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#60. I never lost a game of ‘Mercy’.

Okay, so maybe this requires a bit of explanation. ‘Mercy’ is a game that we played back in elementary school. I suspect it’s played all over, though perhaps with different names. I can imagine it being called ‘Uncle’, or ‘I Give’, or perhaps ‘Ow, You Broke My Fucking Fingers, You Whore’. But we called it ‘Mercy’. That’s just the kind of kids we were.

So, how it works is this. You and your opponent face each other, and clasp both hands, interlacing your fingers together. Then, you try anything you can think of to bend the other person’s fingers backwards, using your big manly muscles. Or your big girly muscles, though this was usually a dudes-only kind of thing around our particular schoolyard. Your mileage may vary. In any case, the first person to feel their fingers about to snap and cry ‘Mercy!’ was the loser, and jeered mercilessly until the end of time. Or until recess, when they’d have a chance to redeem themselves. Whichever came first.

Anyway, I never lost at this game. Not once. Which is not to say that I was the strongest kid in my class, or even probably the toughest. But damn, do I have some flexible fingers. (Ah yes, I can hear the ladies among you swooning even now. Excellent.)

You see, I could beat my fair share of oppoenents through strength or cunning. There’s a strategy to the game; it’s a bit like boxing, only without the punching. And, um, the ring, the judges, the referee, predermined results, illegal betting, doping, cheating, greasy promoters, toothless impotent commissions, subjective scoring, division into rounds, weigh-ins, knockouts, shirtless competitors, ringmen, movies dedicated to the sport, trash talking, doctors on call, rules against biting, and girls in bikinis holding up flashcards during a break in the action. But except for those things, it’s exactly like boxing. (Of course, so is birdwatching; what the hell do I know?)

But there is some strategy involved — you can concentrate on one hand, or attack with both at once. You can try bending down from above, or up from below. You can introduce a twist, to get the other person’s wrists and elbows tied up, too. You can talk during the match, to distract your opponent, or you can stare them down to intimidate them. There are as many styles of playing as there are… um, well, fingers, probably. Yeah, something on the order of ten styles or so probably just about covers it. This isn’t go, after all.

Anyway, I could take down a lot of people with brute force and guile alone. And for the record, I liked to attack with the right, and twist when I got the victim in a bad spot. I’d simply hold my ground with the left, and take the fight to the other guy’s weak hand. (Or strong hand, if he was left-handed, though I don’t remember many that were.)

But what if the other guy had the same idea, and was *gulp* stronger? Or what if they twisted right away, dropping a monkey wrench into my game plan? Well, sometimes I could recover, and make a fight out of it, and eventually worm my way to victory. But once in a while, I was the one in a pickle. I’d fight the good fight, and charge up the hill, only to be pinned down, cut off from support and out of ammo. That’s when the magic fingers would come in handy. That, and a high tolerance for digit pain, of course.

My fingers will bend backwards from the base at a ninety degree angle without a lot of discomfort. Maybe everyone’s will; I don’t know. But I suspect that it’s fairly uncommon, or the ‘Mercy’ game wouldn’t be a lot of fun for most people. Because when I got in a jam, I’d just relax the hand under duress and let the fingers go any which way they wanted. Or, more accurately, any which way my opponent wanted. But it’s hard to bend someone’s fingers further than ninety degrees or so when you’re essentially holding their hand. Your own fingers — and that’s your own stubby, awkward, chubby little fingers, if you’re a kid — tend to get in your way. And that’s what happened. I’d essentially lose, but I’d never say the magic word. The other kid would grunt and strain, and I’d wriggle around just enough to avoid him getting real leverage somehow, and eventually, we’d end in a draw. It was one game — and just about the only game — I couldn’t lose. I was king of ‘Mercy’.

Which got me just about as much attention as you’d expect it would, which is none. But it’s still nice to have done something — anything, really — in this world, and retire undefeated. The undisputed ‘Mercy’ champion of Cammack Elementary School, in the eight-to-nine-year-old division, ultra-featherweight class. Hell, they should erect a plaque for me, or put an award in the trophy case. Lord knows nothing else of importance ever happened around that place. Mercy.

Permalink  |  4 Comments

4 Responses to “60”

  1. John Reardon says:


    I want to challenge you to a game or match of Mercy. Like you, I too am undefeated and yes that means I never lost not once. Do you want to put a wager/or bragging rights on it? I’ll come up there and play you in a best of three match series. I’m serious about this! If you’re willing to do this, let me know?

    Thank you sincerely,

    John Reardon (Philadelphia, PA)

  2. Emerson says:

    Haha you sound just like me…:).

    Though, I’m only 14, I haven’t truly lost ever. Not to say that I haven’t tied, but when I do tie, it’s been against somebody over the age of 18.

    Fun game.

  3. Laura says:

    I live in Fife (Scotland) and at our school (indeed in our whole county as far as I know) we called it Peanuts. I have no idea why. I *was* undefeated thanks to doublejointed fingers and steely determination. Then my little sister grew up, got cocky and kicked my ass, leaving me squirming on the tarmac screaming “Peanuts! Peanuts!” long after she’d walked aay causing a playground supervisor to think I was having some sort of allergic reaction and call the nurse. Ah well … it was good while it lasted …

  4. Antonio He says:

    Hi I think this is too late because this is 2010 and your posts were 2007 but I’d like to give a good tip if your heavy and strong. Dominant hand, use body weight and push down and with the non-dominant hand you push up!

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