I’m being forced to play kickball. That’s right, forced. As in “have to” as in “no way around it” as in “do you really want to be out of a job in this economy?” Let me explain. My office is having a team-building activity (their motto: “You WILL have fun!”) and, in this case, team-building means a game of kickball (my motto: “I haven’t felt this nauseous since middle school P.E. class.”).

Here’s the problem: I am not an athlete. I don’t shoot hoops or sink putts or run around a football field trying to grab a yellow flag from someone’s Umbros. I’ve never asked someone to “play a little one-on-one” or “shoot the 8-ball,” and I’ve never, to the best of my knowledge, uttered a sentence that contained the word “pigskin.” Hell, I don’t even watch sports on TV, unless of course, you count professional wrestling as a sport, which sadly, most people do not, choosing instead to think of it as a gigantic pimple on the butt of the TV screen, not unlike late night infomercials, and the dancing old man in those Six Flags commercials.

Bottom line: I’m just not a sports person. What’s more, there’s not a whole lot I can do to change that. You see, Sportsessence (a term derived from the Latin phrase Ix-nay on Sitting on your ass-nay and watching TV-nay) is actually a hereditable trait, much like handedness, tongue curling, and the ability to see a 3-D image in those posters of multi-colored, mish-mashed waviness. There are, however, plenty of people out there who have managed to inherit Sportessence. These are the folks who go jogging at 5 AM on a Saturday, and do things like participate in intramural sports for no reason other than, get ready for this one, THEY ENJOY IT! These are the same people who use that ridiculous piece of exercise equipment at the gym. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s where you sit down on the little seat, place your outer thighs against the sweaty pads and then spread your legs obscenely far apart, thereby feeling, not only “the burn,” but also quite the draft. These are the folks who, back when they were teeny, tiny cells, actually camped outside the Gene Dispensing Factory (at 5 AM on a Saturday) to ensure they received the coveted Sportessence gene.

I missed out on getting that gene. Probably because I was in the next building over, the Klutz Cafe, watching sitcoms and eating a pastrami sandwich. But Rob, you say, surely you learned some athletic skill after all those years of playing catch with your father! Ha ha! While my dad and I have certainly had our share of beautiful bonding moments (“And that, Son, is how you make an Egg Cream!”), “playing catch” was not one of them. Not that I blame him in any way. The complete lack of any and all athletic ability whatsoever among members of the Bloom family dates all the way back to 1896 when Stavros J. Bloom attempted to compete in the first Olympic games. Taken from Bloom family records, here is the actual transcript of a conversation held between Stavros and his track coach in April of 1896:

“Please-a pick-a me for the team-a, Coach!” Stavros said.

The coach frowned. “Your shoes are on backwards.”

So Stavros wasn’t chosen for the team, which truthfully, was probably for the best. Between his clubbed foot, frequent dizzy spells, and rare allergy to Oxygen, Stavros had no business being outdoors, let alone in a sporting event. This would prove to be consistently true for future generations of Blooms as well. Blooms and Sports just don’t mix. Especially during adolescence when you’re short, uncoordinated, and wear glasses with three inch-thick lenses. Welcome to my P.E. class at Rock Lake Middle School in Longwood, Florida.

I was always picked last for teams. Always. It didn’t matter what sport we were playing, either—I was last. The teacher would pick two team captains, guys with names like Travis or Conner or Austin or Colin; guys who were a foot taller than I, with biceps bigger than my thighs. What’s more, these boys had very cleverly made a deal with God (a huuuuuuge sports fan) because they’d already started going through puberty, meaning they had hair in places that I didn’t even have yet. For these guys, P.E. class was the reason they went to school every day, whereas I greeted each class with slightly less enthusiasm than I did a dental cleaning.

So the entire P.E. class would stand in a big group and the captains would pick different students to join their respective teams. Brown. Turner. Palmer. The chosen boys would jog over to their fellow teammates where they’d begin hi-fiving and slapping each other on the back. Young. Morris. Harris.One by one, my fellow classmates would get chosen. Stewart. Miller. Anderson. More names would get called while I stood there, uncalled, watching as the crowd around me got smaller.

