I’m not sure when I became so competitive, but I’m almost positive it wasn’t long after the first time that I whipped my husband’s ass at Skee-Ball.
Up until then I was contentedly living my life in second place, third place, sometimes even last place—you know, Loserville with second place really being First Loser and all. But then I tossed the skee-ball with such unexpected accuracy that I left my husband, Bill, jaw-dropped and mystified. Hell, I was mystified! Usually I’m the one drinking a beer on the sidelines, oblivious to any competition. But the beast had been woken that fateful afternoon in a beach arcade and from then on, I assumed the role of a win-thirsty competitive lunatic and Bill assumed the role of the challenger. Skee-Ball is our ultimate showdown. We can’t pass one without an impromptu game and have even positioned baskets in our sons’ bedroom for drills. We admit to our muchness.
Skee-Ball is comprised of a set of rings on a slope at the end of a longish alley. The widest ring is at the bottom and basically yields pity points. Consider that ring your participation trophy. Above that is the 20 point ring, then 30 and 40 at dead center, followed by 50 at the top, and two 100 pockets at the highest corners. It is there, top left and top right, where you want to sink your ball. In order to achieve that, I must level myself. This is a matter between me and it. It’s tempting to rapidly fire the balls, but the key is to move precisely. I block out all noise, connect my eyes with the pocket, and go for it at that exact moment. One second later and the ball will miss its opportunity and land in the outer ring.
I’m not sure what I would do if Bill actually won a round of Skee-Ball, with this silly row going on for as long as it has. It’s too enjoyable to have something to toy with him. And also, if he were to win once, then what? Like our ongoing competition, relationships are largely ruled by chance but only when your head isn’t in the game. Patience, focus, and instinct are purposeful. Grit too. And I wonder what would happen if I were to apply the strategies of Skee-Ball to ensure my own relationship a solid win.
Ten Points is Basically Just a Gutter Ball
When relationships are cozy, it’s easy to settle in for a long snooze. But laziness, while luxurious, is ultimately an eternal gutter ball. We stop participating when we stop caring. Relationships require both sets of eyes on the ball. The bare minimum ensures “game over.” I’ve seen the same jeans slung over the same arm chair every night for so long now. I assume they will always be there. But when was the last time you measured the fragility of your loved one? I’m not advocating living a life in fear of being dumped in order to keep heartstrings tugging. I do, however, believe that assuming someone will always be around is a shortcut to taking them for granted. Feeling valued is motivation enough to move up a ring.
The Sweet Spot at the Center
I remember when Bill and I were dating, feeling buzzed every time he called, stood beside me, or even drifted into my mind. It was like living drunk for months. I was high on the adrenaline of this guy liking me. That confectionary of a crush, the sweetest candy, makes our hearts flutter and it’s all we can think about. That’s life in the center rings of Skee-Ball. We want to keep going and score even higher. I always know Bill and I are good when I feel my heart flutter. That’s a sign that the crush never went sour and that the corner pocket is within reach.
The Corner Pocket
Real winners know that though they may not always win, they always try again. That’s the key to the corner pocket and that’s my only hope to a happy relationship—to just try. The corners are inconvenient, challenging, and seemingly impossible to reach. But that’s exactly why we aim for them because what is the hardest to achieve yields the greatest reward. Pushing through the toughest moments and connecting enlightens, strengthens, and bolsters our desire to stay in the game. If at first we don’t win, we give a damn and try again.
I know enough to know that relationships aren’t actually a game of Skee-Ball or any game, but that doesn’t mean that real world trials shouldn’t be tackled with a spirit to be victorious for the triumph of both parties. But victory can only be ours should we aim higher than the gutter, embrace the adrenaline of another, and stay in it long enough to see all that we can do together.
Somewhere there is a retirement arcade with an Early Bird Happy Hour. Decades from now, you’ll find Bill and me there, still mystifying and still in the game.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.