When I was growing up, I remember the Cheese &  Ham, and getting kicked in the crotch.

I loved recess. I mean, who doesn’t when they are a kid? There you are little tiny furnaces of biological change & growth forced to sit hours learning the basics. By the time recess comes around you are bubbling over with anxiety to move, scream, and embrace the chaos that is childhood. It was the same when I was growing up, and I suppose it still is.

I was in elementary school in the 80’s, which means there were many more potential wounds available. We had tag, which retains its popularity due to its simplicity. Tap. Run. Scream. Tap. Run. Scream. We also had more dangerous things that are like endangered animals nowadays, Dodge ball & Tether ball. Oh my Lord! I loved those two games. It isn’t surprising quite a few injuries in my life are due to those two games.

Dodge ball was rough on me, because I was one of the biggest kids, both in height & weight. I presented a perfect target. I can’t say for sure, but I might’ve gotten a slight amount of brain damage due to getting whacked in the head too often during dodge ball games. We lined up against a wall, all of us except the kid who was “it”. The “it” kid got the dodge ball, and threw at us until we all were out. Then the last kid standing got to be “it”. It was like a firing squad full of idiots. Laughing, and giggling as the rubber dodge ball slammed into our skulls so hard it knocked our heads against the brick wall we had lined up against.

The funny thing is after a while we all became like ballet dancers against that dodge ball. We leapt, and ducked, of course. We also quickly twisted & contorted our bodies to avoid getting hit. We moved in ways back then that would make us bedridden for weeks now.  Even now when someone tosses me anything my first instinct is to flail out of the way, usually resulting in me dropping whatever was thrown.

The despicable cousin to dodge ball is tether ball. It seems harmless. A hard leather ball connected to a pole by a rope, or tether. The rules always changed depending on who you were playing with, sometimes you could only use the tether, other times you could only hit the ball. When I was growing up, the popular rule was getting points by hitting the other person with the ball. I loved it, the ball twirling around the pole. I had the height advantage, but I was also closer to the wildly spinning ball. The tether ball wasn’t like the dodge ball; there was nothing soft or forgiving about the tether ball. It hurt.

Once, I was playing tether ball, with the hitting rule. I was winning by a few points, and I got cocky. I laughed, and laughed. I laughed so hard; in fact, I didn’t see the tether ball rapidly swinging towards my face. It hit me in the mouth so hard it knocked my front tooth completely out…almost. There was one thin thread of skin keeping my tooth connected to my gums, a bit like a tether ball. I stumbled away from the game mouth gaping open, tooth swinging & bumping against my lower lip. I went to a teacher, who apparently was not very skilled at the supervision aspect of their job. She screamed when I walked up to her.

After the initial shock had worn off, she tried getting me to let someone pull my tooth out. I refused, because obviously it would hurt, unlike getting bashed in the face with a ball that was harder than an old military boot. I wandered bloody, mouth still gaping open like an extra from a grade school zombie movie. It took the begging of four teachers to get me to go inside, and yank the tooth out. I loved recess that much.

On my playground there were two structures that were mythical to my childhood, The Cheese & The Ham. The Cheese was a yellow cement wall, it was wavy, and had kid sized holes in it. The Ham was a cement tunnel type thing, also wavy, but you could crawl under it, or sit on it like a horse. The Ham had two holes in it, also kid sized. We crawled all over it, like ants on a sugar cube. Although, sugar cubes don’t usually have curse words spray painted on them.

ham
The Ham

We played so many games imagining these two structures were this, that, and the other, I can’t even go into it. I will say I did once yank a girl’s sweater as she sat in the hole on The Ham. I was still young so I did not realize the capabilities of my growing body. I gripped her sweater as a joke, to yank her through the hole. She did not, although her sweater unraveled like a drunken man’s lie. One minute I was holding a sweater, the next I was holding Grandma’s yarn. The girl ran away crying.

I stood up to apologize, and was stopped by the impossibly handsome boy. You know, the one boy in school that for some reason has his good looks decades before everyone else. This is the kid who looks like he should be wearing a sweater vest in a catalog. Anyway, he stopped me mid-apology. He just held me back with his tiny child hand, and swiftly kicked me square in the balls. I don’t know why getting a sneaker slammed into your penis makes your sides hurt, but it does. It also made me fearful of touching sweaters for years, for fear of some handsome bastard suddenly rupturing my testicles.

I blacked out.

I think recess is the best learning experience for a growing child, even better than learning the basics in the classroom. Life is basically a never-ending cycle of laughing, screaming, getting hit on (or just getting hit), and of course, every so often at some point in life you say to yourself, “Ain’t that a kick in the balls?”

It is, oh god is it ever.

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