A Mountain Dew helicopter circles overhead. "Folks, if you're feeling short of energy, 'Do The Dew!' " exclaims the speed-climbing announcer. A giant screen transmits No Doubt videos between events. The skateboard announcer tells the crowd about Disney's Tarzan. This is all orchestrated to the tune of Fatboy Slim. I've never been more aware of the words "target demographic group." Perhaps Neva Chonin of the Chronicle didn't mean a real, literal "graffiti wall," but used "graffiti wall" more as an asinine metaphor?

Strutting over to the volunteer tent, I say, "I'm Chas. I'm here to volunteer!" With no questions asked, I'm immediately given a free blue T-shirt and a badge which gives me complete access to all areas of the X Games. Not only do I not wait in line, I'm also granted a pass to stick my head in every nook and cranny of this blessed sporting spectacular. It's just that simple! It's reassuring to know that any moron or terrorist can get an all-areas pass without the annoying hassle of an ID check.

I'm put into an X Games migrant-worker holding area, drinking free Mountain Dew to my heart's content. A woman with a clipboard approaches.

"We need volunteers for the trash sweep!" She looks directly at me. "Are you a 'pickup'?"

"A what?"

"A 'pickup.' "

This is X Game volunteer terminology for "the new guy." I tell her, "Chas does not 'trash sweep'!"

She lists three other jobs. I refuse to do all of them. Instead, I pop open another free Mountain Dew. With a giant huff, I finally agree to work at the San Francisco Bike Coalition.

"If Chas was competing, he wouldn't be doing this crap!" I storm off.

The SF Bike Coalition is set up across from the games. They're swamped with bikes which are parked free of charge. I stand there feeling like a complete dipshit. Twelve-year-old kids order me around. I park a bike and am told I'm not doing it right. After volunteering for 10 minutes, I inform the guy in charge I have to go watch my buddy skateboard. He tells me to come right back. I leave. I will never return!

With my fancy new badge and blue T-shirt, I'll create my very own "special" volunteer job. Why should any attendee know otherwise? There are 2,200 volunteers. I am the face of the X Games! The X Games needs more order--I'm that order. Standing in certain areas, I'll tell people not to do things! Waving my badge, I give a respectful nod to the security guard and go right back inside.

While most volunteers have jobs standing by exits, I decide that my job is to seek out no-good-niks. I take my post near the bicycle stunt area. A guy from Spain spins his bike like a crazed monkey. Two teenage kids watch from an excellent vantage point at the front of the rail. I go up to them.

"You cannot stand there!"

I point at an ambiguous small area. They look at me. I show them my badge.

"We can't have people standing there!"

They shake their heads, pick up their belongings and move on. I take over their spot and watch another guy spin his bike like a crazed monkey.

Moving near the bleachers, a guy with some ice cream comes toward me.

"What do you think you're doing?!"

"Can I get back up to my seat?"

"I x-tremely don't think so!"

He pleads his case. Crossing my arms, I point to a faraway location.

"You're going to have to go around!"

Bored with being mad with power, I decide it's time to see what doors my all-areas badge will open. My Magical Mystery Tour takes me to the athletes area behind the half-pipe. Here I mingle among the girlfriends of skateboarders. Some look like possible porn stars. Two skateboarders hold up their team T-shirt. Cameras click away. Wedging myself into the background, I give the thumbs-up sign.

"Push the envelope!"

Next I go into the ESPN Sports compound. Not too exciting, but I see a broadcaster I once saw on TV. Finally, I make my way to the media tent, treating myself to a large--and, most importantly, free--buffet lunch. I'd like to give a shout out to whoever made those delicious little cheesecakes! I have such an air of authority, another volunteer asks if it's OK to eat here.

"Absolutely not," I say.

While inside, I chat up a cute girl behind the media desk. She gives me a free pass for an X Games open-bar schmooze party at the Transmission Theater. Perhaps she feels sympathy for my "aggres-vert" injury sob story.

Pushing the Envelope: 'Chas Lemon' demonstrates his skill at 'inverted precision cycling.'


Chas Lemon: X-Treme Schmoozer!

As I wave my invite and pass the large bouncers, the party organizer at the door says, "Hey, I talked to you the other night at Gordon Biersch."

