May 30, 2017 by Gregory Josephs
Horseshoes in the Dark
The silhouette appeared against the cobalt sky for a brief moment before announcing its arrival with a muted thud on the grass. A pair of smartphone flashlights flicked on, searching the lawn; there it was, embarrassingly far from the stake, even by our meager standards.
“No points from that one.” Brian said as he retrieved the muddied horseshoe. “Maybe we should call it. If we had some light—”
“That’s a great idea!” My father in law cut in. He’d been waiting his turn patiently as Brian and I finished up the last game—it had gone on too long in the dying light—and everyone was determined to get in one more game before the party ended. “Hey Mike, you can figure something out, can’t you?”
Across the grass I watched the shadow of what I knew in daylight to be my brother-in-law as he considered. “Yeah, I think I’ve got some lights. Hold on.”
I leaned deeper into my Adirondack chair and took a sip of my whiskey and ginger-ale. This was getting a little absurd; we’d been playing on and off all afternoon, everyone was getting tired, and lobbing a metal horseshoe at a stake in the grass was tough enough in broad daylight. I didn’t want to begrudge anyone their happiness, but I couldn’t see how this was going to work, save some type of elevated spotlight situation.
Mike returned a couple minutes later with a pair of camping lanterns. He lit the first one—propane—and set it in the grass at what I hoped was a safe distance from the stake. I was glad I wasn’t playing this time around because I could just imagine hurling a horseshoe right into it and setting the lawn ablaze. He placed the second lantern—battery operated—near to the other stake.
The lanterns managed to illuminate the stakes, but not much else. I supposed they’d help with aiming, but playing the game to twenty-one points was still going to be a challenge.
The twilight was deep; gloaming almost complete.
“Alright!” My father in law said. “That’s good! That’s great. Let’s see what we can do!”
Across the lawn I watched him reach his arm backwards, then swing it forward and release. I searched the sky for even a shadow, but the horseshoe was now entirely invisible. It landed a moment later, closer to the stake this time, but still too far away to score a point.
A buzzing near my ear announced the presence of a mosquito and I slapped at my neck as I lifted my glass to my lips. The drink was empty, and I needed some bug spray if I was going to sit out in the dark and spectate, so I stood up.
“Where are you going?” Brian asked.
“I’ll be right back. Do you need anything?”
“Alright.” I watched as he lobbed a horseshoe that landed closer to the stake than any that had come before; still not close enough for a point. “See you in a minute.”
It Might Be Awhile
Inside, I mixed up another whiskey and ginger-ale, pouring lightly so the cocktail was more buff-colored than amber; it was late and I didn’t need a headache in the morning. My mother-in-law found me in the kitchen. “Are they really still out there?” She asked.
I laughed a little. “Yeah, they really are. If it was me, I’d have called it already. Mike put out some lanterns, but it’s still nearly impossible.”
She sighed and laughed a little under her breath. “Well, tell your father-in-law I’m ready to go when he’s done.”
“It might be awhile.”
“That’s alright. Just let him know.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll tell him.” I grabbed a beer for Brian from the refrigerator and headed back out to the lawn.
I’d only just sat down when a familiar buzzing reminded me I forgot the bug spray. Damn. I handed Brian his beer, and I strained to see a slight frown on his face in the dark. “Still no score.” He said.
This should end, I thought. It had been such an amazing day; Brian’s entire family had assembled at his brother’s house for a Memorial Day party. Always a gracious hostess, my sister-in-law set up tables and chairs, catered the whole affair, and attended to every detail. The result was an easy, memorable afternoon with everyone all in one place for the first time since Christmas. We’d laughed and partied and eaten to the point of bursting, but now it was late, and everyone was tired.
Horseshoes had been a great idea at three in the afternoon, but it was well after nine. I was impressed by how well Brian played the game, and his father wasn’t bad either. They’d been on a roll earlier, throwing ‘ringers’ and ‘leaners’ and wrapping up twenty-one-point games in as many minutes.
But now, twenty minutes in, no one had scored a single point.
Another horseshoe landed shy of its mark.
When was enough going to be enough? When would the four remaining players agree that they’d had some great games earlier, and it was best to wait until next time, when they were rested?
When it was light and they could see.
Games of skill are best played fresh.
Perhaps another ten minutes passed, scoreless, before my father-in-law called it. “Well guys,” he said. “It was a good effort, but I think it’s a futile endeavor.”
I was surprised at the collective sigh of relief from the others as the lanterns were switched off and we headed back toward the house.
A few hours and a couple drinks later, as Brian slept softly beside me in his brother’s spare room, I pulled out my phone and loaded up Twitter. We were two days into a four day weekend, and I hadn’t spent more than two minutes working on my social media presence. That’s the name of the game right now—that’s my biggest project as I wait for my manuscript to come back from the editor and prepare to self-publish. As I’ve mentioned, I occupy almost every spare moment with platform building and blogging and all the business-y things that go along with being a soon-to-be self-published author.
As I browsed the hashtag games du jour, my mind struggled to find anything witty to say. I realized suddenly that I was tired, not only from the excitement of the day, but from three months of intense effort tweeting, writing, and connecting. I hadn’t allowed myself a break since the beginning of March. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved it. I love it! The people I’ve met and the connections I’ve made are incredible. I wouldn’t trade all that effort for anything, but. . .
I was tired.
Still, before I could go to sleep in good conscience, I needed one more follower—one more connection. I struggled and struggled to find anything to say or something intelligent to respond to someone else’s quip.
When was enough going to be enough? When would I realize I’d done great work over the last three months, and it was best to wait until the end of the weekend, when I was rested?
When it was light and I could see.
Games on Twitter are best played fresh.
I laughed at myself, closed the app, and went to sleep.
That was Saturday night, and I managed to resist the siren-song of author-work through Sunday and Monday. I just unplugged, and it felt amazing! Now it’s Tuesday; back to work and back to work. I’m fresh now. I’m inspired again. My mind has rested and I’m ready to dive in.
It turns out horseshoes in the dark is a great idea, but it doesn’t work so well. Sometimes we have to accept that conditions aren’t right to play the game, and much can be gained from a little rest.
What about your thoughts? Have you ever gotten into something so deeply you haven’t wanted to quit even when it’s impossible to go on? Do you have any tips or tricks for playing the perfect game of horseshoes? What is your favorite lawn game? Let me know in the comments below.
Thank you as always for reading
(A well-rested) Gregory