Ex Ball Player

In everyone’s life there will be peaks and valleys. What happens when a boy
peaks before he has even had the chance to be a man? Can he be content to live
in his remembrances of the past even though he seemingly has no future? John

Updike’s poem, Ex-Basketball Player, suggests that whether happy or not, both
the man and the town he lives in need those remembrances. They need them so
much, in fact, that the man and town become dependant on each other for
reaffirmation of the past. The poem is built around the character Flick Webb,
who was a highschool basketball star, but is now confined to the monotony of
pumping gas the small town where he was born and raised. Updike does not take an
obvious "good or bad" stance on Flick’s situation, but rather uses imagery
to portray a dark, dingy world of the present and contrast it with the bright,
shining glory of Flick’s past. The imagery is evident in the first two lines
of the poem, where Pearl Avenue "bends with the trolley tracks and stops, cut
off." (2) Already we see that Flick’s future has been cut short, like the
very road that leads to Berth’s Garage, where he pumps gas. In fact, the train
even passes by the very high school Flick attended. Like Flick, though the train
passes the high school, it does not go far beyond. The words "cut off" are
the key to understanding Flick’s situation. Abruptly, his course was changed.

Without warning, his stardom was exchanged for mediocrity. A highschool
basketball star’s glory days were cut off by the striking reality that he, as
the poem suggests, "never learned a trade." (19) In the poem’s next
stanza, it becomes obvious that Flick is out of place amongst the "idiot
pumps" (7) with their "rubber elbows hanging loose and low." (9) The
imagery suggests that these inanimate objects are as close as Flick comes to any
sort of real contact with others, as is further suggested by the last stanza of
the poem, in which he ignores Mae to stare of into "applauding tiers of Necco

Wafers, Nibs, and JuJu Beads." (30) The reference to one of the pumps as"more of a football type" (12) also points to the fact that Flick views the
world through sports analogies and his past. The fact that there are five pumps,
like five men on a basketball court for each team, also suggests that Flick
still views life in terms of basketball. These facts affirm the notion that

Flick did not concentrate on anything other than basketball throughout his
formative years. Not relationships with others, not academics, not a fallback
plan. Just basketball. The term "idiot" used to describe the pumps (7) also
separates Flick from the other basketball players he used to play with and
against. Just as he is out of place amongst the pumps, his talent put him out of
place amongst his peers. In fact, though he was revered and lauded, Flick was
never really a part of the town. His presence was merely ornamental, and
continues to be. The theme that Flick is not necessarily unhappy, but out of
place, continues throughout the poem. As we are told that "the ball loved

Flick" (16) and "he was the best," (14) we see that it is not just Flick
who looks upon his past with a sort of admiration and pride. It is the entire
city. He is, in fact, the local hero. The boy who didn’t exactly make it big,
but he made it big enough that he’s remembered. Perhaps the town longs for
that hero the same way Flick does. But it is not longing for Flick,
specifically. What the town, as represented by the narrator, wants is another
hero. Until one comes along, they will live vicariously through Flick’s past.

"As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube, but most of us remember anyway,"
(21-22) the narrator muses. It’s as though Flick wants to remind the town of
his past, but he has no need, for they cling to it just as he does. He does not
see people, he sees spectators. He does not see gas pumps, he sees opponents,
team mates, and athletes. He does not see candy, he sees a highschool gymnasium
full of adoring fans. And likewise, the town does not see a person, but the
person’s past. It appears to be a very mutual need for reminiscence. However,

Flick and his fans are a