Off-Topic invites artists, curators, writers, and cultural workers to discuss a subject not directly related to the practice of making art. We would like to welcome The Post Family as our latest participants. They will be shedding some light on their favorite childhood games.
SMEAR THE QUEER by Chad Kouri
Smear the queer is a variation of another school yard game widely known as Tag or It. Also known as Kill The Carrier or Muckle, the rules are actually the exact opposite of Tag; all of the other players chase ‘it’ also referred to as all-on-one. There are no out of bounds, no teams and no winners.This player who carries the “it’ object (most commonly a football) does there best to avoid being tackled or smeared by the other players who are attempting to take the ball away. Once the ball leaves the hands of the carrier, the “it” position is filled by whomever has the guts to pick up the ball. More often than not the name of the game is repeatedly yelled out while playing. Seeing how there are no real winners, technically the game is endless but most games only last one recess period. Kids have also been known to sabotage a friendly game of catch by tossing the ball and yelling “smear the queer” immediately making the receiver of the catch a target. There is some debate over whether or not the name is offensive because the idea is everyone wants to be the queer and the point is to be the queer longer than anyone else but we can probably assume that it was not named with good intentions.
Smear the queer is not the only offensive term that is found in the school yard. Other derogatory sayings have snuck into child vernacular after decades of use by adults without us noticing like Indian Giver (one who gives something only to take it back with obvious negative implications against Native Americans) and “Yellow”(a coward or traitor with suspect origins in the early American hatred of Oriental immigrants). Of course one day the children grow up and more than likely understand the meaning of the words and stop using them but I can’t help but think how twisted all of it is. Oh well, it was a fun game and I have not had a sudden urge to tackle any gay people so I assume I’m no worse for wear.
FOOT TAG by Sam Rosen
A school wide phenomenon at Lincoln Hall Junior High School (circa 1997). While other schools were focusing on more conventional sports such as Football or Basketball, even conventional one-hand tag, Lincoln Hall students were pioneering a new sport, a sport with the speed of tag and the strategy of hide and seek.
The way the game is played is fairly simple. Two or more kids, with an unlimited group of players, all line up in a circle equally distanced (a couple steps away) facing the center of the circle. The winner of the last game begins and is allowed two steps, but at no point during their move can they have both feet on the ground at the same time. The objective of the game is to simply tag an opponent’s foot. On your turn you lunge towards fellow players and can respond with two steps away from you (or towards another player). Those steps can only be initiated while the other person is mid-move. Turns are rotated clockwise in the circle and if a foot gets tagged, you my friend are out. If you are the last man or woman standing, you are it (although, we could never seem to get any girls to play with us.)
I still play this game with my brothers in our boredom, but my knees aren’t as agile as they used to be. Have fun.
FOURSQUARE By David Sieren
There was a time in grade school when Mr. Rogers was all the rage. I’m not talking about the early years of grade school either. I’m talking about a period late in my tenure at Lloyd Street Elementary – around 5th or 6th grade to be exact. You’re probably thinking the same thing I initially thought at the time: why would a bunch of “older kids” get so excited about a dopey guy in a cardigan who taught us that “we’d never go down the drain“ years earlier when we still took daily naps, ate graham crackers and had half days at school?
Well, this wasn’t that Mr. Rogers, this was our Mr. Rogers. Our Mr. Rogers jumped around and stood on desks while teaching history. Our Mr. Rogers rode a motorcylce and listened to Young M.C. And most important, our Mr. Rogers was the teacher that brought us Four Square.
Four Square was the x-game of my childhood compared to the monotonous order handed down during Phy Ed. (Seriously, what good is climbing a rope going to do for you in the real world unless you plan on becoming a superhero? Maybe I’m bitter because I always flunked the Presidential Fitness test, but still…) Sure there was a basic framework, but beyond the red rubber ball swiped from the kickball league and the chalk-defined court, anything was up for grabs.
The objective was simple: fight your way to the top and, once there, do everything you could do to stay in power.
The concept of “server’s rules” was nothing short of enlightenment. Once you reached that pinnacle position in square #4 you had the absolute authority to bend, shape and define the rules of the game to secure your advantage. Your legacy was in your hands as you dictated how hard it would be for others to topple you from the throne. Server spikes. Bobbling. Underhand only. Blackjack. Body language. Creativity was key to survival.
