Sunday, April 19, 2009

Philip and Jacob were over in the afternoon.  The four boys played in the backyard -- killing each other again and again.  They called it man-hunt; when I was a kid in our neighborhood we called it army; my father and grandfather probably called it cowboys and indians or cops and robbers.  The rules always are simple -- when someone is in sight and a person makes the right call -- some version of bang you're dead! -- another person has to fall to the ground (with greater or lesser degrees of theatricality) and count down the required amount.  Then they revive and it begins again.

But the simplicity of this play can't obscure the real game, which is of politics and power.  The nuances of rule and rule-break are negotiated at every turn and every boy (do girls even play this?) -- every boy tries out their strategies and tactics, from violence to argument to cajolery to tears and the threat to quit the game.

Everything important that I know about power and its limits, I first learned at play with other boys and girls.