After being gone from home for the past two weeks, sleeping in my own bed last night, among my own clutter, felt great. Becoming unconscious around 8:00 p.m. because I’m still on east coast time was not so, but you have to take the good with the bad most days.
This morning I left the house early for an 8:00 a.m. soccer match, which meant assembling all my crap as noiselessly as possible so that I didn’t affect the nascent Pajama Day by waking everyone up before 9:00 a.m., including Dandy Dog.
Just before I made a successful departure, Dandy did bother me for a quick trip outside. We took him running on the beach yesterday, and by the looks of him today, it seems his joints and mine share the same sort of creakiness the day after. But he is endlessly happy as long as he is in the company of his Momma, so I bailed relatively guilt-free and with enough time to stop and pick up a foo-foo coffee before the game.
For context, one of the few outlets I have remaining for real exercise on the weekends is through refereeing soccer games. I handle all types of games, from kids to adults, and have been out there on the “pitch” for well over a decade now. I really should be riding my bicycle now, but it’s embarrassing being passed by pedestrians while peddaling.
This morning’s game was a perfect segue back into the mix for me, since I’ve had barely enough time to eat and sleep lately, much less engage in any sort of activities outside of work. I was really looking forward to running around for a couple of hours though, honestly, I’m not really in the best shape of my life right now.
Nevertheless, this particular soccer league consists of older men, and it has basically two rules: no profanity and no slide tackling. Violating either results in a five-minute send off.
It’s the kind of environment where I worry more about the potential for player heart attacks or strokes, rather than fouls; where my hair color (gray) is probably the only natural one there; where there are more Ace bandages and knee braces than in an orthopedic clinic; where the average gut size makes my own look really ripped; where player substitutions (due to a general lack of condition for everyone) are more important than scoring goals; where the after game gatherings for snacks and beer have more participants than the game itself; and where it’s not unusual for a substantial number of players to legitimately park in handicapped spaces in the adjoining lot.
Get the picture?
It’s not exactly challenging — at least physically. But that doesn’t mean everyone out there isn’t killing themselves to give it a good effort. They are simply doing it at one-tenth the speed compared to
ten twenty thirty forty years ago, and for five minutes at a time, if they are really well-conditioned.
In short, the biggest obstacle facing me is usually keeping tempers at bay. Just because these guys
now suck don’t play as fluidly as they once did, doesn’t mean they don’t want it just as bad. It’s the perfect case study for the phrase, “The mind is willing, but the body isn’t.”
Almost without exception, these bodies haven’t been willing for decades.
So just before kick-off, I announced we were ready to get going, and one of the goalkeepers wanted to know if it was eight o’clock. He’s a big, mostly friendly fellow, who I knew fairly well from previous seasons, so I was a bit perplexed he would challenge me on such a small detail before the game even started.
“It’s game time,” I replied.
“Is it eight o’clock?” he repeated.
“It’s game time,” I said again.
“Is it eight o’clock?”
Clearly, this was going nowhere.
“Yes, it’s eight o’clock,” I lied (it was about 7:58 a.m.).
“Okay. That’s all I was asking.”
But not more than ten minutes later, I made a call that necessitated a penalty kick against the same keeper, and as we were lining up for the kick, he chastised me.
“You’ve got to use your judgement out there. That was no penalty. The trajectory of the ball was straight.”
“The trajectory of the ball is not an issue. The hand was away from the body. Unnatural playing position.”
“Still, that was terrible. The trajectory of the ball wasn’t affected.”
Whatever. We lined up for the kick, and — the shooter missed. No harm done, it seemed.
Five minutes later, I called a corner kick at his end, which was confirmed by the linesman.
“That’s your quadrant. You’ve got to make that call,” he strongly advised.
“Hmmm?” I thought to myself. I did make the call.
So, I decided to apply a little Zen to the situation. After all, I wasn’t upset, but this goalkeeper was becoming increasingly so, no matter what I did.
“You are being uncharacteristically negative this morning, my friend. I’m not used to it from you,” I soothed, as I put my arm on his shoulder.
“That’s your quadrant. The ball was tipped. You missed it. You’ve got to do better.”
All this for about a $28 dollar game fee to me. I just decided to carry on and not worry about it, because even though Zen may not have worked, Zen-me was still nominally in charge of the game.
As things turned out, this goalkeeper’s team lost pretty handily, 3-1. After the match was finished, a drizzle began as I shook a few players’ hands before leaving the field. Most of these games are friendly, and it is rare that real, lasting conflict ever occurs. Today was about the same, for the most part.
As I packed up my bag to leave, the goalkeeper in question was busy helping break down the goals and gathering the corner flags for storage.
The last flag was near me, and he came over to shake my hand.
“Good game,” he said.
“Well played,” I replied.
And we shook hands.
Maybe Zen does work, after all — in mysterious ways.