The plot revolves around the tendency to fantasize about changing a key moment in one's life. In the movie, a mid-level businessman has hit a series of ruts that spark a mid-life crisis. He wanders into a gin mill and receives omniscience from the bartender, (Mr. Destiny). The moment Belushi's character wants Mr. Destiny to change is when he struck out in a big high school baseball game.
Mr. Destiny shows him how his life would have been impacted by being a hero. In the typical substance over form formula, he sees the price tag of superficiality that comes with that kind of success. He soon realizes that what he has actually achieved despite being that game's goat, is too precious to fritter away.
I recently lost a chance to act as Mr. Destiny, but in reverse.
Way back when, I attended (and graduated) from the Herman Schreiber Elementary School (P.S. 279), in my native Canarsie, Brooklyn, New York.HARD TO BELIEVE BUT TRUE, THIS IS ONLY PICTURE OF MY OLD SCHOOL ON THE INTERNET.
In June 1966, the biggest highlight of being at P.S. 279, for me, was our sixth grade dodge ball tournament. The build-up began in third grade when the "After School Center" allowed us to participate in dodge ball with the older kids.DODGE BALL IS A PLAYER ELIMINATION GAME. THE BASIC IDEA IS TO ELIMINATE THE OPPOSITION BY HITTING THEM WITH A THROWN BALL... WITHOUT THEM CATCHING IT. THE THROWER IS ELIMINATED IF HIS TOSS IS CAUGHT ON THE FLY. A TEAM LOSES WHEN ITS LAST PLAYER IS ELIMINATED. THE MOST COMMON FORMATS ARE: BEST 2 OUT 3, 3 OF 5 OR 4 OF 7 GAMES. MY SCHOOL USED A VOLLEY BALL BUT A RED BOUNCY BALL LIKE THE ONE ABOVE SEEMS TO BE THE UNIVERSAL BALL OF CHOICE.
In fourth grade, we were indoctrinated into the year-end class versus class dodge ball tournament. The lower grades had their own lesser following. But the allure of the sixth grade tourney, specifically the finals, was stronger than the "Sock-Hops," making it the social event of the year.
My sixth grade class did not make it the finals. The perennial favorites, the "juvie" class did, (some people called them Juvenile Delinquents or JD's). A juvie class was always comprised of dopey kids, budding criminals, serial truants, promiscuous girls and other social outcasts.
The juvie class had the least students but a disproportionally high amount of star athletes. This particular squad had a "*greaser" named Don Ruff. On the rare occasion that this early pubescent in thick sideburns came to school, he wore motorcycle boots and carried a rolled-up copy of the "DAILY RACING FORM" in his back pocket, (don't laugh, at least it proved he could read...something).
ARTHUR HERBERT "THE FONZ" FONZARELLI WAS ORIGINALLY CAST AS A NE'ER DO WELL GREASER, (*IN CANARSIE THESE STREET TOUGHS WERE CALLED HITTERS). A NOVICE SOCIOPATH, DON RUFF WAS THE ESSENCE OF A HITTER AND WAS KNOWN IN OUR DODGE BALL CIRCLES AS A HEADHUNTER. Another Juvie notable was Fremont "Don't Call Me Fremont" Allen. Allen had been left back twice, so at fourteen, he was more matured and stronger than his twelve-year old peers. When motivated, he was considered the second hardest thrower in the school.
Allen's big off the field claim to fame was lighting a cigarette during recess. When others (including me) declared him the coolest kid in school for smoking a cigarette he squinted and said, "Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit, this ain't no cigarette." Not a cigarette? It would be two years before I knew what he was talking about. The other team in the finals were the nerdy geniuses. This class featured a far greater number of students but only a handful of decent athletes. The majority of the team flinched a lot, considered themselves risk-takers because they collected spores and spirochetes and took great joy in using slide rulers for non-school related reasons. They nearly all wore black horn-rimmed glasses, many were clearly dis-coordinated and a few used minor physical defects to be excused from participating in Phys-Ed and mainstream sports. Minutes before this epic best-of-three clash was about to begin, it was obvious that half the Nerds threw like girls. Their underdog position was further proven by the fear in their collective body language... particularly the kid with a hare lip, the two that walked with limps and another who tried to beg-out because of his unsubstantiated asthma. It was funny to me, how these "soldiers" found it comfortable to nervously hide behind their braver teammates.
The scuttlebutt in the crowd included some optimists clinging to the concept that the Nerds had strength in numbers. But overwhelmingly, the Juvies were anointed the championship before the blood-bath started.
