Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"That Game"

It's pretty simple really, here's all you need:

And some relatively open space in a basement:

A nice obstacle of tired furniture is optional, a giant pile of luggage or empty boxes works nicely as well:

You also need two energetic and wild-hearted nearly-nine-year-olds, and a silly, silly father who thinks childhood is the dreamland where hope is nurtured and, uh, sneakers - oh, and on the advice of my legal department, helmets.  Yes, yes we wear "helmets" when we do this...

So, briefly, I'll sketch the rules for you.  I stand on the "ABC" rug - which is mine and mine alone, a boy is not allowed on it - and arbitrarily wing, throw, fake throw, lob, toss, this ball at the boys.

You are absolutely correct in your astute observation that this is a baby's Winnie the Pooh football, and yes we did get it when the boys were indeed babies.  It's a stalwart toy.  We also have it's matching, as in cover torn off, Tigger basketball which we sometimes use when Winnie loses himself, which he is wont to do.  The balls, both, are a perfect balance of heft and face-smashable softness.

So, I throw the ball, they try to catch it and whoever gets it turns and tries run to my workbench - on top of which sit saws and hammers and a couple of guitars and, oddly the fallen down remnants of a model shed I made once, heavy stuff, breakable stuff - and tag it before  the other guy tags you with both hands, you know the drill - which is also on the workbench.  If the ball handler gets tagged out he then shoots the Pooh-Tigger ball towards the laundry basket.  The opposing player may not technically, like, actively, try to block the shot although he may "dance like an Egyptian" as a distraction.  The basket is placed there towards the right of the workbench, in front of a cabinet on which sit most of the nails and bolts and washers and hardware I own and above that are some rickety shelves on which sit the rest of the nails and bolts and washers and hardware I own, but, it's mostly nails, up high, right, out of reach - it's a farther fall. Two points are awarded for a bench tag and a basket gets one.

We don't really keep score, it's sort of like practicing really hard for nothing.

The majority of the game is played on what we never call the "pitch" which is the area right in front of my desk, this desk.  You know, where the scanner and the desktop and the WiFi thingee and the fioptic television router jobbie and my precious vintage desk lamp that I bought new over thirty years ago and... I should really rethink this.  They sometimes double back and dive or jump or fake or crash across the tired furniture, perhaps flinging a pillow as they go - which, after some discussion is legal, but just one per play - in front of the slightly top-heavy television cabinet.  Remember, we are wearing our "helmets."

That is basic rundown of "That Game" as Nick calls it.  Zack likes the more accurate "The Game" and inexplicably I call it "Basement Ball" but we all agree we should have called it "Bob," but it's too late for that now.

Now, since we live here in the Ohio Valley, we of course do play the rarely used variation which is if you happen to find this ball and hit someone in the face with, you win and the game is done..  It's usually in my pocket.

Think "Golden Snitch."

The games boys play.

As you know by now, I always find there is more to a story, more that needs to be told.  It is of course, not the rest of the story, for that is what makes this such a curious adventure, the rest of the stories I try to tell you are still to be told, depending or where and when they land.

When I was a freshman in college, some girls toilet-papered our hall in the dorm we lived in, the details of their motivation is a story for another time.  After the not unprovoked incident, we were cleaning up the paper and were attempting to ball it all up.  It smashed down fantastically but kept growing when we released it.  Some Mark-on-the-spot grabbed a roll of masking tape and wrapped a few straps around it and it remained compressed.  We repeated this process and the "Puh Ball" was created.  You could stand right in front of someone and throw the Puh Ball right at them  and the thing just went Puh right into your face and didn't hurt a bit.  It was silly and important and, it had the exact same "perfect balance of heft and face-smashable softness" as the Pooh Ball.

It's a silly little detail at the corner of a story, but, every time I pick up that ball downstairs I recall the endless games and stupid challenges we made up for that masking taped ball of toilet paper and I remember being a boy.

