Authors: Jay Onrait
So, we're sitting there.
The four of us.
First, there's Dan O'Toole, a disturbingly bloated 5-foot-something man with silver hair who'd betrayed his usual P90X workout regiment so cruelly over the previous three weeks that he now resembledâboth in colour and shapeâa Rubik's Cube far more than a (somewhat) adjusted father of two.
Next to inflated, red-faced Dan is Robert Lusetich, a 40-something-year-old Aussie golf writer who reminds us throughout our trip that when he was a younger man living in Los Angeles, he was the star entertainment reporter for a Sydney-based daily newspaper. Robert has an eleven-minute “juicy” story for just about every celebrity you could name (as long as said celebrity walked a red carpet and/or spoke with him at a press junket between the years 1993 and 1999), and he loves to share these tales with anyone who'll give him the time to do so. Want a good Calista Flockhart yarn? Robert's got a few.
Although it would have been hard to imagine had you seen just
rose-coloured Dan's cheeks were at this point, Robert is somehow even more bloated and oozing more toxins than his Canadian tablemate.
I'm across from these two gentlemen, and I'm an unsettling mix of exhausted, uneasy, and uncertain.
Jay Onrait is seated next to me.
Western Canadian. Jay's wearing some ironic T-shirtâa hipster band from Alberta, perhaps? A famous saying from the
television show?âthat I don't quite get. I'm on tilt and nervous, but Jay's just smiling ear to ear, having the time of his life.
“This is great, isn't it, fellas? All of us, here like this, with our lives potentially hanging in the balance? It's how it was meant to be. Really, it is. It's like we're in a Bond film. Hope it all works out for us, eh?!”
We're on the outskirts of Sochi, Russia (yes, you read that correctlyâthe Sochi
), in a restaurant full of locals. It's our twenty-sixth and last day together in this foreign land, having spent the previous three and a half weeks covering the 2014 Winter Olympics for Fox Sports. It's also our first time “off” the Fox compound or outside the heavily secured Olympic Village. It's broad daylight in a crowded bar, and yet, I'm shaking nervously.
And that's because we've got company.
And not the good kind.
Four men. Seated at a table right next to us, not just smoking, but aggressively sucking the life out of their respective cigarettes like it was a contest to see who could inhale
. They're staringâangrilyâat the only four non-Russians in the place . . . us.
No words are exchanged with the men, but it's more than merely uncomfortable. It's unnerving. They don't smile, and they don't avert their eyes.
After months and months of being warned of potential danger overseas, I'm just twelve hours away from getting on a flight and
being back, safe and sound, in my New York City apartment. All I wanted was lunch. And yet, we
to go somewhere “authentic.” Somewhere “in town.” We needed to see the
Now, these four men at the table next to us are mumbling to each other in a language we don't know and glaring at the four of
in an unfriendly way.
Dan and Robert are with me on this. We need to leave. As soon as possible. “Let's get the cheque and get out of here,” I say with more than a subtle hint of urgency.
But Jay isn't having it.
“Oh, come on. They're probably just into your meal, Schrags. What'd you get? Is that borscht? They probably think your borscht looks good.”
I look at my plate. Whatever I'd ordered (it wasn't borscht) had arrived minutes earlier, and like much of the cuisine on the trip, it wasn't showing up on the Food Network anytime soon. And I assure you, these men weren't “just into my meal.”
Dan, Robert, and I are now thinking about our families back home, the vision of a shirtless Vladimir Putin riding horseback, and what Liam Neeson would do in this precarious situation.
But there's Jay Onrait, just loving every second of the scene like a pig in shit.
He's providing running commentary, cherishing it all. Jay's taking note of what kind of “darts” these guys are smoking (Sobranie, I'd later learn, was the brand). He's digging their 1980s
âera outfits (Note: Michael J. Fox . . . Canadian). He's fascinated by the way they're alternating drags of nicotine and bites of food. Jay Onrait does not want to leave the bar just yet. Maybe ever.
I swear, we'd still be at that table right now if he had it his way. He knew we'd be talking about those four Russian men and their
cigarillos the rest of our lives, and he just wanted the moment to last forever.
He saw an amazingly humorous situation in whatâI assure youâwas not the slightest bit humorous at the time.
And that's Jay Onrait.
He is as charismatic, as magnetic, and as
a guy as you could ever ask to be around. What you see on television (the rare nights he and Dan actually decide to work and are not off doing paid speaking engagements for 300 people in Manitoba) is what you get
camera. If there's a sad clown side or darkness to him, I haven't seen it. The dude makes me laugh every day.
Jay's got this great bit where he puts on a fake sports announcer's voice. It's really early '90s, really affected, and really over the top. I love this voice and he knows it. I'll throw out a long-retired hockey player (German Titov!), an event (David Wells' perfect game!), a now-defunct team (the 2003 Atlanta Thrashers!), a fake MSNBC commentator (Craig Tomatoes)âanythingâand he'll, on demand, break into this voice and give me the goods. It slays me every time.
Nice dude, too, this Jay Onrait. I had a birthday recently. I didn't tell anyone at Fox Sports about it. Sure enough, Jay and his wife, Chobi, sent me a $50 gift certificate to the Olive Garden. They know I like their breadsticks.
As for the whole book thing? As they say in Canada, “eh.”
I read Jay's first attempt at a book,
, over the course of the 2014 NFL season. In between talking about deflated footballs, following and covering Roger Goodell's toughest twelve months on the job, and travelling thousands and thousands of miles on airplanes, I got to know “the tall one” from his words and stories.
Fun read, yes, but I'll be honestâI don't really care about any of the shows he was ever on before he got to the United States (“The Big, Giant Lunch!”), I am not familiar with any of his former
co-hosts (CFL legend Morris “the Wingnut” O'Shaughnessy!), and I cannot relate to his “son of a small-town Canadian pharmacist does good” story of triumph and Canadian cable TV dominance.
memoir, I assumed, would be more than enough of a contribution to the literary world. His fans couldn't really
much more. Shit, I was impressed when I saw it was more than 1,300 words.
And yet, here we are, with volume two!
In a recent phone conversation, Jay casually referred to a bowel movement of his as “the colour of the Oakland Raiders' home jerseys.” He pronounces the word
so wrong that it makes me cringe. He loves such off-the-radar, underproduced, horrible indie-hipster music that most times, I think he's just making the band names up to screw with me. His love of the 1990s post-Gretzky Edmonton Oilers is, at times, borderline alarming (hello, “Sweet” Billy Ranford).
And yet, he makes me laugh like few other people in the world.
I'm honoured to be writing this foreword and truly honoured (#blessed) every day I get to work alongside the guy on Fox Sports 1.
Oh, and guess what? Dan lost all that weight he put on in Russia. Robert did, too. And we made it out of that dimly lit restaurant just fine. No harm done. No problems whatsoever.
And Jay was right. There are countless days when I wish we were all still at that table, just soaking in that experience all over again.
Now, go ahead, light up a Sobranie cigarette, take your pants off, and enjoy this book. If you didn't get enough stories in Jay's first book about being a famous TV personality and the many times he was nearly fired, there's plenty more for you here.
Cue the music, Patrick.