I experienced a very vivid and very stray memory the other day. Who knows why such things happen. Maybe something caught my peripheral vision and didn’t register consciously but triggered this particular memory, or perhaps it was just some sort of neurological discharge, misfiring synapses dragging something out of deep storage. Some might argue that my stray memory was my subconscious trying to help me solve some waking problem–maybe one I didn’t even know I have.
Anyway, in my very vivid and very stray memory I was a grade school boy balancing a broom on my fingertips, bristles pointed toward the ceiling. I spent a tremendous amount of time engaged in this activity as a kid, so much so that I found ways to make it more challenging: I switched hands, closed my eyes, balanced the broom on my chin and forehead. I did everything I could think of with that broom except sweep.
The story of my childhood revolves around such moments. I taught myself how to juggle with whatever I found around the house–fruit, balled up socks, a stray tennis ball. I played “baseball” for hours by bouncing that tennis ball against the bottom step of our front stoop, an elaborate set of malleable rules determining what was an out, hit, run, etc. I swung around a broken sledgehammer handle like I was Bruce Lee, certain that I was mastering some ancient martial art. And speaking of martial arts: Trying to pick up my mother’s hot teapot barehanded like Caine from Kung Fu was always fun.
Anything that flew fascinated me. No sheet of paper was safe from conscription into my origami air force. Once I saw magician Ricky Jay on a talk show winging playing cards accurately and with tremendous velocity (for a playing card, anyway). That marked the end of any collectible value of my baseball card collection, as Johnny Bench, Luis Tiant, Rollie Fingers, and their hundreds of fellow players became airborne missiles destined to crash into walls and get lost between couch cushions.
Frisbees in particular fascinated me. I may have spent hours balancing brooms on my fingertips, but I spent years mastering the flying disc. My specialty was freestyle, or tricks performed mostly while the disc was spinning on my fingertips. This was known as the “nail delay,” but there was also the tap, the brush, and the always impressive chest roll, wherein the Frisbee rolled the full distance from one outstretched hand to the other across one’s body.
It wasn’t all freestyle for me, though. I practiced “throw, run, and catch,” which is exactly what it sounds like, “maximum time aloft,” which also is exactly what it sounds like, and played a lot of improvised (and solo) rounds of Frisbee golf, throwing the disc from tree to tree while providing my own silent color commentary. I was a world Frisbee golf champion, though nobody knew it but me.
You may have noticed that this particular aspect of my childhood was short on stuff: A broom, a broken sledgehammer handle, a tennis ball that I found somewhere, a Frisbee, and some scrap paper. You also may have noticed the lack of friends. This might lead you to one of the following conclusions:
- I was a poor kid.
- I was a lonely kid.
- I was a bored kid.
All of these are true as far as they go. Almost all kids are poor. The childhood economy revolves around allowance and Grandma’s birthday cards, after all. Kids make do with whatever is around. And sure, I spent a lot of time alone, but I had friends. The problem was that we lived out in the sticks, and most of my friends were a car ride away.
As for bored; well, yeah. That one is dead on. We romanticize childhood as this wondrous, fun-filled period in our lives, but in truth most of us were just killing time until the next event: school, dinner, bedtime.
Somewhere along the way we decide that our lives must have some great purpose, that time must not be wasted. Each of us has an expiration date, each of us is special, yada yada yada. For some of us that means career, for others it means the arts, social work, volunteering, or even public or military service. All of those things are great and necessary, and I wish you luck with your chosen endeavor, but what if we’re wrong? What if, as Kurt Vonnegut said: “Listen: We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different!” Maybe as bored kids with brooms on our fingers we were living more in harmony with our nature than we realized.
For me that is a very comforting thought, this notion that there is no greater purpose–that time cannot be wasted, as time is simply time. It passes regardless of whether we notice or fear its passing. Whatever you do with your time is what you do with your time. When we say “I wish I was a kid again,” this is likely what we mean: no deadlines, no pressures, no great obligation to make the most of every moment.
Maybe that was the problem that my subconscious was trying to help me solve with my very vivid and very stray memory of broom balancing. Perhaps I need to stop worrying so much about how much time is left on the clock and what I should be doing with it and simply appreciate the opportunity to fart around.
I have a Frisbee in the closet and a park full of trees just down the street. The color commentator in my head says that it is a par three course. Time to set the keyboard aside and go reclaim my imaginary World Frisbee Golf Championship title.