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All Life's a Game

Howard Smalls was an extremely competitive man by nature. Some thought it had to do with his lean frame and scant height of five-foot-five. Others thought it may have had something to do with sexual repression. Still others assumed that he was just naturally competitive. His children suspected that it was a mix of all three of these varying theories.

Howard remained extremely competitive for every one of his forty-four years. He played a different sport every night of the week and spent his weekends, depending on the season, playing still other sports or doubling up on his favorites. Monday nights were reserved for playing racquet-ball at the club in club-sponsored tournaments in which he always placed highly, or even sometimes won. Tuesday nights were spent playing softball in a city sponsored league. He pitched for that team every game. Wednesday nights found him captaining a bowling team in a league put on by the local bowling alley. Thursday nights were spent playing more softball, but this was for a different team in a different city. For that team, Howard played short stop. Every Friday would find Howard racing to a lush golf course in the nearby hills for a standing tee-time with a couple of teammates from his Tuesday night softball game.

Weekends in spring were spent playing baseball in a league of players thirty-five years of age or older. They wore the professional pin-stripe uniforms of the Chicago White Sox and they all took the game very seriously.

Howard played left field.

Weekends in the summer were spent on the nearest lake pursuing various water sports. Howard was proficient on water-skis, knee-boards, yachts, wave-runners and the big hang gliders that tie to the back of boats. Available weekends in the winter were spent in pursuit of excellent skiing.

Howard worked hard at a full-time job and felt he deserved all of this time devoted to sports. Sadly, his wife of seventeen years did not agree and left him. She was sick of spending every night watching her husband play sports and force their children to do the same. They split time with only two of the children for a while. The oldest, Michael, was already 18 when they split and had stopped speaking to his father anyway. They simply didn’t understand each other. Michael was interested in things like reading and writing and history and politics and art and he didn’t understand his fathers drive to compete at things as trivial as games and sports. It drove Michael, and the rest of his family for that matter, crazy that Howard would turn everything he possibly could into a game with winners and losers. Even things as simple as listening to the radio were broken down into sets of rules in order to keep track of who was winning and who was losing. Howard would keep the radio on the classic rock station all the time and insist that everyone do their best to shout the name of the singer and songwriter as quickly as possible. Whoever shouted the correct information first got a point.
Howard always shouted first.

It was silly of him to think that his children, the first of which was born in 1980, could keep up with him in a game dependant on being alive and listening to the top-forty during the seventies. Regardless, he continued to keep score. It made car trips unbearable for the whole family, but Howard remained oblivious.

The rest if this short story can be read in the book God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut. It is available digitally and in print.
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