Roger Marolt: Giving a finger to the chain gang
Aspen football chain-ganging is demanding mentally, physically and gastrointestinally. Yes, it takes guts. New members are admitted only when a current member dives into life’s end zone. We work for peanut M&Ms and halftime hot dogs. When passes are dropped, a 48-minute game can take three hours. To top it off, we all eventually end up with gnarled fingers. These breaks come while tossing the football before games on fall Friday evenings, where jammed fingers cry out over the autumnal breeze like cereal elves: Snap! Krackle! Pop!
I grew up in a skiing family who loves baseball and competes like magpies on roadkill. I never learned to “have a catch.” You remember that hokey phrase Kevin Costner used in “Field of Dreams” when he longed for lazily tossing a baseball back and forth with his Pa, 20 feet apart in the front yard, tracing imaginary rainbows with the arcs of their gentle throws. We never did that. We played burnout which is firing the ball back and forth as hard as you can until it gets too dark to see or someone says “uncle” because his or her hand goes numb, whichever comes first. This addicting game has followed me into “adulthood.”
I believe the first finger I broke was Bill’s. He is the senior member, moving the sticks since perhaps when footballs were round. His phalange snapped for the joy of serving so long ago that I don’t recall the particulars, but one look at his knuckle confirms it’s not hypochondria. He never picks up a football anymore, not even an incomplete pass that comes to rest at his feet.
Tim was next. He’s still bellyaching about it. He says I throw a football like Hickory House hot wings — too damn hot. I permanently jammed one of Ken’s fingers at the first pre-game he joined us for. Chris claims he’s never broken a finger out there, but we’ve all noticed how gingerly he pulls his wallet when the tab comes.
That left Dwayne and me as the only members who could count whole numbers on our digits without having to consider fractions. That is until the first home game this fall. I’m not saying I threw a perfect spiral, but he had his hands all tangled up, too. I mean, seriously; the dude was a baseball catcher in college. Anyway, the ball bent his finger forward so it resembles the Grim Reaper’s scythe. Apparently, it will stay that way until offseason surgery.
I poked fun at him mercilessly for days afterward: “You got hands like feet.” “Musta hit you in a bad place — your hands.” “What, did someone punch you in the nose?” “It’s your middle finger so it must be an overuse injury”, etc., etc. Best of all, the medical term for the injury is “mallet finger.”
As captain of the chain gang, chosen by secret ballot, protested and re-counted every single week, I never considered that karma applied to me. As our unofficial motto is “At least consider doing the right thing,” I believed we had some sort of cosmic exemption. This assumption proved false, and I am paying now with my own case of mallet finger.
Mallet finger! Who has heard of it? Nobody, that’s who. Dwayne gets one and a week later, I get one, too! It’s preposterous! Mine happened in a cosmically punishing log chopping accident.
We were at a mountain cabin with Bill and his wife, Leah. Everybody wanted a fire, like that would burn the edges off a long week. I might have been showing off a bit and swung harder than necessary. I must have hit a knot or an old squirrel skull. I felt the sting in my hands and arms as a chunk of log shot back like a rocket. In one sense I got lucky. Had that piece of wood not smashed into my fist, it would have hit me right where the fly meets the pant leg seams.
Chain-ganging isn’t all the glitz and glamor it oftentimes appears to be from the stands. I’ve pulled a hamstring and a gastrocnemius trying to keep pace with Aspen’s hurry-up offense. Dwayne put off knee surgery until the end of the season a couple years ago. Bill worked a game with a bad head cold (it might have only been allergies). Tim once fought off hunger pains. And still, love of the game conquers all. We happily give you our knuckles.
Roger Marolt incurred an injury last week that will force him to change the way he writes, hopefully not forever, but for at least four to six weeks. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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