SAN DIEGO — Athleticism has its place, but silliness and decadence are the staples of the Over-the-Line World Championship, which is now in its 32nd year.
That's old enough to be branded an institution, but to use that label violates the spirit of mirth and raunchiness that permeates Fiesta Island for two weekends every July.
As someone from the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club may have said, the proceedings tend to be offensive, chauvinistic and downright rude. That's why only about 140,000 people attended last year.
The flavor of this thing is suggested by the official list of don'ts, which runs to 100 items and includes babies, bozos and bouillabaisse.
The official program is not an item that would be cherished by an English professor. It could probably pass for pornography in a lot of small towns in the South and Midwest.
Inexplicably, a van parked at the edge of the island boasted a big sign that warned, "Be Not Deceived--Ye Who Do Evil Shall Not Inherit The Kingdom of God." As a liberal gesture, the van was allowed to remain.
Over-the-line is not so much an event as a state of mind. A bumper sticker captured the feeling: "I may be getting older, but I refuse to grow up."
Within the boundaries of a man-made island in Mission Bay, many of the normal rules are suspended. No suits and ties, no dresses and high heels. No time clocks, no jangling telephones. No inhibitions.
This is not a place for fair complexions unprotected by sunscreen, or for those of a puritanical persuasion. Anyone with a vanilla personality must check it at the main gate.
There are more than 900 teams entered this year, but few of their names can be listed in a family newspaper. A scatological reference is a necessity, and the play on words is endlessly inventive.
A few of the less naughty, but still irreverent team names: "Not as Think as You Drunk We Are"; "Three Whiffs and One White Line"; "Bad Hands, Slow Bat"; "Wiggins Pharmacy," and "What Kind of Name is That."
One team or another is forever being summoned to a designated field, or being chastised for failing to show up on time for a game. Once, when a game was forfeited, the losing team was serenaded with "Happy Trails to You."
Students of music history will note that nothing is heard from radios or cassette players that wasn't recorded between approximately 1955 and 1965. Those songs are known as oldies but goodies, and date from an era when over-the-line was in its childhood, the time we all wish to preserve.
The environment is generally pristine, blue skies and sea breezes, but beer cans tend to litter the area where the portable toilets are lined up.
Service at the concession stands is friendly, with generous helpings of barbed wit. "The hot dogs are ready, sir, but the chili won't be warm for another eight or nine hours."
"What kind of doughnut would you like, fresh or stale?"
When a well-endowed female moved slowly past his station, an inquisitive vendor yelled, "Hey, lady in the black top, like a Pepsi? Well, how about a hot dog?"
Rebuffed, he tried a third time. "Advice?"
She smiled and kept walking.
Official caps are $9, visors $6 and kisses are free. Laxatives are offered with certain taste treats by helpful OMBAC concessionaires.
Photography is an art much practiced the length and breadth of the island.
Though Ansel Adams was never known to do for over-the-line what he did for Yosemite, there are hundreds of amateurs who record the event for posterity. The standard pose: three team members with bats and crazed grins.
Softball has its place, of course. Without the grace, skill and dedication of the athletes, over-the-line would be just another free-wheeling fraternity party.
It's a marvelous thing to watch--the concentration of the players as they block out the bikinis and the lustful laughter that surround them. The "thwack!" of an aluminum bat, the parabola described by a carefully aimed hit.
These are moments when time is suspended.
Some of these players are more than willing to play with pain. One fellow refused to take himself out of the lineup even though he had a broken arm. He had painted his cast a shade of blue that exactly matched his swimsuit.
Strategy is never far from the minds of the sober. While two men in Hawaiian bathing suits squirted lighter fluid into a Hibachi, a couple of athletes passed by, discussing possible future opponents and bemoaning their tough schedule.
For any contestant or spectator bored with the proceedings, a walk to the edge of the island could provide relief. Beyond the densely packed cars, vans and campers that ring the island are the waters of Mission Bay, full of Jet Skis and Hobie Cats.
The guys at OMBAC seemingly have thought of everything. They even have a lost-and-found service. When the PA man intoned, "Jim Smith, your date is waiting at the scoreboard," about 16 guys showed up. Now that's R-E-S-U-L-T-S.
No one is allowed to act too serious, or to get too far out of line, either. When a couple was spotted tossing a Nerf ball, an alert OMBAC guard cautioned, "Hey, buddy, don't play rough with the blonde."
In general, security is low-key, but drinkers are urged to board free shuttle busses rather than drive themselves. The busses travel about 10 miles per hour in the best of times.
Probably the most efficient means of transportation is a bicycle. One cyclist had burdened his handlebars with a hefty cooler and a beach chair, meeting all the requirements of attendance.
Although the score is kept in each over-the-line contest, it's not whether you win or lose that ultimately matters. What does matter? Absolutely nothing, of course, except fun. Beach nihilism.
Another way of getting at the essence of the O-T-L outlook was suggested by this bit of T-shirt philosophy:
"He Who Dies with the Most Toys, Wins."