21 05 2013

lu·dic adjective \ˈlü-dik\: of, relating to, or characterized by play


 I learned a new word while reading Sayers the other day.  Well, I should be honest:  I was reading a blog penned by an older English lady back in 2003 in which she reviewed Sayers’ Wimsey mysteries.  She (the blogger, I mean) was working on her dissertation, and she would often pause to write these really critically-constructed reviews of the mysteries’ characters and genre.  As a bonus[1] to an anglophile like me, the comments are largely written by other Britons, and so I find myself an wallowing in riches three times over:  Sayers, blogger “Truepenny,” and the commenting public of the island nation.  Witness my reverie for a moment, if you would.  Okay, that’s enough.

And so it was within the golden ashes of a long-abandoned blog that I discovered the word ludic, which is a rather old adjective relating to sport.  You’ll kick yourself in a moment if you haven’t already made the connection to the more contemporary adjective ludicrous, but there you have it.  I was delighted to realize that here, here was the legitimate grandfather of an adjective I had met in my youth and seen corrupted in my teens by a certain actor/hip hop artist.  Not since the discovery of burgle had I encountered a word so effortlessly peremptory, so readily available to one already afflicted with pretension in spades.   

As I thought more about ludic, I gradually began to wonder how it had dropped out of our vernacular, at least in America (although I believe its usage is rather rare in England as well).  Ludicrous had no trouble sticking around, but that is often the case with adjectives placed further toward the end of the spectrum.  We are a people who miss the forest for the trees, clearing them in a frenzy to expose the utter west of our nation.  England has retained obsequious, we’ve opted for suck-up.   That’s the way it is, and I think I’m okay with that.  We are a people defined by our unquenchable thirst for convenient consumption, but that need not restrict our and my vocabulary today. 

I played soccer tonight, and there was nothing ludic about it other than the rules.  We got murdered, not literally, although Sayers actually described some homicides less grisly than the one my team experienced.  Our frustration mounted along with the goal margin, and by halftime we were down lots of goals.  Like, all of them, basically.  Just so many, many goals that went in the wrong net.  Like the one where I, filling in for our erstwhile goalkeeper, accidentally batted a ball into our own net.  At first, I was utterly disgusted with myself, our team and the game of soccer itself.  Then I took a deep breath, thought about what was really important in life, and calmly retrieved the ball from a corner of our goal to drop-kick it into the netting surrounding the field, getting it stuck behind a post about eight feet off the ground in the process.  It’s kind of like when the basketball gets stuck in between the rim and the backboard, except much more humiliating.

“Oh,” I thought.  “This probably doesn’t make me look good.”  I looked around casually, and noticed the following:

  • That our celebrating opponents were jogging back to their half of the field unaware of my artistic little pout.
  • That the referee was discussing something with the scorekeeper and had his back turned to me.
  • That my team had their heads down in shame, looking anywhere but at the seething glare upon my not-really-sweaty face. 
    • (Goalies don’t exert themselves much in games like this for the simple fact that they don’t make much contact with the ball.)
  • That the only people who knew where the ball was other than yours truly were the spectators who had just witnessed my triumphantly petulant burst of idiocy.

It’s a funny thing about adult sports:  You tell yourself that you’re playing for the exercise, the camaraderie, the healthy competition or whatever, but eventually you will discover that your inner nine-year-old has always been the driving force behind it all; you will also eventually discover that he has just been dying for the opportunity to metaphorically pants you right when you’re feeling down.  At 26 years old, gainfully employed and moderately mature, I had summarily executed my dignity for everyone to see.  Good thing most of them weren’t looking.

That ball couldn’t stay there forever, though.  I stood there thinking about it.  If I did nothing, someone would eventually point out the location of the ball to the players on the field.  Adult soccer players are not known for their intellectual agility, but I would be found out one way or another, and it would probably be humiliating.  It was already humiliating.  Alternatively, if I pointed  out the ball to someone else, they would inevitably wonder how the ball got stuck up there and how I was the only one who knew where it was.  This had the tempting advantage of at least delaying my embarrassment for a few moments while everyone’s curiosity was piqued by the ball retriever hoisting himself up to get the ball.  But someone would ask him, and he would tell them, and they would say, “Really, that Robert guy?”  That part would suck. 

