Delayed Reaction

“1 … 2 … 3 … reaction.”

Says my wife, whenever it takes me a moment to register something.

She says it a lot.

But even she would probably be surprised by this one: I just understood something I overheard in first grade. Or maybe second. Not important; either way, we’re talking a three-decade delay.

Remember recess? I loathed recess. I didn’t particularly care for the sweating or the outdoors or the sports or the sun … but mostly I didn’t care for the other children. At that age I was still years away from hearing about a guy named Sartre, but I daresay even then I would have nodded agreement at his line: “Hell is other people.”

During recess, several classes were on the field together. All of them would participate together in general exercises — jumping jacks, torso twists, chopping wood, etc. When that was over, all classes but one would run laps around the recess field. The lucky class would be released to the playground equipment early. Inevitably, some members of that class would climb to the top of the tallest piece of playground equipment and proceed to taunt the running kids.

I’m sure there were many, but the taunting chant that sticks in my memory is: “Run them meatballs!”

Run them meatballs.

For whatever reason — aside from the basic fact that I think entirely too much about entirely too many entirely inconsequential things — I recently remembered that line and realized I have probably been thinking about it the wrong way for 30+ years.

Run them meatballs.

An unspoken subject at the beginning: (You) run them meatballs!

Grammar translation: (You) run [those] meatballs!

Slang translation: (You) run [those] [laps]!

In other words, I always thought it was a chant aimed at the runners.

But, what if the meatballs weren’t the laps, but the kids? What if the chant were directed at the coaches?

Run them meatballs! = (You-coaches) run [those] [overweight kids]!

1 … 2 … 3 … reaction.

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