It was an afternoon of discovery.
He attempted to apply logic to tossing rings around canes. He spent fifty cents to ring a ten cent cane, but he had a strategy and that made it all the more fun. Rich’s conclusion was that if one did not possess enough skill to execute his strategy properly, then it becomes a game of chance, which is what it was. He needed to find a game that he had a sufficient amount of skill to move the game beyond chance.
Rich studied several games; such as knocking over the milk bottles with a softball or trying his hand at the shooting gallery. Making foul shots at the basketball concession caught his eye. He was a good foul shooter, but this was different. He watched other participants. The rims appeared to be slightly undersized and so tight that many attempts vibrated out of the hoop. One might expect a ball to land sometimes on the front of the rim, bounce to the backboard, and careen through the hoop, but instead, it made a rocket bounce from the rim, hit high against the backboard, and rebounded nowhere near the rim.
Rich walked back to see Mrs. Dotson.
“Can I have a Coke,” Rich asked sitting at the counter close to where Mrs. Dotson worked.
She retrieved a bottle of Coke and brought it to him. “I see you got a cane.”
“I’ve been thinking about all that you told me today,” Rich said.
“What?” Mrs. Dotson said.
“Poetry, rhythm, and logic,” Rich said.
“And what conclusions did you reach?” Mrs. Dotson said.
“It works pretty good in the classroom,” Rich gestured to the activities of the midway and said, “but it’s a little different in the real world, the battleground.”
Mrs. Dotson smiled and waited on another customer.
She came back to Rich and said, “You see in the classroom, you have very few variables and unexpected factors. You must calculate those factors into your strategy.”
Rich squinted and appeared bewildered.
Mrs. Dotson untied her apron and tossed it beneath the counter. She sat Rich’s coke underneath the counter. “Leave that for later. Let’s go toss some rings.”
They stood at a distance from the ring tossing concession stand.
“What are you holding?” she asked.
“A cane,” Rich said.
“A cheap cane,” she replied. “What you want is a thick cane, curled at the top, made of hickory and varnished. That one you have, is made of pine and the only thing that holds it together is the thin coat of cheap paint. Now, which would you rather have?”
“The one made of hickory, varnished, and curled at the top,” Rich said.
“Why are those so hard to hook?” Mrs. Dotson said.
“The good ones are hung from the top in a single row and the cheap ones are all lined up sticking out of holes in a table. If you just toss at the table, you have a pretty good chance of ringing a cheap cane,” Rich said.
“Is there a different way of looking at it?” Mrs. Dotson said tilting her head.
Rich appeared puzzled and tilted his head, to look at the hickory canes at a different angle.
“Education teaches you to analyze,” Mrs. Dotson said. “To look at things not the way they appear, but how they are.”
Rich was still confounded.
“Remember I gave the class a puzzle of the three soldiers in a line marching toward you,” Mrs. Dotson said. “You have one bullet. What do you do? You move to their side so that they become a file of soldiers, who appear as one. The bullet passes through the first man and strikes the second and that bullet passes through the second and strikes the third.”
“Now, such a plan requires skill and some luck, but luck can be planned and appearance is all a matter of perspective. Do you remember Johnny Clark making that last second shot to win the game last year? I heard somebody say that was a lucky shot. I remember when I had Johnny in the seventh grade. He practiced that shot nearly every recess. He dribbled down the side, stopped, and shot – game over. Now let’s look at our soldiers,” Mrs. Dotson said pointing at the canes. “Notice, that the end you want to hook is at an angle. You want to toss your ring at that angle. It will increase your luck.” Mrs. Dotson smiled and raised her eyebrows.
Rich handed the man at the cane toss concession a quarter and moved to the side so that all the canes hung in a straight file. He tossed the first one. It hit on the canes and went end over end until it looped a cane. The man gave Rich the cane. Rich tossed another one and it skipped past several and landed on the ground. He tossed the third and landed squarely around a cane. The man gave Rich another cane and he walked away proudly with two curled hickory canes.
Mrs. Dotson stood in the distance with arms folded, wearing a smile.
Rich handed a cane to her. “You may be needing this someday,” he joked.
They walked back to the food concession and Mrs. Dotson gave Rich a quick whack on the bottom with her cane. “I think that paddle of mine is going into retirement.”