Janine and Mike were my best friends. Growing up in the 1970s in suburban Reno, Nevada, there were very few summer days you wouldn’t find us together. Both Janine (Nee-nee) and Mike were better athletes than me. They were also a whole lot more stubborn.
We would often find a spare older sibling or other friends and spend hours in someone’s back yard playing football or some form of baseball with whatever ball we could find. It wasn’t uncommon for us to put together 15 to 20 friends and head to our local grass field, Horseman’s Park, for a game. Few of these games ended after 9 innings, or four quarters. Most of the time they were stopped by an injury (it was tackle football, after all) or, just as often, a disagreement between Mike and Nee-nee.
Games would come to a halt as the two of them came to different conclusions about a fair or foul ball, someone stepping out of bounds, or being tackled before reaching the goal line. As I recall, those conflicts were almost always the same. Too often our summer nights were filled with:
“You were out! You stepped right here.”
“No, I didn’t! I stepped right there.”
After a few rounds of pointing at the ground, one of them would speed up the argument with one word: “Bool.” We weren’t allowed to say the “s” part of “B.S.” so we just said “bool.” In our world, “bool” carried the same weight without the extra syllable or accompanying parental punishment. Mike and Nee-nee could yell “bool” at each other for a long time.
I have very clear memories of sitting on the grass as they hollered, “BOOWEL!” at each other. More likely than not, that meant the game was over. One of them would eventually grab their ball, or a few of their loyal friends ,and go home. Game over.
There were a few ways the conflict could get resolved without ending the game. If we had enough people, chances were good somebody else saw the controversial call. If that was true, they’d introduce their evidence and that side would prevail. The player on the wrong side of the call may play a little harder and rougher for a while, but accepted the evidence and played on.
If an additional person from each team “saw” the disputed call, it could break into “Bool” coming from four or more players, again resulting in a messy stoppage of play.
One hopeful loophole was if one of them backed down to a “Yabutt.” A “Yabutt” was usually an indication their position wasn’t strong enough or even arguably supportable, and they knew it. They just didn’t like the outcome. “Yabutt, the line should be here.” Or “Yabutt, there was interference.” We all knew “Yabutt” was recognition of a lost cause that should result in a return to play.
The last and least likely to cause an impasse was “The Grin.” Unhappy with the outcome of a play, Mike or Nee-nee would run to a spot and point at the ground, creating their story for overturning the play. Again, “You stepped out here.” Being kids, not actors, they would try to make their point with conviction, only to crack a hint of a devious grin.
If anybody saw “The Grin,” they called it out. Being caught showing a little of “The Grin,” they would try to say, “I’m not smiling. I’m serious.” The contortions their face made betrayed their words.
We went back to playing the game.
Those games were filled with bumps and bruises, but also rich with experiences and lessons for those willing to learn them. Other than the “bool,” it seemed like nothing would stop our fun. We were all fiercely competitive, but the majority of us may have been content to shrug our shoulders and play on, trying to win despite the “bad call.” We enjoyed sharing experiences and playing with friends.
Decades later, I know it was unsustainable. Organized sports, dating and cars would become our priorities. It makes me sad to look back and conclude it was uncompromising stubbornness and “bool” that often brought our “endless summer” games to an untimely end. We could have had a few more nights, or even another summer or two playing our own little World Series, NBA Finals, or Super Bowl.
But “Bool,” “Yabutt” and “The Grin” all served a higher purpose.
They still can.
Mark Michel is a commercial airline pilot and Key Pen Parks commissioner. He lives in Lakebay.
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