Thursday, July 29, 2010

Locker room banter

It's not what you think. Oh, sure, we get plenty of the usual back-seat sports analysis at Berkeley's YMCA ... but yesterday evening was something else again.

As I was combing the last tangles out of my freshly chlorinated hair, a gentleman with whom I have a nodding friendship finished dressing and ambled by my locker on his way out. He recited a paraphrase a bit mournfully, summarizing the evening's workout, something like this:

I did strut and fret my hour in the gym...

Without missing a beat, another familiar denizen of our gym, standing behind us both, gave the canonical reading:
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

... whereupon the first Shakespearean broke in over the second:
And then is heard no more:

Then in a sort of concert-competition, like dueling banjos in iambic pentameter, the two men strove with one another to declaim Macbeth's lines:
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Much chuckling, turning 'round to see, and half-concealed smiles...

I'm not so great myself at memorizing long stretches of Shakespeare, not since Miss Ballou assigned recitation of soliloquies in ninth grade -- a requirement I've mentioned before.

Not long after I finished college I was visiting a friend's home in Carlisle, England, and made the mistake of tossing off a line from, I don't remember, maybe 2 Henry IV, I was mad about Falstaff then, and Hal's abandon, and then the tragedy of the new-crowned king's rejection of his old friend:
I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers.

My host, my friend's father, was an attorney, which leads me to wonder whether it's coincidence that the gentleman who began reciting Macbeth in my gym last night is a lawyer himself. In any case, my English solicitor host put me to shame: I stammered out a line, maybe two, in the hour before dinner, and he immediately popped out with the whole speech, from memory. Boy, did I feel like a rube.

High drama in the locker room. Even if I can't keep up on lines committed to memory, I love that I live and work out among book people.

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