I Invented a Sport Once

I invented a sport in high school. It’s not something I’m known for because no one knows about it, but my sophomore year, with the help of a few friends, we spent the spring laboring over all eventualities that called for rulings in something we named Phishball for absolutely no apparent reason. We had a website and several typed pages of canon.

The easiest way to describe Phishball is as a crossbreed between tennis and volleyball. Played on a tennis court with a kickball, the rubber ball is served from the service line into the opposite service box; there are two service fauls. After it bounces once, the team (which can be any number between three and six, but four usually works best) has three hits to get it back over the net. Since the ball has to bounce once every time it crosses over the net, this creates an interesting game of dodgeball inside this other sport. If someone on Team A spikes it into the chest of someone on Team B, it’s A’s point.

As the sport developed, the linguistics grew alongside. Phishball became a very vocal affair, with an essay long list of commands and responses, including “HULK!” to begin a serve and “NANCY!” when the serve hits the net and doesn’t go over. This is an automatic double fault, and the word must be yelled by both teams with derision.

“SNIPER!” is the shout when someone is hit with the ball before it bounces, the most coveted play in the game.

After the wedding, several of my groomsmen who helped invent the sport stayed in the area to celebrate Christmas. We don’t see each other much anymore. David goes to medical school in Little Rock. Ed works for a non-profit in Seattle. Ryan is half way through graduate school. Before everyone finished Christmas, we made sure to get together for a final game.

A few new friends joined, including my new wife Holly, and for what wasn’t the first time but felt like it, I realized that Phishball is hard to explain. It takes everyone a few games to learn to let the ball bounce once, but the third time Holly asked, “Why do I have to yell ‘DENNIS!’ on someone’s first fault?” I was reminded how difficult it is to explain why high school was funny.

As we played Phishball at Wilson Park last Saturday, tennis games on neighboring courts did their best to ignore the shouts of “NANCY!” and the stray balls we ran down while we whispered, “Sorry, never again, I promise,” to the closest tennis racket. In high school we had been asked to leave a few times but even on a unseasonably warm day in December the courts were not very crowded. It was nice to get three games in, though this sport works only one muscle in my right forearm, and works it well.

(Before we played, a big man in a dirty warrior’s beard gave me a free burrito from a Wal-Mart sack full of burritos. “The old lady is a manager at Chipotle,” he said as if apologizing. I said, “Oh yes, her,” because I know exactly which old lady this stranger was talking about, and took a bite. It was double chicken.)

The first two games, Holly and I were on the same team, but we lost both so the teams were split up. In the last game I was swinging hard at the ball without aiming because usually that was enough to score, when I heard a small cry. The ball slowly rolled away from Holly as she looked at me with fierce anger. “Square on the shoulder!” Ryan yelled as he tried to give me a high five.

We added a new command to the Phishball lexicon. “ACCIDENT!” It means sleeping on the couch.


Greek Sing Evokes Old Memories, Makes New Ones

This weekend was Greek Sing. It was also Mom’s Day for most sororities. I’m very good with moms; I tried to use this to get a free lunch on Sunday. After church, I said loudly, “I am HUNGRY AND POOR!” This got me no where.

One of my best friends, Ryan Siebenmorgen (Sieb), was in Greek Sing. His fraternity, Farmhouse, was paired up with Kappa Kappa Gamma. I stood in the back and watched him sing. He’s an excellent dancer, too. Their theme was “The Beatles,” and they used the music to tell a love story. He was the lead. The Kappas put their best vocalist opposite him; a few times I heard moms in the audience say, “Oh no – he’s going to drop her!” but no, he’ll pull her out of whatever dip she was in. He loves stuff like that. He’s brash in a way that highway men were two hundred years ago.
When Sieb and I were in high school, we entered the talent show our junior year. This was the same year one of our classmates, a very nice girl named Megan, was diagnosed with cancer. The proceeds of the talent show went to the surgery of a homeless dog who broke its leg. Student Council didn’t have a very wide scope.
At the time, Sieb and I played football. We were both offensive linemen, and we were good at it. That’s the way everyone knew us. So we dressed up in very tight, inappropriate clothes and did an interpretive dance to a Bonnie Tyler song in front of the student body. You might say, “This has been a common fraternity pledge mission since an older member dared that Chinese boy to stand in front of the tanks at Tiananmen Square.”
The difference was we practiced for days. We danced well. We even brought a girl out of the crowd and performed a complicated lift. But we didn’t even place.
Our offensive line coach was Coach Yoakum. He still teaches American history there. I got a text message from one of my mentor kids a few weeks ago. He said that Coach Yoakum had told a story about how two of his gay linemen dressed like forest fairies and behaved obscenely in front of a school assembly. The kid asked if that was me. I said yes; Coach Yoakum always identified Sieb and I as “the gay brothers.” It was the best he could do, given three years.
(Even better – my cousin is a senior at FHS, where I went to school. He told me last week that in his photo journalism class, the teacher was giving a slide show of examples of good photographs, and one of was Sieb and I mid-air. He said the entire class knew who we were, though the teacher didn’t. She was new.)

