The young men — 25 and younger — challenged the old men — 45 and older — to a game of touch football.
“We’ll kill you,” said one of the old men, the night before the Big Game.
“Not a chance,” said one of the young men.
The testosterone slept.
The next day, the men took the field. It was Labor Day weekend. The men were at a Northern Minnesota lake resort with their families, and in need of getting their ya-ya’s out away from the womenfolk.
From the opening kick-off it was clear that the young men were in over their heads. The old men were led by one Neil Shore, a 55-year-old scatback from Philadelphia whose basketball-style picks, sure hands and cool head set the tone for the romp. The old men made quick work of their sniveling sons and nephews, who spent that evening nursing various injuries and egos in the resort hot tub.
As the wussies convalesced, this old man sat in street clothes by the side of the pool. As I crowed quietly about my miraculous avoidance of injury, a volleyball landed in my lap. I decided to tempt fate. Ignoring the aqua puddles and yellow pylons (“No Running By The Pool” and “Tiles Are Slick When Wet”), I seized upon the good idea of trying a behind-the-back pass to no one in particular.
Not bad. Fifty years old and still in good enough shape to whip the pups and come away with sore, satisfied muscles but no injuries to speak of, and now here I am, making like Pete Maravich, reenacting the greatest basketball pass of my life — a half-court behind-the-back bullet at Incarnation Grade School to Jim Kenney, who, it must be said, blew the lay-up.
I dribbled along the side of the pool, cocked the ball in my right hand, started to whip the ball behind my back, and promptly felt my feet go out from under me. I was airborne for what seemed like an eternity, and when I landed it felt like Jared Allen was pummeling my spine and the universe punishing my hubris.
As I lay there writhing, contemplating the duality/fragility of life, for some godforsaken reason I thought of the philosophy of one Orville J. Blocker, better known as Jack The Frogman. In the ’50s, Blocker ran Jack The Frogman Co. at 4251 Nicollet Ave., which boasted the Midwest’s largest supply of skin-diving equipment. He was ubiquitous on the local TV and radio airwaves, hawking his passion and scuba wares like some corn-fed Cousteau.
One spring night, as the neighborhood was excitedly getting ready to go to a festival at Annunciation Grade School up the street from our house, Jack The Frogman backed his scuba van over and killed his son, Jimmy, who was 14 at the time. Blocker died in 1998 at the age of 85. His obituary, penned by a fellow scuba enthusiast, concluded like this:
“His son’s death started a decline in his enthusiasm, then in 1977 Jack closed the doors and faded into obscurity. Many people I have interviewed remember Jack for different reasons, but I think a fitting way to close on his life is the way Jack closed his correspondence:
“Get Wet and Be Happy.”
Jim Walsh grew up and lives in East Harriet.