Poetry Explication Of "The Ex Basketball Player" By John Updike
The poem "The Ex-Basketball Player" by John Updike dramatizes the conflict between dreams and reality in the case of Flick Webb. Flick shows such promise in his teenage years, but he ends up in the pathetic reality of helping out at a garage and playing pinball in a luncheonette. The poem begins with the description of "Pearl Avenue" which "bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off / Before it has a chance to go two blocks..." Pearl Avenue presents a ticket name connoting a clean, freshness which describes the state of Flick in high school, his glory days. The fact that the street stops before it goes two blocks displays the harsh end of Flick's success. His prosperity ends with his adolescence; his seemingly assured future becomes a mere wistful memory. At the end of Pearl Avenue sits Berth's Garage which situates on a corner "facing west"; Flick helps Berth out there on most days. Facing west connotes the setting of the sun and the ending of a day. It is fitting that Pearl Avenue ends in darkness. Garages have grease and filth in abundance; this contrasts sharply with the shiny, cleanness of a pearl. The poet's use of diction in the first stanza stresses Flick's riches to rags journey.
The second stanza contains a comparison of the gas pumps Flick works with at the garage to the players on a basketball team. He "stands tall among the idiot pumps..."; the description of them as "idiot" pumps perhaps illustrates the mediocre intelligence of basketball players, but because Flick "stands tall" among them he is obviously of a higher caliber. The poet personifies the pumps further as humans with "One's nostrils are two S's, and his eyes /An E and O." using the letters of the brand name as human characteristics. These "team members" remind Flick daily of what he could have been.
The third stanza discusses Flick's high school greatness and contains the only line where the speaker refers to himself in the first person. Flick played for a high school team called "the Wizards". Wizard denotes magic and wonder and connotes in this case something too good to be true. The next line says, "He was good; in fact, the best. In '46..." while the...
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Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.
Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.
Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.
He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.
Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.