“No, no, no, you lost…!” – said after she magically engrafted a new set of rules. Yelling, jumping up and down, declaring victory before issuing her fiat, “You lose…we aren’t playing by those rules, anymore…!” She didn’t wait for any retort. She moved backwards – and away – parallel to the ground, knees bent, delicately balancing on one hand, while the other hand held the jacks and ball. The magician she was, balancing on one hand, before pirouetting and turning in the opposite direction; laughter a constant companion.
Doing the happy dance; round, and round she went. I didn’t have her going in circles, nothing of the sorts. I was too young to understand what the song’s lyrics actually meant. Her own actions possessed her. With both arms extended, she circled around me, like an airplane – perhaps, maybe – except her cockpit was agape. A haunting laugh spilled outward and toward me, interrupting any attempt on my part to stop her from screaming. “Wait, wait, wait…”
For those of you of a certain cultural persuasion and age vintage, the apt-lyric would be – “Oh, round and round I go.” No, no, she was not spun out of over me. Hers was instead a boastful, cheating brag – spilling out during one of the circles, before she fled to the other side of the school yard, “like a spinning top” – to tell others.
“Wait, wait, wait, you cheated, those weren’t the rules…!”
҈ ҉ ҉
Cheating, childhood games and politics are universally related, perhaps intertwined – much like a tangled ball of thread – no beginning, no end; impossibly tangled, no matter your patience and the degree of pulling. A gentle tug on the thread’s structure; unwinding one part, knotting the other, with the same-same remaining the status quo, a knotted and tangled mess.
In the childhood games of jacks, marbles, four corners, square, hopscotch, baseball, basketball and football, the rules are the rules – right?
“No, I didn’t!!!”
The last time I checked there were not any competitive adult leagues of hopscotch, four square, marbles; some of these games survived the transition from childhood to adulthood. So have the rules; the rules are the rules – right? They are, unless they’re not – or stated another way, until they aren’t.
I actually learned all the rules of how to roll the bones from an older boy, a neighbor. I couldn’t have been no older than 13. He -18-19-20 – in his second year of college. “Let me show you,” said at the same time he reached into his pocket and pulled a pair of small, white dice. The dice seemed different than the dice from Monopoly. A bit smaller the dice the older boys threw while encircled behind the schoolhouse – in their various degrees of bent-ness – hovering, calling out numbers, rattling off wishes and wants. Theirs was a mere copycat of what they heard older men say; magical, imaginative incantations willing, hoping the object of their affection would grant their every heartfelt wish. My baby needs groceries – huh!
“I don’t gamble…”
Darnell didn’t hear me, so it seemed. Opening his hand wider, doing what he did, rolling the dice on the floor; talking, never responding to what I said, what I didn’t do.
“You got any money…?
“I think I got twenty-five dollars?”
“Have you ever rolled the bones before?”
“I said I don’t gamble…”
“Each dice has six sides, with each side possessing a number, 1-6; the lowest 1; highest 6…got that…”
Sometimes segments of our Monopoly games converted. Other times we mimicked the older boys. Show me you love me…seven! Ha! Screaming, threatening to do great harm when someone cheated, even though not a dime was at stake, even though we know all the rules. You boys get away from here. Even though Darnell’s dice were the smallest dice I had ever seen, I learned another lesson that day – size doesn’t matter, all dice are the same.
Give me a six! … Looking for a sweet six…!
Sitting on the edge of the bed in wonderment, seeing and hearing past voices; Darnell moved readily past the stop signs, from telling me what to expect in college to rolling the bones. My memory tells me his father died first. I remember both were still living at the time; they remained ensconced on the other side of the door. The five thirty news personality could be heard reporting the latest tragedy in our collective lives.
“Take your money out… put it on the floor.”
I did – what he said to do. He did likewise – put his money on the floor.
Darnell continued to explain the rules of rolling the bones. He never asked me whether I wanted to play. He never asked what I knew. He flat out ignored I didn’t gamble. I said nothing. I started to tell him what I little I knew. I didn’t. I wanted to tell him I was the luckiness fool I knew on any new game, somewhat akin to fool’s gold. I didn’t.
Darnell smiled after finishing. He didn’t appear to be smiling to be smiling. His was an anticipatory smile, what he was going to do to me. The Wile E. Coyote smile; a ready, set, go smile; knowing – flat out – knowing. He gave me the dice, inched the pot closer to him, and said, “Roll”.