At intermission Friday night, the Alpha Phi Alphas began stepping in the aisles. BYX didn’t compete in Greek Sing; since we’re not in IFC, we’re not allowed. Jealous from watching the shows, I grabbed a few fraternity brothers and started a step train headed directly for the A Phi A’s. When we passed them in the middle, I tried to give my most aggressive throw to show that we were competing. They were just confused. Not confusion – pity, maybe?

Sieb told me afterwards that he tried to join the A Phi A line. A large black woman pulled him out by his collar and slapped him, saying, “Never join a black person’s step line!” Sieb was paralyzed; he said he didn’t know. Hearing this, the woman softened and patted Sieb on the head, saying, “Oh honey, I just assumed you’d know better.”

It’s Intramural Basketball Season Again

On Thursday mornings I meet with a few tenth graders at Rick’s Bakery; they are always late. Today I slept till 7, the time when we were supposed to arrive. They still weren’t there when I came in. My cousin Gabe was; he and another guy, Nick, always meet at the same time. They get there on time. Or maybe they just get there before I do. I can’t imagine when they get up. Probably like 6:30. Vampires are still awake at 6:30; I stay inside until the sun rises.

The guys I meet with are goofballs – they’re all clever and odd. Two of them today told me they’re playing on Gabe’s intramural basketball team. They’re very excited – they say the team will be banging. I told them that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I backed that up with the fact that I’m in college. When you’re older, you might understand how stupid that phrase is. Or how inflated your preception of my coolness is.
Before Gabe left, he came over to tell me about his game on Saturday. The name of his team is Dangle on ’em. I apologized to my guys and said, Gabe, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I’m a senior. In the honors college. And I can identify innuendo when I hear it. But he said he didn’t know what the phrase meant. We have a full basketball court in our driveway, with two goals and regulation lines painted in white. Apparently, during the summer, random people would stop in and challenge Gabe to basketball. And one Hindu kid, Rumi, had a sick shot and would shout, “Dangle on ’em!”every time the ball went up. Gabe swore to the truth of this story. He said my mom has a picture of it.
When I was a senior, our team was named Da Grillz. We had a .500 winning precentage. We ran a play I called the Hive, where the four players without the ball would surround the point guard and slowly move forward, making a buzzing noise and, if provoked, stinging the other team by slapping them in the face. There was only one fight.
We had a mix tape for warm ups. We had our own jerseys, but we only wore them during the first game, before the Boys and Girls Club made us take them off. That was okay with me. I was the only one who played high school basketball, but David and Bo had previously ironed “C’s” over the heart, claiming to be team captains. They weren’t captains – at best they were NCO’s. I was the captain – colonel – commander. I invented the Hive. I INVENTED IT.

(In the above picture, it’s David that is on the shoulders of Matt Garrett and Lee Dykes. I’m off to the left without my jersey, and with glasses and big metal braces. I’ve always wanted to be carried off a court. You did this to me, David.)

I told Gabe about the Hive. He said that would work well with their team shirts, which are completely orange with the words “Dangle on ’em” screenprinted in purple; the mass of color would confuse and frighten opponents. I told him I vomited Chef Boyardee onto a life raft and it spelled out “HELP,” but in those same colors. We both agreed it was a coincidence.

Who Was Bill Brasky?

Fayetteville High School held class officer elections last week. My cousin Gabe ran for senior class president. Gabe, I think, is not popular – but that’s not to say he isn’t cool. He tall and skinny and self depreciating (see photo). He overacts, and would make a perfect techie sidekick to any action hero. But he isn’t the action hero that wins the school election; there can only be one Highlander.

I was told by a guy I mentor that on the day of elections, Gabe and his small group of loyal friends dressed in suits, then stood outside the high school and shook the hands of every single student attending class that day. Then he lost. But I thought his campaign strategy was extremely classy, and I would have voted for him, if I had been allowed to.
I’m not allowed to vote in FHS elections anymore, one, because I’m not a student (probably the first issue that would come up if I tried to vote), but more interestingly, two, because I sabotaged those very same elections my senior year.
As a senior, I was far beyond running for class officer – I only wanted to screw up everyone else’s attempts to do so. I created a fake person, Bill Brasky, and got the required amount of signatures to insert him into the race for sophomore class president. Then, my friends and I began an aggressive viral marketing campaign, printing hundreds of flyers that only read, “WHO IS BILL BRASKY?” and wallpapering the school with them like ads for Italian political parties. Then I left school, so as to not be present when Bill was unmasked.
Bill won. To this day, I am not sure how. It is possible the sophomores did not care at all. For my part, I got into hot water with the student council president – then we got out, leaped into the pool, then jumped back into hot water, because that’s always a rush. But that was the extent of the trouble. The principal actually encouraged me to take the ACT as Bill. I only wish Gabe had put his effort into destroying the system, instead of cooperating with it.

