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


27 02 2010

For our writer’s group this morning, I put together the following brief “get to know me” bit.  It’s not meant to be totally historical, but hey, I took some liberties with the facts.

* * *

My childhood memories are a great source of strength to me.  Our family’s weekly routine often revolved around dictated means of labor and education, which only made it sort of like Soviet Russia.  I’m still grateful to my father for teaching me the value of sleep the way the USSR taught its citizens the value of currency – slow, methodical deprivation and devaluation.  My parents would force me to go to sleep while it was still light outside, thereby teaching me to resent sleep at its outset; then they would invariably wake we up mercilessly and abruptly each morning with implements ranging from nothing but their strident voices and latent disappointment in my sloth to ice cubes in my bed and drumming pots & pans (not bedpans).  Gorbachev himself couldn’t have decimated my ability to relax more effectively.

Actually, I’ve often thought most people had cause to be jealous of me.  I’ve got full British heritage on both sides of my family, I was born in Texas, and I was raised in the only part of California you don’t need to feel guilty or embarrassed about living in:  the Central Coast.  This means that I am fated to be a sardonic cowboy who takes a disproportionate amount of pride in his upbringing.  I’d compare myself to John Wayne, but he was tall, and good friends with one of our local magnates who would never let me get away with that.  Yeah, I know people.

I’ve had a general fascination with nicknames and shoes that hasn’t faded over the years.  While my dad chose to go the endearing route with nicknames like “Berto,” I had a soccer coach when I was 10 or so who nicknamed me the Tiny Terror.  I wasn’t particularly small at that age, but I was apparently terrifying to an above-average degree.  Whether the terror was implied to have stemmed from my stature or some other diminutive aspect of my person, I still can’t say.  I’d ask the coach, but he got arrested a couple of years later for inappropriate conduct with some young karate students he was training at his dojo.  I don’t use that nickname anymore.

I’ve been writing since I was around 15, but with mixed results.  While my metaphorical pen was enough to get me a degree in journalism (my actual pen broke during the application process), it wasn’t enough to resuscitate the news industry, which is apparently not as lucrative as I was led to believe by the articles I read in the paper right before I came to college.  Thankfully, I supplemented my ill-fated choice of a major with social and romantic exploits that wouldn’t fit on this page, only partially because they don’t exist.  I have mostly read, worked and played sports for the past five years – In other words, I’m a combination of Mary Bennett, Martin Eden, and A-Rod – without the steroids, luscious neck, or zombie-hunting skills.  I also enjoy studying our country’s presidents, for completely separate reasons that I am not required by law to enumerate.

For the past few months, I’ve worked at Makita USA, which provides people with power tools that we hope will need repairs or supplemental parts that we can sell, since we don’t really make any money by selling the tools themselves.  While my initial instincts suggested that hoping for the customer to be unsatisfied with what you sell them was an unsustainable business practice, first-hand experience with purchasing minutiae and a 40-hour work week have crushed any free will or desire to think more effectively than all the ice cubs and karate teachers in the world.  These days, I have learned to live by one motto: “The fanatic is one who can’t change his mind but won’t change the subject.”

So, let’s keep talking about me.

Looking out for numbered ones

13 06 2008

I was telling some friends tonight about how I used to be a fanatic baseball card collector. My brother and I would go up to the same card store all the time and buy cards (I always loved Fleer best) and Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers, then rush back home to methodically open our packs. It never seemed weird to me that John bankrolled most of these trips, although I began to help with the funds as my paper route career began to take off.

Anyway, we always hoped to find “inserts” within the packs — these were special cards that were part of some series of usually only a dozen or so star players. The cards had cool designs and were often holographic or die-cut.

However, the most sought-after cards were the ones with their own serial numbers. I still remember my Frank Thomas insert that was one of only 500 like it in the world. I was ecstatic to pull it, and even got some decent money out of it later on when John decided to sell high (an incredibly wise and gutsy move at the time) and got something like $80 for that particular card. (I think I later used that money, along with some other funds, to buy my paintball gun setup — good times)

Nowadays, however, numbered cards only hold significance if they are one of, like, five of their kind. The baseball card market was running on a lot of inflation in the 90s apparently, and it has been crashing in the last ten years or so. I think John and I finally decided our card-buying days were mostly over when a pack of Fleer hit $5. That’s just insane.

Of course, this was all fueled by the fact that my dad had collected baseball cards right around the time of their inception. He would routinely browse through our Beckett card value guide and point out old cards with way too many numbers left of the decimal point under the “value” category. We suspect that Grandma threw them out in some random box without realizing it, as a couple of separate forays into the depths of her house have yielded nothing to speak of aside from cobwebs and old portraits.

I’m still susceptible to buying a random pack of cards now and then, however. Old habits die hard.

Especially when they’re selling Fleer in the grocery store check out lines for $4.50.

Nostalgia Revisted (Dulce Domum)

19 05 2008

At the height of my selfishness sits my desire for home. I have been acutely aware of a yearning to run through my town, to see what I might never have bothered to look at and to store up every part of Los Osos in my memory so that it will live on until I die. (Or until we get a sewer)

It seems pretty straightforward: on the verge of leaving the last bastion of familiarity in my lifetime, I have now come face-to-face with adulthood, and my answer is to run home and hide under the bed (more accurately, on the floor next to my bed, with the shades halfway drawn as the sunlight streams in upon me, a book and a half-eaten carrot).

I love it.

I relish the fact that I will never have years like those again because it means I will always remember what they were like. No reading spot (save, perhaps, some heretofore undiscovered place on Britain’s coast) shall ever approach that bench by the bay. No bike ride will ever be as anticipated as those trips to the Baywood Market, buying Tart N’ Tinys before heading off to my secret sand dune. What evening constituional would ever dare to compare itself with walking to Round Table and blowing $5 on Metal Slug and hardware store licorice with John for the twentieth time?

What these memories are starting to mean to me now, however, is simple.

The best is yet to come.

But it will never be quite as “best” as ten years ago. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be.

Song of the Week: The New Year, Death Cab for Cutie