Before torpedoing my Saturday to put together your Sunday paper — don’t mention it — I enjoyed myself by swilling the first of the day’s coffee and reading a Sports Illustrated article on a guy I historically haven’t been all that enamored of: LeBron James.
Oh, I acknowledge the guy’s obviously basketball talents. Mainly, I just tend to like sports figures in inverse proportion to how much hype surrounds them before they’ve truly accomplished anything.
Among other things, James was on the cover of SI as a high school junior, and basically I was sick of him before he’d ever reached the NBA. I remember telling my son Bob before James began his pro career, “Wouldn’t it be kind of funny if he got to the NBA and just didn’t have it?”
I also thought the way he went about announcing his free agent transfer from Cleveland to Miami a couple years ago — via a television “special” — was insufferably narcissistic.
Anyway, I read this article about James on Saturday and actually came away with a better feeling about the guy. I’m not going to buy a LeBron jersey or anything, but I do find him a bit more likable now.
One point the story made is that he’s generally an upbeat guy who’s easily amused, including simply by transposing the first letters of someone’s first and last names. That is, his little exercise would turn himself into JeBron Lames.
I chuckled when I read that because about the time I was in junior high, I did the same thing. I have no idea why, or how it started, or how it ended, but for a time it was just sort of fun to see what various people’s names — friends, family members, etc. — would sound like if I did that.
Note: In the case of someone like me, where two letters combine to make up the first sound of one or both names, the transposition would include both letters. Thus, my adjusted name became Leve Stundeberg.
The name thing reminded me of another very stupid staple of those junior high years: pencil fighting.
The pastime involved, as you might have gathered, two people each wielding a pencil. One guy would hold either end of his pencil horizontally at roughly waist height, and the other would hold his pencil by the lead end with one hand and with the other hand pull back on the eraser end, creating tension; he would then use that tension to deliver a blow with his pencil to the other person’s pencil.
If the horizontal pencil broke, the game was over; the other guy won. If it didn’t break, the combatants would switch roles, and the contest would continue until one guy’s writing implement was in multiple pieces.
When I first heard of pencil fighting, I thought it was about the stupidest thing imaginable for the simple reason that even if you won, you didn’t actually win anything — you ended up exactly as you started, with a pencil that wasn’t broken. And of course if you lost, you had converted a perfectly good tool into kindling.
I stuck with this view for probably a couple months, but then for reasons I can’t remember, I became hooked on pencil fighting and quickly converted into one of Rowe Junior High School’s most enthusiastic wood-and-graphite pugilists.
The best fighting pencils — and yes, I do feel like an absolute moron just typing that — were of the label Integrity, and also very solid was one marked Choice. They were both made of this kind of rubbery, particleboard type of stuff which seemed to absorb and deliver blows with more effectiveness than the grained, milled-lumber variety of pencil.
In my hometown, Integrity pencils were pretty much only found at the DiscoMart — nice name, I know, but it had nothing to do with Saturday Night Fever; Disco was short for discount — in Milwaukie proper, not all that close to our house, but somehow I got my mom to take me there every now and then so I could replenish the arsenal; the Integrity, while powerful, was not invulnerable.
At some point, of course, the pencil fighting epidemic passed, for me and everyone else; maybe everybody’s parents got tired of their kids risking and wasting pencils in such a brainless activity. I honestly can’t remember how the craze ended, but mercifully it did.
A junior high activity I’d still engage it pretty much at the drop of a hat, though, is tabletop football with a “ball” consisting of a piece of paper folded into a tight triangle about the size of a credit card. You and another guy slide it back and forth, and if you get it to hang over the far edge of the table, it’s a touchdown; then the other guy shapes a goalpost with his hands, and you “kick” the PAT by holding the ball upright and flicking it with a finger.
If you slide the ball off the end of the table three times, the other guy gets to attempt a field goal in the same manner.
Great stuff. I’d take that over a video game any day.