Stories / By Age / Kid /
I became a good athlete when I took up skiing, devoted myself to it, would start doing squat jumps in September, strengthen my legs by December. I can remember my childhood moments of athletic excellency by counting the fingers of one hand. One time we were playing stoop ball using Rudy’s stoop. I was standing in the street, reading a comic book. The ball landed in my hand, utterly by coincidence, and amazingly, somehow stayed there! Had I tried to catch that ball I would have flubbed it somehow.
One time the fiancé of a daughter next door to Rudy offered to pitch for us while we batted in that back yard. I took my turn at the plate without fuss, here comes the ball … Crack! I drill the ball north of the garage, punch it through the fence and into the back to back neighbor’s. Jeez, says the guy. He calls all the old folks from out of the house: “You gotta come see this kid hit!” For everything else I swung like a rusty gate. The guy finally gave up on his protégé, his audience returned indoors, muttering: inconvenienced, let down.
One morning in high school I was somehow on my feet and in my shoes a second before my buddy pulled up honking. I grabbed a banana, ate it as I ran to the car once John arrived: breakfast! a first! That morning in gym, standing on the basketball court, trying as usual to be invisible, no [bolixed prose, try to follow it anyway], I was to the kid jumping and waving, “Me, me, me: throw it to me!” So, suddenly I find that someone has thrown me the ball, someone else calls, “Shoot!” Uh, what? We’re on the court, I see the basket, I turn, I shoot! swish! two points! For the rest of the hour whoever had the ball threw it to me. I didn’t make all the shots but I made a lot of them. But such incidents, as you see, were rare.
Same with baseball. I never liked the game, I never understood the game. How could I? My father would be found by the neighbors passed out at the railroad station, they’d dump him on the front lawn, that’s where my mother would find him in the morning. How was I supposed to know how to throw? or catch? or do anything? In grade school I’d beg the teacher to let me jog the periphery of the yard rather than submit to a team sport.
I wasn’t the only klutz seeking invisibility. Baseball is supposed to be nine guys on a side? My gym classes always had a pitcher, a catcher, a first baseman, a second basemen, a short stop, a third baseman … and three left fielders, and four center fielders, and three, or five right fielders. I’d take one of the excess positions and stand there, hoping nothing came my way till we were called up to bat. Then I’d find the end of the line and fidget there. One gym class the game had gone on and on. If this kept up even us ragtags were going to get a turn to bat. I took a seat at the far end of the bench. And Douglas Umpleby, a kid I’d never spoken to even though he lived the next block north of me, pushed me off the bench and took the spot ahead of me. I’d never batted in these exercises in futility, neither had Douglas that I could remember. But this time his push made me defensive. I retaliated. I stood over him, “Give me back my place!” “No,” he said and pretended he didn’t see me.
I hauled off and socked him in the forehead. Doug went down, staid down, out cold.
Slowly, a couple of people, including the coach, noticed that Paul had actually done something. A couple of people gathered around me. Uh, uh … Something was odd. I looked at my right hand. The three end fingers had disappeared. Or they were shoved up into my wrist, tiny little finger ends peeping out of holes where my fingers had been.
“Let me see that”, the coach said. He took my hand. Gingerly I let him. He fumbled and grasped the ends of my middle and ring finger. Yank!
“Aiyeee!” I screamed.
“Go to the nurse and have that x-rayed”, he said.
The school chauffeured me off to a doctor. My hand had its fingers back, but not quite in their right paces. My hand had turned pink, it was swollen like a boxing glove. The doctor said that the x-rays showed five fractures: three in the ring finger, two in the pinkie. He straightened my fingers, and not by yanking on them, and put my in a cast.
To this day I don’t know if I broke my hand clobbering Doug or if the moron coach had broken my fingers when he yanked. Maybe I broke my hand and he broke it further.
Well, not only did I not know how to play baseball, but I didn’t know that I could have prodded my mother to sue the school and that moron coach. But: my mother wouldn’t have used to system for any such advantage: she was a trained female, a doormat, she trained me to be a doormat too.
