Ed is not. But Ed doesn't care. I don't know where he was when the competitive genes were doled out or how he escaped being molded by American male myths, but Ed couldn't care less. Before and after games, he "strolls" up and down the court with a pipe, albeit unlighted, and talks and hums and encourages everybody. He looks as if he's playing the lead in Going My Way. Others of us stroll up and down the court as well—one of our rules is that you may not cross center court with the ball until all your teammates have crossed it. But none of us has the lilt in his step that Ed has, and no one has his "way to go, buddy" spirit. Ed cheers the guy who hits the basket that beats his team (when we keep score). Ed is the kind of guy who—without trying—reminds you that there's more to life than basketball, although while I'm playing I don't know what it might be.
On Sunday mornings in winter, basketball is my church. Joseph Campbell, the late educator, has reminded us that any religion works as long as we don't (or it doesn't) get stuck in its metaphors. I've been stuck in worse metaphors. Charlie is kind of stuck. He gets stuck opening his locker (he can't remember the combination). He gets stuck tying his shoelaces. Charlie is rather portly and when he gets down to floor level, it's the equivalent of a rain delay in baseball. We scream at him for taking so long, lecture him on the wonders of Velcro and then travel around him the next few trips up and down the court until he's up again.
He gets stuck when he shoots, too. Stuck to the floor. He uses a sort of jump shot with a lot of body motion. If you're not actually watching, you don't notice that his feet never leave the hardwood. Actually, Charlie isn't stuck, he just takes his time. He doesn't rush himself. He's at ease with himself. I think we all secretly envy him and would like to treat ourselves the way he treats himself. Like Ed, he smiles whether his shots go in or bounce out.
Back in the locker room Charlie is the one who powders Roy's head and says, "It's too bright on the court. Tone it down." Then Dan will say, "What was the score?" And Ed will say, "Ba-ba-baboo! Who knows?" And Dan will say, "Yeah, but who won?" And Roy will say, "I could use a Coke." And I will say, "I could use some Ben-Gay." And we shower and bewail our lack of hair, speed, vision and shot selection. Towel me off, dress me warmly. The steam rises off my head as I break into the cold morning air, leaving the gym and its metaphors. Leaving Charlie staring at his lock as if the right look will open it. Leaving Roy to his memories of knocking most all of them down and Ed to light his pipe. For these and all thy blessings, we give thanks. And oh yeah, Dan, "We all won."