We drank from the garden hose at halftime. When it was really hot, we had to wait for the hot water that had been sitting in the hose to pass before getting to the cold water. The cold water wasn’t necessarily cold, just cool enough to qualify as cold comparatively. A lot of times I was hungry and dropping lukewarm water into my empty stomach only reminded me of how long we had been playing and that sometime soon, the game would be over. Halftime never signified that the game was halfway over. It usually meant that the game was nearly over, and I never liked that. Some of my friends would want to sit and rest on the grass or in the shade or take a break on the back porch.
I would tolerate this blasphemy to retain goodwill. It was a delegate balance. While I wanted my teammates to rejuvenate and my competitors to be defeated, I wanted my teammates, whether we were winning or losing, to feel the urgency to continue the game, and for my competitors to feel rejuvenated enough to continue with the battle with earnestness. A tie game at halftime was optimal, or at worst, a score where one team was winning by a slim margin. I didn’t even care if my team was winning or losing at halftime, so long as there was collective impetus to continue to game.
It was a cold political move on my part. I’d let them have their break, an act expecting reciprocity. I assumed, wrongly, that they knew what I was foregoing by agreeing to a halftime. I would sit during breaks sometimes, but not usually. If I did sit, I sat on the edge of the chair, or on the ground with my knees bent, holding myself upright with my forearms tucked over my knees. And if I sat back at all, it was to conform to my friends sitting back in their chairs or straight-armed, holding up their bodies laid straight-legged on the ground, arms extended behind themselves holding up their torso. I think they were genuinely tired. I was sitting this way out of courtesy. Didn’t they all know what I was foregoing? A break of 10 or 15 minutes could be two or three at-bats, or a single at-bat leading to a flurry of runs, driving a stake into the competitor’s collective hearts. It meant we were foregoing the infinite fun that exists in each moment of play, and by sitting there on the grass or on the back porch, we would never experience those moments.
Restarting the game was always a challenge. I’d begin with subtle questions – “So who’s up next?” or “The score is 26-24 right?” or “Should we play to 50 or 100?” It was a prompt designed to tap the competitive rage I assumed that everyone had – sparking tinder, challenging, daring anyone to claim indifference or choosing inactivity over ecstasy of pure competition.
There always seemed to be one person that wouldn’t care about continuing. “I’m pretty tired, I think I’m gonna go home.” Unacceptable. If I was lucky, someone else would share my lust to continue our makeshift championship, and together we two, or even three coaxed the defector to continue on to the second half. “Let’s just play for another 30 minutes.” or “We’ll switch up the teams so you can play catcher if you’re tired.” The bigger the group, the more infectious a single defector could be.
When the game was four to a side, a single self-directive to leave could spread like a virus to another who would suddenly remember they had to go to the store with their mom. If two people left, it was recoverable – three to a side remained competitive. But if it three defectors emerged, then four-on-four turned into three-on-two, and all hope of competitive balance was lost. With three on two, even if a balance could be struck somehow, the energy and endurance required of the two to compete lasted never more than a few minutes, and then the game would disintegrate anyway, casting off another defector or two, leaving four or three of us left to find new entertainment altogether, a difficult task, if not impossible after the exuberance of the intense four-on-four competition last transpired over the last two hours.
This is when I would begin to accept defeat, and began to consider the available options. If it was close to 3:30, I could go home and watch Starblazers. If it was 4:00, I would watch Batman. We could try to extend the fun by swimming, except that required a trip home to change and then back. The fixed cost of this transaction was too great. Getting home to change, then back to Brian’s house to swim, then back home dried off and ready for dinner by 5:30 was a lot to ask of an 11-year old. I could make it happen if in a vacuum. The problem laid in the transaction cost of stopping at home. That meant answering questions mom would ask or worse, introducing the opportunity for my mom to ask me for help with something. No matter how small, it created a disturbance in the space-time continuum that needed to flow uninterruptedly to executive a swift transaction from Brian’s house to home, and back again within 15 minutes before his mom realized that we planned a transition from whiffle ball to swimming, because Brian too faced the potential disruption to the space-time continuum. His mom was notorious for asking for help with some small task that never turned out to be as small as described. Taking out the trash became scrubbing the trashcan with soap and said garden hose. Carrying in the groceries meant helping her to unpack them. Or worst of all, there was the suggestion that “maybe you should just stay inside of a little while to rest…” Rest? Rest? You want me to rest? What kind of person rests? It’s July. No one rests in July.
If we could somehow resuscitate the game after halftime, there would even be a genuine burst of true competitive activity, indelible moments of competitive uneasiness. Then someone would push a little too hard. Someone wouldn’t run to the next spot with the same vigor as before halftime. The score would become lopsided and the losing team became indifferent. We’d try switching up teams. We’d try giving them an extra strike or an extra out each at-bat. The minutes on the downside of the afternoon clicked away. Then the final blow landed when someone, anyone, would finally proclaim that they were quitting. It was over. The game was over. The moment was over, and I knew it. I stood there, disbelieving.
And on some days, I’m still standing there.