The Rituals of Middle-Age Men

The Throwback Special

By Chris Bachelder

Twenty-two middle-age men come together to perform an annual ritual, the reenactment of a play in the November 1985 contest between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins in which Lawrence Taylor broke the leg of Joe Theismann, ending his quarterback career. How these men met, how they came up with the idea, readers don’t know. What readers will learn is that like football itself, these men have evolved a ritual around their meeting, a certainty and satisfaction in lives otherwise missing these things. Readers don’t know much about these men as they arrive at the same low-end motel they book into each November, then get snippets of their lives over the course of their stay that when strung together represent what it’s like to be a middle-age man today.

These bits and pieces of their lives revolve around their jobs, or lack; their relationships with their wives, including distance and divorce; uncertain feeling about their parenting and their children’s behavior; feelings about their personal habits and appearance, their strengths and weaknesses; their growing decrepitude and illnesses; their perceptions of their companions, who, it appears, they see just once a year; what they think of the positions they draw for the play, as well as what they’ve drawn in the past; nearly everything that goes into the make up of the middle age male psyche. As you can surmise from the above, in short order, for the reader, the twenty-two seem to blend into a single representative fellow.

While you’ll not find much of a plot here, other than progress through the hours to the big event that passes in a moment, you’ll find much humor of the quiet type and considerable poignancy. For instance, the entire discussion of the men’s room ritual regarding positioning at the urinals followed by a conversation between a couple of the men about wives requesting they urinate seated at home … well it’s uncomfortably funny, especially after one frets his black lab judged him less of a man when he caught him at it. The other man reassures him his dog wasn’t being judgmental.

Men like to think of themselves as free spirits, to a degree; however, most men really like ritual and complexity. There’s something about merging these two concepts that men find appealing and Bachelder brackets the book with this idea. Early on, he lays out the rules, introducing them as “simple, clean, and egalitarian.” Then he proceeds to elaborate the ten rules that add some complexity to the affair. When one of the men leaves early on personal business, the others corral  a younger guest attending a work meeting to fill in. Afterwards, the substitute undresses and leaves the men, thinking that he would like to do the annual recreation with his friends. He immediately begins formulating his own rules and all the improvements he would make with his own friends.

While not a book for everybody, older men might like to see their own hopes, oddities, and insecurities represented if for no other reason than to know they are not alone. And women married to or seeing men, wondering what goes on in their heads, may find the book entertaining and, perhaps, enlightening. w/c

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