No, I had clearly burned every one of my ships back to the island of self-esteem when I punted the ball with all my pathetic might just a few moments ago.  There was no choice:  I had to get the ball myself.  The amused onlookers surely had a good laugh as I nonchalantly trotted over to the netting, jumped as high as I could, and supported myself with one hand while I artfully scooped down the ball with the other.  In case you don’t care much for sports and you’re not clear on how the game was going, let me clarify:  this was, by far, my most successful moment of the evening.  As I landed, I mediated on the fact that learning humility and maturity while playing a child’s game with other grown men is a rare event—granting that I learned anything at all—and hey, I at least executed the retrieval maneuver correctly.  I’m an athlete, you may have heard.

I’m not sure when I’ll give up playing soccer completely, but I know I’m closer to quitting today than I was last year.  I love the competition, but it’s pretty clear that I’m neither appeasing nor refining the most admirable of desires during this one hour a week on a soccer field.  If I’m honest, I probably get loads more healthy satisfaction (not to mention genuine exercise) from regular jogging than I ever will from sporadic competition.   Even the fact that I now talk about quitting as a “when” as opposed to an “if” is coldly real to me.  After embracing the ludic for so long, I’m reluctant to admit the increasing presence of the ludicrous along with it.  There’s a certain pride that comes from participating in sport well.  It’s tough to hold on to that pride when my age keeps whispering louder each week, sometimes voicing itself in aching joints and ankle braces, or if I’m lucky, only in my fruitless attempts to keep up with those 19-year-old college players.   I am not what I was, but I do know what I want to become:  a man willing to hop up and retrieve that ball shamelessly with a smile on his face.  And even more than that, a man who doesn’t have to run that far to retrieve it in the first place.  



[1] I originally started to write the phrase, “As an added bonus” before subsequently excoriating myself for exercising the “Biggest pet peeve” faux pas that has caused me no end of teeth-gritting over the past few years. Image

Youth is Wasted by the Young

27 10 2009

I’ve been raised, deliberately or otherwise, to view Sunday as a day to relish. For me, this has usually involved sports.  Whether it was the pre-service touch football games in the parking lot, church softball team practices, evening bowling games with friends in San Luis, or even wiffleball games in Grandma’s back yard with John,  (I still have a cool scar–two, actually–from one of those) I’ve always enjoyed a bit of friendly competition on Sundays.  Lately, I’ve been playing soccer with some miscellaneous cohorts in the afternoon, and  I have occasionally indulged in frisbee later in the evening to boot.  Yesterday, however, I inadvertently planned a veritable deluge of sports for myself.  My buddy Corey had planned a good-sized inline hockey game at around 5 or so in Chino Hills.  Since I usually don’t play soccer much past 4, and I wasn’t planning on playing ultimate frisbee with Andrew and co. until 9, I figured I could squeeze in brief showers before the latter two events and just stay energized through pure gumption and a couple of Powerades.

Turns out, I don’t have gumption any more.  I think I used it all up around sophomore year of college, which is also the last time I remember drinking more than one Powerade at a time.  There’s a reason for that.

So, of course, Sunday afternoon arrived warm, with mid-eighties temperatures and a sweltering soccer field beckoning my naive legs to their doom.   However, I’ve conditioned the old tree trunks to take their share of punishment when it comes to football, and a couple hours’ worth of play left them tired, but sweating gracefully.  If only I had been able to see theirs tears of pain amidst the glistening perspiration.

As soon as I walked into the apartment at about 4:30, I could tell I was in for some trouble.  My muscles were beginning to tighten up, and I was less confident than usual that my standard calisthenics and stretching would prevent them from taking a quick five on the 30 minute drive to the hockey rink.  I showered, making the water as hot as possible in a miserably futile effort to keep the ol’ gams elasticized, and picked up some liquid electrolytes on my way over to Chino Hills.

Let me say now that the drive over was extremely pleasant.  As I gave my body no choice but to relax and enjoy the cooling evening air and diminishing sunlight, I began to feel peaceful.  Life is good.  I’m just sitting here, listening to the radio, driving past the unicorn palace on my way to my first NHL practice.  Oh, right, I’m dreaming.  Thanks for the wake up honk, jerk.  Ahem.

(I didn’t really fall asleep, but I very much wanted to.  It was that pleasant.)

I lackadaisically* carried my stick, skates and such over to the rink, and was greeted by an enthusiastic cheer from the Red Wing Jerseyed Corey.  Seeing hockey jerseys moving at full flight always gives me the itch to revisit my Flippos days, and here was one of the few times in recent memory that I had a chance to respond to that call.  The anticipation to hop onto the rink as fast as humanly possible was intermittently tempered by my knowledge that I hadn’t played more than once within the past two years, and that my body was not exactly ripe for intense physical activity.  Thankfully, I learned to stop listening to my body a long time ago.  What does a stupid hunk of mostly-water-filled carbon know anyway?

