Adult night at the neighborhood pool is the one evening a week when they banish the kids and give the grownups a chance to act like children.

Some take advantage of the opportunity to paddle up and down the pool without the embarrassment of being lapped by little girls. Some go off in the grassy corners and act like teenagers. But the center of the action is the volleyball net stretched across the concrete deck.

Volleyball is uniquely suited to the American character.It is a game that demands cooperation but offers irresitible temptations to defy the social contract and just jump up there and spoke the damn ball.

When played on an unmarked court by captainless and unrefereed pickup teams it is an ideal outlet for the lawlessness we've been trying to give up ever since the West was won.

The game begins with the hard-core crazies, who volley politely for awhile and then get into serious one-on-one confrontations across the net.

Tactics change as more people drift or are shanghaied onto the court.

Set 'em up. set 'em up," cries the Flat-bellied Older Person, by which he means everybody should feed him the ball. On the opposing team is his son, already balding and paunchier than his father, he shoots from wherever he is, always hard and always straight at Dad.

Among the newcomers is the jowly Cap'n Crab, a bureaucrat in real life, who starts announcing rules and establishing out-of-bounds markers with deck chairs. Out of bounds is close on his side and far on yours. A few minutes later he calls out the score, much to the surprise of everyone, and it turns out to be 5-1, his favor.

"When did we start keeping score?" some innocent asks.

In the midst of all the sweating men, like a daisy among sunflower, is the Nice Lady, who joined the melee under the impression that it was a friendly game. Whatever position she finds herself in, the men on the other side shoot at her.

There is no such bullying of Sue, a bikinied person who just barely qualifies for Adult Night. When she goes up for the ball certain parts of her lag behind rhythmically, and for an instant there is stop-motion on the court as the men watch her catch up with herself. Everybody sets up the ball for Sue.

However the players divide themselves, one team is always stronger than the other and wins by lopsided scores even when they switch sides to the court where the floodlights shine in their eyes. The casual players, tired of being stiffed or run over, drift away.

The last game, like the first, is between the young men who used to be athletes and the old men who used to be young. The young men win, whatever the score.

Hank Burchard