Hey, look at you. Where did you find those knee-high tube socks? And those shiny short-shorts. A ringer tee with a rainbow on it, and a white terry cloth sweatband. Wow. All that stuff and your thick, pre-Movember mustache and you look all ready to have some fun at the free dodge ball night the local high-end apparel store puts on each year as a way to say thank you to its customers. You’re right out of the ‘70s, aren’t you? So ironic and so funny. Just wait until every one on Instagram sees your team picture. Make sure the team is named something slightly naughty, too. Something having to do with balls. Balls Deep! That’s a good one! Who ever would have thought of that?

Nobody but you. And half the other teams that signed up for this free, co-ed event. No registration fee, no prize money. The beer is free and so are the games. So let’s just enjoy ourselves!

But how can you enjoy yourself by playing a game if you can’t win? I mean, that’s what games are, right? Someone wins and someone loses. That’s what makes it fun. Not the camaraderie of putting a team together and having a few beers from the local craft brewer, or a couple of sammies the hosts put out. Or of playing a game you haven’t played since eighth grade. I mean, what’s next, red rover? Nope, a game is a competition, and by god you’re going to win.

So that means you’ll act like the douche bag you look like in that ‘70s get up. If you get hit by a ball, you’ll start making your way to the sidelines like you’re supposed to, but then you’ll stop and stay on the court, because hey, nobody actually told you to leave and in all the commotion nobody’s going to notice. You’ll throw the ball as hard as the high school fireballer you once were, even if your intended target is a 48-year-old mom who had no idea what she was getting into and looks terrified and just wants this to end. And if you throw a ball and someone on the other team catches it, you’ll pull the same nobody-called-me-out ruse, unless a referee notices and points at you.

Dodgeball Referee

Ah yes, the referees. There are four of them. They’re all volunteers, employees of the gym the event is being held at, whom the apparel store asked to help out. They agreed because a dodge ball tournament sounds like fun and they’re in the business of helping people. But to you, they are ignorant pieces of shit there for you to deride. Can you believe this? They don’t know the rules! They didn’t see every single detail of a game in which six balls ping-pong around a court and off walls at flank speed.

So you argue with the refs, insult them, question their every move and motive. I mean, this is a game, right? So if you’re not cheating you’re not trying. And the refs are there to hate on. The stakes here are really high. The winners get…nothing. There are no prizes. But still, you want the satisfaction—no, you need the satisfaction—of knowing that you’re better at something as meaningful as dodgeball than all the other people in this gym. This really means something. And if you have to cheat, bully and hurt someone to get that feeling, by god you will.

And you do. By some injustice your team is eliminated, so you stand, beer in hand, and ride the refs. Your girlfriend is getting a glimpse of a side of you she’s never seen and doesn’t think she likes, but you’re not picking up on it because you’re so pissed you didn’t make it out of your bracket because of a blown call. Because this is a professional dodge ball ref, right? One who’s worked his way up from the lower levels of dodge ball, and who is here in New Jersey tonight but will be in Scranton tomorrow and Harrisburg on Saturday, following the circuit, and who works donkey basketball games during the off-season.

All in the name of fun.

Dodgeball Referee

I wish I were making this up, but I’m not. I was a referee at a dodge ball tournament the other night, and the last time I saw such bad behavior I was at a middle school—the one I attended. Pay attention, guys: there is a time and a place for competition, for channeling your inner Vince Lombardi and James Bond, and for deploying your killer instinct. But any event that uses the word “fun” in anything used to promote it is not the place to try to kill someone, or to ride the refs, or to cheat. You don’t sprint to the finish at the local fun run to pass the 12-year-old girl just before the tape.

You know where you argue with the ref? Nowhere. Unless you’re a professional athlete and your livelihood depends on it. Even then you should shut up.

You know where you whip a ball at a middle-aged housewife? Nowhere.

You know where you get out your competitiveness? At work. Or at a place where everyone is just like you and agrees that you’ll act like shitheads.

Play the game right. And remember it’s a game. And if you can’t do that, ask yourself some questions about yourself.