“Did you ever pull up to a red light, and go a little bit too far into the intersection? Just a few extra feet? So you put the car in reverse and back up just a little bit. And then you forget the car is in reverse? And so you sit there, innocently, waiting for the light to change…At this point, you are truly an accident waiting to happen.” – George Carlin
At 42 years old, I’m at a point in my life where one of my main goals is to minimize the likelihood of physical trauma. Now that doesn’t mean I avoid physical activity. Quite the contrary – I jog, play basketball, golf, and workout. But these days, my injuries tend to be, and should be, “old person” injuries, such as:
- Twisting my ankle while trying to jump four inches into the air to catch a football, or
- Aggravating my hip because my golf swing has “a little too much follow-through,” or
- Tweaking my back trying to make a moderately aggressive move in a basketball game
What my injuries are not supposed to be, however, are “idiot” injuries – the ones that cause everyone who learns of them to say “Well, if you were doing that, of course you were going to get hurt.”
Despite my consistent effort to avoid “idiot” injuries, sometimes life gets a little too stagnant, so I decide to tempt fate. This past Summer, I went tubing. After my kids all went, it was my turn. A few minutes into the ride, I realized what a singular, enormous talent I was in the art of reclining on a rubber doughnut. When the tube drifted into the perilous waters outside the wake of the boat, I had this method of angling my body in such a way that I could absolutely, positively not be thrown. Feeling unshakably confident about my ability, I proceeded to taunt the speed boat driver with hand signals indicating I was bored, disappointed, and altogether unimpressed with her inability to give me an exciting ride.
Ten seconds later I was flying head first into the face of a six foot wave at 40 miles per hour. I still don’t know how I’m alive.
Now let’s get into sub-categories of the “idiot” injury: the tubing incident, for example, can be classified as “Idiot Arrogant.” Two weeks ago, I discovered a heretofore unknown sub-category that shall be classified as “Idiot Ignorant.” Idiot Ignorant can be particularly dangerous because you don’t even realize you’re doing something treacherous, even as you’re doing it.
Look, it seemed completely natural and safe for me to try to hone my basketball skills by dribbling a basketball up and down an indoor court with my eyes closed. I mean, Luke Skywalker blocked lasers without looking, and how many Kung Fu masters in the movies have been able to catch punches and annihilate adversaries while blindfolded? Lots.
So I had Hollywood on my side.
And I had a system – 12 dribbles would take me from one end of the court to the other if I was running casually, and it would take 10 dribbles when I was hauling ass. Now, of course I would open my eyes with a few dribbles remaining. I needed to give myself time to slow down, make a 180-degree turn, and proceed in the other direction.
I mean, I’m not stupid.
As a man over 40, perhaps the most valuable lesson I have learned from my great basketball exercise experiment is that I can literally fall asleep anywhere. I mean, I always knew I could dose off on the couch, at work, at church – you know, boring places. But now I know that I can literally fall asleep while running and dribbling a basketball.
Cut to me wandering the court, all alone, dazed and confused, swiping at my face, wondering why my hands are covered in blood. The hit didn’t knock me out, which was fortunate because the amount of plasma that purges from the bridge of one’s nose when it bursts in half, particularly in the midst of vigorous cardiovascular exercise, is easily enough to suffocate a man.
I slowly realized what had happened, and the breadth of my stupidity crystallized in my head. You were running up and down a basketball court with your eyes closed. OF COURSE this happened.
The gym where I had been doing this is, appropriately, attached to a church. As I walked out of the gym into the bright lights of a carpeted hallway, I met the man who sits at the front desk.
“Do you have any ice?” I said, trying to contain the horror movie pulsing from my face.
The man looked at me, then at the gymnasium doors, then at me again. He knew that only I had entered that gym. He also knew that inside that the gym was nothing but a basketball court. There was no workout room, no chin up bar, no rope ladder, no small firearm shooting range – nothing but a court.
“I couldn’t even begin to explain what just happened,” I said.
As the man hastened off, I went to the bathroom, stood at the sink, ran water that swirled crimson down the drain like that scene from Psycho, and looked into the mirror, my glazed-over eyes still trying to focus.
As the man returned with the ice, the rush of blood slowed, and my shock and pain turned quickly to shame and embarrassment. I wanted nothing more than to get out. I remember seeing drops of blood on the basketball court, and assumed I had also left a stain or two in the nice carpet of the church hallway, but I had to leave. I could not stay in that place one minute longer.
Clutching a bloody bag of ice to my face, I headed out the front door, crossing paths with a well-dressed elderly couple who were coming into the Church for a function of some sort.
“Oh, dear,” the woman said. “Do you have a bloody nose?”
“Not really,” I said, and as I got closer and the pair got a better look, I felt the need to say: “I was doing an exercise I’ve done before, and it went wrong…”
I think I hoped for the words “It’s an exercise I’ve done before” to absolve me of stupidity. But I wasn’t fooling anyone. A person could manage to survive scuba diving in shark infested waters dressed in a Lady Gaga meat suit, but that doesn’t make it ok to do.
I’m driving home. At a red light, I rummage through my workout bag for my cell phone.
“Honey?” I say.
“Yes,” my wife says.
“I went to the church, and nobody was there tonight,” I say. “Basketball must’ve been cancelled or something.”
“Ok,” she says. “Coming home?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Hey…uhm…I kind of hurt myself practicing.”
“Twist your ankle or something?” she says.
“No…uhm…I was doing this thing where I dribble up and down the court with my eyes closed, and I kind of ran into the wall with my face.”
“You there?” I say.
“Yeah, very funny,” I say. “Look, can you just start getting all of our first aid stuff out? I’m gonna need to get bandaged up.”
She’s still laughing, and I can hear my oldest son in the background saying “What did he do?” And she tells him and there’s more laughing. Mind you, they don’t even know the extent of the damage. Sure, it’s just my nose, which is inherently funny, but what if I knocked out all my teeth, or…ruptured an eyeball or something?
“Is this an exercise you…heard about from someone?” she says. “Or did you come up with it yourself?”
“I came up with it myself,” I say. “Nobody else is doing it.”
“For good reason, apparently,” she says, still laughing.
I will say that on the few occasions I had performed this exercise without incident, I believed I had discovered something truly groundbreaking in the realm of basketball training. How many people were doing this? Not many.
I never did, however, think I would choose to introduce it to my son’s basketball team, which I coach. After all, they were just 11-year-olds and could never perform such a difficult task correctly, like me – savant of advanced sports training.
“Look, could you just be ready when I get home?” I say to my wife. “My nose is pretty bloody.”
“Ok, we’ll be ready,” she says, and then musters as much concern in her voice as she can to say: “Be careful driving home.”
The long and the short of it is: I was ok. I didn’t need stitches. My nose was not altered – mainly because it hit the wall straight on – and if it was broken, it was not in any more pain than my ego.
I guess I can take solace in the fact that there was no security camera in the basketball court to capture my moment of painful humiliation forever. But if I had to guess what it probably looked like, I would imagine it was this (except with my face turned forward):
I leave you with this: If I ever collide with anything or anyone for any reason, and I remark: “That was like running into a brick wall,” take heed, for I know of what I speak.