To pay the bills

I am not the most athletic person. I’m not the least athletic person either. I run occasionally, and I’ve been known to kick a soccer ball properly (top/side of the foot, not the toe). However, there are specific skills to certain games that I just don’t possess. I cannot hit a fastball. I can’t dribble without staring at the basketball. I cannot hackey-sack at all (although, I don’t wear patchouli oil, dreadlocks or a goatee, so that may be part of it).

Don’t get me wrong, I want to be good at sports. I like playing sports, and I can safely say that I was one of the few band kids that actually liked gym class. But we’ll get to more of that later.

In high school, my best friend Blads shared my enthusiasm for sport, as well as my lack of skill (Although he was a bowling pro. He was on the bowling team, and his nickname was “Flintstone” because he bowled as well as the cartoon caveman, which was actually quite good. Though on The Flintstones, Fred’s bowling nickname was “Twinkle Toes”, so maybe the nickname was more in reference to his closeted sexuality than his bowling prowess. Nah, we’ll go with bowling acumen).

Blads and I wanted to be more athletic not only because we wanted to have our enthusiasm match our abilities, but at the time, it wouldn’t have hurt us to lose a few pouns. So in an attempt to embrace physical activity, we tried jogging to get in shape. Niagara Falls, or to be more precise, Goat Island, is a prime location for taking a run. It’s a little less than two miles around, fairly well paved, and has plenty to look at. For our first run, we decided to take a spin around. We drove down, parked the car, got out, stretched (because you always must stretch), and began to run. After twenty yards or so, enthusiasm fell by the wayside as we began to die from lack of oxygen, so headed back to the car to crank up the AC and suck down Gatorade. This ended the jogging experiment.

We next tried tennis, with a bit more success. We could hit the ball fairly consistently, and aside from referencing the handball court as the “play with yourself wall”, we had fun. But again, after 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise, we hurried back to Doug’s car to crank up the AC and suck down Gatorade. Clearly we lost no weight and gained no athletic ability. And we were really straining Blads’s AC in his Monte Carlo (man, I miss that car).

But of all the sports we tried, quite possibly the saddest attempt at athletic expertise was seen during basketball drills in gym class. Now, as I said earlier, I thoroughly enjoyed the gym class experience. For whatever reason, our gym class consisted of honors students mixed in with a handful of students who had recently returned to finish high school after having finished giving birth to their 2nd or 3rd child. So in essence, gym class provided me with dinner and a show.

Like every other high school class, each week or so provided a new topic or sport to learn. And with each sport came a series of drills, which consisted of a day for learning/practicing, and a day of testing your skills. Larger sports would require more time; volleyball consisted of two days for serving practice & tests, two days for bump practice & tests, and two days for trash talk (this may not be true, but I do remember a LOT of trash talking when we played volleyball in gym class).

For basketball, we had to learn lay-ups. For those that don’t know, lay-ups are quite possibly the simplest of basketball shots there are. You basically approach the net, jump, and let the ball roll off your hand (or rather lay-up) and into the net. We learned how to get the roll of the ball right so that it rolled properly into the net. We also learned how to dribble and approach the net to get your momentum right for proper jump height. Some students even used the opportunity to dunk–but for Blads and I we felt we should crawl before we walked. When it came time to practice, I swear to you, Blads and I were like the Harlem Globetrotters. Each ball rolled perfectly into the net. Our height, speed and direction were all exactly right. I’m not saying we could have signed with the NBA there and then, but possibly an Italian league or somewhere in Turkey. We had skills and come test time, we would show them off.

The testing day was just a few days later. The gym teacher gave us 5 attempts to score 5 lay-ups. Armed with only our confidence, Blads and I began our tests.

I have seen war footage that looked better than what the two of us did in that gymnasium. We only had to sink 5 lay-ups, and each attempt was worse than the previous. Blads accidentally kicked the ball on one attempt. I actually got the ball in from under the net up through (which didn’t count apparently). Blads dribbled the ball with his face at one point. And I think I may have even slammed into the wall behind the net; the wall being 10 feet behind the net. It was a disgrace in athleticism if there ever was one. We both got a pity “C” for the test, mostly I think because the gym teacher was so entertained by our performance. One of the baby mamas in our class offered to hug me. It was not a pretty sight.

We never went back to basketball after that day. Nor did we focus much effort on any other sport really. But we did learn a valuable lesson that day. We learned that we were meant for a greater calling — air hockey.