When I was in junior high I attended a former high school, as in early twentieth century state-of-the-art high school, I went there in the seventies, nearly a half-century later.  It had lost its luster.  But the halls were still wide and the ceilings high and, being a boy, it gave you a sense of room and freedom, growing boys need that.  It was fun, and forbidden, to throw paper wads at each other in the hallways between classes, there was even a balcony from which you could bean your buddy from out of no where, or Mr. Smith, depending on your accuracy.  The aerodynamics of a wadded up sheet of ruled notebook paper make it drag hopelessly and only really go a few dozen feet with any accuracy.  A wily young science teacher, a boy himself in retrospect, suggested putting some "Scotch" tape a round the ball, suggesting this would decrease the drag and increase long range accuracy.  He was right.  "Scotch balls" were born and the battles were epic, forbidden yet tolerated, exactly what boys love.

A while back, I found our boys sitting at opposite ends of the hallway each with a paper towel tube in his hand, smacking something back and forth quickly, rhythmically.  It came my way and landed at my feet.  It was a Scotch Ball, ruled paper, wrapped in scotch tape, classic, essential.

My good friend Kirby (the names are changed around here, or are they?) called it "Crateball," but I always preferred "Mud Ball."  We invented it the summer of our senior year of college, or thereabouts, and it involved a patio, a deflated football, a milk-crate and mud and a wall.  It could only be played in the rain and we were obsessed with playing it.  Our girlfriends at the time thought we were mad, like loony tunes crazy.  I can't remember the details of the rules, there was an elaborate scoring system, and you had to win by two, like exactly two, so you had to let the other guy catch up to win.  I can't for the life of me remember why there needed to be mud.

The games boys play.

I seen this all my life, being a boy and all.  Wherever two or more of us are gathered a stupid game will be contrived.  I've seen four trained chefs spend twenty minutes, shooting grapes from a case, yes case, over a stainless steel table into a trash can twenty feet away... and cleaned up after them.  I've seen grown men sit around a fire throwing a stick over it for an unsuspected guy to find through the smoke and flames.  I once tossed a lighter back a forth in a dorm room counting the consecutive catches until we couldn't count the number fast enough to keep up with the pace of the throws, somewhere over a thousand, I'd guess.

Kick-the-Can, Red Rover, innumerable variations of tag, races, wrestling.  Football, baseball, soccer, basketball.  Curling, ping-pong, washers, cornhole, horseshoes, Jarts, log-rolling.  All.

The games boys play.

It is many things, this drive to make up silly contests and games.  It is both competition and belonging, both tribal and individual, daring and safe, dangerous and courageous, boyhood and manhood.  It is a deep need.

The games boys play - the games boys concoct and devise - come from the wildness that is in us.  The one wildness we are born with.  It is perhaps just a continuation of one game begun long, long ago.

And no one really knows the score anymore.

I have repeatedly asked the boys why they like "The Game" and the seem to have no answer other than that they just like it.  So tonight, we'll go play, for an hour or so, or until the "Stinker Ball of Doom" comes out of my pocket.  And we'll talk about school a bit, and girls a little, maybe sports or their friends, but, mostly, we'll talk about the last play, maybe re-run it so you can remember the angle was just so, or a hand was on his back or that didn't count or nice shot or are you alright?  All of which is the way boys talk about life and love and fear and hope... sort of, well, sideways.

The boys call what we used to call "two-hand touch" "double touch" and sometimes "zombie touch."  Double touch... that is so much cooler than what we called it.  Damn kids.

From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."

"How 'bout ground verses air.  I'm ground and you're air, and we fight."

I can never keep up with mythology...

Thanks for watching the boys play and walking down memory road with me for a while, it's nice to have company.  Oh, just leave your "helmet" on the porch, you might need it again.


  1. I am so inspired to rough house with my kids now and come up with some crazy games. We play a lot of variations of basketball and football in my house. Most of the time it involves me getting tackled. Another great post. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. I love the idea of using creativity to play games together. Sounds like you all have a fun time. Right now we just play superheroes and wrestling but I cant see what happens in the next few years!