“Okay, let’s play!” TravisConnerAustinColin would say.

“Hold up,” the teacher would reply with a snicker. “Nobody picked Robbie Bloom.”

Now while this sort of embarrassing event would actually happen MANY times over the years, there is one incident in particular stands out in my mind. In fact, this particular P.E. class was so awful that it solidly ranks as #2 on my “Horrifyingly Embarrassing, Wishing I Was Anyplace Else In the World, This Can’t Really Be Happening” Scale, coming in just a notch below #1: Performing the Tango in my college Ballroom Dancing class with Mauricio, who, in addition to being a hairy-chested Colombian man with a Village People moustache, was also the teacher.

I was standing alone in the middle of the baseball field, while my classmates stared at me like I had some dreaded disease. And then the debate started.

“C’mon, coach! I had Bloom last time!”

“Well I don’t want him! We won’t stand a chance!”

“Please don’t give me Bloom! He’s useless out there!”

The debate lasted nearly two more minutes before the teacher mercifully assigned me to a team, a decision that was met with mixed reactions (“Ha ha! You got stuck with Bloom!” or “Crap! We might as well not even play now!”).

Thankfully, I was placed in the outfield. This was perfectly fine by me because it meant I could stand all by myself, very, very, very far from the action. Seriously, my classmates were playing baseball and I was a zip code away. Now you’d think this would’ve been a comfortable enough distance to prevent me from suffering any additional humiliation, right? C’mon, that would’ve been a direct violation of the Klutz Code, which clearly states:

“regardless of the distance between the Klutz (referred to herein, henceforth and backwards as “Schmoe”) and the athletic activity taking place, Schmoe will always, without fail, find him/herself involved in a situation where Schmoe is called upon to perform an athletic feat. Naturally, this feat will be accomplished with disastrous results.”

And that’s exactly what happened. You see, in addition to being a big sports fan, God also has a tremendous sense of humor, which explains why, despite the fact that I was so deep into the outfield that I couldn’t even see the actual field without squinting, the ball went sailing through the air (in dramatic slow motion, with the Jaws theme playing) and came directly to me!

Good one, God.

So the ball came right to me and, of course, I didn’t catch it. I didn’t even come close. Instead, the ball landed on the ground and I went chasing after it, listening to the respective cheers and groans from the two teams, until I finally got to the ball and heaved it with all my might, sending it sailing triumphantly through the air… about ten feet before it dropped to the ground.

I ran to the ball and threw it again. It went another ten feet. So I chased it again. And threw again. Only this time I watched in despair as the ball, which now weighed 45 pounds, traveled a measly five feet. Several minutes and nearly a dozen throws later, the ball landed in the vicinity (read: a good quarter mile) of one of my teammates, who quickly scooped it up and threw it effortlessly to home plate—while still finding time to yell out, “Thanks for nothing, Bloom!”

Unfortunately, this type of thing was common as I grew up. However, as I got older, I realized that my lack of Sportsessence was actually OK. I mean, so what if I couldn’t catch a stupid baseball? Who cares if every time I went to bat, the other team chanted “Easy out! Easy out!” while the pitcher instructed his teammates to “Move in closer!” And does it really matter that one time in high school, when teams were chosen for a soccer game, I was picked last—behind Sam Tiffs, the kid with one leg? HELL NO!

Sure, I’ll agree that being good at sports does provide some advantages in life (“And so we made the deal right there on the golf course! 30 million, just like that!”), but c’mon, there are plenty areas of life where athleticism is not a prerequisite for success. Like being a mime, for example.

Besides, that stuff is ancient history. After a lifetime of obsessing over and reliving those moments from my childhood, I’m finally ready to let go of the past and start focusing on the present. Like this stupid office kickball game. And how I’m going to get out of it.


