At some point, that becomes the overriding point of emphasis for every amateur athlete: Don't be the guy who plays the fool. The cat who has no business being out there in the first place. The dude who everyone else tolerates with arched eyebrows and stifled grins, but only because they're going to bag on him as soon as he's gone. In a nutshell:
Just don't go out there and embarrass yourself, Meat.
Sure, sports are supposed to be about glory and triumph and the heady cosmic glee of unencumbered physical expression...but that's only if you're good. For most of us, every trip between the lines is fraught with pathological dis-ease, with a sort of nervy skittish angst at the inchoate humiliation contained in every snap or swing or woefully off-kilter set shot. It's not easy being a weekend warrior, is pretty much the point, and so this week's Spot is more of a self-help guide than anything else; the five lowlights listed here are the worst of the worst, a definitive sampling of what not to do if you're trying to save face in your Sunday pick-up game. Winning is nice, of course, but no one gets through life with a perfect record, and if you've got to lose, well—
At least you can have the general decency to go down without looking like a total jackass. Let some other poor bastard be the pariah for once...
Number Five: The Flying Object to the Face
Any flying object—football, frisbee, shuttlecock, whatever. The projectile to the kisser is embarrassing primarily for what it implies about the victim: that he is, on some fundamental level, Darwinistically retarded, lacking even that rudimentary aptitude for self-preservation which saved our genetic forbearers from falling globs of pterodactyl dung. More to the point, it hurts like hell...and if there's anything worse than the utter mortification of having one's evolutionary impotence laid bare in public, it's said mortification accompanied by the searing-sharp sting of basketball between the eyes. Bottom line: Get your damned hands up, and knock down anything that moves.
Number Four: The Swing-and-a-Miss on the Tee Box
It is—it should be—a simple game. There's no crowd noise to deal with, no physical duress to overcome. And get serious Meat: It's not like the ball's going anywhere; it just sits there, waiting—begging—to be walloped. Alas, not all tasks are as simple as they seem...which goes a long way towards explaining why that diminutive dimpled knave is still fixed firmly to his tee, even after you've completed what certainly felt like a full and proper golf swing. At this point, your only hope lies in playing the whole thing off as a practice stroke. Which is only fair, when you really get down to it, because you're already out no small measure of dignity—you shouldn't have to take a hit on the scorecard too. Tell anyone who has a problem with it that he can kiss your pathetically uncoordinated kiester.
Number Three: The Getting-Shown-Up-by-Junior Experience
All fathers take pride in the physical exploits of their offspring. That's a no-brainer. Some fathers, though: Some fathers go so far as to revel in the prospect of those exploits one day exceeding their own. Needless to say, those fathers are idiots. When your kid waxes the court with you in a game of one-on-one, it doesn't mean you've hit some kind of poignant parental milestone; it means you're outdated, irrelevant—that you've done your part in sustaining the species and are now accomplishing nothing more vital than the aimless occupation of space. In some cultures, in fact, they'd give you a nice going-away party before shoving you off the nearest cliff...but of course this is America, where age is sacred and taking up space is a national pastime. Just be sure to enjoy that Social Security cash before the kitty goes dry, you feckless parasite you.
Number Two: The Phantom Injury
You were young once. Spry. Sprightly. Impervious to physical pain, immune to physical breakdown. Plain and simple: You were invincible...and so it's all the more vexing when you sprain an ankle going up for layup. During warm-ups. With no one else around. Except for three little kids who don't do anything but cackle sadistically as you writhe about on the ground. There are a host of other old-man traumas to which the weekend warrior is particularly susceptible—the half-speed hamstring pull, the I-shouldn't-have-bent-down-to-tie-my-shoelaces-without-stretching-first back spasm—but the truth behind all of them is the same: You ain't the spring chicken you used to be. Not that it's anything to get too worked about, of course, because, well, you know—at least you'll be dead soon. You can always take solace in that.
Number One: The Air-Balled Free Throw
Nothing quite like a Saturday afternoon at the park. Sun's out, birds are chirping, cute little blonde doing lunges in the white halter and lycra shorts looks like she might be maybe checking you out. So life could definitely be worse, all things considered...and damned if it doesn't feel good to be out here working on the ol' jump shot, after a few too many months away from the court. Not that it matters, though—the time off doesn't—because you've always been able to roll out of bed and knock 'em down from the charity stripe, and as you work your best swagger up to the line you're hoping that the blonde has a soft spot for the Rick Barry-Mark Price-Chris Mullin type, or that she at least knows a mechanically flawless delivery when she sees one. And you're not even thinking, as you give the rock one-two-three dribbles and a spin, because no it was never about thinking: It's just the ineffable feel of the thing, the wordless mindless timeless union of flesh and leather, set to a cosmic rhythym that's so real and so true you can't even imagine ever hitting anything other than the bottom of the—
Shit. Did the blonde see that? Is she—is she laughing at me? Come on baby it's been awhile, you know what I'm saying? And it's not like Shaq's so deadly from the line either, but I'll bet you dig him all right. Which, seriously now: What in the world does he got that I don't?...