The Bitter Old Gen X’er’s Guide to Life

Sports & Recreation: How to Make Fun into Work

My uncle Lester once said, “Doing nothing is hard work. You can’t stop and rest.” I think he was right; everyone needs some sort of organized activity in their free time to keep healthy physically and mentally. With a little persistence, any form of play can be made to seem like work. And there are so many organizations committed to helping you. In Canada, for example, we used to have a government program called Participaction, which involved commercials and advertisements all dedicated to making you feel bad for not immediately jumping up and doing ten laps around the house everytime you saw one. Now it’s gone.. but the guilt remains..

For retired people, especially, finding enough to do with their time can be a challenge. This is aggravated by the reality that some physical activities, such as wrestling a grizzly bear while going over a waterfall in a barrel, are out of reach for the elderly. They are limited to ground squirrels in the barrel. Nevertheless, there are plenty of activities for seniors, such as aerobics or light jogging. They can even invite the grizzly to jog with them.

And so, if there are all these wonderful leisure activities for the retired, just think of the opportunities open to the young person. True, there are some recreations somewhat exclusive to the elderly, such as Florida holidays, Las Vegas gambling, and sitting in a donut shop for six hours complaining about the government. But these are exceptions. Besides, gambling can be addictive: “Amazing how they can afford these solid gold pillars and marble fountains in the casino! Where do they get the money?”

Yet it does take a while to find a sport that you find worthwhile. It took me several years. And several hundred dollars. I’m starting to wonder if ‘free time’ is an oxymoron too. Perhaps I should wrestle an oxymoron in a barrel.

Downhill Skiing
There are, of course, three types of skiing. But as it was winter at the time, I didn’t expect to do a lot of water-skiing. Unless I wanted to chip a really big hole in the ice. Cross-country skiing can be fun until you realize that by the time you wax the skis and fight with the rusty bindings and fix the pole that your dad used as a fireplace poker, you could easily have walked to wherever you are going.

Thus the only option was skiing downhill. I went with a friend to a local resort, Al’s Ski Club & Auto Salvage. “This is a replica of the same resort in Switzerland, right, Paul?” Paul assured me that, since the police had evacuated the city due to the typhoon, it would not be crowded that day. I was perhaps less sure as we entered the resort and saw, oh, the population of Kenya waiting in line for the ski lift. But we did not allow this minor inconvenience to discourage us as we strode into the office to pay for our lift tickets. It couldn’t be any more than a few dollars, right? Perhaps not. I knew we might be in trouble when we saw a sign saying ‘financing available.’

But I digress. We signed our organ donor cards and headed out to the slopes. Within an hour I knew that skiing might not be for me as I fractured a thumb, twisted an ankle, and bruised my face. And this was still in the lineup for the lift. At length, as the blood was making the poles slip out of my hands, I gave up and retired to the clubhouse.

I haven’t returned to the resort for several years now, and I probably never will. After all, why spend fifty dollars at a ski hill when you could stay at home and hit yourself all over with a hammer and get the same effect for free? Paul doesn’t seem to realize this simple truth and persists in going to even bigger and better resorts in the mountains. Two hundred dollars would buy some pretty nice hammers. To make him even happier, perhaps he could buy one made in the Swiss Alps. He could even wrestle the grizzly with it.

Ah, golf. What is it that makes men so totally obsessed in slavish devotion to the sport? If only Hitler could have inspired such loyalty in his followers. When my brothers get together they talk about golf endlessly. It’s impossible to change the subject unless the comment is golf-related, e.g. “Maybe you should move your golf clubs due to the house being on fire.” Even then they would be practising their swing as they gathered the children outside.

Every sport has a learning curve. Some, such as bowling or tennis, are reasonably simple and the basics can be quickly learned. Others, such as football or pool, are more complex and take practice to grasp. As I quickly found out, golf has a learning cliff. It might have been easier to learn to juggle chainsaws blindfolded. The first time I played, I shot a 63. The second hole was worse. Thus I decided to take golf lessons. This is how it went:

"I see your problem, Mr. Eckert. Hold your club higher, with your fingers spread further apart at a twelve degree angle. Lower your stance with your feet four centimetres further apart with your arms slightly higher and curled back so that you form an equilateral triangle with the club face and the ball. Then curve the club another fifteen degrees outward with your head crooked slightly leftward and your lower back arched further inward. Good. Now just swing naturally."

And then there were the accessories: golf clubs, golf shoes, golf hats, golf bags, golf balls, golf ceramic figurines of Tiger Woods... surely building your own space shuttle wouldn’t involve this much equipment? When I suggested to my brothers that perhaps all this rigamarole wasn’t worth the trouble, they looked at me as though I had burned the flag on their lawn. I became an unbeliever and an infidel again. At least infidels don’t have to wear goofy-looking shirts and pay club fees.

Team Sports
Yeesh! Maybe individual sport wasn’t for me; perhaps group sport was a better activity, as it would teach me the virtues of comradeship and teamwork. Plus I could blame my ineptness on the other players if we lost. I decided on hockey first, one of the few remaining forms of state-sanctioned violence, and headed down to the arena.

We were all wearing enough padding to withstand radiation. Yet after two periods of being slammed into the sideboards by guys big enough to have their own gravitational fields it wasn’t helping me much; perhaps the function of padding is only to keep you warm in the ambulance. At the end I looked around the community rink and asked a friend, “Mark, why were people throwing trinkets onto the ice? No one scored a hat trick.” He replied, “Um, Ken, no one was throwing anything; those are teeth."

Thus I found hockey a little above my body type. Perhaps I was more suited to something more genteel and non-violent. I know-rugby! I decided to watch a local game before trying it myself as I wasn’t familiar with the rules. Unfortunately, the game must have been cancelled as all I saw from the stands was a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings. It seemed similar to football, except that normally play in football is stopped for decapitated limbs. When the match ended and the appeal for blood donors came over the PA, I watched the players limp off the field nursing their scratches and gouges. Perhaps the grizzly was also playing rugby and I had not noticed. If so, he probably lost.

So what was I supposed to take up, stock car racing? I didn’t care for basketball; I was too slight for football. I had somewhat of a phobia about baseball. As a boy in school, every year in gym class the teacher would tell me not to be afraid of the ball. It would then hit me within the next ten seconds. That’s just the way it was. If we were doing bicycling, I’d still get hit with the ball. At least in tennis the ball is softer, and I developed some proficiency in the sport. Until I got hit with a racquet.

What Next?

As time went on, I experimented with different sports and discovered new and fulfilling injuries until the solution finally came to me. Now I am a lacrosse player. It’s an ideal sport because no one else knows how to play it but it sounds impressive. Thus I can spend my time watching television and complaining to friends how my finely-honed lacrosse skills are atrophying because I can’t find enough people to field a team.

Yet I sometimes wish that I was of a more athletic nature. I would perhaps even try golf again if I could get a student loan for the lessons and the equipment. My application was turned down by the government. You can find me complaining about it at the donut shop.


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