We have a “spirit day” every wednesday for the eight weeks of camp. The children are carefully divided into two teams, blue and yellow, and vie with one another for victory in various activities, the most serious of which is gaga. Now, for the uneducated, gaga, literally meaning “touch-touch,” is a dodgeball variant invented by the Israelis, presumably for people who did not quite have the motor skills to play regular dodgeball. The game is played in some sort of closed off arena, where a ball is dropped in the middle. Once it has bounced three times, the frantic play can commence. Players strike the ball with their hands and attempt to hit their opponent’s feet. If your feet are hit, you are out. The ball cannot be touched more than once, unless an opponent has struck it or the ball has rebounded of one of the walls that surround the arena. There are no teams. It is a battle royale.
Children love gaga, mostly because it is really, really easy, and there is a certain uncertainty and randomness to it that makes it possible for even the most retarded of children to occasionally win. Alliances are made and broken faster than one can blink, and almost every game ends with an argument. The main difference between spirit day gaga and regular gaga is that there are actually teams in spirit day gaga, a fact that the children often have a hard time understanding.
The counselors decide which campers go on which teams by using an ancient satanic ritual that I won’t elaborate on, simply because it is far too horrific to describe.
It normally works well, but something must have gone wrong this most recent time, for yellow had 6 second graders and 5 first graders, but my blue team ended up with only 4 second grades and 6 first graders. The value of two extra second graders cannot be overlooked, especially when compared to the first graders we have at camp this year. They seem to be particularly slow, both mentally and physically, much like a one legged tortoise, or perhaps an especially lazy snail. They are certainly nice kids, but they think that the height of sports ability is to stand around and try to not get out. In essence, they are all but useless.
Needless to say my team was grossly outmatched. I fully expected us to be defeated within seconds, but as luck would have it, yellow team didn’t seem to have gotten the memo that they were not meant to get each other out, and therefore sustained heavy casualties due to friendly fire in the first match, allowing my second graders to pull off a stunning win for blue team. Mike G., a particularly intelligent camper on my team, had developed a strategy of using the first graders as cannon fodder, hiding behind them until they were taken out, whereupon he would swoop in and rain a terrible vengeance upon the yellows. When the first round was over, I was delirious, drunk on a sweet victory that was made all the sweeter because of it’s unexpectedness.
“Is it possible?” I asked Schultz, my co-counselor and a yellow team member, who was crying quietly to himself. ”Could we really win?”
No. No we couldn’t. The next two matches were blistering defeats, partly due to the yellows learning their lesson and not getting each other out, and partly to the blues who, when they realized the yellow team weren’t getting each other anymore, thought that they had to pick up the torch, and proceeded to get themselves out. Furthermore, the cannon fodder strategy had proven to be ineffective, because the first graders just got out two damn fast. Plus, they were learning to jump, which caused Mike to get out. It was a slaughter and hope was waning.
Our prospects hadn’t improved for the fourth match. Blue players were eliminated in a short succession, so that after only maybe a minute of play it had come down to five battle hardened, blood thirst yellows, and Timmy. Timmy was probably the worst person to have in this situation, because he was Timmy. Allow me to explain.
Now, when asked to describe Timmy, I like to tell people that Timmy is special. Not special in the gifted sense, nor in the mentally retarded sense, for he is quite smart in certain things, like speaking english and spanish almost fluently. Timmy is special because there is a certain Timmy way of doing things that most other children have either never thought of, or, and this is way more likely, decided that it was a bad idea to do in the first place. Timmy is unique, for I have never met anyone quite like him. He has a peculiar way of walking, where he throws his shoulders back farther than can be comfortable, and leans slightly backwards, so that his body is at a greater than 180 degree angle, if viewed from the side. He also lowers his chin to his chest, so that he is always looking slightly up when he wants to look straight. This is done presumably so that all of the saliva which had been collecting in his mouth while he was not standing can freely drool down his front, slobbering across the floor like the slime trail of some gigantic slug. He also enjoys picking at or grabbing his various orifices whenever he is bored. One should never shake Timmy’s hand. Or touch him, for that matter.
