4.06.2015

Minor Pursuits

I nearly doubled this score today.
Hobby is an odd word. My ears are disgusted by it. The word itself is ugly. The sound. The construction. The very aesthetic of the written word is revolting. It stinks of frivolity, like it ought to be relegated to the infirm and decrepit. Rarely does a single word castrate an activity so thoroughly. Hobbies are for nine or ninety year olds. But behind this atrocious mask lies perhaps a series of tiny personal treasures. Such an ugly word to describe something immeasurably beautiful.

Simply put, a hobby is a minor pursuit sought for its own sake. It contains no extrinsic value, social currency, or demonstrable value. Yet, each of us, when we settle into our little homes for the evening reach for any number of beautifully insignificant activities. These loves bathe in the noblest intentions, hovering angelically above the base engagements of ordinary life. 

Perhaps my purest hobby is pinball. I've been actively playing since I was fifteen, though my Dad taught me to play years before. I remember thinking he was a god because he could catch and manipulate the ball at will. It blew my little fucking mind. I would end up spending incalculable hours trying to tame the little silver devil. 

My first job was as a midway (i.e. carnival) operator at Circus Circus in Reno, Nevada. I swindled good people for $5 an hour for over a year. Every father or boyfriend sure the love of their child or girlfriend could be bartered for an oversized stuffed animal. Breaks were much needed spent dipping into the arcade to pop a pair of quarters into a table. My Dad's techniques began paying dividends almost immediately. I could control the seemingly random, chaotic game. I was hooked. 

During the summer, I'd spend my days in an arcade. My mom worked in a casino, and would send me to the game room with a handful of quarters and say, "Make it last." Pinball, theoretically, is infinite. But I prefer to think of it as a microcosm of life. Every game ends. What matters is how you played. Did you stave off the inevitable beautifully using deft skills and harmonious play? Or did you rail against the machine for handing you a few shitty center drains? Of course I didn't wax philosophical about it when I was 15, I just liked it. 

I wasn't an asshole back then. 

Maybe I was. 

Yeah, I was probably an asshole. But not about this.

Fast forward 15 years and I'm still playing. Maybe more than ever. And I've gotten pretty good. Considering I've easily put in the Gladwellian 10,000 hours, I fucking ought to be. I could have become a doctor with the time I spent playing pinball. But I didn't. I spent nights with my back to thousands of potential friends and dates, staring at a little silver ball for no other reason than pure joy. As though we needed to justify anything beyond unadulterated joy

We're tempted to disparage people's hobbies, dismiss them as superfluous and wasteful. But when someone becomes enamored with a minor pursuit, even temporarily, we ought to stand back and smile. They've found something that satisfies them for no earthly reason. Out of the chaos and absurdity of existence, they've found something shiny to play with. We ought to hold them on our shoulders until our backs give out. I have dozens of minor pursuits: iPhone tinkering, home brewing coffee, collecting records, disc golf, playing guitar, writing this blog, writing four other blogs. They oscillate and jockey for my attention, but rarely are they left behind. If I loved it once, I will love it again. I'm in the spring of my pinball renaissance, and I feel some sonnets coming on. If you're in Chicago, keep your eyes out for my initials or those of my pinball team: Extra Ballsy (EXB). If you come across them, know that where you stand, I sipped a Diet Coke and wished to be nowhere else in the world at that moment.   

-NED

* You can check out recent scores on IG/Twitter: @extraballsy (EXB)

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