The Ex-Basketball Player By: John Updike


In stanza 1 the narrator is talking about the layout of the town itself and is introducing us to the main character. The 1st – 3rd line could be symbolic. They could be of Flick’s life, such as, he is on the right

path but then gets cut off and is going nowhere. The phrase “helps Berth out” could mean he works there or that he just helps out their because he has nothing else to do.

The second stanza contains a lot of symbology. The “idiot pumps” that are described could be past opponents Flick has faced. The pumps could also be symbolic of a basketball game. An example is “five on a side” could be players in the game who are teaming up on Flick.

In stanza 3, it talks about Flick’s past achievements. He used to be the best basketball player on the Wizards team. He could score upwards of 40 points per game. There is a use of a metaphor in this stanza. The metaphor is “his hands were like wild birds”. That could mean that his hands were all over the place or that his hands were always moving.

The 4th stanza is the proverbial turning point in the poem. It essentially says, even though he was a good basketball player it took him nowhere in life. Instead of being productive and earning money by going to school, he has not used his resources and is stuck with a low paying job at Berth’s changing tires. The line that is very important in this stanza is “As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube, but most of us remember anyway.” That line says to me that Flick was very famous at one time and no one has forgotten him or his achievements but they are looking for the next big star. It also talks about the lug wrench. It says that “his hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench”. That says to me that he is not very skilled with what he does.

In the final stanza, it talks about what he does after work. He goes to Mae’s luncheonette, which is like a food counter. He goes there to maybe blend into the background. I think he wants to blend because of all his previous fame. He just gives bank stares and little courtesies to get him by but other than that he just keeps to him self.

My first reaction to this poem was that it was a young guy who used to be the hometown hero but then he had nothing to fall back on and landed a crummy job. The poem makes me pity the guy for not using his talents as he could have. I felt this emotion when I read the poem “Daddy”. This poem reminds me of a friend of mine who was great at football when he was in High school but in college he lost it. While reading this poem I thought of the hometown-y feeling where everyone knows everyone and it is an intimate community. I pictured my parent’s hometown. It is the town where the single Wal-mart is the biggest employer and the biggest store and you can see almost everyone there. If I could ask the poet something, I would ask him if the main character was someone he knows or resembles someone.

The content of the poem is exploring the other side of fame or the downside or the after-effects of a big shot career. The poem is shaped in no particular fashion. The poem itself is five stanzas with six lines in each stanza. The poem has no rhyme scheme or meter. It is written in free verse. I believe the most important line is “As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube, but most of us remember anyway.” I think this line is important because it is saying even though he is no longer the all-star he is still remembered and will go down in that town’s history.

The subject of the poem is Flick Webb. He is the main character. The thought the author is trying to give is the other side or fall of a small town hero. The poet’s attitude is rather impassive. He is not pessimistic or optimistic. He is just neutral. The theme of the poem is the “fall of common man”. The poem is a narrative poem. Some of the sound devices used in this poem are onomatopoeia. Some of the examples of onomatopoeia are bucketed, rack, dribbles, and smokes. Those all add and enhance the poem and the readers understanding. The figurative language the author uses are irony, extended metaphors, similes, and alliteration. Alliteration is first used with “trolley tracks” in the second line. The next example is “loose and low” in line nine. The simile used in the poem is on line 18, when he says “his hands were like wild birds”. The extended metaphor in the poem is the rise and fall of a star. The irony of this poem is that Flick is so good he could have gotten scholarships, but he chose not to and now he pumping gas and being a mechanic at a gas station wasting away his talents. The poet’s style is free verse and trying to tell a story as opposed to having it rhyme and be stiff. The poem relates to its historical context when it talks about the gas pumps being the “old bubble-head style”. Those pumps were used back in the old days when you could see the gas that was being pumped in the bubble.

This poem was a good poem. In my opinion, it was an ok story. It is not something that would really catch my interest. It was well developed and told the story and the developed the plot. It has good use of the figurative language and has a universal truth as the underlying theme. This poem is not unique however. It has a rather plain plot line. It resembles another poem I have read. If I were to write this poem I would have changed the plot line so that after 20 years in the gas business, he realizes he needs an education and goes on to college. I would keep the rest of the plot. I predict other readers responded to the poem in the same fashion I did, interesting enough but not overly enthralling. This poem brought to mind the poem “To An Athlete Dying Young”. They both talk about an athlete after his prime and what he has become. The overall moral to this poem is take advantage of what you are given; use your abilities to help you in life.

The Ex-Basketball Player by: John Updike

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.

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