Eaglie's Aviary

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Essence of Childhood

Summers have always been meant for running through fields, chasing frogs, licking popsicles, skinning knees, and not crying about it until you get home and Mom can hear you. I loved playing in the alleys and fighting over who had the duty of running into each yard for each foul ball. Those memories are exactly why I’ll live somewhere where my children have to play baseball in an alley. You can’t live until you’ve learned what it is to be chased by a German shepherd and an old woman with a garden hoe.

Another beautiful childhood memory is Capture the Flag. This is not your Halo CTF, your Team Fortress CTF, or your Warsong Gulch CTF (in World of Warcraft). This is a simpler game, outdoors and covering much more than just a tiny selection of pixels. It doesn’t matter what your screen resolution is.

There are, of course, many ways to play CTF. The greatest variety is how people get "out" in the game. It could be a simple game of tag (with a jail) or you could have a game of shooting each other with water guns, Nerf dart guns, snowballs (in the right conditions), or combining all of those… Water Guns and Snowballs, a reenactment of Hitler’s invasion of Russia! These memories drive every near-twenty-year old to want to play again. Thus began the saga of the Red Snakes versus the Blue Pirates… the First Battle of Taylor Park… June 9, 2006.

The last time such a match occurred with my friends, the stalemate was called off when we began to need flashlights to tell team members and curfew-enforcing cops apart. The last time before that, rocks were thrown, effigies of Uncle Sam were burned, and several pieces of construction equipment were blown up. To say the least, I missed those days. I’m a sucker for childhood memories, being immature myself. I so loved those innocent days of squirt guns and cooties, so when I was approached about the match, I said “Heck yes!” My exact phrasing was, “I’ll probably be there!” just in case I had a date with some hottie to schedule instead.

Taylor Park was a place I’d spent many days pulling up grass on the sidelines for the Bulldogs, my former soccer team. Therefore I knew the park well, but I still showed up alone and early, roaming the future battlefield for nooks and crannies, in hopes of finding the hidden tunnel or two I’d dug during my benchwarming days. They seemed to be long gone. Damn. Those would’ve been useful.

Before long, I saw two flags marching with their respective crowds of blue and red shirts. Everyone was wearing their team’s colors (I was in red, by the way). The Jolly Roger waved over the blue crowd, and a white flag with a hissing snake was hoisted above the sea of red. Our referee, Chris B., carried a map of the park and the official Boy Scout Capture the Flag rules. This would be a game of tag, with jails, but to tag someone, you had to hold on long enough to say "Capture, capture, capture!" This was a real man’s sport—scrapes, grass stains, broken tibulas and all—the true essence of childhood.

The game began with a few complications. At the onset, we only had a small area within the park to play, since a soccer scrimmage was going on. I was in jail within five minutes of the opening whistle: my Snakes had attempted a blitzkrieg, a brilliant strategy, alas, thwarted by obvious cheating. They had loads of speedhacks, and I warned the ref about them. The ref called me crazy, but I bet he started watching them because they stopped using them as soon as their fastest rushed our poor undefended flag and captured it for their first point. 1-0, Pirates lead the Snakes.

After this score, we finally got to spread our wings, sails, and fangs: the soccer was over and the field was wide open. The field was divided across the whole block-sized park, and all places within the park were legal to travel through. The foliage was now beautiful cover for an ambush. For over an hour, the battle rages, and many were jailed in each territory. The Pirates especially had many of their mates by our makeshift lightpost prison. By the size of the jails and lack of jailed Snakes, it was obvious the Snakes were playing a more defensive game since that initial blitzkrieg (I’m telling you, they hacked the game!).

Finally, the Snake hero Miles did it! He snuck around sleeping-at-their-posts Pirates into bushes nearby, then performed a beautiful distraction move, and took off with the flag! He rushed for the safety of our own territory, cradling the precious flag and barely looking back…

Actually, I have no idea how Miles did it. I was patrolling a bunch of bushes with a Maglite for the past hour and a half, and I wasn’t about to run so soon after smacking into some tree branches (short story: I am too tall). I wasn’t paying attention until Miles ran past me. I just know he scored without many blue shirts chasing him (they were all in jail). 1-1, a tie!

And, that’s where the saga ends. Or maybe it begins there. Or maybe we were just tired of running around a lot: my joints, two days later, are still hellishly sore. Maybe there’ll be another battle, someday, or perhaps some other kind of rewriting of these childhood stories of ours? Only time will tell, but some of us need to get a move on. There’s no telling when I’ll get diagnosed with arthritis.

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