Beard

By Rob Bloom

Humor

So I’m growing a beard. I’m not sure how I feel about it, to tell you the truth, and it’s not just because my beard hasn’t come in all the way. See, I’ve got all these splotchy patches—parts of my face where there should be beard but isn’t—so to the casual observer it looks like I’m either midway through transforming into a werewolf or I’ve been making out with a lawnmower.

But that’s not the big problem. My real concern is that, well, I’m just not sure I’m a Beard Guy. Ever since the Supreme Court passed its landmark judgment (Man v. Razor, 1964), Beard Guys have been running rampant: Paul Bunyan, Chuck Norris, Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments.” These are Real Men. You know the type: forearms like Popeye, wardrobe like the Brawny guy, and hairy. All over. Seriously, if you were to see one of these guys at the beach, you’d swear they were wearing a cardigan. Course you’d never say anything because you value your dental work too much. Now as much as Real Men love to fight, it’s really only foreplay for their real passion: looking under the hood of cars. What are they looking for? Who knows! Whatever it is though, I pity it because the moment the Real Man finds it—RIP!—that part’s as good as gone.

Macho man? You betcha!

Another thing about Real Men is that they’re low maintenance. But if they did decide to shave for some reason (i.e. they’d run out of bears to wrestle that day), you wouldn’t find them using a pansy Gillete Fusion razor or slapping on some Nivea Aftershave Balm. Hell, Real Men just whip out their switchblades and, in a real manly way, scrape those pesky hairs off one by one. Incidentally, they’d do this while looking under the hood.

Of course, Real Men are only half of the Beard Guy population. The other half’s made up of Intellectual Men, otherwise known as “the beard stroking community.” Seriously, these guys cannot help but stroke their beard while talking. It’s great, though. Not only does the beard complement their intellectual mystique, it also covers up, what I can only imagine is, a nasty dermatological condition that can only be soothed by constant rubbing. But in all seriousness, you can’t help but be intimidated by Intellectual Men. They do the New York Times crossword puzzle (the Sunday edition!) for fun and use terms like “hypertensive encephalopathy” in everyday conversation. They’re also extremely cultured. When out to dinner with Intellectual Men you can expect to hear the following phrases:

a) “This Riesling is absolutely transplendid.”
b) “Do I detect a hint of fennel in this dish?”
c) “Honestly, Bogata is so underwhelming this time of year.”

On the contrary, you will never, upon any circumstance, hear Intellectual Men say any of the following:

a) “So, who do you think will win ‘Project Runway’ this season?”
b) “Did you catch that battle royal steel cage match last night on ‘Raw’?”
c) “So THAT’S why this call this place Hooters, eh?”

This is my problem. I don’t fit into any of these ridiculous and narrowly defined categories that are for entertainment purposes only and in no way indicate either my death wish or my desire to receive angry e-mails from hoards of bearded men—excuse me, bearded persons—who found the above stereotypes to be insulting. Take it easy on me, all right? I’m going through a beard crisis right now.

So what’s a guy to do? Shave or not shave? My wife, the bearer of kisses, is not in favor of the scruff. My parents, the bearers of guilt, made an initial effort to support my beard with comments like “It looks…interesting!” and “Well, you certainly look…different!” but in the past few days, they’ve let their true feelings slip: “You have such a nice face…why cover it up with an ugly beard?”

And then there’s my take on it, which is, quite simply, I feel like an imposter. Like when somebody asks me who I think will win the Super Bowl and, in an effort to fit in without revealing the fact that I know absolutely nothing about sports, respond “The Yankees.” The fact of the matter is that I’m just not a facial hair guy and yet, here I am, walking around, pretending to be a member of Beard Guy society—knowing full well that I can be discovered at any given moment for the fraud that I am. It’s ridiculous. And that is why I must shave the beard! I must be true to myself! I must do this for ME! Well, and for my wife. After all, she’s the bearer of kisses.