SEATTLE. Sea-Tac International, the airport that serves the greater Seattle area, is usually empty on a Thursday night and so the crowd milling around just outside the security checkpoints is unusual, if well-behaved.
"You want to see how this knick-knack looks on the mantle? Fine."
"You watch," says Evan Harrison, an ectomorphic young man with a wispy beard and a dog-eared copy of Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" in his hand. "You're going to see some of the most sensitive men in the world pass through here tonight."
"You're not thinking about watching the NBA Playoffs, are you?"
Harrison is alluding to the 2012 World's Most Sensitive Man Competition, a three-day event that begins here tomorrow afternoon and continues through the finals on Sunday, which will be televised by tape-delay on ESPN 13. "Fee-lings, fee-lings, fee-lings!" the crowd begins to chant as they see Pierce Stuart Pfeiffer, the reigning champion, come down the gangway off his flight from Minneapolis. Pfeiffer acknowledges the crowd's cheers, stops to autograph a woman's muffin tops that flop discreetly over the waist of her mom-jeans, then heads to baggage claim to get his suitcase and the Lady Duff-Gordon Cup, the trophy in the shape of a stereo speaker covered with a dust ruffle that has been in his possession since his upset triumph in the 2011 competition.
"This is the oakiest chardonnay they had at the store, sweetie."
"I'm expecting a tough fi . . . I mean a difficult struggle to retain the cup," Pfeiffer says, his face a mask of determination. "We could go into overtime this year, as long as we're off the air in time for the Lifetime Disease-of-the-Week Movie."
Modeled after the World's Strongest Man Competition, in which contestants throw beer kegs over their backs, pull trucks with their teeth and flip tractor tires among other pointless tests of masculinity, the World's Most Sensitive Man Competition tests men's endurance through events such as moving furniture back-and-forth between two spots while a woman decides which she likes best, changing cat litter because she thinks she read somewhere it induces hot flashes, and watching figure skating without rolling their eyes at the men's costumes.
"These guys are real athletes," says Skip Blattner of Xtremely Sensitive, the "bible" of sensitive man competitions. "They put the seat down on the toilets in the men's rooms here," he says as he fiddles with his portable cassette player in the hope of getting an interview with one of the top-ranked stars of the circuit. "They're in training year-round, eating nothing but arugula, dark chocolate and Yoplait Key Lime Chiffon yogurt."
The NSML--the National Sensitive Man League--is still looking for its "Jackie Robinson," according to Blattner--a cross-over star who can lure male viewers in the all-important 25-46 year-old knucklehead demographic. "We need somebody like Michael Jordan, with flashy moves to the basket," he says. "You know, not just foreplay but afterplay, flowers when she's not mad at you, disgusting stuff like that."