Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Letter From California-November 22, 2004

There’s breaking news from the world of law this week: physical activity can be dangerous. It’s true, and I know you’re shocked. Were you aware that moving around at high speed and doing things, while fun, could also lead to contact with other objects? This in turn leads to danger and should be avoided at all cost.

Surprisingly, it’s not a California court that is considering banning dodge ball from the state’s schools this week. It’s New York, but there’s enough playground craziness right here in the Golden State that I feel ok writing about it anyway. The New York court is considering the case of a 7-year old girl who hit the ground playing dodge ball and broke her elbow. The girl’s lawyers argue that the school should never have allowed dodge ball to be played because it’s just not a safe game for children to be playing.

Of course, they’re completely right. Dodge ball is a game of terror, humiliation, pain and revenge. It’s terrifying because usually there’s some sixth grader with five o’clock shadow, a couple “social promotions” and a howitzer for an arm who wants to turn your face into a TV tray. You can’t try to reason with him, because he’s pure, class-failing evil. It’s painful because a big red recreation ball, though soft and spongy, has nevertheless a mostly negative effect on nose cartilage. It’s humiliating because dodge ball is typically played in large groups of, say, 500. That means your unconscious and bloody trip to the Health Room on the shoulders of two gym teachers will be the subject of lunchroom chatter for days to come.

Ah, but what about the revenge? Inevitably, your reconstructive surgery will be a success and you’ll be back in the game. Someday, you’ll find yourself holding the ball and Mr. Facial Hair will be cowering from your wrath. Or maybe that won’t work out, and you’ll have to wait until later in life, when you can hire him as a stock boy at your multibillion-dollar dodge ball factory. He’ll be the tragic victim of workplace “accidents” around the high-speed dodge ball testing air cannons. Then you’ll call him into your plush office and fire him. Then you’ll hit him with the cannons again.

So even though dodge ball is a very dangerous game that can be the cause of pointless and petty revenge-taking decades after the fact, these are important life lessons. If kids didn’t have the chance to work through the terror-pain-humiliation-revenge cycle at least a few times before college, no one would survive freshman year. Punch bowls would be poisoned. Frat houses flattened. Only the truly cruel and the lucky would make it to sophomore year. Compared to that, a little dodge ball vendetta seems cute.

More than even the therapeutic benefits of dodge ball, kids play it exactly because it’s dangerous and inappropriate. In fact, the very words “dangerous and inappropriate” passing the lips of a school administrator confer instant credibility to whatever’s being discussed. Get the principal of your local junior high school to say that studying the history of Prussia is “dangerous and inappropriate” and soon, all the kids will want one of those helmets with a tall red feather standing up on them. Then they’ll realize they were tricked and come after you with the air cannons.

Also, dangerous and inappropriate things are more fun, as a rule. If you doubt this, ask yourself why the three-person water balloon slingshot is marketed and sold. With it, you (and two of your hoodlum friends) can launch a water balloon about two and a half miles. Really, there are no uses for such a device that are safe or appropriate under any circumstances, unless the planet is being attacked by aliens who disintegrate when they come into contact with what we earthlings call “water.”

So banning dodge ball might save a few broken bones here and there, but at what cost? Soon, the only acceptable playground activities left will be non-competitive Spelling Bees, “I spy with my little eye”, and staring contests. The staring contests will be limited in length to 6 seconds per round so that no student’s self-esteem suffers when his or her eyes begin to sting or when he or she drops out because looking at the other person starts freaking them out.

It’s not just that you can’t shield kids from danger. Inevitably, kids grow up and experience real danger no matter what. If they’ve had a chance to run around the playground with some foamy-soft Nerf danger, they might just be better prepared for the treated rawhide and sharp corners of the real thing.

But I do recommend that before they leave for college, you should check their luggage to make sure they don’t have one of those big slingshots. They’ll get busted using that for sure.


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