The play was good, all things considered.  My passing was good, but foolish at times.  I also cannot stickhandle at any decent speed to save my life, and my slapshot resembles badminton more than hockey.  However, I did beat Kyle the Goalie with a nice head fake and wrist shot to the far side fairly early on, which helped to ease the chagrin that set in as the evening wore on and my severely limited skill set quickly began to erode alongside my lung capacity.  When 8 came around, I knew I had to go, prior engagement notwithstanding.  My body and lungs were begging for mercy, and I knew better than to ignore their pleas this time.  I bid farewell to the boys, and rather gingerly loaded up my car for the drive back.

As my tender frame informed me of each and every pebble my tires felt on the freeway, I tried to soothe my back/quads/hamstrings groans with the only medication I had available:  Powerade.  I think I envisioned the sugary liquid coursing through my veins and purging my body of the evil lactic acid I could feel welling up all too quickly.  Instead, it just felt like I was drinking Powerade when I needed a sauna (sa-OO-nah, according to some people) and acupuncture for an hour.  Which I did.

(If you need a frame of reference for my condition, just know that hearing the Angels end their season through multiple errors and discombobulation failed to ease my pain one iota.)

When I straggled into our apartment this time, I looked at my roommate, Cory, and made my decision:  I was not leaving this apartment again tonight.  After text messaging Andrew to inform him of my prodigality, the following conversation (inspired by real events) ensued:

“Cory, are you still wanting to go play ultimate?”

“Well, I was kind of planning on it, yeah.”

“Ok, well, I’m not gonna go.  I can’t move like forfty percent of my muscles, including, apparently, the muscle you use to come up with real percentages.”

“Oh, that’s ok.  I actually need to get some stuff done anyway.  What are you…Robert?”

I had shed my clothes, gear and way too much time not bathing in steaming hot water.  I filled our tub with steaming hot water, and plunged myself into its depths armed solely with what Micah called a “teen hockey romance novel.”  Well sure, if you only read the back cover.  Man, wise up.

And so ended my day of indulgence.  Andrew came by later on to chastise me for said truancy, and I made bachelor food to replenish the billion carbohydrates I had burned.  To all those that say youth is wasted on the young, I urge you to look no further than this entry’s titular truism, and bow at my athlete’s feet.

Wait, that didn’t come out right.

*Spelled that word right the first time.  Take that, creepy spelling bee kids on TV.

Of Penalty Kicks and Pride

1 02 2009

I’ve always wondered what holds islands up.  How deep does their land mass go?  I assume, even for the smallest ones, that it extends all the way to the ocean’s floor, otherwise they would drift around.  Still, I’ve never really been able to shake my initial conception of them as bobbing land masses, hovering on the surface of the water until some whim sends them away.

I don’t think I would ever want to live on an island, but I think it would be nice to live close to one.  That way, I could always look over at the island when I was having a bad day and say, “Well, at least those suckers can’t go mini-golfing like I can!”  I think that would really brighten my day, unless I had a bad day at mini-golfing and had no desire to be involved with it at all.  That would probably make looking at the island a little more strange.  Perhaps I would begin to see myself as an island; I am, after all, quite a land mass.  I have been doing well with running and such for a while now, but I still enjoy calling myself fat.  Probably because I think that, as long as I’m not self-conscious about my weight, I can joke about it.  If I ever get so fat that I can’t joke about my weight, then I think I would be unhappy.  Besides, I’d constantly be thinking that I was the person that I always made fun of at fast food restaurants, you know?  “Oh, there goes Mr. Super-Size Me with a double western bacon cheese burger again.  What a turdpants.”

Actually, I’ve never called anyone turdpants, that I can remember.  I did tell a kid named Maverick once that Brittany was his “true princess” in like 4th or 5th grade after he was flirting with her (Her name may have been Kimberly) and then he told me to shut up.  I don’t remember ever being told to shut up before then, which is a surprise considering how brazen I could be at times in my childhood.  I always regret that I didn’t work harder at my bullying — then I could be one of those kids who just expressed himself badly instead of a little turdpants.  Although, to be clear, I have near turded my pants that I can remember.  I did have one incident in Paso Robles or Porterville before a soccer tournament, but that didn’t end up mattering.  I ever got taken down on a breakaway in that tournament, but Coach decided to have Sam take the penalty shot instead of me, mainly because Sam was left-footed.  I’ve always been resentful of left-handed athletes since then.  Somehow, despite John and my many years in all-stars, neither of us ever managed to score a goal.  I do remember some really nice ones I had during the season, though, including a PK I put in off the crossbar.  I think Brice hugged me after that, or maybe it was after my header on a corner kick.  That was definitely my best season, I would say.  We beat “No Fear” in the championship game, which was very impressive considering that they hadn’t lost a game during the season.  I remember our coach doing a backflip and getting dogpiled afterwards.  That was around 6th grade, I believe.  Kids started getting meaner after that, though.

