303. Croquet, Anyone?

It’s not what I expected either, but after a wonderful summer dinner with couples friends, finishing with homemade ice cream on a high fiber gluten free brownie, ummm, we went out into the early evening and picked up croquet mallets and balls. I picked the black one, casting myself as the villain of the group of six. I have never played croquet before in my almost 60 years. Something told me we needed British accents and witty phrases, “Old Boy” and “Sticky Wicket” and all that. Many references to Aussies and Kiwis would be proper good fun, don’t you know? And bloody good pudding from Staffordshire in the boot. Oh those Brits! LOL. Trippy.

We proceeded according to color. Gary, blue, then my wife, the radiant Sara, was red, then me, Gary’s wife Suzanne, yellow, then our hosts, Dan, orange and Susan, green. The colors were intense and very cool. It was remarkably simple to grasp the objective of whacking a ball through wickets, but then the dark side of the croquet world arose as competitive juices began to effervesce like Alka Seltzer in tonic water. Suzanne introduced rule 54…”when your ball contacts another ball, you are entitled to an additional whack. You can choose to hit yours or to send the ball you contacted.” Well, that’s when evil smiled its serpentine grin. Up became down and right became wrong.

“Nice hit, Gary. Strong. Impressive.”

“Good show, wifey. Lots of torque on that spheroid.”

And then I hit the black-hearted globe. “Watch out! He’s competitive”, muttered someone in the gallery behind me. I had unknowingly stepped into a nest of snarky snakes. Vituperous vipers. I felt their fierce fangs filet my frightened fragile flesh.

“I can’t help it if I hit it well. Isn’t that the objective?” Too late. Too late. I was in too deep. It all felt psychedelic at once. Pink Floyd echoed, “If you don’t eat your meat, how can you have any pudding? How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”

“No, the objective it to prevent you from winning. Send him Gary. Don’t wait. Punish him now!!”  The soundtrack of the evening switched to a sweeping bass line with electronic bings and buzzes. I realized that the niceties were over and my 007 life was on the line. I lacked technology gizmos to escape.

I appealed to Gary, mano y mano, but he crumbled under power-starved feminine pressure. Oh such villainy! I looked at Suzanne who held five ceramic human figureheads in her hands. She was squeezing the blue headed one like a voodoo doll… and Gary twitchingly complied.

And just like that– my black ball was sent rocketing away at an impossible angle to the wicket.

“Oh, I see how this is gonna be. Every dog for himself. Well, look out, cuz Pit Bull be here. And you a Chihuahua, bro dog. Better git back to where you once belonged. Git back Loretta.”

I took off the proverbial gloves on my next shot, caroming off Gary’s blue ball and winning another shot. Rather than exiling him into the thick grass yonder, however, I shot my ball through the wicket honorably forward with malice toward none and fraternity for all. I tried to set an example of cool professionalism and sportsmanship, knowing full well that I had been drugged at dinner. Sue’s brownie! She left without eating one. She was Judas in July.

Soon the first four were ahead of the hosts by a wicket or two. Lots of clocking and clacking and whicking and whacking was going on. I will own up to doing a few illegal booty dance celebrations after a remarkable shot or two. But in my defense I must add that there were no children about. Still, resentment grew toward my success. Their conniving was palpable on this humid night of ignominy. It seemed like I was moving under many leagues of hallucinogenic water.

I felt the jealous hand of fate draw an x on my back as I approached my next wicket. By this point in the competition I had accused the others of being croquet-stipated and stuck. I’d sung “Mustang Sally” in tribute to Wicked Wilson Pickett, the original Sticky Wicket. And a James Brown “Hit Me!” routine. But my impromptu jestering was not appreciated. Resentment grew and the conspiracy along with it. I was trying to inject some urban hip hop funky Broadway into this stiff  Anglican affair. But like the first banana out of any bunch, I would soon be peeled. Devoured by cruel monkeys.

With one wicket to go, a magnetic force field curved my ball off at an unnatural angle. It was clear to me that alien forces had been summoned by Gary, Suzanne and even my own wife. She had cast her lot with the Moral Munchkins, the little people of croquet, the Lollipop League.

You think you know someone until you play a competitive game with them. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Scrabble games often end with blood under the table, my blood. I’ve been told that I’m a bad winner but an excellent loser. I guess that’s my destiny– the arrow catcher, pin cushion, punching bag, poop magnet. I needed help as badly as Dorothy needed the Wizard of Oz.  It looked bad as my frenemies piled on and whacked me away from the victory wicket that was rightfully mine. And then it happened.

Over the western tree line a hot air balloon appeared. The pilot was a vaguely familiar man with a top hat. He masterfully guided the balloon onto the Martins’ lawn. No easy feat. He introduced himself as the next senior pastor of our church. “I got here as fast as I could, but there were flying monkeys that grounded all the flights out of Pittsburgh, plus the property commissioner was absent for the final vote.”  We welcomed him most graciously as Suzanne hid her ceramic voodoo doll collection and her gravity shifting controller.

 Then it hit me: this was not our pastoral candidate. It was Mark Sanford. It all came together then. The entire evening was a scam, a fundraiser for the 16th Republican candidate for president. I’d been Amwayed again, but the brownie buzz was even better than the colonoscopy anesthesia that trips you out so good. Finally I had a grip on reality again. Croquet, Anyone?