Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Poor Man's Olympics

It is possibly the greatest creation ever. It is soft, it is bright orange, it is a giant orange pillow. Not giant as in “oh, that’s a big cushion for that couch”, this captivatingly ugly pillow IS the size of a couch. Taking up an entire corner in my grandparent’s basement, it was the site of many sports throughout my childhood. My two brothers, Darcy and Travis, and I were, and still are last time I checked, insanely competitive. I guess it is the nature of the beast when living in the dog eat dog world of sibling rivalry. People without a brother or sister will simply never understand the intimate intensity of that unique love/hate relationship. And this giant orange pillow in the corner of grandparent’s basement, which looked like it had been built for a God rather than mere mortals, was the battleground over which my brothers and I daily fought.

Our main casus belli was hockey played with mini-sticks. These tiny plastic sticks were our weapon and armor, sword and shield. My brothers and I would hack, slash, cross-check and take slap shots from a foot away in our quest for glory. We would alternate who was the goalie, based on whoever had lost the previous game. Goaltender was not a position you wanted to be in, because the only equipment the goalie had was a mini-stick and one of my grandpa’s old hats, used as makeshift catcher. That is not ample protection when the majority of the slashes, not to mention the patented one foot away slap shot, were aimed at you. The giant orange pillow played the integral part of being both the backstop and the board where you could check your brothers. Check is probably not the appropriate word, I think smash, level, and perhaps even steamroll better explains the nature of our brotherly violence. But the giant orange pillow absorbed all blows, enveloping both checker and checked into its soft embrace.

But mini-stick hockey was only one arena of warfare. My brothers and I, while snooping around my grandfather’s garage, found two pairs of boxing gloves. I’m sure you know where this leads. We immediately raced down to the basement and set up our match by the giant orange pillow. There was a brief pre-fight scuffle deciding who would be the first two to pummel each other. My older brother Darcy, using his four years added life experience over Travis and I, intelligently decided to fight the winner, correctly assuming that whoever won would be so tired and beaten up that they would just be a sitting target. Travis and I strapped on the gloves and went at it. It begins as it always does, with light tapping which becomes harder tapping which becomes stiff jabs. I then crossed the line (someone always crosses the line) and gave a solid punch to my brother’s nose. His eyes swelled up, his face became a snarl, and his head became as red as a fiery red tomato. As any sibling knows, that is not a good sign, but before I could fake an insincere apology, he charged, wrapped his arms around me, lifted me straight off the floor and smashed both of us into the comforting and life-saving giant orange pillow. To survive the onslaught, I had to put him in a crab lock until the colour of his head returned back to normal. All the while Darcy, my brother the ref, was laughing.

But it was not all violence and fighting, although most young boys would enjoy that. We also engaged in a variety of track and field games, to prove our superiority over our brothers in any way possible. We would run lengths of my grandparent’s house, both in just downstairs and all-house heats, with the giant orange pillow always being the finishing line, allowing us to run full speed until the end, when we crashed into it and would bounce several feet backwards. We also had a measuring tape to see who bounced the farthest back, that being a prize itself. Probably the most challenging game was high-jump. We would stack my grandmother’s books four feet high and rested her broom on them, acting as the pole that absolutely could not be hit and allowed to roll off. We would start at the other end of the basement, run as fast as we could, and launch ourselves up and over to land safely on the giant orange pillow.

Once my grandmother enquired into just what that racket was in the basement. My grandpa, a man with decades of working class observational humor at his disposal, responded “the poor man’s Olympics”. My grandma scowled at him for saying it, but it was true. My brothers and I were part of a working class poor family. Both my parents worked as much as they could, did what they could, just to make ends meet. That was the reason we spent all that time in my grandparent’s basement. I was originally writing about these memories as part of a self-righteous rant against the Olympics. I wanted to write about how the Olympics reward the elite, because only they have enough money, resources and spare time to become so great at a leisure activity, and to actually have the government pay for them to do so. The measure of a country is not in gold medals, but how it treats the most vulnerable of its citizens. But I got off track, lost my way in my memories, and when I got out this is what I had…

I realize my brothers and I have a strong family, something that I count myself very lucky for because it has given me the opportunity to do what the vast majority of poor sons and daughters cannot: a chance to improve my lot in life. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. The difference is having a cushion to land upon. I am lucky because of my family, for all its glory and disaster. It seems so neat and tidy, really hackneyed and predictable, but I don’t care. This is what I think, from my brain to this page, a material thought. Do with it what you may. My family is my giant orange couch. It might look unusual, ugly, and clash with everything around it, but I would never want anything else. For all the times my family provided a soft landing, embracing me with your love, this is for you.


Jeremy Dunlop said...

Hey everyone, thank you for the read! I was just curious to hear from readers about whether I should change the colour scheme to something perhaps easier to read. I appreciate any criticism, constructive or otherwise!

Whitney Bourgouin said...

Jeremy, once again, your words have a type of flow that works to create a tone and pace in the writing which I found really effective. It was funny and somewhat sentimental, but with a good balance.
One word of criticism is that the second paragraph says "where you could check your brothers." I think the use of "you" is ineffective because this isn't a story about everyone, its just about you, so perhaps it should say I or we. I know sometimes when I write, I do the same to make it sound universal when really it isn't.
Anyways, I really enjoyed certain lines that were funny or phrased in an interesting way. I think the line: Not giant as in “oh, that’s a big cushion for that couch”, really creates a certain tone and I can hear the person musing over a big couch cushion as a point of passing interest. I liked the use of colour and the repetition of "giant orange pillow," and the way that even at the end, when your story changed in tone and meaning about your family's working class status, it still was brought back to the giant orange pillow.

Chelsea C said...

Hey I read this one right after Whitney's and I love the difference in activities between sisters and brothers. Sure the girls yell and scream but the boys are so voilent. I really liked how you coloured your words on the "giant orange pillow" and when you described your brothers face " became as red as a fiery red tomato". That was very creative. I also liked how you linked this pillow to your family, also ver creative. Sounds like you had some good times on this "giant orange pillow" Good job :)

Stacey39 said...

Hey Jeremy,

I thought the metaphor at the end was great. Characterizing the giant orange pillow as the cusion of family is fantastic. I think the metaphor could have been reinforced if maybe more characterization was given to the brothers. What did they look like? How old were they?

Also, what's a "casus belli?" That kept bugging me throughout the passage. :P

"Check is probably not the appropriate word, I think smash, level, and perhaps even steamroll better explains the nature of our brotherly violence. But the giant orange pillow absorbed all blows, enveloping both checker and checked into its soft embrace."

I really like the tender description you are getting at here. I think the word "check" is a little overused, but I understand it's hockey terminology. I guess that's hard to get around.

Great job though!

Cassie B said...

I loved your blog; I have a sister and could relate to the sibling bonding/ competition. When you wrote, “People without a brother or sister will simply never understand the intimate intensity of that unique love/hate relationship”. You could not have said it any better; I love the truth in that statement.

I really liked how you added color to the “giant orange pillow”. When reading your blog I was a little overwhelmed with everything that is going on, on your page. A few things you could try to help this is move your “important things to know” either further down the page or even to the right side of your blog. The way we have been taught to read is left to right, so the first thing that attracted my eye was your “important things to know” section rather than your blog.

It was a great read I look forward to reading more of your post!

Kyle G said...

Wow, this takes me back to when my borther and even sisters would have Royal Rumbles on this giant bed. Thats a special kind of fun. You are a masterful samurai when it comes to diction and syntax.

Anonymous said...


Darcy, 4 yrs wiser.....