At home on Planet Testosterone

I just spent a weekend on Planet Testosterone. I’d heard a great deal about this world, and I remembered it well from my own childhood. But I have a daughter, and so I hadn’t realized that Planet Testosterone is a place where middle-aged knees go to die, and if you don’t keep moving, you risk being finished off like a wounded zebra on the African savannah.
I was visiting my friends Adam and Rhea in Los Angeles, and they have two boys: 8-year-old Max and 4 1/2-year-old Ross. They are wonderful children, and Ross might be the only child I have ever met who has hair as soft as velour. But almost every waking moment that Adam and Ross and Max and I were together, we had in our hands a baseball, a basketball or the little pingpong-like ball for the Foosball table. When we weren’t actually throwing, tossing or spiking those balls, we were watching other people throw, toss or spike balls because there were a lot of sports with balls to be watched that weekend.
And, just for the record, when our hands were actually free of orbs, we were giving each other high-fives and low-fives or banging our heads together because someone in the room or the driveway or the gym or on the television set had just done something impressive with an orb.
John Gray was right when he said that women are from Venus. But men are not really from Mars. We’re from the Patrick Gymnasium. Or Fenway Park. Or the sections of Dick’s Sporting Goods that specialize in spherical objects.
Now, Max and Ross are great kids, and I had a fabulous time. But as a dad of a daughter — a girl with a capital G — I have spent most of the past decade on Girl World. I know there are spectacular female athletes competing in sports with orbs: There were a pair of 7-year-old girls on Max’s basketball team who could start for the 2006 Knicks. But it has been a long while since I spent serious time in a world where there was actually a clothes hamper-sized basket filled with nothing but balls.
When I was growing up, I knew the Planet Testosterone well. My brother is five years older than me, but in hindsight, he was always preternaturally patient. There was no sport with a ball he wouldn’t play with me. We would spend hours together playing wiffle ball with the garage door as strike zone and backdrop, basketball and a version of one-on-one football in which you could pass to yourself. (This served him a tad better than it did me, since he was anywhere from 6 inches to a foot taller than I was.) When it rained, we would play a board game indoors called Denny McLain Live Action Baseball, in which the pitcher used a spring to launch a wooden baseball at a wooden bat 7 or 8 inches away. (My brother perfected a curve that arced away from the bat but fell into the strike zone.)
I don’t think I ever beat him at anything. Even when we were grown men living in different parts of New York City, we would meet every Saturday afternoon so he could beat me at tennis.
Max and Ross, of course, are separated by three years, not five. And so it is possible that Ross won’t lose with the impressive consistency to Max that I did to my older brother.
But that doesn’t matter: My sense is that Ross will always come back for more, regardless of how soundly or how consistently he is defeated. It really isn’t about winning or losing in a house of two boys. All it takes to align the stars above Planet Testosterone is an available ball.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on April 9, 2006.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.