Thursday, July 28, 2005

Nails

Dudes.

I used to play darts. I know, "how exciting." Well, I needed to find an activity you could participate in with a Guinness in one hand, and softball requires a taste for warm light beer that I lack. So off to the Irish pub, and the boards.

Not any more. I'm a big old man, with children and a wife and bills and so forth, and the idea of hanging around in a bar seems strange now. But I was single once, and was a "Norm" at Liam's Irish Tavern, which isn't there any more. That's fine, as I'm not there any more either.

Anyway, I thought I was good. You had to win to keep playing, and the other Joes at the bar were pretty good, so I practiced toeing that stripe and mechanically pumping (both) elbows for a good long while until I was proficient enough to avoid sitting down. I was streaky, and enraged many a better player by stinking it up for most of a game, and then pulling it out late, and seeming like a sandbagger. It didn't hurt that I'm 6'-2" tall with long arms, and leaned over pretty good, and seemed to be inserting the darts, not throwing them.

At any rate, I started playing in leagues and so forth, which are the kind of thing the average person had no idea existed, until you happen upon them, and you realize there's entire worlds of people doing all kinds of things you never even heard of in a very serious way. The internet has become an engine for these peculiar worlds. Go to Google, and type in ANYTHING you can think of, and you'll get a ton of sites, and an education.

Anyway, I thought I was good, all those years ago. Then I got an education about perspective.
Our dart team traveled to a club in South Boston. It was a real club, too, not a restaurant or bar like usual, but an old fashioned members-only club, where you rang a doorbell while standing on an unlit threshold in a parking lot, and a disembodied voice says: who are you over an intercom. There was a problem. Women weren't allowed into this club, and we had brought one.

Now, this is twenty years ago, but it was just as jarring a bit of news then as it is now. We were struck by the unfairness of it, or whatever you'd call it: not letting a woman in. We protested that if she couldn't come in, our team wouldn't play. The voice said, if she's on the team, that's different. Inside, he explained that women were barred from the club because all the men would have fistfights over them in the club, and for the men's and women's own sakes, these knuckleheads had to be segregated. They weren't fit company for the women.

I realized I was very far from home, though I had been born not ten miles away.

There were a great many illegal Irish immigrants in the place, and I began to see why brawls had to be avoided at all costs, as a visit from the police meant more than a trip to the pokey and a black eye to many of the devotees of the place; they'd be deported too. My own Irish relatives had drifted down from Antigonish, Nova Scotia to Boston a hundred years ago, after fleeing Ireland, and did all the work no one else would deign to do, just like these rough and tumble fellows, and I was sympathetic.

And they played darts.

They mopped the floor with us , though they were blind drunk. They never even put down their drinks, they just walked to the line, and fffft fffft fffft, it was over.

And so you learned that being good means judging yourself in the context "compared to what?" And compared to them, well, let's just say that after the match blessedly ended, and our beating was over, I was chosen as our "champion" to play the king of the club, one match, for a little money. He hadn't even played up until then, and I couldn't imagine he'd be worse than the guys who had just annihilated us, but I wasn't ready for, well, the "compared to what" education I received.

I threw my three darts. My score was recorded in chalk. The Irish champion went to the line, and pulled out three nails. Three great big nasty twenty penny spikes. Bang, bang, bang into the board. He never missed anything he threw at. And he did it with nails, to show me I wasn't worthy of an even fight. It was over almost immediately, and I knew "compared to what" was now "compared to that," and where I stood in the Pantheon of Darts wasn't on any sort of pedestal, it was around back, near the men's room.

Every single one of those drunken roustabouts was unfailingly polite to us men, and exquisitely deferential to the only woman in the bar, the one we had brought uninvited. But we left immediately, to get back to a universe we understood.

Which brings me to the subject of our essay today, and a long and circuitous route we've taken. Take a look at this guy:

Blind Teen Amazes With Video-Game Skills

He's seventeen years old, he's completely and utterly blind, from birth no less, and he'll kick your ass at video games.

I love this story. Now, playing Mortal Kombat without being able to see it doesn't make you Mozart, or Ray Charles even. But it does make you extraordinary.

Think of the trial and error, think of the concentration that this required. The hours and hours of groping, over and over, looking for that next rung on the ladder to: you can't beat me. And what is trivial becomes sublime, when it's done in this fashion. He'll whup you, with his back turned.

We live in a world prosperous enough to support professional skateboarders, never mind baseball and football players, and where Tron Guy becomes an instant celebrity. It's enough these days to simply capture the imagination of a great many people, however you might do it, because the internet can open up a great audience to you, hungry to be amused, or amazed, or feel part of a community, or look at Brice, in his darkness, and say: "Compared to him, I'm a shirking piker"

And for all you in the audience who say, big deal, it's just video games, they're not important, I say, yeah, not important? Compared to what?

1 comment:

DBC Reed said...

Don't wish to come across as the know-all English pedant but the stripe you throw from is correctly called the "oche" (like hockey;some versions of the rules give "hockey"). This is not a snob thing: even the most deadbeat barfly in the UK would be shocked to hear it called anything else, in the way that the most unexpected people are shocked by the most unexpected things.(As a trade union official I was so taken aback by a management suggestion of abolishing tea-breaks that I was afraid I might faint; fortunately tradition prevailed.)
Darts is not a clandestine thing in the UK where there are weekend long televised World Championships ( two of them in rivalry;it would n't do to have one .)Like the World Series in the US,this is mainly a home-grown affair,although there have been some good Dutch players who picked the game up from receiving English TV stations.They are quite popular;nobody's got anything against the Dutch although they de facto invaded us in 1689(?)but in the nicest possible way.