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Posts Tagged ‘Keen’

Rediscovering that old playground bravado Part 2

Posted by Steven on March 23, 2011

During recess periods I would methodically trudge around the playground watching groups of kids play four square, kickball or basketball. They were most inflexible, sticking to one sport year round. My first year of grade school happened to be at the tail end of the Chicago Bulls’ first three peat run and consequentially, basketball was seen as the sport to play if you wanted even a remote chance at skipping college to join a league in the NBA that would pay you millions in guaranteed money before you warmed your first bench.

The basketballers never bothered to run any set plays, they would just attack the rim. High arcing shots would clank off the rim followed by a mad scrum for the rebound, and whoever came up with the ball would shoot a heavy jumper. Shots would bounce of the rim repeatedly, each one a reminder that perhaps the shooter should take up another sport, but these kids were too busy throwing their elbows around and trying to get enough air on one their rebound attempts for a put back jam to ponder such things.

Once I happened to be sitting with a small group of them during lunch and I tried to steer their thoughts in the direction of other sports by suggesting they play baseball. After all it was spring and the season in which a sport is played is a small but important part of its overall appeal. There was just something weird about playing basketball nonstop when they could’ve been taking advantage of the warmer weather by playing baseball. A girl speaking for the entire group looked at me like I’d just asked her to summon lightning from the sky.

“Why should we play baseball when we’d just embarrass ourselves? You may not be able to recognize it because you’re not a professional scout, but we happen to be good at basketball.”

“I’ve watched you guys and it seems like all you do is miss jumpers and curse as your fighting for loose balls. How much can you really be enjoying the game when you all suck?”

“We play basketball because we like it. Now shut up!”

With that they went off to play another mindless game of playground basketball and I had learned a valuable lesson: Never question whether another person can derive any fun from what appears to be a boring or difficult activity for them. Should you see your friend wincing as she tries to jump through the hopscotch course, don’t assume she has a torn ACL and go alert the nurse. She is having fun, and contrary to popular belief being skilled at something isn’t a necessity for enjoyment. If she wants to hobble along in total denial–let her.

Kickball is another playground game that’s remembered fondly by adults before the topic quickly changes to dodge ball. Women recalling how all the guys used to gang up on them at the end of gym class and pound them relentlessly with dodge balls, even when one hit was sufficient enough to knock a player out of the game, and guys claiming that they didn’t really throw the balls that hard, women just have a lower pain tolerance than men.

The only kickballs that seemed to be available on our playground were these scratch and sniff kick balls stylized to look like whatever fruit corresponded with the smell. There were cherry, grape, lemon, and apple variations, each sporting a wide mouthed toothy grin. They would magically materialize out of a old blue drawstring bag which sat out unattended off to one side of the playground, always positioned perfectly so they’d be grinning right at you when you opened the bag.

Do you want to play with a regular kickball or do you dare to tempt fate by reaching into the devil’s fruit basket? Just one kick and you’ll be hooked.

Other kids probably didn’t have time to develop up an irrational fear of the kickballs because they were able to exert some control over them. If the ball was creeping them out as it rolled towards them, they’d simply kick the crap out of it. I, on the other hand, could do nothing to combat the ball’s paralysis inducing stare. Every time I looked at it I could feel the eyes boring into my soul and always tried to kick it feebly in the other direction whenever possible.

It wasn’t uncommon to walk on the playground during a typical day and have the silence interrupted by the cacophony of four rubber kickballs being launched into the air simultaneously. As I passed underneath them, I always thought one would divert from its gravity path–and the last thing I would see before being knocked unconscious was the ball’s horrible grinning face.

PS: I initially wanted to do a whole post on the aforementioned kickballs since they’ve managed to burn so brightly in my memory for all these years, but apparently I’m the only one who remembers them. When I started writing this I put the phrase ” scratch and sniff fruit kickballs”, and every conceivable variation thereof into Google and got no relevant hits. I thought for sure as soon as I hit enter on the keyboard I’d get a hit from one of those websites that chronicles every aspect of 90’s nostalgia, which would give me not only the brand name of the balls but also I picture to go with this post that would prove to doubters that these kickballs were as demented as I claim. Alas, the only image I’ve found online that closely resembles them is this Bounder from the Commander Keen series.

If any of my readers know the line of kickballs I’m referring to or could provide a picture, please comment below.

If nothing comes from this plea for information I will regard the above paragraphs at the very least to be a fitting homage to Stephen King’s short story, The Monkey. A story far scarier than it has any right to be.

Who said kickball is for socially inept people who just like to kick things?

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