Yes, hello, young man. It would seem I am in the market for a new Pop-A-Shot. You see, my previous machine has broken.

What sort of machine am I looking for, you ask? Well, sonny, that’s a harder question than you know. The way I see it, a man can grow close to a machine. Closer than he might suspect. One day you’re wandering aimlessly, swallowed up by the great expanse of sky around you, trying hard to make some meaning out of life, this place, this man you see before you every day in the mirror, on the movie screen and the like. Well, let me tell you, sonny—to come home to the glorious sound of your Pop-A-Shot machine, blinking and beeping as if to comfort you, console you in your quest for truth … this does more for me than I think your mind might comprehend.

My high score? Well … hell, son. Believe me, I wish I could tell you the answers to all of life’s questions, I really do. To be on top of it all at one moment, riding high on the joys of success, the satisfaction of great accomplishment, whether it be portraying the president of the United States or narrating the harrowing story of Andy Dufresne or Clint Eastwood’s subtly beautiful Million Dollar Baby. This is no small thing. And yet a man hungers still, falls still—far short of his dreams, of the hopes he stores for ages in the quiet longing of his beating heart. And what was the highest score of all? I wish I knew. I truly wish I knew.

Once I sunk about 20 buckets in the final 15 seconds, you know, that glorious threshold when the machine transitions from the 2-point basket to the 3-point basket. And then, at that moment, I thought I understood what achievement really means to the wandering mind of a restless man. What total score flashed on the brilliant screen at game’s end? I can’t quite recall. Perhaps 123, maybe 137. I was a badass that day. But was the score the most important thing? I don’t know if I can answer that.

What did you tell me your name was, sonny? Rick, you say. I see you’re taking me through the swing sets to get to the Pop-A-Shot aisle. Answer this for me, Rick, my boy: Do all of the Toys “R” Us’s guide you from the swings to the electronic basketball hoops? And do you see in the sway of the swing set the rising and falling of a man’s fortunes? The way we all learn to know our own peaks and valleys? In the valleys, though, we can find vindication, too, as we did in our hopeless assault on the Confederate hill in Glory. That was the noblest of undertakings.

Ah, my dear young man. Here we are. And this valiant row of Pop-A-Shots stirs my soul. This one here, the Electrohoop SuperShot 4000. It stands out from the rest. There’s something stately about it, something grand in how it rests there. And the price tag suits me well. Yes, this is the one, sonny. I’ll take it. Indeed, I’ll take it home with me this very day. With this hoop, the future opens up with promise. But are the days to come filled only with good things? I wish I could answer that. I really wish I could. But I can’t; even the art of Pop-A-Shot is an uncertain one.

Could you help me carry this to the cash register? Thank you, Rick. You’re a good man.