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Oh so foul
by Jeffrey Benson
(Queens NY, late 60s) - I liked best playing the type of stickball with a box drawn on a wall in chalk as the strike zone. So did my brothers and friends. We had two stickball courts near the house. The good one was in the Grand Union parking lot. We could only use it on Sundays--back then all the stores were closed on Sundays, and the parking lot was empty, gigantic, stretching perhaps 150 yards to the main street.

The other "field" was in a tiny courtyard of the elementary school, bounded on three sides by the building. If you didn't hit the ball to center field it bounced foul off the school. I imagined the roof of the school was littered with scores of balls, and it was considered wise to come to that court with more than one ball, just in case. The outfield fence was only about fifty yards away from home, so the rule was that a homerun had to hit the houses across the street. Just over the fence was a double.

It was a Saturday morning, early, and my brothers, and my best friend Ricky and I decided to play stickball. We had a bat, one of the kinds sold in toy stores: wooden, dyed green, thicker than the traditional broom handle, with narrow black tape wound half way to the top. The trouble was we had no ball.

The preferred ball was the Pensy Pinkie. Its rival, the spaldeen, was too hard, too bouncy. With a spaldeen, you could go innings without a ball being fielded. Usually the batter struck out, but if he did hit the spaldeen it went like a rocket, either bouncing way over the pitcher's head, or traveling like a juiced up baby cannonball into the street. The Pinkie was softer, gave the pitcher some feel, and was sometimes able to be caught off the bat for an out.

The trouble was we had neither. And we didn't have any money, and although the balls only cost a quarter, there were times we didn't have one, or no one wanted to be the sole contributor to the cause: owning the ball was often a very temporary condition. We searched everywhere in the house, and the yard, and the rickety wooden one-car garage. We were on a collective mission, and while we moaned about our horrible place in life. "Man, we just need one ball, that's all, there's got to be one...."

And, finally, one turned up. It was an old spaldeen, and not quite so frisky a bouncer. All in all, well worth the effort. We headed to the school yard.

Ricky chalked in the box on the wall. The debate was always about how high and how low to make the box, given our differing statures, and as often as not we compromised so that nobody had to swing at a strike near his nose. Ricky chalked in the traditional design: a rectangle, thick on the edges, with a big "X" stretching through the middle. The thick edges were important. The puff of chalk smoke, or the clear evidence of chalk on the ball off the wall, were better than the human eye for judging a close strike. Many a pitcher hurried to throw strike two before wiping off the evidence of strike one--this I considered the mark of a low-life.

So, there we were: fully equipped, box on the wall, sun just creeping over the school. Ricky stood with the stick on his shoulder, ready to be the first batter. I had the ball, ready to pitch.

"This first one doesn't count" I yelled. "It's a warm-up." I threw it. Ricky didn't swing. He just held the bat out horizontally, casually, in the middle of the strike zone.

The ball hit the bat on its top edge, went foul, and onto the roof.


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