Probably we all made up games when we were kids. Maybe we did it when we caught the mumps, or perhaps when we uttered our first curse word and Mom sent us to bed after a soap dinner.
My game was sockball, a solitary pleasure. One day I grabbed a bunch of socks out of the bottom drawer of my bureau and tightly rolled three or four into a resilient ball. I picked out wool ones for their bounce. I'd shoot at my "basket" from zones marked by the foot of the bed, the edge of the bureau, the corner of the wastepaper basket. A goal was worth anywhere from one to three points, depending on what zone I'd shot from. My make-believe players took their names from words that intrigued me: Vortex, Nimbus, Thanatos. I kept their lifetime stats and knew what each of them looked like, who their wives were and how many children they had. The centers were tall, the guards quick, the forwards deadly.
I'd leap around, "dribbling"—actually sort of juggling—the sockball from hand to hand, and toss it toward the goal, which was the triangular opening formed at the top of the door by the open door and a wall of my room. The sockball would thunk against the wall and sink to the floor. "What's going on up there, a hockey game?" my sister Sandy once asked. She was partly right.
Sockball had its origins in hoops and rutz, a rugbylike indoor sport devised by Jeff Kahn, a fifth-grade classmate. Kahn had one of those dinky little plastic footballs you used to get in dime stores. He played rutz in his living room until his mother installed a white shag rug and banished everyone with feet.
November 21, 1983
Like rutz, sockball was suitable for confined spaces—bedrooms, tollbooths, death-row cells. I became the first sockball All-America. But the game had one liability: socks. After a few years they'd get scuzzy and full of holes. My career ended one winter when Sandy came into my room looking for extra footwear. She unraveled my sockball and went outside to build a snowman—with my game in her boots.