Timmy is also always off balance and horrifically uncoordinated. I once saw him, standing on a platform in the gaga dome while he waited for a new game to start, suddenly keel over backwards and fall several feet to the floor and knock himself unconscious. There was no one around him, nor any outside force that made him fall. Presumably, his body just decided “hey, let’s fall now, k?”
Timmy would not have been my top choice to go up against 5 yellow gaga players on that day, but as it turned out, something magical happened. I have read the bible before, and heard of the fantastic miracles that Jesus and his friends had preformed, and I assumed that I would never live to see something as fantastic as summoning a bunch of fish or healing blind people, but what I saw on that day was probably the closest thing to a miracle I will ever see.
Timmy seemed dimly aware that the odds were not stacked in his favor, because he adopted a rudimentary and somewhat pathetic defensive stance,and was able to deflect the first few volleys that were launched at him, and even to return one himself, that rebounded off the wall at an impossible angle and struck one of the yellow players in their heel. The blue players on the sideline clapped and cheered his name, and Timmy began jumping up and down in joy, completely forgetting that there was still a veritable firing squad arrayed against him. His celebration was cut short, however, when he slipped on a wayward saliva pool and fell, causing a ball that Opie the yellow player had struck to sail over his head and go out of bounds, causing Opie to be out.
“Go on, you glorious bastard!” I whispered under my breath, clenching my fist. Schultz had even stopped crying, so mesmerized were we by the action on the gaga court.
The three remaining yellows were frightened, in part by the roar from the blue team, but mostly due to Timmy’s impossible luck. Was there some strange magic protecting him? Was a voodoo witch-doctor interfering in what was an otherwise regulation gaga match? Was Harry Potter real, and was he Timmy? They didn’t know, and this lack of knowledge shook them to their core. They trembled in their boots as Timmy approached the ball, and dove away, screaming in terror as he hit it. The ball of course went absolutely nowhere near where they were, and where Timmy was aiming, but as chance would have it went to the exact spot that one of them had dove to, hitting him in the shoes and rebounding backwards to hit one of his allies as well, and getting them both out.
We were speechless, flabbergasted, flummoxed.. Timmy had blown through some of yellows most hardened players like a mighty mongolian horde drooling it’s way across the Russian steppe. Timmy’s only remaining opponent was young Cooper, a first grader, who stared in terror for about half a second, and then began to run circles around Timmy as fast as he could . It proved to be an effective Stratagy. Timmy couldn’t process the distance he needed to hit the ball in front of Cooper to get him out, and so their epic game of cat and mouse lasted for nearly a full minute. I was nervous the whole time, terrified that Timmy might accidentally hit his own foot, which he had done three times that day so far, or hit the ball out of bounds and lose the match for us, which would have been doubly painful due to his unexpected clutchness.
Timmy did eventually win when he struck the ball poorly and it careened wildly to the right. He struck a muscleman pose as the blue team poured over him like a mighty wave, cheering his name. Timmy had undoubtably never experience a triumphal moment of a similar like, and thrust his hand up in the air as the blue team lifted him on their shoulders. When the crowd settled, he turned and looked at me, and I just gave him a slight nod, like one of those bad ass coaches from one of those sports movies.
“At’ll do, pig. At’ll do.” I said, patting him on the head roughly, like he were some sort of farm animal.
“How’d I do, coach?” He asked, smiling up at me.
“I aint yer coach.” I growled. He looked sad and turned around and started walking away.”But you did damn good, kid. Damn good.” He turned around and smiled from ear to ear
“Fuck yeah, coach.” He said, coming up and giving me a hug.
“Timmy,” I growled, patting him on the back, “We don’t use words like that at camp.”