In "Ex-Basketball Player" what does this mean: "Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—five on a side, the old bubble head style."

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This quotation describes Flick, the former high-school basketball player, working as an attendant at a gas station. Updike personifies the "idiot" gas pumps to suggest how they appear to Flick. Flick perhaps feels that this job is not where he wanted to end up, and so his perception of the pumps as idiots is an indication of his frustration. He feels that this job is beneath him.

Updike continues to personify the pumps as basketball players. There are even "Five on a side," just as there would be five players on each side in a basketball game. The pumps also have "rubber elbows hanging loose and low," which perhaps alludes to the defensive stance of a basketball player. The implication is that Flick can't escape the glory days of his past as a high-school basketball player. He imagines the pumps as fellow players and himself "stand(ing) tall" among them, just as he might have stood above or been better than his fellow players at school. He is likely always reliving in his imagination those glorious high-school days, so much so that he still projects them onto the present. This is Flick's way of hanging onto the past, and, at the same time, denying the disappointment of his present.

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This important quote comes from the second stanza that introduces us to the character of Flick. It is important to read the quote you have singled out in context of the whole poem and the stanza in which it occurs to understand what Updike is trying to do with this reference:

Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps -

Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,

Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.

In this stanza, therefore, Updike is personifying the pumps and making them seem if they were alive and also comparing them to Flick. Note how the alliteration of "loose and low" and the description makes them appear as basketball players themselves. Updike seems to be reinforcing the theme by focussing on what Flick has become - he may have had skill once, but now he is nothing more than a gas pump attendant with all of that skill unused and amounting to nothing.

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