Rules of the Game
Brandon Kamins
Break
My father explains the rules of the game: "The ball is round, obviously." He holds the ball in his hands and runs his fingers over it to show that it is indeed round.
I smile, nod my head in agreement. "Round," I say.
"Good," he says. "Let's continue on. The rules clearly state that the ball must be bounced or dribbled continuously."
My father demonstrates, first with his left hand, then with his right. Then he puts the ball through his legs, around his back, spins it on his little finger, and bounces it off his head, his knee. He smiles and invites me to try. I start with my left hand and switch it to my right. But the ball bounces off my foot when I try to put it through my legs.
"That's all right," my father says, smiling. "The game itself is simple. The ball goes here, the ball goes there. Put the ball either here or there as many times as you possibly can, understand?"
I nod my head and smile that I do.
"Good," he says.
"Now, even though the game is simple, it can at times be complicated. Certain words will constantly be repeated. Teamwork," he says, "is the first of these words."
"Teamwork?" I ask.
"Teamwork is the idea that when working in a group or team a person or player must, at times, sacrifice certain parts of his own individuality for the greater good of the group or team. For instance," he says, "if you enjoy dribbling, but are not the best player on the team in terms of dribbling, teamwork says that you should defer to another player, who is perhaps a better dribbler, and allow him to do the lion's share of the dribbling for the good of the team."
I smile at my father's description.
"Yes, son," he says, "I know. It all sounds very noble, very all-inclusive... doesn't it?"
I nod my head that it does.
"Well," my father says in his sad voice, "teamwork is often misunderstood. I myself misunderstood it, and sacrificed my own game on its behalf.
"I was one of the ones who worked to stop the ball from going here or there. And I was good, very good at doing so." He looks at the ball in my hands, a look of deep regret and adds: "It was a thankless, tedious task. But by the time I realized this, by the time I'd discovered just what it is this game is about, it was much too late. I won't let you make the same mistakes I did, son. No.
"For practical purposes teamwork is merely a means to an end. It means, son, that you can work that much less hard on certain things, and concentrate more on the other things you do best, things that will inevitably draw attention to you. This game is about winning," my father almost shouts. "And you can't win unless you've put the ball here or there more times than your opponent. Understand?"
I nod my head and smile that I do, but really this is becoming much more complicated.
"So, son, as I said, this game is about putting the ball here or there; and you must, in order to get the attention you deserve, be the best, most creative player on the team at this. If so they will invariably make you captain of the team." He crosses his arms and looks sternly at me. "This, son, is a position of great honor, and also responsibility. It means that you will be held personally accountable when the team doesn't perform up to expectations, or it loses.
"But it isn't all bad. The position also holds with it a great many perks. You will undoubtedly be the most popular boy in your school. And you will date the prettiest of cheerleaders. And college recruiters will be after you, son, after you in droves. And you may, son, if you are good enough, receive a full ride, a scholarship, to the college of your choice. Which would take a huge financial burden off of me and your poor mother, too!
"And after college, who knows? You could possibly be selected to go to the pros, and get paid big money for playing this very simple, sometimes complicated game. And how proud that would make us all if you played as a professional, and were on television every Sunday and had your face on the front of certain products and trading cards and posters in the rooms of small children who would all want to grow up to be just like you."
"Well, son, what do you think?" he asks.
My thoughts are too scrambled to be expressed.
"That's all there is to it," my father says, shrugging his massive shoulders. "The ball is round— it goes here or there. It is all very simple, but can, at times, be complicated too."
Brandon Kamins is a teacher and short fiction writer living in the small town of Garwood, New Jersey. His stories have appeared in 580 Split, Nerve Cowboy, Stray Dog, Slate & Style, and Carillon.