Triathlon Confession #3 (and a brief aside on Thor): I am petty . . . and tiny

(Disclaimer: I am basing my knowledge of superheroes entirely on recent films, so all you comic book nerds best get to steppin’ . . . or at least refrain from complicating my relatively simple point by referring to Journey into Mystery #83 or something.)

I loved Thor in the Deities and Demigods Dungeons and Dragons manual. But though I do prefer him beardless, I find Paramount’s version a bit boorish and boring. He is my least favorite Avenger. (I don’t even count the Black Widow, at least not as played by ScarJo, with her wee gun, sexy assassin moves, and capacity for flirting with big pouty lips mental manipulation, apparently a given power amongst female superheroes these days–think Kayla Silverfox, Emma Frost, Catwoman.)

However, Thor does get one of the best lines in The Avengers. While the earthlings squabble amongst themselves, he laughs and declares, “You people are so petty . . . and tiny.” (Click here to see the scene.)

Thor means this quite literally: played by the impressively brawny Chris Hemsworth, Thor dominates the other Avengers by many pounds and inches (at least until Banner hulks out). More importantly, as an intergalactic being who has seen worlds beyond Earth, his vision of the universe and our place in it is truly more expansive than the typical human’s, as are his powers. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t get mired in the morasses of mortal existence from time to time: he falls in love with one of us, for starters. He is also capable of sibling rivalry, of insolence, of overconfidence, of a macho need to prove himself the mightiest. And yet he necessarily stands above us. He is, after all, a god.

But Thor (and Loki) kind of piss me off with all their grandiosity and grandiloquence. I find myself especially satisfied by the moments Tony Stark out-thinks either Asgardian and does so without resorting to Shakespearean speak. And I really enjoy when the Hulk sucker punches Thor or slams Loki around like a rag doll. (But this could also be because I have a really big crush on the Hulk, but only when played by the brooding Mark Ruffalo.)

Anyway, all of this reminds me of how unfairly resentful I was of all the fitter, much faster people I saw during the triathlon, the triathlon Thors, if you will. Apparently I, too, get petty when I realize how tiny I am.

A few miles into the cycling portion of the race, for example, I began to see the top bikers returning from their ride on the other side of the road. Can you picture them? These are the guys who use aero bars and have really funky looking helmets. I cannot estimate the costs of bikes or bike parts by sight, but I am guessing that their equipment ranged in price from $5,000-$10,000 at least. My response was a self-righteous sort of outrage. I began to think that there should be an equipment price cap for all participants, just like the salary cap that would have prevented the Yankees from buying up every major league player in the 2000s, as the Onion once jokingly reported. I fantasized about a triathlon in which every participant had to wear the race shirt that came in the swag bag and cut-off jean shorts and couldn’t ride a bike worth more than a grand. All this anger distracted me from my aches and pains for the next few miles, but in the end it was not my proudest moment.

I’m not saying that my complaints about the unfair advantages that the monied classes have in tri racing are unwarranted. I’m not saying that it’s untrue that it seems sinful to spend what for some is a yearly salary on a piece of sporting equipment. I am one of those who thinks that if we’re going to complain about performance-enhancing drugs, then perhaps we should also consider for a minute all the performance-enhancing gear that is out of most people’s price ranges.

The problem is that my feelings were dishonest. My self-righteous resentment about class differences was really just an acceptable conduit for jealousy. I am not sure I would ever feel okay spending that much money on a bike even if I had it to spend, but what do I know? If I might win a cash prize for finishing in a certain place, spending money to gain an advantage might not seem so different from any other kind of career investment. And I suppose if I loved triathlons passionately, if they were my thing and I were inches away from winning my age group, I might find a way to save up for some bells and whistles and derailleurs and tires. Who’s to say? Judge not lest ye be blah blah blah.

During the run, I became even more catty. As I was passed by people running faster than I could with fresh legs, I began to envision triathlons that included intellectual components. Like maybe you get out of the water and have to play a round of Trivial Pursuit (genus edition) before you can move on to the bike. Or during the bike ride, you have to stop and identify the author of a famous work of literature or solve for the hypotenuse of a right triangle before you are allowed to continue. Or maybe before you can cross the finish line, you have to do a crossword puzzle or unscramble an anagram or something.

Okay, see what I did there? I feel fairly confident about my mental skills, less so about my athletic abilities. So I look at people who excel in the thing I want to be better at and delight in assuming that they are inadequate in an area that I feel pretty good about. This accomplishes nothing, but I catch myself doing it all the time. That girl has the amazingly toned arms I covet but I bet she couldn’t tell you who Joss Whedon is. That woman just published her second novel, but I bet she’s really sorry that she never got married or had any children. That man just found the cure to cancer, but I bet all he does is work.

I suppose to a certain extent it’s natural to want to belittle those we envy. In doing so, we demystify the demigod, bring him down to our level. In doing so, we safeguard our secret hope that the Thing we want so badly is not reserved for superstars, the wealthy, the genetically fortunate, and a lucky few. There’s no shortage of schadenfreude in our culture, especially when the schade we are freudering over happens to the rich and famous, the high and mighty: we like when glamorous celebrities become embroiled in scandal, when ass-kicking athletes admit to their use of steroids, when beautiful women reveal a lack of intelligence, when handsome men are impotent or infertile, when geniuses admit to empty lives. We like when our supermen (and women) are kryptonited.

I think it has something to do with being a part of a capitalist society that makes us think that there is only a limited supply of the happiness and success we all demand, so if he or she or they get more than their “fair” share, they are taking from our stock. I’m not sure we should whip ourselves for falling prey to this weakness, but at the very least we should perhaps try to recognize what we are doing when we do it.

So, confession: I get petty when I feel tiny. How about you?