Remember how I hate this time of year? I would hate it even more if it weren’t for the fact that January and February is when dodgeball season occurs. I’m thinking of rose-among-the-thorn-type metaphors – Similes? Analogies? I’ve never really known the difference – that aptly describe what having dodgeball during the dog days of winter means to me, but I’m failing to come up with anything sufficiently dramatic. How about: “Having dodgeball to look forward to during January and February is like losing your will to live, but not killing yourself primarily because you have a decent life insurance policy that you know your wife is going to use to buy a gold-plated dog jacuzzi. And also a little bit because you look forward to playing dodgeball.”
Wait. This is better: “Having dodgeball to look forward to during January and February is like someone sticking 500 tiny needles into your eyeball. But then they pull one out.” Nailed it.
This year marks the 5th year I’ve played dodgeball in a charity sports league. 10% of me likes the dodgeball, and 90% of me is just remarkably and preternaturally charitable. We’ve been playing for a while now, and we have one division title to our name. Last night was the last match of the regular season, and although it looks like we made the playoffs, I’m a little sad that the season will soon be over.
I love dodgeball, and not just because it’s something to do at a time of the year when there’s nothing to do. First and foremost, I love competitive sports. New York is a hard place to play sports, and as I’ve gotten busier and more out of shape I’ve kind of forgotten how fun playing sports is. Now, you may be smirking at the idea of people competing seriously at a sport as inherently silly as dodgeball. I will wipe that smirk off your face with a big red ball traveling 90 MPH. Actually I won’t, because I can’t throw very hard, but there are plenty of people in the league who could.
Dodgeball is serious business around this league. There is plenty of trash talk, arguments with the refs, and screaming at underperforming teammates. In fact, Melissa opted out of playing for the first couple years we were dating due to the . . . intensity that characterizes our team. Actually, that intensity really only comes from the women on our team. Mean bunch of women. Just really terrifying.
The 2007 squad: I’d like to make you believe that I’m wearing a different t-shirt than the rest of the time because I’m the goalie, but that’s not true. You wouldn’t think it was weird that I chose to wear a different t-shirt if you knew just how small the league uniforms run.
Beyond the competition, another thing I really enjoy about dodgeball is seeing grown men and women cheat. At dodgeball. I never get tired of watching this, and I especially enjoy it when they go to great and sneaky lengths to do it. Watching a 29 year-old dude get hit by a ball, and then walk toward the side line, and then kind of slow down right before he leaves the court, and then just sort of hang out in no man’s land between his team’s bench and the court, and then kind of sidle back a little onto the court warms my heart. Every one has their price, I suppose. Mine is just a little higher than a win in charity sports league dodgeball. I’ve never been able to make up my mind as to whether cheating in a low stakes contest is more repugnant than cheating in a high stakes one. But I am certain that it’s more fun to watch.
Watching this phenomenon has made me realize that there are two kinds of competitiveness. The first is a function of the stakes involved; the higher the stakes, the greater the desire to win. Most people would play a game harder with $1 million on the line than they would with $100 on the line. Perfectly rational.
The second type of competitiveness is the desire to win solely for the sake of winning. It’s the characteristic that distinguishes great athletes from good ones – and that leads people to cheat in charity league dodgeball. This type of competitiveness varies from person to person, and for the most part seems to be an innate characteristic. For example, Kook is a very talented, natural athlete. He’s tall, fast, can jump, is in great shape, and has good hand-eye coordination. You’d think you would want him on your team for virtually any sport. And as far as wanting a teammate who is a great guy who you can count on for some first-rate pranks and jokes, you’d be right. But as far as winning a family volleyball game through intense effort and focus and concentration goes, you may want to scout out some of your older nieces.
On the other end of the spectrum you have my friend Ron, who at this very moment is trying to read this blog post faster than you are. I have some of this type of competitiveness in me, but not to the degree I’ve seen in Ron and others. I like to win, but losing doesn’t ruin my week. With one exception: I hate losing to the ultra-competitive types so much that I morph into one of them whenever I compete against them. For example, when we lived together Ron and I never once just rode our scooters home from being out on the town together. Every single ride home turned into a harrowing race involving running red lights and going down one-way streets the wrong way.
Under normal circumstances I would have just chosen not risking life in a wheelchair over winning a meaningless scooter race, but I hate to lose to Ron so badly that paralysis seemed like a small price to pay for the chance to beat him. And beat him I did. Over and over and over again. And then some more. And it felt sooooo good. There’s no prize so sweet as beating someone who hates to lose. Which is why I show up to dodgeball every week.