"Yes! You most certainly did!" is the only way to reply. Hell, I'm not even in the door and I'm already schmoozing. Inside, I expect an x-treme radical group who push the envelope--even when partying. Instead, it's a crowd similar to what one would encounter at a TGIFridays. This is the bloody X Games. These party-goers won't drink mere ordinary drinks. No! They need x-treme drinks for x-treme people. Their drink list says, "Those with weak wills should stay away from ALL drink specials."

    Face Plants

    X-treme Punch

    Pain Eraser

    Adios Motherfucker

They should also stress "Drink these or else you are a complete wuss!"

I mingle, trying to use the word "aggressive" as many times as I can. First, with a pretty blonde woman. She inquires about my X Games involvement.

"I'm an 'aggressive' speed climber!" I mime climbing motions. This pleases her. In fact, for no apparent reason, she touches my stomach. Wow, I've underestimated the world of x-treme sports. In certain circles, you only have to say you're a speed climber and a strange woman will touch your stomach!

She's standing next to the manager of the Haro bike team. He gives me his card.

"I have a friend writing an article on the X Games. If he mentions your company, can he get a free bike?" I ask.

"Yes," he says, "Just send me a copy of the finished article." OK, Haro. Bring on the free bike!

Upstairs, by the free food, I meet one of the stupidest people known to humanity. Drunk, chubby, dressed in a black T-shirt and shorts, he points to me.

"Are you a skateboarder or rollerblader?"

"I'm a rollerblader."

He gets angry. "Get the fuck out of here! Get the fuck out of here!" Hot damn, it's the legendary rollerblader/skateboarder rivalry. This makes me taunt him further.

"But I'm an aggressive in-line skater!" I plead.

This carries no weight. "Hey, man, I'm CBS," he says. "Do you know what CBS is?"

"The Columbia Broadcasting Corporation?"

"No, man. You don't know shit. You know, C-B-S! We're like family."

I imagine it's some sort of boarding equipment. I don't tell him this. Instead, I prod: "Do you want to fight?!"

"Yeah," he snarls.

Not really wanting to brawl with the stupidest person known to humanity, I decide, once and for all, to bury this age-old hatchet. "Hey, bro," I say, "why can't we rollerbladers and you skateboarders just get along! Isn't that what the X Games are all about?" He ponders this and agrees. I initiate a warm, heart-filled hug and go back to chewing more free food.

Chas Lemon: Corporate Whore

It's obvious the X Games are littered with massive amounts of corporate booths, all loosely tying their company to the x-treme world. A backdrop to the in-line vert event, the large video screen blares those always "funny" collect-call commercials with Hollywood pest David Arquette.

My endorsement deal still awaits! As I repeat the insightful words of Neva Chonin of the Chronicle, "Extreme sports are big and getting bigger," my first attempt is to get my aggressive face on a new Xtreme Sports postage stamp, featuring various boarders, bikers and bladers. I approach the booth.

"I'm Chas. How can I get on a stamp?"

"You can't. You have to be dead for at least 10 years to be on a stamp," says the stamp woman. This is confusing. I look at the x-treme postal athletes, midair, in action. They look so full of life!

"So all these kids are dead?" I ponder incredulously.

"No, they're not real. They're digitally enhanced." That's just plain odd.

I keep pushing: "I compete in aggres-vert. If I die, can I be on a stamp in 10 years?"

"No." She's not budging on this, so I decide to move on.

The Marines' booth has a long line. You do pull-ups and win prizes. Well fuck-me-sideways, they're here to recruit "low-key jazz enthusiasts and dreadlocked cosmic surfers with Beastie Boys fixations"! I see the connection: skateboarding the half-pipe/killing people and going to boot camp. Or as their literature says, "From one EXTREME to the other. The sports showcased here and the competing athletes are to the sports world what the Marine Corps is to the United States military--extreme."

"Does the Marines sponsor athletes?" I ask one of the thick-necked recruiters.

"We sponsor boxing and wrestling."

"How about skateboarding?"

"Well, we do have a lot of Marines who skateboard."

"Cool!!" This conjures images of a new, secret branch of elite fighters.

"We have a skateboard ramp set up on base for the recruits and the kids who live on base."

