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Beyond The Game

Upside-down world: Losing my marbles as life turns into 'Stranger Things'

Poof, they are gone: Opening day baseball, river paddle races, Masters golf — my favorite times of year
By Ken Waltz | Mar 31, 2020

As I binge watch another season of "Stranger Things," my existence — frankly, all of our existences — begin to resemble the upside-down-world of the popular Netflix series as we try to fight off the Demogorgon and its Demo-Dogs — masked, of course, at this time, as the coronavirus — and wait for Eleven to show up and save us, I am depressed, as you probably know, for the loss of real-life, daily sports, but, more specifically, the absence of my annual rite-of-spring athletic saviors.

During the often difficult winter months, the anticipation of three specific sporting events in late-March and early April pulls me through and give me hope, keeps a perpetual smile on my face as dreams of green grass and azaleas, raging rivers and batted baseballs dance in my head.

But, no, my terrific trio — the annual whitewater river paddle races in Waldo County, the Boston Red Sox opening day game and Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga. — have been postponed or cancelled.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

Damn you coronavirus. You are ruining my life. All of our lives. You have become, like Valdemort in the "Harry Potter" movie series: "He who shall not be named," for fear you will show up on our doorstep, settle in our respiratory systems and be difficult to eradicate (another reference to "Stranger Things" and those pesky weeds growing under the fictional town of Hawkins, Ind.)

No one wants that, but this scary global health pandemic known as COVID-19 has left me, frankly, pissed off.

The Boston Red Sox were to open their regular season on Thursday, March 26 in Toronto. That did not happen.

The 41st St. George and 47th Passagassawakeag whitewater river paddle races were suppose to be on Saturdays, March 28 and April 4. That did not happen and will not happen.

The Masters golf tournament was to tee it up in early April. That will not happen.

It seems the only thing that will happen is we will go crazy worrying about our families, friends, neighbors and ourselves — while hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

My sadness for the health despair and financial pain so many have felt and will continue to feel in the coming months is tangible and palpable. Like a ship with no sails or engine, I am at the mercy of the weird, unpredictable winds of this new normal — as I internally salute our true heroes, the front-line health-care providers and grocery-store employees.

I am wracked with fear, anxiety and, above all, sheer boredom.

Boredom so profound that I literally and figuratively have lost my marbles.

This morning as I scanned through the news on my phone I found a story about marble runs/racing. What? That is right, marble racing. I watched a YouTube video and instantly was hooked. Dare I say enthralled?

Small, colorful marbles were dropped on a track where they, pulled by gravity, rolled along the slightly-angled course before they returned to the cup ladder that lifted them back to the top and the start of another trip around the course.

Absolutely mesmerizing. My eyes were glued to my phone and this amazing new-found sport. Little balls racing along a track while a play-by-play person called the action and kept the viewer informed on how these little spheres of color were faring.

In this moment, my world was complete.

While certainly not a rival for NASCAR races, rolling-marble action was, dare I admit, so exciting and unexpected I thought I might even make my first official wager on a "sporting event" because I was all in on the orange ball. Its odds probably were not great, it appeared, but as the underdog, it battled, rolled hard and true, as it tried to make its bite as scary as its vibrant orange bark.

Perhaps it had not trained hard enough before this important race. Perhaps the other marbles cheated. Had the others taken performance-enhancing substances — perhaps a little ball bearing material in the core?

Now, I'm of the age where marbles were an important part of my childhood. Everyone had a bag of marbles, small and large. Ones that were multi-colored or solid. Many with cool designs. Some children even had ball bearings (those really damaged my precious marbles when dropped on them). And nothing was worse than losing those beautiful gems to other marble owners.

Marbles were my shiny, glistening friends. And they were and continue to be like fingerprints — unique and varied. None seemingly the same.

What are these gems: Agates and Alleys. Benningtons and Bumboozer. Cat's Eyes (clear marbles with different-colored blades or vanes inside). Chinas (marbles made of china or porcelain clay). Ade (strands of opaque white and color, making lemonade, limeade, orangeade). Beachball (three colors and six vanes). Ghost Marble (two differently-colored paisley-shaped "ghosts" intertwined throughout the marble, similar to a Yin-Yang symbol. Each paisley has two oblong eyes and a mouth in another color making them look like howling ghosts). And, of course, Devil's Eye (red with a yellow eye).

Clay marbles, glazed and unglazed, are plentiful because they were mass produced between 1884 and 1950. When it comes to glass, handmade antique marbles are the most valuable. They easily can be identified because they have a tiny scar, or pontil mark, where they were cut from the glass rod while being made.

But now life, and marbles, is no longer child's play. Except this new type of gravity-induced racing. These are, in all seriousness, intense, nerve-wracking races for all the marbles, no pun intended.

Marble racing. This is what my life has come to: watching friggin' marble racing.

What is next, virtual car and horse races? Yup. Strat-O-Matic sports? Of course. Radio broadcasts of virtual Celtics games? You betcha. I need my sports fix, even if it is what President Trump likes to call Fake News.

Fake, real, who cares? I need to feed my insatiable sports addiction now or I truly will lose my marbles.

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