Three Examples of Great, Though Fleeting, Human Achievement
1. I’m sitting in Mr. Everhart’s early Geometry class in 10th grade, and he’s explaining some proof about angles in a circle, while all of us are struggling to stay awake, half-dead in loosened neckties. He goes to the board and draws a giant circle, and gets a few more words out before stopping.
Most of the class snaps from their stupor, as we can’t believe what we’ve just seen: Mr. Everhart has drawn a perfect freehand circle. He wasn’t even trying – just swiped the chalk across the board, but there is no doubt that he has accidentally created abject perfection. Not usually swayed by interesting things, even Mr. Everhart stops and looks at the board, slightly mesmerized.
After class, some of us measure it – sure enough, perfect to the millimeter. It stays on the board for weeks, becoming something of a talisman, before the cleaning crew, unaware of (or unwilling to accept) divine truth, wipes down the board with a sponge.
2. We’re at the fraternity, about three of us guys lounging on the two single beds I stuck end-to-end, when we hear a commotion in the hallway. Apparently Jack, one of the handsome, good-natured bros from a New Jersey prep school, has been in the bathroom, telling some of the dudes to look in the toilet.
Sure, we think, this is going to be completely stupid. We weren’t the kind of fraternity that threw kegs out the plate-glass windows and told jokes about minorities; we were earnest dorks who were trying to get good grades, get laid, and run the school, not necessarily in that order.
But when we got to the stall, we stared into the toilet in awe: Jack had laid the biggest, most oddly-stunning poop any of us had ever seen. Yes, it sounds gross in the sober recollection of this blog, but in the moment, it was actually kind of inspiring. I won’t describe it, but you get the idea – perfect in every way. Later that night, I’d see other brothers, randomly informed of its presence, looking into the stall with their mouths agape, like pilgrims visiting Our Lady of Lourdes.
There it stayed for days, until our caretaker Robert, not fully grasping the import of this benchmark by which all other human output might be weighed, flushed the toilet.
3. I’m playing hoops at Umstead Park, which was always third choice for pickup games in Chapel Hill. Dave, Andy and Bryan have already left, but there’s still lots of light left, and a new game needs a sixth. This one kid, a younger, shorter kid, makes a driving move and tries to English the ball off the backboard, but instead, it just hangs.
And hangs. The spin gives it one rotation around the iron rim, then it kisses the backboard one more time, and slows. Slows, and stops. Sitting on the rim.
Not on the back part of the rim against the backboard; while rare, I’ve seen that happen four or five times. This ball was actually resting on just the rim, perfectly balanced, held there by the most infinite of chances, in the tiny black grooves of the basketball.
We all froze, mid-dance, watching it, in total disbelief that we were seeing what we were seeing. Sure, it was a ratty ball, and a rusted rim, but in that split second, we knew it was magical, and nobody breathed lest the spell be broken.
Except for the kid who shot the ball. Frustrated at the lack of a score, and astonishingly unappreciative at the spectacle before him, he whipped his baseball cap at the ball, which fell silently off its perch like long ashes dropping from an abandoned cigarette.