Our friends Len and Helen invited us to their house to play Bocce with some other folks from church. Len thought he read somewhere that this was a great sport for Unitarians. But it might have said septuagenarians—he wasn’t sure. The game is kind of like croquet, lawn bowling and shuffleboard all rolled into one. You begin by tossing an initial sphere, called a pallino, down the court (or just down your lawn) and then teams compete to see who can throw additional balls, which are a bit larger, closest to the target ball.
Seems simple enough, but within a few minutes a dispute arose when Myrna heaved the pallino over onto the neighbor’s lawn and we didn’t know whose turn was next or how many points her team lost, and Martin wanted to know if we all stunk so much it was time to find another church activity.
To avoid any future confusion, I ordered a book online, called “The Joy of Bocce.” I already owned “The Joy of Cooking” and “The Joy of Sex,” although both of them were put in storage before we started to remodel our kitchen.
When the new book arrived, I was pleased to see on the cover three really hot young women and three great-looking guys, all in the pallino delivery pose. When I flipped through the pages, however, everyone was a senior citizen, many of them already a bit stooped, in position to throw the first ball.
The author, Mario Pagnoni, begins with the mocking observation that “Some people think it is just a game of throwing bigger balls at a smaller ball.” Then the rest of the book is all about how to throw a big ball at a smaller ball. Mario’s research is based on information gleaned from the blockbuster popular magazine “Bocce Ball Weekly,” which has a Q & A section with queries including, “Why can’t we get more TV coverage of this activity?” It’s a good question, one often fielded by the editors of “Backgammon Monthly.” Maybe it will happen when this Donald Trump thing dies down.
Determining whose ball is closest to the pallino is exacting. “When the distances measured are smaller than your foot and too awkward for fingers, you can use a pencil, pieces of twigs and even a car antenna.” Apparently the idea of a tape measure never dawned on these people. Unitarians are way ahead of the curve on this one. Precise measurement is important here because bocce can get very competitive and when you have eight solid wooden balls the size of grapefruits, unlimited beer and cranky old people, you want to avoid any potential conflict.
After 24 pages of instruction, the author claims, “Now you know how to play Bocce.” But he still has 180 pages left to fill. He’s so desperate, he includes photos of bocce equipment arriving from the postal service, people mowing their lawn, neighbors standing around sipping wine, and my favorite snapshot, a player talking things over with his teammate, with the caption, “Sometimes you need to talk things over with your teammate.”
There are two paragraphs on how to determine the universal conundrum of which team goes first. Unique suggestions include tossing a coin or doing that odd/even finger thing. There is also a chapter on Bocce etiquette, which includes not thinking too long over a shot and maintaining emotional control. But my favorite is number three:
DON’T WANDER OFF.
Maybe that’s why Len keeps leaving me a voicemail message asking where I am.