Tuesday, November 12, 2019


Hopscotch is, at once, both a moderately-entertaining Walter Matthau vehicle and the easiest game ever played.  I can't truly attest to the former, since I sort of half-watched it on TV years ago and don't really remember anything besides Matthau's genial charm, and can definitely attest to the latter, since I may have been the Pele of hopscotch.

A brief rundown of the rules, since it's possible most people don't actually know the rules of hopscotch, even though their childhood playground or schoolyard almost surely had multiple courts stenciled onto the pavement.  Most "games" consisted of kids just skipping through the numbers like they'd vaguely seen on TV, without the key aspect of picking up the stone.  It would be a little like practicing putting on a green without any holes.

Once you add the stone, however.....to quote Carl Weathers, baby, you've got a stew going!  To say it added excitement would be an understatement, and yet here I go, understating the whole thing since for an extreme talent like myself, the game was simply too easy to catch my interest.

Picture it: a young Mark is in third grade, and randomly strolling around his schoolyard during recess looking for something to do.  It was a rare day when Mark didn't go off by himself and make-believe he was a Ghostbuster, as Mark decided to be social for a change.  He stumbles upon some classmates playing hopscotch and, after a brief recitation of the rules, he decides to join in.

The stone is tossed onto the court, and the game is afoot.  And the foot is the game, in many cases, as Mark easily jumps through every square with room to spare between his feet and the lines, while then easily bending over to snatch the stone in one fell swoop and returning to the end.  Task complete.

It was so easy that honestly, I thought I'd gotten something wrong.  Maybe a rule wasn't explained properly, or I was supposed to yell HOPSCOTCH in a goofy voice while grabbing the stone or something of that ilk.  Could a game possibly be this simple?  Maybe so, since my classmates reacted like I'd just a four-minute mile.  "Oh wow, have you played before?"  Nope.  Beginner's luck....or the birth of a natural.  I sailed through that course as easily as Walter Matthau delivered a wry one-liner.

Now, just to add a dash of humility, I should note that the court was gigantic.  The squares had to have been at least 40cm x 40 cm, so it really was no problem for the foot of an eight-year-old.  And yet, my classmates apparently had the balance of a drunken Stephen Leacock character and somehow couldn't navigate this seemingly simple course.  I guess I was a bit tall for my age, and perhaps had a bit of extra leverage?  It's at this point where I bemoan the fact that I was already 5'10" by the time I was 12 or 13, and then just stopped growing forever, dashing my early hopes of being an NBA player. 

Whatever the reasoning, I was somehow a hopscotch master and everyone else struggled.  Since there was no challenge, I didn't seek out many more opponents, and I think my interest in the game began and ended that same afternoon.  Maybe if there was a professional hopscotch league on TV, I could've had more of an interest, in an attempt to emulate heroes like hopscotch legends Angus "The Hopped-Up Scottish Man" McFayden, or Sammy "Stone-Grabber" Williams.  Without the incentive of a lucrative professional career, however, it was back to busting ghosts for me.

For years afterward, every time I saw a hopscotch court, I began to sing Madonna's "This Used To Be My Playground."  Oh, what might have been.  What might have been. 

I would try scotchin' it up again one of these days, but my god, just imagine the inevitable hamstring tear.

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