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A poem of gentle satire, John Updike's "Ex-Basketball Player" is a narrative about the former hero of a small town who is now a tragic figure lost in a mundane routine life. With the use of iambic pentameter, a metric form which most closely imitates prose, Updike's poem is in five stanzas, a form, perhaps, imitative of a high school essay.
This narrative progresses from a presentation of the setting--
Pearl Avenue runs past the high school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off--
that mirrors the life of Flick Webb, whose fame and success has also been "cut off" by his failure to attain anything more than a position as a gas station attendant to his own "cut-off" life in which Flick merely goes from Berth's Garage to Mae's lunchenette.
Interestingly, Updike's use of colloquial language becomes symbolic of Flick's condition: The rubber "elbows" of the gas pumps "hanging loose" and Flick's idle time as he "hangs around" Mae's luncheonette suggest the "dead-end" condition of the ex-basketball player's life.
Truly, as F. Scott Fitzgerald has written, "Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy," the one-time hero of the town whose hands "were like wild birds," now is a tragic figure who merely "dribble[s] an inner tube" and "play[s] pinball" to the
...bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.
Like the snack items of no worthy food value, Flick Webb, moves in the poem from having once been the "best," to now being of little worth to the small town.
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