Good Sport: Unused memories and the relocation of time

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by Jeff Laughlin

I had plans, man. Then, for what felt like a million days, the snow just sat there. I mean, it just sat there.

And so did I. As live sporting event after live sporting event got canceled, I marked each one from my mental list until my least favorite idea shoved its way violently to the forefront: the personal column.

Here’s the problem with personal columns: I’m not really an athlete. I have enough mental stamina and dexterity to understand the basic skills of any sport and I can probably go through the motions. But playing? Man, that’s out. I’ve got no knees left, no competition in my heart these days and I’m around three years’ worth of substance abuse down the ladder to really play a sport with the vitality that I see when I attend live events.

I know most sports writers show little to no athletic skill, but my pride feels dinged when I see people perform valiantly and get judged on what they lack. In my year of doing Good Sport, my admiration for simple action has multiplied incalculably. Leaping, grabbing, throwing, all of it seems so unbelievably difficult to do at high levels, from the college kid boxing out to the elderly pickleballer reaching to place a groundstroke.

So when the snow blanketed Greensboro and put an end to the first college baseball series of the new season or forced the cancellation of several different indoor games, it reminded me that I don’t have many of these left.

See, I got this new job that’s going to relocate me. And I don’t know what to do. I love writing this column — the sense of accomplishment, the pseudo-anonymity of sitting in the back bleachers scribbling notes about meaninglessness, the loneliness of being the only non-parent or student at the game, the unbelievable athleticism. I love it all.

I’m still leaving it.

Am I a fool? Am I a wandering soul with no understanding of how lucky I am to get paid to write about this? A thief who made another man’s idea better? Or a dope who had no idea what he was doing?

Yet, the snow just sits there, ruining my plans. I had to go see this kid I play basketball with sometimes — when my body feels up to it — and he might get drafted out of Guilford College as a pitcher. I wanted to go see him throw and interview him.

Now I may not get the chance.

I walked through the snow, passing a pair of empty basketball courts treacherously covered in ice, but I still wanted so badly to shoot. That’s the column, I thought. Me risking life and limb just to hoist a final shot in my old stomping grounds, that’s the column. Once, I looked a man right in his eyes and pulled up a three that popped right through the net, right there in the corner of this one-basket concrete slab. I never even looked up after the shot, I just sidled toward where I would take the ball out. I knew it would go in when it left my hands.

The gigantic snowman near that court precluded me walking over, but that moment, charged with the vigor of lost athleticism, stayed. I’m glad I got it out, but how many more will remain crystallized in my mind like little displays in museums? Trapped, those memories may never find their way to the surface.

I mean, someone else will do this column and probably crush it. They may actually have a future in sports writing, whereas my future is an undetermined pile of mush, like so much blackish snow on small, sun-shielded side streets.

I’ll find a new project, but it won’t be this. That middle-town blues that resonates through the emptiest gyms and packed fields can’t be replicated. The colleges won’t be as attention-starved and the athletes will be used to the show.

I’m walking away from a pretty cool job in a month. Like the snow, I’ll leave only to visit sporadically — a reminder of the intersection of beauty and nuisance.

Hopefully, where I’m going there will be less annoying tasks than personal columns and my lack of athleticism won’t shine so brightly.

Despite my best-laid plans, all I can do now is hope.

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