The Gorsky basement was a like a boy’s cave, a respite from the dangerous world of rules and homework that threatened our underground society from above. With its bare, wooden walls, partially unfinished floor, raggedy, shaggy technicolored carpeting left by the family who lived there before us, it was rustic before it was cool, unintentionally retrograde. My younger brother, Evan, and I couldn’t care less—to us, it was perfect. For many years our basement was an afterthought, a place my parents would send the kids down to play, forget about us for a little while. Outside of an old, well-worn couch and used TV, it was wide open space, our imaginations running wild with different games we would make up on the spot and spend years iterating on, creating then breaking more and more rules, until we achieved its ultimate ideal.
One of the highlights that withstood the test of time, Throw Catch Score, was so beautiful in its simplicity I am still surprised we haven’t received calls from the Olympics Committee. The rules were nearly self-evident: standing on opposite sides of the room with one bouncy ball in play, the objective was to throw the ball and hit the wall behind your opponent. Like goalies playing 1-on-1, except you were allowed to use your hands. If memory serves, I remain undefeated, 25 years and counting.
Another game we played, perhaps most religiously of all, was Dot Ball. Though there were different ridges, nooks and crannies that lined the basement walls, there was one particular indentation, about 2 inches in circumference, that was at the perfect height to serve as our makeshift basketball rim. The objective was to shoot the bouncy ball so that it hit the wall above the dot, yet below the ceiling, roughly 8 inches of unforgiving space to work with. As we got older, and ever so slightly taller, dunking became de rigueur. It wasn’t that we didn’t have the means for a Little Tykes, just that we preferred to color outside the lines, draw our games up from scratch. A shining example of a childhood reared free of computers in our pockets, without the (block) chains of technology weighing us down, captives of our own (Apple) design.
Nowadays, every generations’ childhood will be simpler than the one that follows. When thinking about the past, our minds play tricks on us; even when we dig deep, sometimes we only remember bliss. Not that I, or others, haven’t experienced hardships, but rather the gloss of time and distance has left us with memories sparkling with the sheen of a car freshly buffed. Growing up, my personal mantra, whether I knew it or not, was to “move fast and break things”. Total carnage. My destructive behavior, breaking furniture and bones in equal measure, would make the Tasmanian Devil look like an angel. It was only years later, when I got to Facebook and discovered they had the exact same mantra, that it all came full circle. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Mark Zuckerberg had in mind.
And yet, the spirit and wonder of the early days in the Gorsky basement lives on. My brother and his fiancée (now wife), Ariel, came home with a birthday gift for my dad over the summer. It was one of those golf games that you bring to work and set up on the floor: a horseshoe, ball and club. We set the horseshoe down in the den, and began to practice our strokes, learning about the carpet’s previously unknown left to right. After toying around for a bit, we got serious, and began architecting a course that would impress even a certain sitting President. Exercising the same creative muscle from back in the day, we began to iterate and iterate, until we had invented our newest game: House Golf. By the end of the weekend, we had a full, 9-hole course, with a doozy Par 5 that started upstairs in my bedroom and ended in the kitchen. Needless to say, the gift never made it to the office.
And that’s when I realized, my parents weren’t neglecting us in the basement at all; quite the opposite. By allowing us the freedom to play amongst ourselves, they were nurturing my brother and I in a safe environment that fostered creative thinking, putting the building blocks in place for our own development. As I approach fatherhood (Spoiler Alert), it’s a unique crossroads in my life to look both ways, backward and forward, and think about how Jordana and I want to raise our first child. As I reflect on the past, it helps inform our future, and inspires me to create a proverbial basement, a safe space for our child to explore who they want to become.