It will be midnight soon, and the mortgage underwriters have all gone home, taking their hybrids and Lexus SUVs with them. From the mouth of the building's subterranean parking garage, a tongue of light is accompanied by a fluorescent hum so loud that it drowns out the whirring of crickets.
The night's first game of underground dodgeball is about to begin, and Kenny Cox is warming up like a pitcher in the bullpen. In addition to limbering up his arm, this drill has the added benefit of terrifying opponents, who stand and watch as he hurls rubber heat at a concrete wall 50 feet away. Each throw produces a sickening, explosive splat.
Dodgeball experienced a brief rec-league renaissance following the release of the 2004 comedy "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," whose lovable losers were instantly recognizable to anyone ever forced to play the game in gym class. But this isn't that. Underground dodgeball is closer in spirit to "Fight Club," the 1999 film starring Brad Pitt in which young men release aggression by beating each other senseless late at night.
"We're like a family, basically," says Don Cross. "We laugh, we cry, we hit each other in the face with dodgeballs."
Cox, 24, is the game's evangelist-by-example, showing newcomers the way to play, enfolding them in his bear hug embrace, leaving them bruised with pleasure.
A banker by day, Cox credits a group of visionary Los Gatos drunks, who had just seen "Dodgeball" and couldn't wait until daylight to play, with inventing the underground game. They had so much giddy fun one night four years ago that they decided to come back for more when they sobered up. And that's when Cox got hooked.
Fun and fear
Unlike Fight Club, whose first rule is that you never talk about Fight Club, the popularity of underground dodgeball has grown exponentially by word-of-mouth. Though it isn't hard to imagine it spreading to parking structures throughout the Bay Area, for now the game convenes two nights a week in a privately owned garage on University Avenue in Los Gatos, usually going on until 1 a.m.
"As long as we don't break anything," says Cox, "it's kind of a 'don't ask, don't tell' thing. And the cops are kind of 'see no evil, do no evil.' As long as we're out of sight, we're out of mind."
It's hard to argue with the "out of mind" part. The games usually involve 15 to 20 players on each side, throwing 1-pound inflatable balls. If you get hit, you're out — unless you catch the ball, and then the thrower is out.
"You tell your friends, 'I went to an underground parking garage last night and got my face smashed in with a dodgeball,' " Cox says. "How cool is that?"
Apparently this is intended as a rhetorical question.
Kenny Cox and his cousin David Cox are part of a hard-core group who created so much excitement around the game that, by last summer, several hundred people were crowding into the garage. "That was chaos," says David Cox. By Thursday's games, they had managed to thin the herd — with no reported fatalities — to about 30 players.
With that many people flinging rubber balls in an enclosed space, a mixture of fun and fear reverberates from the stressed concrete walls. David Cox has had more fingers broken by his cousin (11) than he's got fingers.
"That man's a beast," David says, holding out knuckles gnarled like knotty pine. "He's knocked my vision out for half an hour. He's knocked my hearing out for two days." At this point, Cox becomes so overwhelmed with admiration that he can't go on.
Doug Trupski, a 22-year-old server at Outback Steakhouse, was just returning to the game last week after a three-month layoff caused by back-to-back concussions. Asked whether he, or any of the players, would ever consider wearing protective helmets, he just laughs. "No, we're not that smart," Trupski says. He tries to avoid throwing down against Kenny Cox when they're on opposite sides. "I'm scared of him now," he says. "He hurts people."
By any measure, Cox has inflicted far more pain than he has absorbed. "We've had a couple of people where you hit 'em, and they spun around and hit their heads on concrete walls," he says. "You drag 'em to the side, wait till they wake up and give 'em some water."
He is not insensitive to the needs of the less gifted in the garage, paying attention to the complaints of a female player who was unhappy about him throwing at her head. In the next game, Cox threw a ball so hard at her ankle that it broke. "I felt bad because she had no health insurance," he says.
By his own account, Kenny Cox was socially awkward in high school, unable to even hold a conversation with strangers. But since his conversion to Die Meisterslinger of the parking structure, he has hooked up with his own smokin' hot girlfriend.
And despite the punishment he regularly dishes out, Cox is widely beloved by the other players, whom he treats as family. He is easily the most beguiling character to show up in an underground garage since Woodward and Bernstein's Deep Throat. After Cox finishes his warm-up tosses, he makes the rounds, saying hello to everyone.
"Hey, Jailbait," he calls out as a 15-year-old girl strolls by. "What's up?"
The younger sister of a player known as Mikey B, she doesn't play, but she comes for the carbon-monoxide-infused atmosphere. Her brother despises her dodgeball nickname but brings her along anyway. "They've been calling me that since the sixth grade," the girl says, trying not to show her orthodontia when she smiles.
When an errant ball suddenly whizzes by her head at roughly 60 miles an hour, she dodges it without seeming to notice. Some day she will have a better understanding of the game's appeal.
"It's addictive to hit somebody clean in the face," says Dave Cox, his cheeks filling with color.
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004.
Information on how to get into the game is available at www.facebook.com/undergrounddizzlebizzle or by calling Kenny Cox at 408-799-5558.