The other day five men came into the sports center together, one of them spinning a shiny new Spalding basketball between his hands.
“Is anyone playing basketball right now?” he asked.
“The gym is available,” I said. “I don’t know if anyone is playing basketball right now though.”
“I think there’s one guy shooting hoops,” my co-worker said.
The guys looked at each other. They looked at what they could see of the facility from the front desk.
“You’ve got a rock wall? Can we climb?” one asked.
“Yep,” I said. “It opens in half an hour.”
“How much does it cost?” another asked.
I explained our day pass system and the two different passes they could purchase — $10 for the facility or $15 to include our fitness center.
“Huddle!” one of them said, and they huddled. Right there in the lobby.
“Okay, we’re going to do it,” they said when they broke their huddle.
“Ten dollars or fifteen?” I asked.
“Fifteen. We’re going to do it all,” said the spokesman.
As they stood at the counter filling out the obligatory paperwork — emergency contact information, waiver forms, etc — I learned a little about them. They were all mid-30s. The five of them had lived together in college. This was a bachelor party.
“Let me tell you about what’s available here,” I said as I collected their papers and their money.
I launched into my spiel. “Our fitness center has two levels. The main floor is traditional equipment, free weights, ellipticals, steppers, treadmills. The upper level has things like kettlebells, ropes, those weight bags that people run up and down stairs with, and other machines. We have the rock wall you can see and a bouldering wall in the gym. There are three pools but you probably don’t have your swim suits with you. There’s racquetball, squash –“
One interrupted — “Do you have racquets we can use?”
“Yes, right outside the courts,” I said, and continued, “There are bowling alleys downstairs –“
“Bowling!” I saw a few high fives. “And that’s open?”
“Yes,” I said, laughing. I loved their excitement.
They headed for the gym first and played a little basketball. Over the next few hours, though, we heard shouts, hurrahs, and bursts of uproarious laughter coming from various parts of the building. We watched them try the rock wall before heading into the fitness center.
When they left before closing, I asked how their day had been.
“Great! Best $15 I’ve ever spent one!” one said.
“We did it all,” said another. “Basketball, bowling, ping-pong –“
“Oh! I forgot to tell you about ping-pong!” I said.
“It’s okay. We found it,” he said.
“And had a great time,” another added.
Their delight became my delight. I still smile when I think about that group of men playing, laughing, having fun, enjoying the time spent together.
I’ve reflected back on this many times. Why did I find it so gratifying? I think it’s because the world has become a meaner place over the last few years. Our laughter is usually at someone else’s expense. Camaraderie tends to devolve into bickering. We don’t listen. We don’t enjoy time together. Everything feels like jockeying for position.
So when two Olympic high jumpers agreed to tie for Gold, it’s an anomaly.
And when five guys, from different places and different walks of life, enjoy each other’s company for a full afternoon, it fills my cup.