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I'm trying to act like a regular ten year old boy, in 1964, but inside my head I'm thinking "What do you mean just go down and introduce myself?! You mean, walk down the to the end of the street to interrupt a whole gang of ten year old boys playing ball so I can tell them that I'm the new kid who just moved into the neighborhood?". My mother's answer was "Yes - you're going to have to meet them sometime in some manner, just go do it.". I wasn't at all favorable to the apprehensiveness that her suggest gave me - but I couldn't argue with her logic. So, even though it was not the kind of thing I had ever done before (and this was not at all the first time I was 'the new kid'), and even thought I was pretty sure it was not the kind of thing that any ten year old boy had done before, I left the relative safety of my new home to walk down to the end of the street and introduce myself . . . "Hi. I'm Mickey. I just moved here from California.". I only saw this going one of two ways; either these boys would be gigantically unimpressed and continue their game leaving me to stand there like a colossal boob or walk home to try to explain the pointlessness of my adventure to my mom - or they would abandon their game to beat me up.
This wasn't California, this was Pennsylvania and these kids were playing baseball in the street, with a stick - now, I'm not sure I recall ever having played baseball before myself, but I had only ever seen it played by others kids in parks or in someone's rather large yard. Was my mother thinking I was about to hear an encouraging "Well hello Mickey, we're very delighted to meet you and hope you find our little neighborhood nothing but charming, and if there's anything any of us can do to make you feel more welcomed, please do let us know . . . just now we must get back to our game, if you'll please excuse us."? As I walked down the street, getting closer and closer to my doom, I mean to my opportunity to make new friends, I could hear the aggressive play of ten year old boys - "Get him!", "Who's up?", and "I told you not to pick Bobby, he's a pussy!". Closer and closer, trying to pace my steps to arrive on the scene at a point in the game when all were in a relatively less strident disposition.
As I approached, as I saw a few of them start to notice my arrival, as I began to try to recall anything I had thought I might say once I got there, suddenly one of the boys yelled out "Hey, there's that new kid, he's on our team!". Apparently before my arrival there had been a great struggle to divide and uneven number of boys into two evenly matched teams . . . the way you do that, of course, is to load more of the good players onto the team with fewer players and give the team with more players those not so good players. This is a dangerous endeavor resulting in heartrending casualties. With my arrival, and a few on-the-spot personnel adjustments, the teams were exact in number and approximately balanced in ability . . . with one wild card - but not for long. The next thing anyone said to me was "Ok, you're up.".
I'm up? As in, I'm up at bat?! What the hell happened to "Well hello Mickey, we're very delighted to meet you and hope you find our little neighborhood nothing but charming, and if there's anything any of us can do to make you feel more welcomed, please do let us know . . . just now we must get back to our game, if you'll please excuse us."? Or, screw that, what happened to "Let's beat him up!"? I just moved there. I was suddenly in a baseball game with every kid from my new neighborhood, a game I was not at all very familiar with . . . and now, instantly, I'm up?! Every ten year old boy I'm going to live with for who knows how long is watching me as I'm handed the stick-bat and step up to the plate (a chalk mark in the middle of the street - and when I say 'chalk', I mean a chunk of macadam). I'm trying to remember, might this be the first time in my life I ever stepped up to the plate? What a ludicrous 1964, ten year old boy, new kid on the block nightmare! Had I just been abruptly snatched from the real, material world I had thus far lived in and dropped into some evil poetic ordeal Satan had devised for little boys he especially delighted in tormenting?
I stood there, surrounded by kids I didn't know, half of them shouting "c'mon, kill it!", "get us a run!", "let's go, you can do it!". Could I? If I hit this thing to the next block I'm a hero, I'm the new kid that can hit - if I strike-out I really strike out, I'm the new kid who sucks. This particular misery didn't last long - before I knew it I'm looking at a ball coming right at me. Crack! I can hardly believe my eyes, it's sailing higher and higher, farther and farther - as I'm running around the bases the ball is in fact going to land down on the next block. But, what at first sounded like cheering, is beginning to sound more like aggravated disapproval, so I try to isolate actual words from the general vocal clamor . . . "You're running the wrong way! Go back, go back, you're going the wrong way!".
I hit, I smashed, a home run - and then I rounded third base on my way to second. I wasn't so good at baseball, but this is what I was pretty good at - as I stood between third and second base, acting as if I was genuinely dumbfounded, I said in my most perplexed tone "What? You guys put first base over there?" and then pointing to third I said ardently "In California this is first base.". What should have been cause for a most unflattering nickname, what could have set me on a course as the neighborhood nincompoop, was all avoided by the sheer deliberateness and dazzling self-assuredness of a good storyteller.
Of course, the liar, I mean, the good storyteller was exposed in a few months when baseball season started. Billy, who had become my best friend, approached me one afternoon with a gleefully smug look on his face, announcing "Hey . . . I was watching the Giant's game last night with my dad, and they have first base in the same place we do". Yikes.
All photos used in this hub are personal photos taken by myself or family or friends.
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