When Nightmares Rise Again

I work as a houseboy in a sorority mansion; in exchange for washing dishes and dealing with the trash, I do not get paid, but I do receive three meals a day and free parking. I used to get free dates, as well, but apparently you can only take a few girls out before you get blacklisted. But, come on – why only pick one apple in an orchard?

Last year, the house cook was a man named Chef John. Chef John was a superhero – he made a dessert for every meal and he sculpted tribal masks while working in the kitchen. This man’s life vita was something to be coveted; he built his own house, he married a woman from Yugoslavia, and he baked a very soft cheesecake at least once a week. We were best friends.

Chef John is no longer working at the house. He left in order to train and apply for his five star chef rating from J.D. Power and Associates. I think. The point is, when I came back to school, the house had a new chef, and he was my worst nightmare.

When I was in tenth grade, I was very skinny (as opposed to now, when everyone has stopped telling me how skinny I am). I played football, and as a joke, I played offensive line. It was not a very funny joke. I always had to line up next to Will McCormick, a six foot, two hundred and eight babies he ate for lunch pounds beast-student. He had a clay face and was the kind of guy who would punch you when you weren’t looking, in order to test how effective the padding on his new blocking gloves was.

The time that I spent putting on my pads that year was the closest to hell I’ll ever be (until I actually get there). Anticipating Will’s violence was impossible, and since he thought we were friends, avoiding him and his fists was also impossible. When he graduated high school, all the bruises I had been holding inside myself floated to the surface, and I turned purple.

I had lost contact with Will until last week, when I found out that he apparently went directly from football practice to culinary school, where he studied for three years; after that, he interned for two in a five star restaurant in Boston, under a man who used to be the chef in the White House.

Will told me all this himself, when we met in the hallway at the sorority house where we both now work. I clean the dishes, and Will makes all the food. And pulls an actual wage.

I would think Will would only make meat and potatoes mixed together, and maybe some coffee with cigarette butts floating in it, but as it so happens, he had to explain the English translation of all the French words on our new menu to me. He even went so far as to advertise “pomme frittes” with our “Classic Cheeseburger.” Basically, pomme frittes are French Fries.

The girls love him. The house mom loves him. The houseboys think he’s funny. But he hasn’t fooled me. He may be putting up a fake French accented menu, but its only a facade for frozen French Fries, and I’m just waiting for the day he tries to punch me to test out his new oven glove.

He Stole My Shirt

I am in Mullins Library and I’m staring at a janitor who is wearing my shirt. I have no idea who this person is. He has hair like thin, fake snakes and the kind of beard that eighth graders start growing and never shave because they believe that when it comes to facial hair, it’s quantity over quality. Heck, maybe he thinks those sort of wheat grass bristles are quality.

The shirt he’s wearing is a cheap white Wal-Mart shirt; it has a home printed, iron on image melted to the front. The image is of Mr. Clean, with his blue background and red letters that say “VOTE BALD.”

When I was in tenth grade, I aimed for the stars. I ran for sophomore class treasurer. I also ran an aggressive campaign, complete with posters of me dressed as various action heroes, and endorsements from personages no less than Abraham Lincoln (who said I was righteous) and Howard Taft (who said I was above average). But the centerpiece of my political push were the twenty shirts I paid for and hand printed in my basement.

At the time of the elections, I was bald. Yes, it was a dark year in my life. True story: I shaved my head myself with a disposable razors, and just as a man cuts himself on the cheek, I would cut myself on the head. But when I cut my head open, I couldn’t tell, until blood began to run past my eyes, and I began to panic that finally, after all my prepartion and paranoia, that serial killer had put an axe into my head. I would clean up the blood, but each time I shaved, since I couldn’t see where I was shaving, I would open the cut again and enlarge it. I was taller than everyone else, though, so no one could tell. Yet I digress.

I gave these shirts to all the girls I had crushes on, and I gave the leftovers to my friends, and I lost the election. That’s when I learned who my real friends were: the girls I had crushes on.

But now, six years after that election, a complete stranger who looks like hungover is more normal than sober is wearing that shirt, and I am once again reminded of how profound an impact I had on those girls I had crushes on.