Dec 29, 2017

Shakespeare and Sisyphus turn up at the Sabre Room, helping us uncover the true meaning of shuffleboard

Doc’s report:

On a table in Tap Alley, a new craft bar complementing the larger Sabre Room at Bay Lanes, stands a 30-inch-high, 48-piece Jenga game. Players take turns removing one wooden piece at a time until the entire structure collapses. Then the tower is rebuilt, one piece at a time, until the structure rises again, only to be destroyed again. The game goes on, as in most games, as long as two people are willing to play.

Seems like a modern version of the myth of Sisyphus, cursed forever to roll a boulder up a steep hill in Hades, only to watch it roll back down again.

“It’s like bowling,” I thought, on a recent visit to Bay Lanes with Harry and the G-man. “You knock down the pins, set them back up, and knock them down again. What’s the point?” 

In other words, as always on our blog visits, I was thinking too much, with the insistent soft cacophony of falling pins on oiled maple and pine punctuating my melancholy.

We were celebrating the first anniversary of the G-man’s successful kidney operation (“Good
Rachel the afternoon bartender
thing you chose an organ you’ve got two of”). My addiction to deep-fried appetizers found the objects of its desire in cheesy tater tots, white cheddar cheese curds and dill pickle chips. All three get my highest, five-stent rating.

Our bartender Rachel, as charming and competent as they come, needed help remembering the ingredients in a Manhattan but knew that the drink Sex on the Beach includes schnapps, vodka, cranberry juice and orange juice. No one laughed when I said the closest I’d come to either was having sex in Manhattan.

I was put in mind of the sex-perienced Manhattanite Dorothy Parker:
I like to have a Manhattan,
But only two, at the most.
Three, I’m under the table.
Four, I’m under the host.
These pleasant but unrelated ramblings were all by way of delaying the inevitable: my monthly humiliation at the hands of a more talented and disciplined man, as Harry and I made our way to the shuffleboard table.

The Zen of the shuffle: Metaphors of mortality
You move it to the left and you go for yourself
You move it to the right yeah if it takes all night
Now take it kinda slow with a whole lot of soul.  -- the Harlem Shuffle
They say that sports don’t build character: They reveal it. And that they provide our richest storehouse of metaphors for life.

Consider the opening lines of Martin Scorsese’s rockumentary “The Last Waltz,” spoken by the Band’s bassist Rick Danko, shooting cutthroat pool: “The idea is to keep your balls on the table and knock everybody else’s off.” The game becomes a real-time metaphor for the drama of life, and many of its scenes.

It’s especially true of this blog’s barroom favorite, table shuffleboard.

Everyone is familiar with this simple game in which players push metal-and-plastic weighted pucks (also called weights or quoits) down a long and smooth wooden table into a scoring area at the opposite end.

The game has become a catalyst for many of the insights that writing this blog has brought to Harry and me. Harry is a Renaissance man, with interests that range from glass blowing to making spaghetti sauce entirely from vegetables in his own garden to the Tilt-a-Whirl.

He often explains the intricacies of shuffleboard to onlookers, and illustrates them by his own experienced example. But, as I’ve observed here before, no one wins that often without a lot of private practice on indolent afternoons.

Shuffleboard is a slow, quiet game, and that gives you time to think and talk, two fleeting joys in a time of non-stop instant noise. At a time when some in the highest positions of power seem
Inside the Sabre Room
intent on nothing more than the destruction of the English language and the social fabric it has woven, it’s one of the greatest joys of writing this blog simply to listen to people using the mother tongue for their own pleasure, as they do while watching us play.

Shuffleboard, a game that takes a distant seat -- let’s be honest -- to the more popular spectator sports held in stadiums, nevertheless provokes articulate cheers from fans of other sports. These reveal the tastes of the spectators: “Get in the hole” (golf); “It could be; it might be, it is!” (baseball); “That puck had eyes” (again, the national pastime); to Harry: “Will you sign this puck for my kid? He’s real sick.” (football?); “Sweep left” (curling) -- Who let that Canadian in, hey?

Shakespeare and shuffleboard agree: It’s all about understanding the obstacles and unexpected curves in our paths, and decreasing the friction. That’s true both in love: “The course of true love never did run smooth” (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”); and death: “Aye, there’s the rub. For in
Video games in the Sabre Room
that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause” (“Hamlet”).

Note in the quote from “Hamlet” how the immortal Bard points us presciently to the game of shuffleboard, by his reference to both “the rub,” or bias in the surface, and the metaphor for mortality: “when we have shuffled off this mortal coil”) in this, his best-known, work.

Harry and I had our doubts about how level the table was at the Sabre Room. On a second visit, we even brought a level to find out. Turns out, it was level after all. But even if it hadn’t been, it would have been equally biased for both of us.

Shuffleboard endures because it’s authentic. It dates back centuries. Don’t mistake us for Luddites: We love the new bars that are part of Bay City’s renaissance: Tri-City Brewing, Governor’s Quarters, VNO, the Public House, Tavern 101. But at Bay Lanes, you can hear the buzz of the electronic scoreboard recording each point, the glide of the puck over sprinkled sand,
Rules, lots of rules
the plunk of two pucks clacking, the musical breath of pins falling gently on all 32 lanes in the background, acquiescing in their fate.

Camus writes that the most interesting aspect of the story of Sisyphus is the reflection he undertakes after each failed attempt to roll his boulder all the way to the top of the hill, as he walks down the hill to resume his pointless task.

“It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me.… I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end." This is the truly tragic moment, when the hero becomes conscious of his wretched condition. He does not have hope, but “there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” 

In other words, if he thought he could roll the boulder all the way up, conquering life’s absurdity, his efforts would be agonizing. But his consciousness of the futility of his efforts makes him superior to their absurdity.

Camus concludes his Nobel Prize-winning essay with a shocking assertion: that one must imagine Sisyphus as happy. As I walk to the opposite end of the shuffleboard table after each futile roll, knowing I’m going to lose -- forever! -- to the more talented Harry, so am I.

To all our unsung blog visitors: Have an absurdly happy new year.

See the hairy guy’s report on the Sabre Room: A cocktail lounge with all you'll need (fried cheesecake, anyone?) to stay out of the gutter

No comments: