A Bagatelle

There is no moral, theological or religious point to this item, but as Paul advised taking a little wine for the sake of the stomach, so I advise a little frivolity for the sake of the soul.  And it may be well to remind ourselves and our readers that the grumpy old professors who write for the Orthosphere once gave their old professors something to grump about.  

When I was a stripling student at the State College,* broomball was one of my less disgraceful diversion.  As shrewd readers may surmise, broomball is a game played with brooms and a ball.  Its object and rules resemble those of ice hockey, and at this State College, it was in fact played in the hockey arena.

Broomball differs from the Canadian national pastime in that it dispenses with protective padding and specialized footwear, and is not so likely to degenerate into bloody fisticuffs.  The contest is decided in street clothes and street shoes, and hinges largely on surefootedness and dexterous handling of the brooms.  These are, to be clear, standard corn brooms, and those in use at the State College were battered castoffs from dormitory closets.

My team was called the Tigers, and my teammates on the Tigers were likewise my teammates on the college cross-country team.  Although nimble enough on a muddy six-mile course, we were none of us surefooted on ice.  Nor were we dexterous in our handling of a standard corn broom.  The only real distinction of the Tigers was the moth-eaten tailcoats that we wore over our street clothes when we took to the ice.  These we had obtained by somewhat disreputable means, but I will say in extenuation that they were missed by no one but the moths.

Cross-country is a masochistic sport, since every successful harrier must be in love with pain.  We have this word masochism from the name of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a degenerate Austrian nobleman and pornographer.  In his autobiographical Venus in Furs (1869), Sacher-Masoch explained,

“To suffer and endure cruel torture . . . seemed to me exquisite delight.”

He did add,

“especially when it was inflicted by a beautiful woman;”

but, despite this stipulation, Sacher-Masoch seems to have had the stuff of which a great cross-country runner might have been made.

Not only a great cross-country runner, but perhaps even a great goalie for the Tigers.  In Venus in Furs, I find Sacher-Masoch begging his playmate Wanda,

“Tread me underfoot . . . maltreat me seriously.”

Let me explain.

The goalies on broomball teams other than the Tigers resembled the octopus in their ability to simultaneously reach into every corner of the goal and block our shots.  Such shots happened seldom enough, for we Tigers in tailcoats spent most of each game in a desperate defense of our own embattled goal.  Our goalie, whose name was Tim, more closely resembled an amputee than an octopus, and he suffered the additional handicap of being, of all the Tigers, the least surefooted on ice.  He thus succeeded in blocking a shot only when he had the good luck to slip and fall into the melee of sliding feet and slashing brooms, and by so doing to deflect the skidding ball.

Tim’s teammates therefore decided that the honor of the Tigers required that he not only slip and fall frequently, but that he do so gladly.  If I had known them at the time, I might have hoped to see him slip and fall with the words of Sacher-Masoch on his lips.

“Tread me underfoot . . . maltreat me seriously.”

It was to this end that his teammates began to prepare Tim for broomball games by filling him with a quart of Singapore sling, a noxious cocktail then in vogue among striplings at the State College.  This concoction not only fortified his natural masochism, but also aggravated his natural clumsiness, with the happy result that he thereafter gladly spent much of each game underfoot and maltreated—but also in way of the ball.


*) Properly known as the State University of New York College at Geneseo.

2 thoughts on “A Bagatelle

  1. Pingback: A Bagatelle | Reaction Times


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