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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

What, Too Far?

For the past few years, I’ve been the ‘captain’ of our Thursday night volleyball team.

I put ‘captain’ in quotes because there’s really not a lot of captainosity involved. I pay the team fee to the league. And I send out emails every week to badger people to show up. That’s the full extent of my ‘captainly’ duties. Just once, you’d think I’d get to perform a civil marriage service or keelhaul a mutineer or something. I’d even settle for getting to wear the funny hat and drinking rum on the job. But no.

“Just once, you’d think I’d get to perform a civil marriage service or keelhaul a mutineer or something.”

The trickiest part of my responsibilities is getting the right number and proportion of people to play. It’s regulation volleyball, and a co-ed league, which means that ideally, we need six players — two or three women and three or four men — to field a full squad. Six people working as a team is what you call a ‘system‘ — the front left, middle and right and back left, middle and right positions have certain responsibilities, and each gets just enough space to cover that we can mostly do it without calling time outs for emergency CPR treatment.

Less than six people is what’s known in volleyball parlance as a ‘screaming bumblefuck‘. Does the rightish-back-middly person cover the corner on this play? Who comes over to block the middle when the setter’s playing double duty on the wing? Why the hell is our server curled up in a fetal ball on the ten-foot line chanting, ‘so many holes… so many holes…‘? And where do they keep the oxygen tank and Band-Aids around this damned gym, anyway?

Needless to say, I do my level best to ensure that six warm-to-tepid bodies show up every week. Mostly, that’s accomplished by keeping four hundred and thirteen people on the active roster, and begging for players several days in advance. But there’s still the question of the ratio of attendees, and — as is always the case in a life like mine — we can never seem to find enough women. If you’re sporting less than two in our league, your team is penalized a few points every game. Also, the refs say disparaging things to you. And the girls on the opposing team give you strange looks, like maybe you locked your team’s women in the trunk of your car, and they’re next. It can be awfully distracting, when all you’re trying to do is play your game and focus on teamwork and drown out the muffled sounds coming from the back of your Honda in the parking lot. Enough, already.

Which brings us to this afternoon, when one of the regular guys called to ask whether we needed him tonight. Some other obligation — a late night at the office or a pregnant wife or massive internal bleeding or something; I really wasn’t paying much attention — was vying for his time, but he said he’d try to swing by if we were going to be short-handed tonight.

So I tallied up the email replies I’d received for the week, and found only four definite ‘yes’ calls. Plus me is just five, so I let him know that we could absolutely use his services, once the project was finished or the baby popped out or his intestines were sewn back up, whatever. Since I was tearing him away from something he might deem ‘important’, I tried to soften the blow with a little humor.

Definitely show up if you can. You know how we miss you when you’re not around.

He chuckled politely, and probably thought that was the end of the conversation. Which it should have been. But I was busy doing math in my head, and realized that though we’d have six people with him, we still only had one girl showing up. Without bothering to explain this line of reasoning, I said:

Although, you’d be more useful if you had boobs.

Another chuckle — which I later realized was far more nervous than the first. At the time, though, I was drunk on the high of getting two laughs in a row. The jester in me took over, and I went for the hat trick:

Of course, I’ve always said that about you.

Silence. Probably of the stunned variety.

I said goodbye and hung up the phone, figuring I’d just bombed the joke. It wasn’t until I replayed the conversation in my head that I realized how batshit crazy it must have sounded. Now I wonder whether the guy will bother to show up tonight at all. Or ever, frankly.

If he does show up, it could get pretty awkward. And if he shows up wearing a padded bra, it’s going to get really awkward.

But hey — if he’s convincing enough, at least we’ll get the points back for the extra girl. Sometimes, even making an ass of myself has a silver lining.

Not often. Just sometimes.

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