Man, meet beast

United States 2005

I met up with Brian’s sister Paula this afternoon, and together we met Brian and his workmate Rob and went for lunch at the St Louis Bread Co (called Panera Bread everywhere else in the US). After lunch Brian and Rob sidled back to work while Paula and I idled away the afternoon lugging heavy items from the Suda family home to the apartment. These assorted items included a TV that could only be made from lead and a huge chair that in the end we couldn’t fit in the car; we now have only half of it in the apartment. At some point we’ll get the other, useful half. You know: the bit you sit on.

On our second trip to the Sudas we picked Brian up and went back to get the last few bits and bobs. We weren’t fast enough to get out before Brian and Paula’s parents got back from work (I didn’t mind meeting them but Brian seemed to; I don’t think he wanted them messing about with his move). So we bought take-away pizza (St Louis-style: very thin crust with a crap-load of toppings) and had a quick family meal. Then we were off from the suburbs and heading towards the neck-achingly high-rise downtown.

That night Brian introduced me to Man vs Beast , a television programme so mind-numbingly puerile it could only be brilliant. It started off with the battle of the century: could a small man from Japan, current world-champion eater (fifteen hotdogs in one minute) eat fifty hotdog sausages faster than a one tonne Kodiak bear? That’s right, a huge brown bear from Alaska was brought into the studio to compete in an eating competition with a weedy Japanese man! Needless to say, the bear won hands down.

We also watched the televisual joys of a sumo wrestler in a tug-of-war competition with an orang-utan (the ape won), an athlete racing 100 metres against a giraffe and a zebra (he won against the giraffe but lost to the zebra), and a long-jump competition between a man and a black labrador (man beaten again). This, I promise you, is all true.

But the programme-makers saved the best until last. We watched two episodes, each finishing with a group of dwarves (which Americans refer to euphemistically as ‘little people’) taking on a beast. The first episode saw fourty-four dwarves — sorry, little people — try to pull a DC10 aeroplane faster than an African elephant. They lost. The second episode saw the little people return to fight for Team Man and their pride in a 400 metre relay race against a camel. They lost.

This is what John Logie Baird must have had in mind when he invented the television. Lord Reith must have hoped that one day, nation could speak peace unto nation by coming together as one species and competing against those dirty, cheatin’ animals (one athlete accused a zebra of cheating). At one point the presenter turned to co-presenter Carl Lewis and asked him how he thought the beast could win. His reply: ‘Well, Dan, he needs to stay focussed, and he needs to understand that he’s in competition.’

In the local parlance, it was quite simply awesome.