Tuesday, April 20, 2010
One of the great questions of our age is whether geekiness can honestly co-exist with sportiness. I think it can and does, of course. While I consider myself pretty geeky in so many ways, I do play a few sports. I generally can't stand to waste time watching sports on TV, but you'll find me playing a bit of pickup hockey, soccer, or baseball when 'tis the season. Lest you think I'm faking it, many of my teammates are the same chaps with whom I've spent countless hours wandering imaginary dungeons or arguing that Madagascar is the key to expanding your armies into Africa.
I like to think that playing these games - often with those unfortunate souls with whom I survived high-school - has been the secret to my relative lack of maturity. Sure, I can hold down a job, wear a tie if I have to, and be passably serious at parent/teacher interviews, but I know in my bones that I'm still a 16 year-old kid with 10 bucks in quarters for the arcade and an old tennis ball perfect for road hockey. I just have never felt old and grown up - at least not before this past weekend.
Almost every Spring my friends and I play in a hockey tournament for charity. It's a lot of fun for a good cause and the food is free. For reasons that don't matter, our team (most of us in our mid-forties or worse) is usually placed in a division where the other players are likely 20 years our junior. We never win very much against those younger legs and quicker hands, but we never embarrass ourselves too much, either.
This year was different. Our skates were caught in molasses. Our sticks were made of rubber. Our lungs became old, cracked leather. Sure we scored some goals and we never quit trying, but we knew from each other's eyes that we were struggling this year. Having a bad game or two doesn't bother us too much. It's just one of those 'on any given day' kind of things.
And then I had this exchange with an opposing player between first and second periods during our last game:
Kid (with a good-natured chuckle): You guys are slowing down! Everything alright? Your bench is quiet!
Me: Ah, we're just pacing ourselves for a kick-ass third period! That what experience teaches you, man!
Me (laughing): Well, you know... most of us have been playing hockey for, like, 30 or 40 years. You learn stuff.
Kid: Holy shit! You must be older than my father!
Me: Well, I guess...
Kid: ... We didn't know! We don't need to be pressing you guys so hard...
And with that - and genuine concern - he reported back to his bench that they were kicking Old Guy Ass. We still lost the game, of course, but they took it easier on us older-than-Dad-guys. My body might have appreciated the break whereas my psyche had no good thoughts for those nice young boys.
Old? Insinuations of feebleness? My roll of quarters and balding tennis ball say, "HA!"
Next year, we'll be ready for them - ready to teach them a life lesson. That is, if my knees hold out.