I remembered Darnell telling me something about 7, something else about adding the numbers on both dice together – that we were playing for, “two dollars a game…”
I said “7” and rolled – how about that – magic! Darnell’s eyes bucked, not quite like Buckwheat’s eyes, a lighter, brown version of Buckwheat, same eyes though.
“Did I win?”
Darnell mumbled, “Yeah, yeah…” Something told me I was safe from being cursed out. His father commented on the news. His mother replied.
So we did, until we didn’t; repeatedly, ten/fifteen times, with the Gods of Naiveté, protected their blissful, ignorant child. Darnell eyes now seemed glued in place, a perpetual bulge. He was now cursing under his breath. He then do what I heard the older boys do behind the school, “double or nothing”. He didn’t ask me whether I wanted to double the bets with now my money. We did the double things … a number of times. I won still… animals and children, animals and children, indeed.
Darnell owed me the pot and more. He knew this. I knew this. Boys and girls – chillen and dogs, everybody knew. I won! – At least for a brief period, until the rules of nature interceded.
The bigger boy collected himself, mumbled something about “beginner’s luck” and grabbed his money off the floor. He then became a moral soul – “We shouldn’t be gambling…” He demanded I take the rest of his money out of my pocket. I did what I was told. He told me to go home. I did that too!
҈ ҉ ҉
Recently, Major League Baseball (MLB) reported the results of their investigation into the Houston Astros who were accused of cheating during baseball games by stealing signs. I didn’t quite understand what the complaint was about – nor now do I actually fully understand. Wait! What! Aren’t these grown men playing baseball the same way they played when they were youth – looking for an advantage over an opponent; any opponent.
The object of the Astros’ exercise/act/malfeasance was to read the catcher and pitcher’s signs, by the use of technology, then relay the anticipated pitch by a non-technological manner – banging on a trash can – to indicate the coming pitch.
Baseball wasn’t my sport but I do remember – when I played the game – when batting you are always anticipating the pitch, reading the pitcher and catcher, watching for signs of weaknesses in the defensive positions of the players in the outfield, positioning the bat to take advantage of the pitch, the openings in the field. Told by your coaches to make your opponent think they know your weakness (to believe what you want them to believe), while sucker punching them with hidden strengths. Flash a sign – a supposed coveted, secreted sign – which maybe false/ contradictory/ meaningless, while the real signs are relayed through other means. A rule is a rule you say?
When the other team becomes sloppy, identify the sign stealer, relay this to the pitcher and hit him/her with the next time up or maybe every time up. It’s just a game – right! This is why your catcher should always be the biggest/baddest boy on your team, retrieving the ball asking politely, “Oh! The guy manning the trashcan missed the fast ball upside your head…?” Fall, trip, push, challenge the rule breaker every time; telling them what you know – in every sport – protect your turf.
Why didn’t the Astros’ opponents turn over their trash cans and bang with them – one time, two times, three times – outing the routine. If you good at what you do, don’t apologize. The other team, why complain to the referee? The game is baseball. If a complaint is lodged with the league, do a collective your incredulous dance of defiance. What!? Are you kidding me…this is baseball!
In the Astros’ case I suspect other teams knew what they were doing. There is no need for each player on the other team to be rocket-scientist to figure out what one bang meant; what two bangs meant. It seems to me the offenders were engaged in an unwritten, the time-honored tradition of the game. The Astros should have replied to the league and public, “There is no crying in baseball.” That’s a rule isn’t it…?”
The Astros, over the last three years, have been one of baseball’s dominant teams and were coming off a World Series they should have never lost. So instead of the other teams doing the mano-a-mano thing, as is common in games of anything, the losers ran and told, and played innocent and virtuous. What…? What was the complaint again…? Dominoes, pokeno, spades – you want me to apologize for what…! You lost, get up from the table!
The girl who cheated and circled like an airplane didn’t need to tell me she changed the rules. I knew. She scooted away and started laughed a haughty laugh. She made it clear what she did, just in case I was slow on the uptake. I didn’t cry – a worst offense. I didn’t run and tell the others I was cheated. I didn’t tell parents. I chased after her, laughing and screaming, knowing it was on me not to careful what rules we were playing by – “shut up, shut up, you didn’t win! Play me again…!
