thing I did for the new issue of The Classical magazine (please learn more about this wonderful publication that I also edit and hump for)

I have possessed exactly one trophy in my life. We had an after-school bowling league at my elementary school. I partnered with my friend Rob, who lived five doors down from me. We posted the highest average score of any team. We were medium-sized children, so I suspect our high average was something like 100 pins, but we still got trophies, each of us.

The trophy was glory, to my 11-year-old eyes. There was a little plastic bowler on top of a column. The plastic bowling man was covered in fake gold lacquer. His golden self was permanently rearing back with ball in hand, his other arm out for balance, legs frozen in his stride. Next to the bowling man on his victory stele was an eagle, also golden, wings raised in genuflection to FAIRWOOD ELEMENTARY BOWLING PETE BEATTY HIGH SCORE or whatever generic citation the small plaque on the front offered. The whole thing was probably worth about $1. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

But the thing about that trophy is that we cheated to get it. Each pair of bowlers had a lane to themselves—we didn’t bowl in direct competition with another team. We were also in charge of keeping our own scores. After a few days of honest bowling, we gave in to some self-suggesting impulse and started awarding ourselves nines and the occasional spare instead of sixes and the occasional nine.

For a while my pride in possessing the trophy outstripped my guilt for cheating. I went back and forth on it. The fake gold on the trophy flaked. I unscrewed the eagle one day out of boredom. When I replaced the plastic bird, it wasn’t as tightly attached as before. Every time I saw the trophy, a very small electric shock of shame passed through my adolescent brain. Eventually the guilt was absorbed completely by some tissue of forgetting, and the trophy itself was absorbed by a cardboard box in a closet, and eventually that box was absorbed by a garbage truck. But the small useless shame of having cheated still sits quietly in the very back of my mind. It became its own trophy.


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