Four Square – and Mr. Rogers by proxy – taught us about the real world that existed beyond the idealized and orderly doors of our school. We learned that rules were malleable and, often times, unfair unless you were the one in control. We also learned that with skill, determination and a little bit of luck you could overcome any odds that were stacked against you. However, once you tasted success, you could very easily fall prey to the mindset that you found yourself rallying against just moments ago.
Now if that isn’t a history lesson, then I don’t know what is. Thanks Mr. Rogers.
Herr Fischer, wie tief ist das Wasser or FISHERMEN HOW DEEP IS THE WATER? by Ina Weise
The Rules are:
you count out who the fisherman is, he stands on one side and the rest
of the kids on the opposite side about 80 ft. away from the fisherman.
The kids yell:”Fisherman, fisherman how deep is the water?”
Fisherman answers for example: “100 meter deep.”
The kids yell again all together asking: “And how will we get over it?”
Now the fisherman tells everyone a way of how to cross the water. A funny way.
He has to move in the same way towards the other kids. only forward
and sideward. Not back.
Everyone starts and the fisherman tries to catch as many kids as
possible to help him catch more kids next time. Who gets caught last
We used to play that game on the schoolyard. I think it’s funny
because you have to yell at each other. 25 kids yell at the fisherman
and on fisherman yells back. Also you yell when you run or move in a
weird way trying not to get caught.
KING OF THE MOUNTAIN by Alex Fuller
In the center of my elementary school playground was a pyramid made from massive tractor trailer tires. Yeah, we had tire swings and even a ship made from tires, but it was the giant tire pyramid that was the stage for epic battles that eventually ended with the declaration of one mighty king. Well, one mighty king every recess. The catch, you only have a 20 minutes recess to stake your claim. Once you entered that wood chip perimeter at the edge of the battlefield, it was on. The boys raced to the pyramid with arms flailing whilst releasing blood curdling battle crys. And quite simply, you tried your hardest to push the boy standing at the top most point of the pyramid off his “throne.” At final bell, the boy remaining at the peak was declared winner. Of course this playground activity was heavily frowned upon by the administration and was even punishable by after school chalkboard cleaning duty. So of course we all played it as much as possible. Gosh, now i’m thinking about all that chalk dust I’ve inhaled cleaning blackboards over the years… anyways… long live the king!
TETHERBALL by Davey Sommers
One pole, one ball, one rope and one opponent, that’s all you need for tetherball. The game begins with one player resting the ball in their open palm then striking it into motion. It is up to the opposing player to then return the serve. The ball can be struck with the palm or fist, and the first player to get the rope to wrap around the pole completely wins. While there are no official rules to tetherball, these seem to be the most widely used and accepted. And remember, stay on your side.
One needs quick reflexes, a sharp eye, a strong stance and smooth body rotation to really hit that sucker. A grunt, much like those heard by tennis players, is highly recommended and can give you a mental advantage over your opponent. If you can make your grunt as recognizable as Gustav Kuerten and as powerful as Serena williams then you’ve really got something.
To consistently strike the ball in a manner so that it is difficult for your opponent to return requires a great focus that can be hard to develop under daily school yard pressures. One must clear their mind and release themselves from the anxieties caused by the thought of your upcoming math test, and that totally harsh rumor going around about you “liking” someone of the opposite sex, even though you are publicly open about your stance that they indeed have cooties. But those who have played before know that all of that mental blockage can be released with a single smack of that ball. And a victory means a chance to stare deeply at your opponent as they are hit with a blast of air by each passing rotation of the ball; each rotation bringing you closer to the thing that matters most in this moment: people not thinking you’re a wuss.
KICKBALL by Rod Hunting
According to my trusted information source, wikipedia, kickball was invented around 1942. Apparently by some U.S. soldiers during the Tunisia Campaign. Now, I could go on about the rules of kickball, but that’s not really important. What is important to mention, is Spencer White. Spencer White was the best kickball player in the fourth grade. Home runs almost every time. When he got up to kick, we all shouted “move back, he’s gonna boot it.” And we all moved back. I remember this one time when the pitcher gave him a low-roller with no bounce, and he did this thing where he slightly kicked the ball up to himself, then kicked it again, over the outfielder’s heads. I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. So I remembered that, and next time I got up to kick, I tried it. But, I wasn’t as quick as Spencer, and the ball had to bounce before I kicked it again. Everyone started screaming that I was out, and that I couldn’t do it, and I pointed at Spencer and shouted that he’d done it too. The problem was that I’d messed it up. I didn’t do it exactly like he had. They were right, I was out. I tried to be cool, and I failed miserably. This is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of kickball.
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