I Suck at Football 2.8: The Ryan Kuhlman Era

AP Photo/James D. Smith Lou Reed and Dez Bryant

My Wi-Fi has been down all day. One Chrome window hangs open and useless, a monument to the last thing I looked at before bed last night — Gmail, a message from my dad, with ads in the margins for Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes and fracking equipment, because apparently Gmail thinks I’m a wealthy supervillain. These bleeding-heart environmentalists think they can stop me from using my MTU Series 400 drill-engine to puncture Earth’s precious gas pockets? Not if my fists and feet have anything to say about it!

Among other things, this interruption of service means I’ve missed all the what–Lou Reed–meant-to-me essays, which is probably a good thing, even though I’m sure yours was great and your story about where you were the first time you heard “Lisa Says” was better than everybody else’s. It’s nobody’s fault, but once the think-piece stage of the mourning process passes the 24-hour mark, I get cranky, trollish, like I want to write DOUG/YULE on the proximal phalanges of all my fingers and go around punching people. But since I was watching the Cowboys-Lions game at Ye Rustic on Sunday when I found out Lou Reed died, that makes Lou technically part of this week’s football action, so here’s my Lou story.

I saw him out in public three times total. Once on the street in San Francisco with Laurie Anderson, once at a sushi restaurant in Manhattan. He was really starting to resemble Fran Lebowitz by then; it’s as if all pure products of New York eventually age into the same person. But this is about the first time. During my first and only year at Syracuse University, which happens to also be Reed’s alma mater, my friend Rob and I were both obsessed with Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung — a posthumously collected anthology of work by deceased gonzo rock critic Lester Bangs — and Lou Reed’s famously unlistenable 1975 album Metal Machine Music, which neither of us had ever heard. Bangs and Reed had a performatively contentious Ali-Cosell kind of relationship in the ’70s. When Reed released MMM, four sides of songless electronic feedback, Bangs wrote about it as if Reed had made it specifically to challenge and torment Lester and test his tolerance for both noise and pretension.

Rob and I wanted to hear this record very badly. This was in the mid-’90s, when the web browser was essentially a modified cotton gin, “music on the Internet” was a Billy Idol CD-ROM taped to a cereal box, and being super-excited about Lou Reed’s noise record was not a huge cliché, and if you wanted to hear a hard-to-find album, you had to walk the earth. When you went places you wondered if it would be waiting there. You’d go to Northampton on a bus, and you’d talk to a record-store guy who’d tell you they didn’t have it, but before you left he’d tell you in a low voice about this other dude he knew, who had an 8-track player bolted to the ceiling above his bed and used to leave Metal Machine Music playing on a loop all day long, and would just turn down the 8-track and turn up another, different stereo “if he wanted to listen to tunes.”

If he wanted to listen to tunes. Which were for amateurs. I was no closer to hearing this record that so clearly dynamited the train tracks of life in front of anyone who came into contact with it, this apocalypse suite that made “Sister Ray” sound like “Sunday Morning.” But I was on the trail. And I think I understood even then that the trail was more important than the destination. I never pledged a frat, but for months I was in a secret society of Metal Machine Music enthusiasts, me and Rob and Ceiling 8-Track Guy. We were trying to define ourselves by turning ourselves into people we thought Lester Bangs would have approved of. And we were figuring out how to love something while accepting and enjoying its ridiculousness. The real moral of the Bangs-Reed feud wasn’t that noise was better than tunes. The moral was that a rock star could be both a creative Chuck Yeager and a humorless turd at the same damn time, an invaluable lesson that no one could teach you quite like Lou could.

Anyway: A year later I moved to Boston and almost immediately found a cassette of the Great Expectations reissue of Metal Machine Music — the one with Grainy Pensive-Mime Lou on the cover — in a five-dollar rack at Skippy White’s. A few months later, Reed came to Tower Records to sign stuff. I waited in line for half an hour and then presented him with the tape, probably grinning nervously but expecting to be greeted the way Lou greeted his truest fans. A sly smile, maybe? Perhaps a single finger-gunshot? Instead Lou looked at the tape like it was a baby-food jar full of bird poop, and with his voice somehow managing to drip scorn and boredom simultaneously, said “Where the hell’d you find this?” It was pretty clear he thought I was both a sucker for buying this souvenir of his methamphetamine period and an asshole for bringing it here.

I wanted to call Rob when I found out Lou Reed died but we haven’t talked in about 17 years, for no reason except that I’m bad at keeping up with people. Oh, and Metal Machine Music, it turns out, is way more fun to read about than it is to listen to. It sounds like a truckload of vuvuzelas making love to a barrel of fire alarms. I still fantasize about renting a car with a cassette deck and gluing the tape in there for the next person to find.

