The Breakfast of Champions


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.

ga-ga

This is kind of what it looks like, except with millions of more kids.

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 ends up looking something like this.

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.

Pictured: the first graders

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.

Pictured: me

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.”

Sunday in the Renaissance with Brian


I like Renaissance festivals.  There’s something magical about being able to step back in time to a long forgotten age.  I should know, I do it often.

“What, you go to medieval fairs a a lot?” you might ask

No, I’ve only ever been to three or four.  I actually travel back in time, or at least used to.  I’m a time traveler.

“What?”

Yes.

“Time travel?”

Indeed.

“Like doctor who?”

No, no!  More like Hiro from Heroes, I just sort of wish myself there and suddenly, with a glint in my eye and a twinkle in my toes, I am whisked away to a new age.  It’s all terribly complicated, so I’ve drawn a diagram to help you understand:

In step 1 we see that I am in a normal house with a dog outside. If we then go to step two, we can tell that something has changed. I am now in a castle, with a plague rat outside. This is time travel

But I found that with time travel comes a host of other chores that one must inevitably complete before being able to go home.  They include but are not limited to: storming castles, slaying monsters, rescuing princesses, assassinating Caesar, impaling heads on spikes, putting spikes through heads, completing dark druidic rites and cooking feasts.  The list goes on and on, but the one thing that all of the items have in common is that they are a chore.  We time travelers grow tired of them after a while, and so we often find ourselves attending modern re-creations of the past such as civil war reenactments and Renaissance festivals.  It helps us when we are jonesing for the oh so familiar thrill of traveling back in time and we aret required to save any kingdoms.

And so it happened that my friend Brian and I decided to visit the Georgia Renaissance Festival a couple days ago.  I was very excited.  One of my favorite things about renaissance festivals is the people who inhabit them.  They are consistently interesting and irresistibly bizarre.  Look at this guy, for instance

scary guy

A medieval batman, perhaps?

I could tell it was going to be a good trip, but even as we entered I began to notice some striking dissimilarities between this festival and the actual renaissance.  First off, though there was a frightening, obviously insane woman sitting in mud and playing a wooden flute at the gates, I failed to find any dead peasants in the gutters or in the street.  It is inattention to detail such as this that detracts from the overall festival experience.  The nerve!  I decided then and there that once I got back to Birmingham I would send a strongly worded letter to the host of the event with my suggestions to increase historical accuracy.  Take the water, for instance.  It was clear and drinkable, and I didn’t even taste a hint of syphilis.  Preposterous, I know, but it only gets worse, I’m afraid.

historical inaccuracies abound at the medieval fair

Where are the hanging bodies of thieves? Where are the indentured peasants tilling the fields? WHERE IS THE AUTHENTICITY?

A blast from a horn caught Brian’s attntion, and we followed the sound to a stick thin 40 something year old man who was dressed in all black and had a purple feather sticking out of his hat.  Rediculous!  I assumed that he didn’t know that purple dyes were very expensive during that time, and the color was reserved almost exclusively for royalty.  I held my tongue, however, not wanting to ruin what ever it was he was about to do.  He told us to wait because, as he put it “I am going to do stuff.”  It turns out that he was a hypnotist, but not just any hypnotist, mind you, he was in fact the worst hypnotist on the planet.  My patience had run thin.

“A hypnotist?” I asked him, scoffing, “Absurd!  Hypnotism wasn’t even invented until the 19th century, a good 300 years after the time period for this fair!  How do you explain that?”  He looked at me for a long time.

“Shut up kid.” He said dismissively, and then began his act, which involved telling a woman that he was going to hypnotize her, asking her to close her eyes, and then pushing her on the ground and saying He then passed around a hat that we were supposed to put money in. I was about to challenge him to a duel upon the jousting lists when my friend Brian dragged me away.  He must have known what I had been thinking.

I glanced back at the terrible hypnotist one last time, and saw to my terror that this man was watching me with great interest.

Who does he think he is? Blade? A monk? A Serial Killer? All three?

“Your costume is horribly inauthentic!  People didn’t have leather coats like that back then!” I shouted at him.  He merely eyed me and took another sip from his mug.  I count myself lucky that I never saw him again, though I am quite certain that on some lonely, dismal night, many years from now, I will be in my room, writing, when i hear a tinkle of broken glass from the living room.  I will walk into the room to discover this man standing in the exact same position and in the exact same costume, and the last words I will ever here will be “Who’s inauthentic now?”

We made it to the jousting lists just in time.  Some horribly obese women who were wearing disturbingly tight corsets were trying to sell the crowd $5 pennants to support a knight.  Apparently, each side of the arena was assigned to a knight who would be jousting and you were meant to cheer for only your knight and boo the other one.  Our side was the fated to support the evil Amadeo, a rakish scoundrel from Italia, whose horsemanship was as sharp as his goatee, and who would win at any cost.

