©Mark Ali, 2014

©Mark Ali, 2014

They played America’s pastimes in the daytime – somedays baseball, the other days football – hitting, tackling, boys of summer who went to war in winter, the park’s grounds their field of dreams, the cement surrounding the perimeter of the recreation area their coliseum’s facade.

People walking, biking, pushing strollers, jogging or driving by would look at the intensity they played their games in and secretly celebrated them; the earnestness those young boys, those burgeoning young men acted in, were motions they yearned for, ones they could understand in the context of homogenized Americana.

Even if they never pitched a pigskin or threw a baseball soft toss, they had jumped a rope, dodged a ball, hopped four squares, played some game with some sort of passion, innocence and abandon. Those young bodies they watched were stand-ins for their own, reminding the seasoned spectators of some carefree aspects of their childhoods, days in the beaming sun or underneath heavy clouds, trying to steal the last moments of exuberance before the streetlights called them home. Even though those days may have been far off in their respective horizons, a lost playfulness was still active in their sedentary minds despite the routine of their starched lives.

As the daylight shrunk and hunched over, those touchstones they spied from afar became enveloped in a shifting paradigm coinciding with the exactness of the coming night. Regardless of the season, whether summer, fall, winter or spring, those shimmering forms they saw with a percieved objectivity moments earlier, they now looked upon with an unapologetic subjectivity. The sunlight gave way to that of the moon’s, as well as full illumination to their own ignorance. The boys began playing a different game, one that made the voyuers a little uncomfortable. They could not cobble together enough associations to take pleasure in the experience of those wild elastic expanding bodies.  They moved at a pace foreign to the onlookers. They were playing a game the watchers never quite participated in, one which made them want to hurry on their respective ways.


In the observers’ minds and eyes, those boys transformed as they changed games and the sun touched the horizon’s edge. In the hanging sun, they were acceptable, silhouettes of sons, brothers, nephews and grands. At dusk in the peaking moonlight, when one glowing orb replaced the other, they were transmogrified to shadowy figures, swarthy, darting and scampering about, moving in ways undefined and unrecognizable to the passing eye in the baying light. There were no set rules except  . . .  none hard and fast.

Those boys at the park had played variations of the game over the years, some invented together, some discovered at family gatherings in some god-forbidden armpit of a place like Fresno or Vallejo, or the Darwinesque survivor’s fields of school yards at recess and physical education. They even, in the pure ignorance of their youth and naivete to the world they lived, used to love Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians, What’s the time, Mr. Wolf? until they all realized society viewed them as the perpetrator, the ones to be persecuted, and savage predators, the “they” to their “we.”

In a coalition of collective consciousness not articulated in straight line conversations, one day they decided to change the games they played, using societal family favorites as warm-ups for the real sport, that, while not exatcly mirroring their lives, encapsulated many of their dreams and hopes as remote as the stars that seemed to be just out of arm’s reach

Now, their favorite iteration of the game had become Moon Tag, naming it so because one of the tenets of the game was to leave gravity behind as they jumped “rock” to “rock,” between the concentric circles of stone that separated one play area from another at the park, swings from slides, slides to jungle gyms, jungle gyms to merry-go-rounds, merry-go-rounds to monkey bars, monkey bars to sandbox, sandbox from seesaw. The game’s roots were in Manhunt, an amalgamation of tag and hide-and-go-seek (many of them, the players, when they became older would play Hide-an-Go-Get-It and Spin the Bottle with the same fervor as they game they were now engaged in, excited by their new playmates). The game could be played in multiple ways – one young man could be pitted against the rest, everybody could exist solely for himself, or one team could be set against another for an exercise in a communal chaos.

Ultimately, it was a game of survivor, with home base being the park’s landmark (some said eyesore), an oval space ship, prominently erected in iron, its original coats of paint bouyant blue and radiant red, now smattered with flakes of rust and oxidation, but still standing tall in the far corner of the parks enclave, they place the boys would need to reach to be safe. It was a mothership of sorts, one that would, in the spirit of their game, save them from the harsh realities of their current world, transport them to a brave new one where they could theoretically start anew, one where they could fly, stay afloat instead of being defined by the gravity bound world that was defining them, the one that held them down, the one they wanted to blast off from.

©Mark Ali, 2014

A 2009 Summer Institute BAWPee, Mark Ali is staying connected to Tolman Hall and the spirit of the NWP through more deeds than words while fully subscribing to idea that those who teach must also do.

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