Fairly frequently. They are usually nominal, limp on this for a few days kinds of things. I’m a tin man that doesn’t know better.
I play dodgeball regularly. I learn a lot of things from playing dodgeball, one of which is that I don’t have an appropriate amount of fear. You can certainly argue that dodgeballs, generally, are not dangerous. For the most part they aren’t (more on this later).
There are certain activities for which is better not to believe you can be killed. While on one hand, we humans constantly benefit from fear. It makes us check our blind spot on the freeway, throw away that old takeout that might be less than safe. It’s likely the most practical of all emotions, fear.
On the other hand there are much more rare moments when having someone, or a lot of someone’s, that simply suppress their danger sense, to turn the volume down to 0.5, can come in very handy.
You see this constantly on the dodgeball court. One of your players, playing hard up on the front line catches a ball thrown hard by an opponent only a few feet away. This act of athletic instinct, of skill plus practice times adrenaline then launches them into a fiery and pugnacious assault. They quickly divest themselves of the caught ball at the nearest enemy, rush to scrounge another from the floor. Their short term success has burned away their sense of danger. They are no more invincible than they were sixty seconds ago, but the chemical rush of stealing victory from sporting death makes them FEEL that they are.
This is almost always proven incorrect in the next few seconds when they are picked off by someone less in the moment.
I fall into this mental state far too easily. I dive for balls in scrimmage matches, I bruise my knees a rainbow of colors every week, even through my pads. I constantly get hit out when someone less aggression, or more sense depending on your lens, would have hung back rather than charge the line, with no ball, no support, purely for the ephemeral effect inflicting my personality on the enemy.
I’m all too happy to be the vanguard.
It is for exactly this reason that when I tore a muscle in my leg last week playing dodgeball I was fabulously thankful of the fact that my girlfriend happened to be watching, because it was a rare, freak case that I injured not behaving like a brazen idiot forged out of glass and chrome.
Normally on Sundays I will play 2 to 3 hours of dodgeball. Two hours of what is called “open gym” where everyone is just assigned random disposable teams, and you rotate around and get your dodgeball on and sweat a great deal, and spit a lot of verbage at your friends from across the court.
This week we had a late slot, so it was impractical for me to play open gym then hang out for two hours waiting for our game. So my girlfriend and I drove into West Hollywood, as we had plans afterward, and she would amuse herself watching me bounce around like a fool for fifty minutes.
I spent ten minutes or so warming up my arm, and then my traditional leg warm up of jumping, hopping and bouncing high low and in between like a Munich man with a handlebar moustache at an old bierhaus. I spend a great deal of time crouched down, and have recently integrated jumping into my palette of dodges, so I try to avoid pulling anything in my legs.
Well we were playing one of the brand new teams, who, even with extra players filled in in sympathy from some other teams, we were crushing roundly. Outside entities frequently hear about dodgeball and bring a big batch of their friends, looking at the crowd of weirdos, homosexuals, misfits and brown people that tends to make up LA dodgeball, and assume that they’re going to walk onto the court and show them how its done.
Turns out most of these homos, misfits and brown people are really good at this, and it doesn’t quite go that way.
At any rate, I was taking the opportunity to go on vacation from my usual overzealous playing style, and hanging out on the back wall, throwing only when something came right to me, and generally trying to avoid pressing my aggression in a situation where it just would have made me look like a jerk.
So fifteen minutes in maybe, a ball comes to me, and I walk, I repeat walk three steps from the back to get myself into a throwing position, and on the third step it feels like someone runs up behind me with a ball-peen hammer and hits me as hard as they can in the back of the calf.
A moment later I collapse on the ground like Pinocchio with his strings cut, and look around the court for who in the hell just Nancy Kerrgan’d me. No one is nearby, and I look onto the stage where my girlfriend is staring at me with a malted expression of worry and confusion.
I stand back up and my left leg just will not do jack. I can put it on the ground, but it won’t support any weight. Something is really wrong with me. After moronically hopping around for another five minutes trying to throw on one foot, I go into the out line and allow myself to be convinced, thankfully, to sit out.
In the following week I would come to find out I had torn a calf muscle, rather than an early prognosis by a clinic physician who hypothesized that I had torn my Achilles tendon, which would have resulted likely in months of recovery, surgery, and physical therapy.
I went with Kim to a orthopedic specialist in Pasadena where we waited in a nice room with a Ronald Reagan calendar on the wall, showing the Gipper signing some such tax cut in a Canadian tuxedo on a damn ranch somewhere (Remember right wing readers, Reagan raised taxes more than almost any President).
Since my injury I’ve been on crutches, hopping around our one story house gritting my teeth, terrifying cats, watching Netflix, writing, eating cheese, and developing interesting smell auras in various rooms that I like to think of as performance art.
Luckily I am usually washed and frequently cogent when Kim gets home so she doesn’t have to be confronted with the bizarre faux bachelor labyrinth that I find myself pattering around for the endless hours from morning until the sun goes down.
I take for granted my mobility. I move around a hell of a lot on a normal basis. I walk places on a complete whim. Highland Park is quite good for that. You can’t walk a block and a half without passing two liquor stores, a tattoo parlour and a taco stand. There are smells, coffees and languages you don’t speak wafting in every cardinal direction at all hours of day and night.
Now I am a hard piece of beef, loosening and bittering in flavor with every passing hour, unable to leave the house without the greatest amount of sweat and indignity. I’ve found that with the crutches locked in to a height one inch shorter than designed I can launch myself far forward like those bizarre landstriders in The Dark Crystal.
As with any old child, I love to milk a sick day here or there, but being trapped at home doesn’t suit me whatsoever. I like being weird things at weird places without having to explain myself to anyone. I like spending too long at the store, I like stopping to get beer or a frisbee or a puppet on a whim. Everything I do is proscribed. My food and supplies are asked for and purchased by someone else. Luckily she’s also a vibrating neurotic and a saint for knowing psychically when I’m likely out of this snake oil or that soylent green.
For a selfish person, I have a raging hatred of inconveniencing other people. This has always forced me to seek the company of those with near inhuman powers of empathy, who can read my dissatisfaction from only my posture or breathing.
I’m still unable to walk or stand on my leg, but thankfully this Hughes-esque episode will surely last only another week or two. I can’t battle nature on this one. I also my not have my current day job on the other end of my recovery, but that is simply how these things can go. I’m not have to go into debt to repair my leg, I’m not going to have to beg anyone for thousands of dollars. In the scale of things that happen to human people this is barely an inconvenience.
I’m taking these extra hours in the day to crush much of the writing I usually wish I had more time for, this blog included. In future I’m going to get back to getting at it once a week, even if it means doing one to three paragraph short essays rather than these baroque monoliths I sometimes construct to my own anxiety.
I’ve already learned a few things from being laid up for this short period.
1. Use your time.
2. Make everyone’s life easier.
3. Pretend someone is watching.
The teenage solipsism that threaded into my worldview when I was much younger creates the great potential to become a horror of Bukowskian proportions when left alone for significant periods of time. Now, there can certainly be a few very striking and strange benefits to this, but they have dangerous and diminishing returns.
I have been forced to begin to become a tin man that knows better, that there are many times when you will be frozen in the forest and you will need someone to lend a hand when you say “oil can”.
And it can be useful to have a tin man around, because the tin man has no fear, and a very big ax.