"Wow!" I say with unadulterated enthusiasm.

I fill out an application.

"Watch out--they won't stop until they recruit your ass," warns a guy behind me. Wisely, I have used the address and phone number of my ex-girlfriend. By doing 10 pull-ups one receives a free Marine dog tag. While wearing my protective pads, I stretch out, grab the bar and do one pull-up. Sarge screams, "Get up there!" I hang for 30 seconds. Sarge still screams. I drop to the ground, clutching my shoulder.

"Aaaaah! My street-luge injury," I cry, and storm off.

The most crap corporate booth at the entire X Games, however, is AT&T's. There's a pay phone attached to a score clock. If you dial 1-800-Call-ATT three times the fastest, you win a free pair of rollerblades. It's good to see corporations waving a carrot in front of gullible teenagers, turning them into mindless Pavlovian x-treme monkeys. I move on without competing.

"Have you seen one of these?" jostles a clean-cut Heineken representative. He shows me a postcard with people's photos taken with a big Heineken bottle backdrop. The catch is the subjects must be 21 or older to have their photo taken. Once again x-treme incongruity surfaces at the event: you can join the Marines at 18, but you have to be 21 to pose for a Heineken photo.

"Do you know how I can get Heineken to sponsor me?" I ask and watch his interest perk.

"What sport do you do?" he asks.

"Inverted freestyle precision biking!" I answer confidently.

"Let me look into it," he promises. "Do you have a card?"

Luckily, I still have the card from Haro bikes. We shake hands in the cool-guy fashion. I move on, confident knowing I'll soon be riding inverted freestyle with Heineken as my proud sponsor.


Sign Me Up: Harmon Leon, a.k.a. Chas Lemon, signs autographs 'on behalf' of Tony Hawk.

Chas Lemon Generates a Fan Base

With a corporate sponsor, an all-areas pass and schmoozing under my belt, the only thing lacking is a loyal fan base. I recruit the assistance of a photographer--it's time to let the people see Chas in action, going to the ultimate x-treme! Finding an open area, I straighten my protective pads, get a running start and jump over a garbage can, systematically repeating the process until other spectators also start taking photos.

"Who is that?!" I hear among the people.

Moving to a wire-link fence, I begin scaling it in a speed climbing fashion, spreading my arms and legs out at obtuse angles. My photographer clicks away.

Two preteens, one with a broken arm, approach.

"Are you in the X Games?"

"Yes, I am."

They look at each other. "Have you won any medals?" asks the kid with the broken arm.

"How many medals did you win?" asks the other kid.

"I've won seven of them." It's fun to fool 12-year-olds!

"Wow! Who are you?"

"I'm Tony Hawk." They're very excited to meet the 15-time skateboarding world champ. I sign the kid's cast and move on.

Next to the simulated rock wall, I stand on top of a box, high above the crowd, for the sole purpose of stopping children and giving them my autograph.

"Do you want my autograph?"

A girl with a poster turns around, looks confused and moves on. My photographer snaps as I do several x-treme poses.

"Who is that?" someone says.

"I'm not sure," says some little kid. Apprehensively, he approaches. "Can I have your autograph?" He hands me his X Games program and a pen.

"Why, sure! Happy X Games!" I put the old Chas Lemon on paper. His friend also asks for an autograph.

"Can you sign my T-shirt?" asks another random kid. He already has several autographs. Among them, I sign "Chas Lemon."

"Happy X Games," I say. This initial rush causes a chain reaction of autograph seekers. This creates a snowball effect. I sign more T-shirts. Special pens are requested for others. Grown adults ask for my autograph! Signing autographs is fun! I'd actually make a very good x-treme sports celebrity--I'm very kind and courteous during the autograph session.

"Happy X Games," I wish everybody. After 10 minutes of signing, however, I have to wrap things up. "Chas won't be giving any more autographs!"

There are disappointed faces, but I feel like I did good. They're happy and I'm happy! Even though the X Games is a big bunch of corporate crap, perhaps this is what it's all about. It's not for us cynical adults to sneer jadedly at, but for kids to marvel at their x-treme heroes and take sheer delight in getting an autograph from a buffoonish comedy writer.

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From the August 2, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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