Last week in this space, I vowed to build my neglected fantasy team, the Lords Disick, into a force to be reckoned with. When I wrote this, I wasn’t really sure if that was possible this deep into the season. But I’d been reading the Steve Jobs book, and reading about Jobs demanding the impossible from his employees made me want to demand the impossible of myself, sort of like how watching The West Wing used to make me want to really pour all my passion and energy into my job, at least for the first few hours of the next morning, until I remembered that I worked at a second-tier rock magazine and my job was to pretend I liked Linkin Park.

As you may remember, the Lords Disick, as drafted, were a cripplingly lopsided squad, top-heavy with star running backs and QB’d out of pure necessity by Joe Flacco. I bumbled into a couple of wins early on, but going into this week I’d dropped two in a row. I was going up against Lord Kelvin, whom I know to be a fierce competitor, and the holes in my roster were bigger than usual. Arian Foster was on a bye week. So were Flacco and Matt Schaub, my only other QB who isn’t Tim Tebow. The moment demanded decisive action. So I did nothing for about a day.

Lord Kelvin’s home team is the Jets, so when I spotted Geno Smith on the waiver wire on Wednesday, I decided to add him at quarterback, mostly just to mess with Lord Kelvin psychologically by forcing him to root against his own dudes. Of course, since the Jets happened to be playing the Bengals on Sunday, this also meant I would be forcing myself to root against my own dudes, but Geno was the best option available to me, and as a writer, being psychologically at war with myself is kind of my zone. But having made that power move, I was out of ideas.

That was when I checked Twitter and found an @-message from one Ryan Kuhlman. Ryan had read last week’s column; he said he was available to help me with my team, if I needed help. I checked around a little. He seemed legit, in that his Twitter and Tumblr presences both consisted entirely of impressively impenetrable but adroit-sounding fantasy-football talk. Plus he was the only person who’d offered me advice. I wrote him back and told him I’d take him on as a consultant. That’s what Steve Jobs would have done, probably. Later he would probably have screamed at Ryan and humiliated him in front of people. That’s why your iPhone works so well today, because of Steve Jobs hurting people’s feelings.

I should probably tell you that there’s a proprietary Kuhlman Method and that if you want that Ryan Kuhlman gold dust sprinkled on your own crappy team you should pay Ryan Kuhlman for that service. But the truth is, Ryan asked me a couple of pretty basic questions over DM and told me a couple of things based on my answers to those questions. He gently suggested that I should move Dez Bryant from the bench to the active lineup, which was the best advice anyone’s given me all week, because Dez ended up having a fantastic game on Sunday in addition to staging a production of American Buffalo on the sidelines. I was so amped about the Lords Disick winning the week I forgot that there was also a Bengals game on Sunday; they did OK without me.

It was a nice way to end a dark weekend, and I’m grateful, so I’m going to pay Ryan in fame that he did not ask for.

Ryan is 27 and recently moved to Syosset, New York, from Bethpage. He got married in July and has a dog named Louie. He works in Manhattan as an insurance underwriter and likes the people he works with enough that the three-hour round-trip commute is worth it. He started playing fantasy football at 12, in 1998, and ended up winning the championship that year thanks to Tim Dwight’s performance in this game. This year he’s running his own fantasy league with some close friends. The winner gets to rename the last-place finisher’s team. If Ryan loses — and he doesn’t anticipate this happening — he expects his friends will saddle him with a team name that references his love of chick flicks. Doesn’t matter how late it is — if Pitch Perfect or Adventureland comes on, Ryan’s staying up. Yeah, that’s right, Ryan Kuhlman files Adventureland under “chick flicks.” Ryan Kuhlman, the man who saved the Lords Disick, can file it under kung fu if it makes him happy.

At the end of the questionnaire, I attached a link to the Google Image search results for “Ryan Kuhlman.” I assume one or more of these is a picture of you, I wrote. But if you couldn’t be yourself and you had to be one of these other Ryan Kuhlmans, who would you choose to be? I meant it as a jokey thought experiment — gotta go with this guy, right? But this is what Ryan wrote:

I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. I have a great life, am happily married and have wonderful family and friends. If I had to choose a photo from that page though, I would definitely choose the first picture, which is a picture of me from the Johns Hopkins baseball team page. Honestly, I would like to go back to that time when I was in much better shape and pitching for the best team I have ever played for. We lost in the national championships that year on a questionable “ball four” call (it still stings), but that season with those guys was legendary.

In other words, asked to choose another Ryan Kuhlman to be, Ryan Kuhlman declines the invitation. He won’t even think about it. Any other life would not have led Ryan to where he is now and he wouldn’t trade that for anything, even hypothetically. He’d go back and lose that championship game again just to live that season one more time, and I’m pretty sure this makes Ryan Kuhlman as cool as Lou Reed.

Filed Under: Cincinnati Bengals, NFL, Steve Jobs

Alex Pappademas is a staff writer for Grantland.