Three lines of poetry to live by as you start aging are from Alfred Lord Tennyson's Ulysses. In his old age Ulysses (Odysseus) is talking to his seamen, trying to convince them to go out on one last heroic voyage. They'd much prefer to sit by the fires and brag about their exploits when they were young. The poem ends with these lines spoken by their old chief:
How dull it is to pause, to make an end
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use,
As if to breathe were life.
There was a group of us that played basketball regularly at Saint Vincent de Paul's gym in the Marina district of San Francisco. Most of the guys were Catholics from Saint Ignatius High School. I was one of the heathens from Lowell High, a public school. There was Barry Cummings, Jim Toso, Pat Harrington, Gene Spadaro, Rich Luchessi and Bobby Randall. Their basketball skills varied from damn good to, well, not so good. But they all played with enthusiasm and grit and street ball toughness. The smallest guy of the lot was Randall. The next smallest guy was Cummings and he towered over Bobby. Next to me, they were the two most skillful basketball players. Next to me, Randall was the most devoted to the game. (See rest of blog to find out who was finally the most devoted). He simply loved hoops. Basketball courts were his home. He was tricky, had a fine shot, and possessed a good handle. If he'd been even five inches taller, Bobby would have played varsity in high school. The same might be said for Barry although Barry was not the gym-rat Bobby was. Besides, Barry was in love with his dear Teresa and romance can play hell with an athlete's dedication. I'm not sure if this is exactly accurate, but decades have passed and all memory bets are off.
Recently, I received a letter from Bobby Randal now, like me, in his seventies. He's retired from the postal service, no longer Bobby, but Bob. I never liked people calling me Tommy, so I suspect Bob is happy to have left behind his youthful diminutive. In the envelope were a bunch of newspaper articles about an annual basketball tournament for seniors beginning at the age of fifty-five and up into the seventies called Hoops Hotshots. Bob won the seventy-seven and up bracket. According to the article, he'd won for the seventh straight time. To win this year, Bob hit 44 out of 50 perimeter shots.
Watch out Stephan Curry!
In the spring I'd had both my shoulders replaced and bragged to my wife's grandsons that when the shoulders healed, I'd show them how a NBA pro did it. When the time came, Bob, I want you to know that I could not even reach the basket from the free-throw line. Is that pathetic, or what?. The day after that embarrassment, your letter arrived. I had to smile. In old age you caught up to me and passed me. If we played a game of hoops today, you'd kill me. I greatly admire your resolve to be the gym-rat you always were. Had you lived in the times of the Greek myths, I suspect you, Bob Randall would have been the first sailor on board Ulysses's boat, ready to go on a last adventure. Or, perhaps having to leave your beloved game of basketball behind, you'd decline.
Here's a poem I found on the Poetry Foundation website dedicated to Phil Jackson
Loony Bin Basketball by Mary Karr
The gym opened out
before us like a vast arena, the bleached floorboards
yawned toward a vanishing point, staggered seats high
as the Mayan temple I once saw devoured by vines.
Each of us was eaten up inside - all citizens of lost
and unmapped cities.
Fran hugged the pimply ball
over his belly like an unborn child. Claire
dressed for daycare in daffodil yellow an jelly shoes.
David's gaze was an emperor's surveying a desiccated
battlefield. Since he viewed everything that way, we all
saw him the same.
The psych techs in Cloroxed white
were giant angels who set us running drills, at which
we sucked. The zones we set out to defend were watery
at every edge. We missed close chest passes, easy combos
Our metronomes run different tempos,
Then Clair started seeing
dashes stutter through the air behind the ball.
Then speed lines on our backs, and then her own head
went wobbly as a spinning egg. She'd once tracked
planetary orbits for NASA and now sat sidelined
by her eyes' projections.
Only Bill had game.
Catatonic Bill whose normal talent was to schlub
days in a tub chair - his pudding face scarred
with chicken pox - using his hand for an ashtray,
belly for an amrest. Now all that peeled away, and he
emerged, clean as an egg.
He was a lithe
and licorice boy, reeling past all comers, each shot
sheer net. He faked both ways, went left. Beneath the orange
rim his midair piroettes defied the gravity that I
could barely sludge through. He scored beyond what even
Claire could count
then he went panting
hands on knees as the orderlies held out water cups,
and the rest of us reached to pat his back or slap
his sweaty hand, no one minding about the stench or his
breath like old pennies.Then as quick as that
inside his head
some inner wench did reel him back from the front
of his face bones where he'd been ablaze. He went back and
back into that shadowed stare. Lucky we were to breathe
his air. Breath is God's intent to keep us living. he was
the self I'd come in
wanting to kill, and I left him there.
What my musings are all about...
Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.
The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.
The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.