You can tell he's evil because he's wearing red and black. Oh, and because he's FOREIGN

I was reather pleased with our choice in seating.  This Amadeo seemed like a real go-getter, and I was certain he would bring us victory.  I squealed with glee as none other than King Henry VIII himself came on to the field and sat on his throne. The referee knight on the field began a long diaribe about jousting and rules and honor and other such nonsense that I’m sure I would have completely ignored if I would have been able to hear, but as it was I could hear nothing other than the inane fool standing right behind me with a cart full of beef jerky who was shouting”BUYYYY MYYYYYY JERKYYYYY!!!” about every 5 seconds.  Whenever his voice became tires he would take out a bell or whistle or horn to make as much noise as possible.  I turned and gave him the most irritated look i could muster.

“Has anyone ever bought our jerky?” I asked scornfully.  He thrust out his chest defiantly for just a moment, until his whole body sagged and his head drooped down wards.

“No.  Never.” He cried as tears dropped from his eyes.  I felt a pang of pity for him, and nearly reached out to console him, when he suddenly lifted his head, still crying, and tilted it slightly askew as he extended to me a ragged piece of beef jerky.

“So would you… would you buy one?  My beef jerky?” He asked, his hands shaking.

“No, never.” I replied dryly, turning my attention to the joust that was just about to take place.  The ref seemed to have finished and the games were about to commence.  We had all come to see some knights in full armor ride horse and hit each other with things.  Preferably lances, but any other sort of weapon would have been acceptable.  What we got instead was a insulting farce of  knights charging wooden dummies and catching rings out of the air with their lances.  Amadeo’s opponent caught more rings, and so he was pronounced the winner.

“Absurd!” I roared, standing up and waving my plastic beer cup around, sloshing it’s delicious contents on the spectators around me.  “We came for blood!  Blood damn you, blood!”

“What’s that peasant saying there?”  King Henry roared back, shoving himself out of his seat and pointing an accusatory turkey leg at me.

“He says he wants blood my lord!” said the referee knight.  Ridiculous!

“Blood?  Blood!  Ha Ha!” The king laughed.  His face suddenly darkened, and he looked right at me and in a deep, threatening voice said “Then blood you shall have.  A Joust!”

“A joust!” shouted the ref.

“A joust!” cheered the crowd

“A joust?” asked the knights, suddenly worried

“Yes!  A joust!” King henry confirmed.  He waved at some squires who brought at wooden lances to the knights, who eyed them nervously.  It was at this point hat I was beginning to wonder whether these guys were even real knights at all, or if they were just actors that the festival hired.  A horn was blown, and in a flurry of hooves and flash of steel they charged, their magnificent beasts racing down the list towards one another at breakneck speed!

a Joust

It was quite thrilling!

The day was getting better and better.  The knights were actually pretty good at jousting, and the crowd was really getting into it.  We cheered, we gasped, we booed, we cried!  After two bouts, however, the king stood up and looked at the ref angrily.

“What’s this?  Why are they still using these practice lances?  Go on!  Bring out the real ones.”

“But my lord, is that… legal?

“I will make it legal.  I’m the king, after all.”

“But, my lord, I don’t think that we should…”

“Guards, take this man to the tower!” He ordered, and several armored me approached the ref and pulled him down from his horse.  The dragged him off while he screamed “Noooo!”  The crowd stood up and cheered.  This was great fun!

“You there!” said the king, pointing at one of the squires, “You’re the new referee, but don’t disappoint me.  You know the price of failure!” A scream cut through the hot afternoon air and ended in a sickening crunch.  “Now, bring out the real lances!”

The squire climbed up in the old ref’s horse and nodded at two other squires who went fetched the lances.  The knights must have looked very worried indeed, but as it was we couldn’t see their facial expressions inside their helmets.

“Much better!” The king said, sitting back down.  “Now, commence the joust, and may the best man live!”  The crowd roared it’s approval as the knights took their positions.

“Amadeo will surly win this one!” I said to the little kid next to me, “He’s a real go getter.  Plus, he’ll do anything to win.  That other guy is toast!”

“But, won’t they die?” asked the kid, looking up at me with worried eyes.

“Well, yes, but it’ll probably only be one of them who dies!  There’s no need to worry, Amadeo will win!  You do want Amadeo to win, dont you?”

“Um… yes?”

“Good boy,” I said, ruffling his hair.  The horn blew and the knights thundered towards one another and we stamped our feet and hooted like howler monkeys.  When the two met, the sound of steel upon steel rang out across the land, and we all held our breath in anticipation.  When their horses finally parted, my side of the lists began to cheer like madmen.  Amadeo’s lance had gone straight through the other guys chest, killing him soundly!  I turned to give the kid a high five, but he had gone.  The king stood up and we grew silent.

“Well struck, Amadeo!  You are this days champion!”  He screamed.  We cheered even louder as Amadeo took a victory lap.  Our revelry was cut short, however, by the arrival of police officers who arrested the King and shut down the festival.  He had apparently gone mad from the heat of his robes.  I heard that he was thrown in jail after a long trial, and his daughter Mary took over running the festival.  She proved to be a poor ruler as well, and was deposed so that his third daughter Elizabeth could take the throne.  One of my friends went last sunday and said that she was a fair and just ruler, at least compared to her predecessors.  Such is the way of the world, I’m afraid.  The best renaissance festival I have ever been to also happened to be the most illegal.

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