The Softball Lesson

One of the earliest lessons I ever learned regarding the, shall we say, eccentricities of our social environment came when I was in the seventh or eight grade. It happened in Physical Education, which like everything else in school has the effect by design of killing all joy. In this case, it was the joy of physical activities and games.

As a youngster, I liked physical games. My favorites were kickball, four-square, softball (easier to hit than a regular baseball), basketball, tennis, badminton, long-jump, high-jump, shot put , and flag football. Left to our own devices, my friends and acquaintances would have had a perfectly wonderful time playing any of these–sometimes keeping score, sometimes not, talking shit, and generally being free spirited kids.

P.E. class, however, adds some bonus features, such as: being forced to play games with people you don’t like, being graded on one’s performance in a given activity, and being required to participate in any and all activities that the teacher chooses for the class. In other words, one is compelled and coerced to participate. Compulsion and coercion are the enemies of fun.

One day the class was doing a “softball unit.” As usual, my two running buddies and I were assigned to a team by default, as none of the chosen team captains were interested in having their teams sullied by the remainders of the junior high social equation. We were geeks, dorks, nerds, outcasts, fringe elements. Nevermind that two out of three of us were physically active enough to be decent participants in any given sport; skill was not a factor. I never did figure that equation out, but I got the general idea.

Since nobody on our team wanted anything to do with us, when it was the other team’s turn to bat we were assigned to the distant outfield. They simply parked us way out in right field, where they could almost forget that we were on the team. There weren’t enough catcher’s mitts for everyone on the field; needless to say, our team wasn’t going to waste perfectly good gear by giving it to us. So there we stood, gloveless, stuck to a patch of grass, reflecting on our situation with the usual sarcasm and resentment, waiting for the class period to end.

A crack of the bat sent the softball rocketing straight at us. I couldn’t tell you who hit that ball, but if the hit was any indication of their general athletic potential, they might have made a professional go of it–that ball flew through the air like a comet. We were far enough out that we had a good couple of seconds to see it coming our way; all of us were able to move to the side and avoid being crushed. The ball sailed off into the netherlands and one of us went after it, I don’t remember who. By the time the ball made it back to the diamond, whoever was on base had long since made it home.

At least half the members of our team were livid. They yelled and cussed at us, and we yelled and cussed right back. What stands out to me about this exchange is how upset they were that we refused to try and catch that speeding ball with our bare hands.

And there was the lesson.

We end up on your team, you make it clear you don’t want us, you put us in the middle of nowhere, you don’t give us the equipment we need to participate even if we wanted to, and then get angry at us when we refuse to put our physical safety on the line for the sake of your game. Then, in the time honored tradition of Civilized Masculinity, you insist that each and every one of us is a (bitch)(fag)(pussy)(whatever) for not doing so.

Well, as my mom likes to say, fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

A lot of folks end up as victims of bullies in these environments. There are people who end up bending over backward to try and please the cool kids, who will undergo any punishment or humiliation to be accepted by a given group. There are people whose spirits are crushed, who grow into meek and servile adults. There are victims who move on, find themselves in the top positions, and exact revenge by visiting misery upon those below them with the same level of commitment as their own tormenters. The fuckers and the fuckees.

The model is actually very simple to grasp when our vision is not clouded by conditioned loyalty to the machine. The Plan says, take your position, fuck and be fucked. We all play it out, in some form or another. “Privilege” is a corny and inadequate term for such a serious situation, but it’s also a helluva drug. Something in me, some combination of nature and nurture, heritage and rearing, is and has always been allergic to this entire model. Why? I sometimes wonder. Who can calculate such an equation? All I know is, I’ve never been down. The idea of being humiliated in order to be accepted is something I’ve simply never entertained. Neither have I accepted the idea that I must humiliate others. I don’t want to be fucked or fuck.

Geeks & dorks are supposed to be victims. As such, I made a terrible geek, because I always thought I was cool. I always had a sense of my own self-worth, despite the constant onslaught of Babylon against my spirit. I always had a sense of my own potential, my intelligence, my creativity, and these were things I valued and took pride in. They were fulfilling to my spirit even if they didn’t get me any dates. True, I had pitched battles with anger and depression from the age of twelve or so, battles that would get more intense and destructive as I grew into my early twenties. But there was something in me. Something that refused to surrender. Something that refused to be part of The Plan.

Hugo Monster has a song called about being bullied in school (Optimus Prime). Toward the end of a song, there’s a line that says, “I hope the child in me is proud of me.” I love that line. I would have had a much easier time as a young adult if I could have seen myself in the future, imagined my accomplishments and the rewards and struggles of my journey as an adult.

I’m now 37 years old. I’ve written and recorded over 100 rap songs, given amazing live performances, lectured to students of all ages, independently published a book and a number of comic books, served as a leader and teacher in my community, helped people, become an adept martial artist, had plenty of lovers, developed a strong spirituality, and built a satisfying life for myself. I have close friends, my chosen family. I have the admiration and respect of people I admire and respect. I’ve travelled to other states, even other countries. I learned to speak other languages. I’ve even been in love a few times.

I got to be what I always wanted, deep down, to be: a superhero.

With these time-bending powers I got from the old gods, I travel back and whisper into the dreams of that young me: Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Be yourself. The journey will be hard and lonely, but it will be worth it because you will live and exist on your own terms, not the terms set by people and systems that do not care about you or your well-being. You will forge your own path, you will make many mistakes, you will achieve many victories and failures, and you will learn. Your ancestors and your relatives who fly and swim and crawl and grow will speak to you and teach you things; listen to them. What you pray for will be yours; choose your prayers carefully.

And no matter what happens, keep the laughter.


About DZAtal

The true and living
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