Swishhhh! Purple rubber balls, orange rubber balls, purple-orange-balls zooming through the air. Crashing — Bang! Bang! Bang! — into the wall. Once in a while a wail — “shhhhiiiiit” — as a rubber ball meets a knee or an arm or a leg. And then, brrrrrrrretttt — you’re out!
Twenty or so people, and me, the awkward one, looking on from a chair in the corner, have ventured into the inconspicuous Mission Recreation Center on Harrison Street between 20th and 21st to try to dodge balls for an hour. Since November, dodgeballers have paid $5 each to sling rubber balls at each other on Mondays at 9 p.m. Anyone’s welcome to drop by.
This particular night is special. It’s President’s Day, and players are encouraged to be costume-appropriate. Naturally, most people have forgotten their costumes.
But not Grace! The “young John Adams” has gray-tinged black hair pulled back in a ponytail and a gray colonial jacket that hangs down to her knees, where brown trousers meet black socks. And those shoes! How is she going to play in those clunky black pilgrim-looking shoes? Well, she’s wigged out and ready! She’s already dancing, shuffling her feet back and forth and dribbling a ball to the music.
“I’m not dressed up; this is normal,” she jokes — maybe?
Ice, Ice baby, Ice, Ice baby.
The group of about 20 oddly dressed dodgeballers have split themselves into two random teams, standing and staring, some only feet away from their opponents, on the maybe 40-foot-long makeshift court. When all the players have been smacked out, they’ll return to their starting positions, once in a while switching sides for a little bit of flavor. Next round!
Why haven’t I heard of this event before tonight? Apparently, the San Francisco chapter of the World Dodgeball Society is new this year, and the weekly open gym only started in November. They’ll continue until April, when competitive league play starts, says Dennis McNulty, one of the group’s co-directors, a 30-something guy with a yellow referee whistle around his neck.
Anyway, the generic-looking president has got his wish for now. These open gyms are all about fun, fun, fun. That’s why they dressed up for a themed “I Have a Dream Night” dodgeball game on Martin Luther King Day, and why tonight they’ll give a prize for the best President’s Day costume. Everyone knows the young John Adams is going to win. Nobody else is as wiggy.
“The whole idea is to have some really bad ’80s music and connect to your inner child,” says Dennis, who seems to have half-assed his costume. American flag board shorts and a blue shirt? Come on Dennis, you can do better!
He and his yellow whistle and way-too-ordinary blue T-shirt will start the game tonight. On his whistle — brrrrrrrretttt! And then stomping feet, cautiously sprinting to the center of the hardwood floor, reaching desperately for a purple or orange ball, players reminding themselves not to step over the blue line, and don’t get hit! For God’s sake, don’t get hit!
But they will get hit. Brrrrrrrretttt! Brrrrrrrretttt! Brrrrrrrretttt! Players are making their way, wounded, to the sidelines, to wait for the next round. Swoosh! Tien-Tien Chan makes a contorted “Matrix”-like jump, her top hat never leaving her head as the ball sails under her legs.
Wickity, wickity, wickity wack.
Tien-Tien’s team of 10 players, some best friends, some only newly acquainted, are going to lose this round. It’s inevitable. She’s the last player left on her side, standing at the back of the court, black top hat still on her head, a blazer and black tie over a white dress shirt and … short shorts. An orange rubber ball is in each of her hands — her weapons — but if she takes aim at one of the four players still standing on the other side, she will surely get hit by another’s throw. And she doesn’t want to give up just yet.
So she waits until a ball comes sailing right at her chest. The orange balls fall from her hands. Game over! Brrrrrrrretttt! Clap, clap, clap, clap! Yeaaaaaa! Both teams applaud as they run back on the court and take their positions for the next round. Redemption time!
Tien-Tien’s side is losing the overall competition for the night, but who’s keeping score? Well, at least one player — “We won! Yeah, we won!”
A competitive-looking group walks in, four of them, coming to have some fun after a not-all-about-fun organized league game. Their beige T-shirts read “Dodgeball SF: Team RamRod.” The back — “Where booziness happens.” So maybe they’re not so competitive? Or they’re sandbagging? Popular Nicole leads the way as the room breaks out in applause. “Thank you, thank you,” she says as her group splits up to keep the teams even.
Shake it, shake it like a polaroid picture.
It’s a new match and there’s a new rule — hey, who’s in charge here? This time if you make a basket at center court without getting hit, it’s a “jailbreak” — your whole team gets to come back on the court. But it’s not so easy. Arghh! Shiittt! Ahhh, f!@#k!
And then, swoossshhh! Yeahhh! Freedom!
“Hey dancer!” Dennis yells. He wants the girl in the yellow Pittsburgh Steelers outfit to switch teams. “Dance your way to the other side.”
The dancer hip hops her way to the other side to shouts of “Yeahhh!”
Ice, Ice baby, Ice, Ice baby.
I think we heard this song already? No one cares. The last match has started and bodies are smack, smack, smacking the floor as one of the hyper-competitive players dives for a ball and others follow suit nonchalantly.
“One, two, three!” Three players wind up and release the ball in a synchronized dance, each orb whizzing past its target to the back wall. Bang, bang, bang!
But eventually, the final player is hit. Nooooo!
Don’t fret! There are $1 beers at the Homestead, and the whole group is going to go live up to the slogan “Where booziness happens.” So this is what it’s all about?
But first, who gets the prize for best costume? Clap, clap for Tien Tien. Clap, clap, clap for the generic president. CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP! And the young John Adams is the winner, walking off to the $1 beers with a Linda Ronstadt record. Yes!