Mr. Kraft, the jovial school administrator in charge of the tournament was looking at the clock as he whispered to my teacher, "Are the ambulances here yet?" Seconds later, at exactly 4:00PM, he blew his whistle to signal start of the game. The Juvies' teacher interrupted. She asked for a delay because Joseph "Slick" Harvey the best athlete in the school hadn't shown up. Kraft cited that everyone knew when the game was going to start and that it was completely fair to deny her request. I still thought the Nerds had no chance even with the Juvies best out of the lineup. But the Nerds seized the opportunity and in a close game, won the opener. Shortly after the second game started, the Juvie's superstar showed up. An argument ensued concerning whether or not additional players could be injected into a started a game. Mr. Kraft cited some official P.S. 279 dodge ball rule and refused to let Harvey in until the beginning of the next game. The mere presence of their star on the sidelines infused the Juvies with tremendous vigor. Thanks mainly to Don Ruff and Fremont Allen, they took out the Nerds quickly with a precision-like bombardment that included; facials, head shots and other painful eliminations.
It seemed anti-climatic when Joseph "Slick" Harvey led his legion onto the court for the last game. The Nerds lost any iota of bravado had they gained after the first game and cowered in their ultra-unstylish black, high-top Keds sneakers.
Harvey, a tall lefty Adonis was the hardest thrower in the school by far. He opened the deciding game by taking out the Nerd's captain with a perfectly aimed sizzler off his lower shin. When the crowd's outburst simmered down, a skank from the audience yelled, "I love you Joe-Weeeee." The superstar blushed and briefly turned to acknowledge his amorous fan. Simultaneously, the next Nerd's throw caromed off Don Ruff's hip and nipped the unwitting Harvey softly on the ankle. This crucial turn of events left the whole gym in disbelief. Then they went berserk as Mr. Kraft informed both players, including the whining Joe Harvey, to get off the court. Fremont Allen was frustrated by his team's crushing misfortune. To single-handedly tip the scales back in the Juvie's favor, he picked up the ball and over zealously ran towards the center red line. His adrenalin was really pumping as drilled the Nerds second in command, right between the eyes. At the same time that the pulverized player went down, Mr. Kraft blew his whistle and declared that Allen stepped on the line. This infraction eliminated Allen and disqualified his lethal throw. The jousting match stopped for a couple of minutes until the injured player assured Mr. Kraft that he was okay. Then the game of attrition continued as both teams were further thinned out. Five minutes later, the Nerds had two players left; their resurrected second in command and Eugene Schrute, a tall, gawky, bow-legged limper that was so socially inept even the other Nerds hated him. The Juvies had only one player left, a despicable bully named Dean Cheatham. Despite being fat, this former run-away was powerful and an excellent athlete. His appearance made him look even tougher because he was permanently scarred by a deep laceration under his right eye that hadn't been properly treated. The tension of the finals faded as a long series of near misses prolonged the status quo of the festivities. Many of the spectators had already gone home as we neared the 5 o'clock, "After School Center" curfew. The Nerds number-two man was making all the throws and apparently his arm got tired. Because his next try was no missile and lacked its usual accuracy. Dean Cheatham did not play this one safe by jack-knifing out of the way. Instead he took on the brunt of this belly-shot with confidence and held on to eliminate the Nerds last hope, (on paper). An unlikely knight in shining armor, Eugene Schrute knealt to pick up the ball for the Nerds. It was the first time he had touched it in all three games. With an awkward limping gait, he sort of ran towards the red line and with two hands, pushed an arching lollipop throw. Cheatham scurried to get under this "can of corn" as his mates thundered in their anticipated victory. To show-off and put an emphatic end to game, Cheatham unnecessarily jumped. He snatched the volleyball out of the air with his right hand and slapped it into his left like a power-forward in basketball. But the ball slipped during this simple transfer and fell harmlessly to the parquet floor.
Cheatham walked off in shame and Schrute was given the rock star treatment. Twenty years later, I moved from Las Vegas to the Atlantic City area. I wound up meeting Schrute's older brother. I found out that he and Eugene were both casino workers. I got along with the brother pretty well except his wife was highly annoying. She was so hard to be around that it was worth it to avoid him if it meant not being exposed to her. The only loss was, I wanted to ask Eugene through his brother if he remembered being the sixth grade dodge ball hero and whether that ten minutes of fame had a positive influence on his life. Many years went by. Then I had another chance to ask Eugene when I found out that he worked in the same casino as a close friend of mine. I told my buddy my idea. He said that Eugene, "Had some screws loose." He then explained that Schrute was a jerk to the customers. Management was afraid to give him the ax because they didn't want to risk a potential law suit by firing someone with legitimate psychological problems. So they sabotaged his schedule and gave him the simplest job every day, in the hope that he would quit out of boredom. Eugene's wackiness made him so antagonistic that during breaks, the only time the staff didn't ignore him was when they sang the 60's novelty song, "THEY'RE COMING TO TAKE ME AWAY." Schrute became a hermit and nobody...including my friend wanted to talk to him under ANY circumstance. So my big question was never asked. This failed opportunity to interview Schrute festered in me for all these years...until this past December. That's when I found out, he committed suicide! Chances are, Eugene's untimely death had nothing to do with with dodge ball...but perhaps in some small way it did, causing him to spend the rest of his future in futility, trying to recapture that spirit?