In basketball, playing defense means playing within and on the edges of the rules. In this supposed non-contact sport, good defense at times means administering punishment – verbal and nonverbal. Talking, pulling, grabbing where the referee can’t see the punch to tug; physically moving the other player out of position out of his favorite spot – the exercise of both physical and mental force. Pick another game – any game – the concept is readily applied to each, this is somewhat akin to the circumstance of a bigger boy daring a smaller boy to get in a beef over his taking his money back. Absolutely, the game get interesting when the smaller boy is invested and considers the money his; even if he didn’t want to roll ‘em bones, knew with each throw the gods was placing the dice in a proper alignment with the stars and he felt his honor demanded he fight for what was rightfully his, protecting the gods’ gift.
I will admit I know little about the gentleman/ gentlewoman’s sports of golf and tennis and how to play on the edge of the rules/cheat/fudge/obtain an advantage by playing in a manner which doesn’t show up in the rule books. In team sports, and the rolling of the bone, the answer to the offended person/ team is rather simple – “You are complaining about what exactly…?
I muse to say, I’m serious. I’m not serious. I’m both.
Honestly I muse to make a more salient point – it is a false dichotomy to compare cheating in childhood games to the world of governing, and politics. During the recent impeachment proceedings this is what the Senators told us, didn’t they?
He learned his lesson – I honestly have never heard of any criminal defendant being permitted to steal and walk free unless he/she has pled and proved his/her insanity defense.
He learned lying doesn’t pay…really? He learned not to involved foreign governments in American elections? What…? James Brown’s – the entertainer – routine was to count to one, two … Do we now need to count to three before giving the drummer’s some.
He had good intent and evil intent – This too is problematic. Every politician – from the dumbest to the brightest when caught in wrongdoing would love to be accorded this defense. I did it for the good of the country. I was helping others by violating laws. I am protecting other presidents. This argument is worse than permitting a dog one free bite. This argument provides The Malfeasant One a readily available and full-proof defense; biting away, permitting him/her to be above the law, further eroding long-held, written and unwritten rules supporting the Constitution.
I would have fought Darnell to keep my money I put in the pot. I didn’t because he retrieved only his money from the floor and from my pockets – the money he had lost. There was no need to fight, I wasn’t invested in the game and winning. Of course, I would have never been invited back to his parent’s home – after me striking him, and he striking back, to protect his residual honor. His parents probably wouldn’t have spoken to me again. They would have told my mother. I knew this when he finished collecting the lost money. All Darnell – and I – had to do was not play again. I told him I didn’t gamble – he didn’t listen. His grubbing – not grabbing – the money and claiming possession meant little to me, even though he changed the rules. I knew I should not have let the game go as far as it did, but I did – over, over, over, over again – converting in an instant to Gambling Anthony. When I moved toward the door, I understood the older boy’s unintended lesson.
The President’s wishes can never be a crime – tell this to any child playing a childhood game. In childhood games, you can never do whatever you want. He screamed/she screamed/they will scream, even fight cheaters. The field, diamond, court, between and outside the lines of four-squares all hell will break loose, with everyone moving in opposite directions, promising to never play with or against the other person/team/cheaters again. Children are pretty good at self-enforcing the rules – well, we were.
Childhood games are different, than politics – we can elect to never play the other kid/team again – because it is a game. Under the Constitution we have no option, even though the other side wants us to never play again, leaving them with total control, an unequal society, an imperfect union. This is what all the President’s defenders are saying, isn’t it?
In the world of politics and the Constitution, the aim of a more perfect union is to declare the game everyone’s game. Isn’t it…? They tell us the President can do whatever he wants and can play by whatever rules he wants. How is this possible? This concept is foreign to any childhood games, to any game of chance. I muse to say the argument of telling the rest of us to walk away, and perhaps not worry about playing again because he – the President – seems to permit the permit the fundamental erosion of constitutional principles and concepts. Sure, I have heard of the adage that politics is rough and tumble. This adage never meant illegality and corruption.
This doesn’t take away from my previous position – the baseball teams – Nationals, Yankees and Dodgers – need to get a grip and play baseball (you are permitted to call me a name at this time). It seems to me the defense of the Constitution is different and others not playing or name-calling isn’t sufficient. More is required of us.