Saturday, December 3, 2011

Conor - The Secret Passageway Was, In Hindsight, Poorly Named


This right here is a road map of my childhood. It is also Nicholas Dietrich's backyard. 

I come from a competitive, merciless family. Weakness is not tolerated, and being bad at something is synonymous with disliking it and thinking it is stupid and a waste of time. Like FIFA 2012, or driving stick shift. That shit's lame. On the other hand, the thrill of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat is unrivaled. It can come in any form, it can be the result of hard work, or stupid amounts of luck, it doesn't matter. All that matters is winning. 

Tag was how I channelled this borderline problematic need to compete as a child. Nick Dietrich, Nick's little brother Ben, my next door neighbor Peter Eck, and Nicole, a girl a couple houses down from Nick who would randomly play tag with us but we didn't talk to for any other reason. That was the team. GGOT, we called it, short for Good Game Of Tag, each letter pronounced very clearly and confidently, as we were armed with the knowledge that we were doing something so cool that we had an acronym for it. Little did we know things with acronyms weren't always cool, like SIDS, or FIFA.

The rules were simple, because the rules of tag are usually simple. Whoever was it would sit on the swingset (marked by the stack of 4 ducks on skateboards in the upper left corner of the map), close their eyes and count to 50. Our version of counting to 50 was to pretend to count silently to ourselves, shout the occasional number in order to keep the pretense up, and then just get up whenever it wouldn't be disgustingly obvious that you hadn't counted. The swingset, or the stack of ducks up there, was base. Get to base without getting tagged and you're safe. If someone was tagged the game would stop and we would reconvene. If everyone got to base we'd start a new round and the same fool would have to be it again. The ultimate humiliation. 

The backyard was our battlefield, and we all knew it well. We knew where to initially, where to go when the shit hit the fan, and where to never under any circumstances go. As a base-based tag game, the guy (let's act like guy is gender neutral) who was it was also somewhat tethered to the duckstack. Most of the time we'd try to be out of the it dude's line of sight at the beginning of round, but even when he'd (he is also gender neutral) see you, you weren't in immediate danger. Committing to chasing one guy (neutral as fuck) down was risky. It was basically saying "I'm allowing everyone else to get to base because I'm so sure I'm about to destroy you." It was bold. Unless you were three years older than your prey. In which case it was frowned upon and cowardly, albeit effective.

Tag was most interesting when it came down to a one on one battle. Everyone else got to base, and it was just the hunter and the hunted. It was as much about knowledge of the surroundings as it was about speed and agility. 

The brown area there is the wooden back deck, removed from the ground by two or three feet and surrounded by a 2 foot fence. Using this higher ground was interesting due to the fence, because it was much harder for it bro to jump the fence from the side closer to the base than it was for the prey on the deck, giving the prey an advantage. This strategy relied on pure speed and reflexes though, because you would be making eye contact with the hunter the entire time. 

The purple arrow next to the deck leads to a dead end. You were fucked if you went back there. No exceptions. It never worked out, ever. 

The green arrow is down the driveway. Most of the time we played entirely in Nick's backyard and didn't stretch down that way too far. There were some bushes along the sides of the driveway that we would occasionally get ambitious and crawl into. This worked maybe 6% of the time. A man can dream.

The pink square is the garage. The garage was pivotal. The black arrow points into the garage. The garage door was normally closed, but when it was open, we would sometimes hide amongst the clutter of the Dietrich's garage. Which was stupid. Because you'd be hiding in a garage with one way out. The garage's main function was providing a blindspot for the hunter. It defined the legendary Secret Passageway, the worst named thing ever.

Every single worthwhile game of tag involved the Secret Passageway. Nick's backyard was fenced in by a 6 or 7 foot wooden fence, but between the garage and the fence there was the Secret Passage way, a path around the garage that was the ultimate strategic nightmare. Basically, by hiding on the opposite side of the garage as the base, the prey could force the it fellow to commit to guarding one side of the other. IT would nervously pace in between the two entrances, helpfully designated by the heart symbols up there, and all it would take to lose the round was edging a little too close to either entrance. Being in the middle wouldn't really work either. It was perfect. Perfect in every way. Perfectly balanced, perfectly suspenseful, and perfectly stupidly named. The sensation of quietly sneaking down the upper branch of the Secret Passageway, hoping that IT had overcommited to the lower section, fearing that he was confidently hugging the corner you were about to emerge from, ready to sprint back to the relative safety of the blindspot if he poked his stupid IT face around to see if you were coming, was perfect. Just perfect. I miss it.

This might have been boring to read, but it was a lot of fun to write. Let's play tag, guys. Let's play tag this summer, Springfieldians. Hell, let's play tag this winter. Normanites, let's find someplace to play tag, and then, uh, play tag. 

Also Nick Dietrich didn't really run when he was a kid, he almost exclusively skipped. It was really funny and stupid and we should make fun of him for it.


  1. You explained everything except the graduating orange people.

  2. That's where the 2001 graduating class of central baptist clown school stood, for some reason.


  3. I knew what that map up there was before I saw anything but the facebook thumbnail.