One of the 7th graders at PACE yesterday started telling one of the 6th grade girls to shut up and to stop looking at her.  There was something about her tone of whiny bravado that made me instantly purse my lips and stare at her.  Thankfully, one of my coworkers (who has like ten years of teaching experience) managed to defuse the situation pretty easily.  It’s not that I was afraid of dealing with it, but I do believe in letting kids work things out to a reasonable degree.  It’s good for people to learn how to deal with conflict, especially when the other person is being stupid.  It’s not good, however, to let younger kids get verbally abused just because some 7th-grade latchkey kid has something to prove.  Why is there such a focus on pride over integrity?  I’ve seen a few different instances of older kids defying younger ones to say something to them, and I finally realized why it bugs me so much:  The same attitude is just as present in adults.

I know that kids–especially adolescent ones–are constantly battling their insecurities, and this often works itself out in shows of arrogance to those they deem to be inferior.  Adults, however, can be just as prone to such displays.  I’ve heard more than a few people, even coworkers, who will lecture other students about something without any indication that they actually care about imparting their idea.  Rather, they seem to be seeking to wow the child or other person with their knowledge or pretense.

After all, if I know that X works this way, then for you to not know it either proves your ignorance or my prominence.  Thankfully, our egos can receive a large boost from either of these things, so I’ll be safe either way.

I remember a particular instance last week when one of my kids asked me how Barack Obama could have possibly memorized his inauguration speech.  Recognizing an opportunity to illustrate how flawed our education system is today, I started to talk about how people used to memorize everything they learned, more or less. I was going to give an example or two, but I didn’t have a chance.  As I began to respond to her, I was almost immediately cut off by a coworker who couldn’t resist the opportunity to talk about brain capacity and short-term/long-term memory.  He spoke quickly and patronizingly, using phrases like “Well, haven’t you heard of…” and “Don’t you know about…” often.  He finally ended by cutting her question off with a flippant remark that, I’m sure, really piqued her desire to learn more about the subject:  “Never mind, you don’t get what I’m saying.”

I was incensed.

To end this long-winded and schizophrenic post, I’ll just write the tirade that I desired to release upon my fellow pedagogue’s deserving ears:

Did that feel good?  Have you properly quenched your desire to lord your knowledge over someone a third of your age?  I can’t imagine why our school systems are failing, with people like you being so entrenched in the classroom.  Surely, your uncontrollable need to validate yourself must have only the most positive effect upon the occasional (and increasingly rare) student that wanders across your path with a question.  I hope that you didn’t waste too much of your valuable time on this student who dared to ask a question.  Of course, if your patronizing words don’t sink in on the first try, why should you be bothered to make a second attempt?  I’m glad that you abandoned any idea of simplification or expansion upon ideas in favor of an information dump.  After all, quick, one-time lectures are the proven method for conveying knowledge to children, right?  Questions be damned, childish ignorance be quashed!  We are here to teach the willing and apt, not the confused and inquiring.  How dare you, sir.  How dare you take the mantle of knowledge and use it to shroud and repel those who are seeking its folds?  (Ok, I probably wouldn’t ever say that to anyone. It sounds cool, though.  Also creepy and litigable.)  If you see it so necessary to interrupt me from answering my student because of your obviously superior knowledge, where do you get off brushing them aside after one question?  Are you really so desperate to be seem as all-knowing that you will sacrifice an 8th grader’s question upon your altar of self-esteem?  If questions are so repugnant to you, then do mankind a favor and get another job.  You should know better than most how difficult it is to find a willing student in our age of cynicism, yet at the drop of a hat you proceed to crush a student’s quest for knowledge without so much as a second glance.  This student may not be capable of absorbing your monologues as you may wish, but the students are not the ones being employed and implored to spark the fire of inquiry within this school.  If you ever brush off one of my students like that again, you will find yourself on the receiving end of some childish impudence, sir.  Thank you.

Ok, I think it’s out of my system for now.  Go Stars.