What my mother did say was that the cast cost me my chance to try out for Little League. Huh? What makes her think I would have tried out for Little League?
Years later, just out of high school, I did work for the parks department: and thus spent lots of nice time on the Little League field: painting, raking, trimming.
Oh, and I have had catches there, with Rudy. Got a sock in the jaw there one night when I lost Rudy’s throw in the lights overhead. Got knocked screwy.
2015 04 23 adding further:
Above I say “I became a good athlete …” Believe me, or don’t: but I offer fresh evidence:
I’m seventy-six and a half. I see pictures of myself from the last few years and cringe: so old, so wizzened. But: somehow: I’ve always been chick-nip. Women find me attractive, inexplicable: by ordinary standards. But true. I still find little girls following me around. Only now, the older I get! Old women flirt with me, forming flirt-flocks. That’s all the more true since I’ve been in the protective shadow of my darling Jan, herself eighty-three and 3/4! I look 76; Jan does not look 83, but she is. and counting.
Anyway, just yesterday I went to the local community college to try to get my teeth cleaned (only two teeth remaining!) for as close to $0 as possible. First I have to get into the community college system. It’s a bureaucracy, state-run. Instandly, I’m in trouble. Bureaucrats don’t know they’re being offensive, officious, intruding: I pick it up, I pick fights. I can’t help it. Next thing I know they’ll find some way to dump me in the alley: without the service I required: and they’ll think they’re preserving civilization; not crucifying gods, sabotaging reformers … (and, in a sense, they are! they’re right! so much the worse!) So: yesterday, on the phone, things are going south fast. Somehow I get an interview anyway. I’m there yesterday morning. I see: they know who I am! the trouble maker from yesterday’s phone. A particular bureaucrat waves me over, waves me by some other section of a gauntlet. Oh Ho, this is the fastest route to the alley … When I realize: she’s being helpful! She cut red tape for me! She’s flirting with me! This receptionist is old enough to have character wrinkles, young enough to be kinda cute.
And I’m called by a young woman, the dental apprentice: a student, about to graduate: And she’s being very helpful, very gentle. She takes my pulse, it’s almost a carress. Talking about health in general, she exclaims, “Oh! those are muscles?! You work out?”
“No, no, but I’m active.”
This young woman, maybe twenty? is feeling me up! She’s got a near corpse in her chair and she’s fondling my biceps! I’m not exactly a corpse, but I’ve always been on the skinny side, hardly buff, the “sensitive”, the intellectual weakling.
So: both things are true. They see I’m trouble from a mile away, and sometimes they like it! Especially now that I’m so old, so decrepit, so chronically impoverished, that they’re safe: Jan doesn’t need to be here to umbrella their flirtations, their covert feels.
All I have to do is sit still, and she’ll rub me with her bosom.
Examples: the receptionist I told that she reminded me of somebody: right away she volunteers: people are always telling her: she looks like Shirley MacLaine. Yes, she does. And Lily Tomlim. Yes, even more so.
So in the dental theater, my trainee’s professor, a real dentist appears. Sissy Spacek! I exclaim. She rapidly sees the connection: their Shirley MacLaine in the anteroom. She’s very pleased.
So then my gal wants me to tell her who’s her Doppelgänger: “Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio,” I readily suggest.
Women, girls have always flirted with me. The girl puts my hand on her breast before I put it there myself: from way back. But the more so the older I get! And it’s the more true if we’re in a clinical relationship: I’m a patient, helpless, they’re the doctor, masterful.
The two VA gals who treated my thumb once it stopped working properly pumped me with steroids, one sticking, her elder supervising: another training pair. “Are you girls going to come back home with me?” I ask. The younger one, the resident doctor-in-training, looks mischievous and asks, “Should we bring the needle?”
They had me in an operating chair (not that different from the dentist): I was in their power: and they showed how colonial they could be.
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