semi-competitive games

Like that stupid Jim Carrey movie, I recommend saying yes to lots of things. I don’t recommend many things from Jim Carrey movies, but this one works. You wind up playing games involving hammers and competing in foosball with small children and bringing beetles home from work. Or perhaps not those precise activities, but ones of equal appeal.

Photo Jun 07, 5 43 42 PM
Ft Snelling State Park; hiked with my friend Greg on Saturday

So, hammers, first of all – there is this game called “Hammer Schlagen,” or maybe that’s all one word, I’m not sure. It is, naturally, of German origin, but apparently the first recorded instance of the game being played in the US was in Stillwater, MN. (The original German name was “Nagelspielen,” or “playing with nails.” You can tell already this is a great game, can’t you?) I had never heard of it before moving to Minnesota, but so far everyone I’ve mentioned it to here has, and I played it at a house party on Saturday. There seem to be multiple variations of the game, but they all involve wood, nails, a hammer, and lots of beers. The people who owned the house of the party had a special Hammer Schlagen table made of soft cedar, which emitted a lovely aroma when we hit it accidentally with the hammer.

If you’re interested in playing, hit me up, I’ll give you some rules.

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Me and Sierra. (Photo Credit: Jon Reynolds)

The foosball, then. My friend Niko and his friend Jon, a creative and talented duo, have built a portable foosball table. It’s bright pink, with a tall and graceful plywood flamingo head at the fore, and hitches to a bike to be towed about town. It unpacks to be a highly functional foosball table with thermoses and tea and tiny porcelain cups stored within; there are red and black fold-up camp chairs bungeed to the outside, to be distributed about the grass, and a detachable chalk scoreboard.  Yes – it’s awesome. An invention to rival that of Hammer Schlagen. Yesterday they took it out for its third public journey, and I was their third compatriot, delighted to be included.

We biked into downtown St. Paul, a small and motley crew, the giant pink flamingo-headed-cart drawing a great deal of attention. (My first bike ride in too long; it felt great.) They’ve been taking the cart to parks and street fairs, but yesterday we rolled up and set up camp on a half-grass, half-dirt patch in front of the Dorothy Day Center, an emergency shelter and health center for people experiencing homelessness in St. Paul. There were loads of people around: sitting on the curb, taking naps in the sun, leaning against wrought-iron fences to talk. We quickly attracted attention and just as quickly attracted foosball players, of all ages and cultures and levels of foosball expertise. We played two-on-two games, Niko and Jon and I taking turns playing our new pals. Our first player was a stately man in a wheelchair who introduced himself alternately as James Bond or Jesse James. We rolled him up the curb and he played sitting down, remarkably well. There was his sister, Miranda, who kept a gently protective eye on her sleeping fiance across the street. There was a young, articulate guy from New Jersey who taught us some raver signs, and a pair of guys my age, KO and Tevin, who played a fiercely competitive one-on-one match. There was a couple with four kids, ages maybe seven to eleven, who swarmed in enthusiastically to play and keep score and give me hugs around the waist. Others wandered in and out to watch the matches or drink a mug of tea.

Many of them were sleeping under a bridge that night, in case of rain. All of them carried a plastic bag or bin of their belongings along with them. All of them were incredibly fun people to spend an afternoon with. All of them were much better at foosball than I.

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Me and Jesse James, looking to Niko to lead our toast. (Photo credit: Jon Reynolds)

A man walking by turned down our invitation to join a game, explaining he had bad arthritis in both hands. “You guys healthy?” Jesses James asked us, after the man had had passed. Niko and Jon and I bobbed our heads, shrugging. “Yeah.” “Yep.” “Getting along just fine.” “No diabetes? No arthritis? Me either,” Jesse James said, shaking his head. “I’m doin’ great.” As an afterthought, he added, “Well, ‘cept I’m in this wheelchair.”

This is the type of man they make motivational posters about.

We pedaled away with all of them asking us to come back soon, gray clouds on the horizon but the scent of lilacs on the breeze, and it was one of my favorite days in awhile, finale-d with an eclectic and delicious curry.

There is, lastly, the coming home from work with a beetle in a jar – but I’m a naturalist who tries to help children solve mysteries, what do you expect?

Photo Jun 06, 3 48 06 PM
The Minnesota Zoo – my place of work
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One thought on “semi-competitive games

  1. What a great story and sort of whacky idea. I’d love to see some video. You guys brought a little fun into some dreariness.

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