Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Mighty Bumpkins

My amibition has always been to be a part of something larger, greater than myself. Since I was a small child, I have dreamed of working as a part of a team to accomplish something that no one individual could on his or her own.

I experienced it in fourth grade when my team (Murphy Construction) won the Liberty Township little league championship in the late 1980s. I recall chanting "We will, we will rock you" from the dugout with a group of guys unified in mission. That was the height of my athletic career. My statistical highlight: I had two base hits on the season, one of which was a closed-eyed single which broke the no-hitter of Josh C. in the bottom of the final inning. His dad nearly strangled me. My other hit was a ground ball to left field. Speed demon that I was, I barely beat the throw to first base by diving toward the bag. Actually, my assistant coach tripped me on the way to first; he rightly believed I'd arrive faster at first by falling than running. Regardless, my identity was subsumed by the whole of championship winning Murphy Construction. The victory Dairy Queen banana splits could not have been any sweeter than the thrill of being on (if not contributing to) the winning team.

Again, in junior high, I found myself a member of a whole greater than the sum of its parts. After being cut in the first round of tryouts (I was the only one cut in the first round of tryouts), I was offered a position as scorekeeper for the seventh grade basketball team (because I had heart, if not skills). I traveled with the team, ate with the team, carried basketballs for the team, cheered for the team, and recorded statistics for the team. That year, the team went undefeated, dominating all other opponents in the Trumbull Athletic Conference (TAC-8). Few other events in my life have been as exhilerating as watching the team for which I kept the books win it all. I wore that conference championship t-shirt with as much pride as I would have had I shot the title-winning basket myself.

I have since longed to work together with a group of dedicated individuals to accomplish something great... to be a cast member in the community theater... to contribute to a scientific breakthrough... to win the intramural bowling championship...

I recall in college a dozen dorm mates were working together to complete what seemd an impossible task: passing a nerf basketball twice around the cramped dorm room, each individual being required to shoot it through the nerf basketball hoop consecutively without anyone missing. After hours of intense gameplay, tumult erupted from the dorm room like nothing I had ever heard. "We won! We won!" were the shouts of the young men who had each twice made the basket. The resident of the room was so elated that he shook a can of orange soda and opened it with his thumb partially occluding the hole such that the soda spurted around the room like champagne. "We won!" he passionately intoned as the orange pop rained down on his laundry and bedsheets. Oh, to have won with these men and tasted the sweet, sticky orange flavor of success.

My dream was finally realized again last Wednesday. The place: Chick Fil A in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. The occasion: Free chicken for a year for the first 100 people in line (I was number 31, and Lisa was 67, for those interested). The event: Hula hoop relay race.

The evening was packed with music, games, and free food. The emcee announced that there was time for one last game, and that teams of five should make their way to the front. My friends were not interested in competing (not even my wife, who had already won a t-shirt by singing with motions I'm a Little Teapot in front of the Chick Fil A crowd), so I resigned myself to watching from the sidelines yet another team accomplish excellence. To my delight, a group of four tough, burley, pierced n' tattooed guys shouted out that they needed another teammate. I knew immediately that this was my opportunity. I dropped my barbecue chips and sprinted to the guys. I told them I'd join their team if they'd have me. They'd have me: I was accepted.

"We're the Bumpkins!" one yelled. "Yeah, the Bumpkins!" another chimed in. "Bumpkins!" I added in solidarity.

The rules of the game were simple. The members of each team stood side by side, holding hands in a line. At the whistle, the first teammate would step through a hula hoop. The hoop would then be passed along the length of the team, with each member passing through the ring, and back again. The first team to have the hula hoop return to the first man would win. Teams would be disqualified if, at any point in the competition, the chain of hands was broken.

I was thrilled to participate and show my worth to these guys. Fortunately, I'm nimble, so this sort of event is right up my alley. I was the anchor for the Mighty Bumpkins, and I would not let my brothers down. Initially, the brawny bunch decided that holding hands was too effeminate and that we would be connected fist-to-fist rather than hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, the taskmaster emcee prohibited our adjustment, so we held hands.

From the first whistle, the bumpkins functioned as a single body, effortlessly wiggling through the hula hoop. The first man in line, still holding hands with the second, guided the hoop down the line around each subsequent teammate. My heart raced and pulse pounded as the plastic ring neared me. I couldn't, nay, wouldn't let my brothers down. By the time the hula hoop had reached me, I was in the zone-- the TigerWoods-MichaelJordan-JoeMontana zone. I passed in and out of that hula hoop like a hot knife through butter.

The hoop traversed the line of men and reached the front of our group, and, like the men of Memorial Hall in 1999 (but without the orange soda), the cheer burst forth as we Bumpkins, Mighty Mighty Bumpkins, chanted in unison: "We won! We won!" The tangled group of men jumped up and down, exchanging sweaty high fives in what can only be described as orgasmic elation. Oh the glory. We were on top of our game and on top of the world. Against all odds (we were by far the girthiest team in participation), we conquered the hula hoop challenge.

For winning, we each got our choice of prizes from the Chick Fil A stash: I picked a Chick Fil A travel mug and coupons for (more) free sandwiches. But nothing compared to the real prize: the pride that comes from losing oneself to the single, successful, victorious, organic whole... giving in to the power of the Chick Fil A sweet tea... and the everlasting kinship I will feel with the champion hula hoop shimmying Bumpkins.

Originally Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2007
(Then) Curent Mood: subsumed

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

may i be the first to congratulate

Posted by Russ on Monday, April 09, 2007 at 7:28 AM