Stickball, A Story

This was written by my father, Thomas.  I wasn’t alive in 1955, but when I read this I feel like I was right there on the streets of Jersey City watching the game…..

Academy Street, Jersey City, 1954

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Jersey City Stickball Game of 1955
By Thomas

Billy (The Claw) Myers was pitching
With Vinnie Spazzio at bat
Bobby Nuncio was in center field
Because Bobby Nuncio was fat

Louie the Lip played first base
His brother Tony was the catcher
Bobby Luciano played third base
His sister Mary was the fetcher

In the short field behind second base
Was the hottest position of all
And that’s where we placed Mickey Morrissey
Because Mickey never dropped a ball

The ball was a pink High Flyer
Not a cheap imitation pink
Cause only the pink High Flyer
Could make the other team stink

The bat was a cut off broom stick
Usually taken from Mom’s kitchen wall
While the bat would make it to the ball game
The broom never got past the hall

Mom knew why the broom was gone
And she wasn’t too happy at that
But she had a supply hidden from us
Of brooms that would never be bats

Home plate was a manhole cover
With the smells of the sewer whiffing through
Somehow the smells didn’t bother us
You just knew that they wouldn’t hurt you

First base was the door of a 53 Ford
Second base was a flattened box
Third base was a fire hydrant
The pitcher’s mound a pair of old socks

The outfield was just as far
As fat Bobby Nuncio could run
When he ran out of breath he would quit
And the other team would score a plus one

But Billy Meyer was a great pitcher
He could make that High Flyer sing
When he threw a ball and it hit the ground
There was no telling where it might zing?

He could make it spin right and left
He could make it spin and linger
He could even make it bounce backwards
If he had enough spit on his fingers

Once I saw him throw a ball
The batter thought he could hit
The ball bounced twice and stopped dead on home plate
And the catcher just said “Holy Shit!”

Now the catcher he had the most dangerous job
Behind home plate was his fate
Cause the broomsticks were never all equal in length
He got as close as he dare to the plate

One whack on the head and he would see stars
One whack on the heads all it took
One whack on the head and it was off to the hospital
While the rest of us could only look

Billy Nuncio was fat but he wasn’t stupid
“No way” would he catch the ball
Billy Nuncio was happy to be in the outfield
Where the worst he could do would be fall

Tony measured the bat and added two feet
Just to be safe he added two more
When he was happy he got down into a crouch
And waited for Billy “The Claw”

The Lip was on first base for one reason only
Louie the Lip was as big as a horse
He would use his body to block first base
And an out he would usually force

Morrissy hovered behind second base
Like a spider weaving a trap
His hands were like glue when a ball came near
You’d swear they were made out of sap.

Morrissey roamed between the Ford and the hydrant
And anywhere else on the street
Morrissey didn’t believe in boundaries
He had confidence his feet would be fleet

Bobby Luciano at third base was good
He was solid and knew the game well
Bobby would stare down a runner
Bobby tried hard to ring his bell

Bobby would talk to the runners
And to Myers and Morrissey too
He didn’t talk much to Fat Bobby Nuncio
He thought Fat Bobby Nuncio was a Tool

Mary’s job was to go fetch the balls
When they were out-of-bounds or lost
She would run as fast as her little feet could
To get the ball for the pitcher, the boss

The street was the field
The houses the grandstands
The clothing on the clotheslines
Looked like they were doing handstands

The cars coming up and down the street
Made the games have to stop too much
Fat Bobby spent a lot of time
Watching little girls play Double Dutch

It was a hot summer day
And the windows were open
The heat from the asphalt
Made it feel like an oven

But we didn’t care
It was the championship game
We could take on these guys
And walk home without shame

Every now and then a Mom’s head would poke out
And she’d yell “Now you boys be careful”
And we’d hear someone say “Yes Ma”
But we all knew she was just being fearful

The stage was set
Put the Pepsi’s aside
It’s time for war
No-one can hide

Billy” The Claw” was warmed up
Tony rechecked his distance
Morrissey looked angry
Bobby Luciano was in a trance

The other guys took their biggest hitter
Vinnie Spazzio brought the pain

and Bobby Nuncio out in the outfield thought
“Man, this guy’s insane”

Spazzio stepped up to the manhole
Looked at Billy “The Claw” and just spit
Morrissey wanted to punch him
Poor Tony just wanted to shit

Billy “The Claw” wasn’t worried
He’d seen guys like this before
Tough guy who all thought they could hit his pitches
Usually wound up on the floor

Billy looked around to check his men
“Where the hell was Nuncio now”?
Bobby Nuncio was peeing behind a Chevy
He waited as long as he knew how?

He turned back and glared at Spazzio
But Spazzio wasn’t fazed
Spazzio was ready to teach Billy a lesson
This is war, no time to be hazed

Billy’s arm went back in a familiar arch
His fingers had just the right amount of sweat
He swept the High Bouncer almost like a Bowler
And it flew until the ground it met

It bounced once to the left and once to the right
Spazzio’s eyes never left the ball
When it came off the second bounce he started his swing
The wind from it made leaves start to fall

Not a breath was breathed by both teams that moment
Even the air was quiet
Everyone watched in awe as the stick connected with the ball
Anywhere else it would have started a riot

Oddly enough the ball didn’t fly straight
It rose high and then turned right
Right into the open window of Mrs. Zisk
Whose husband always liked a good fight

Mr. Zisk stuck his head out and yelled “Who did this?”
Little Mary said “I’m not gonna get it”
Just then a big semi came up the street
And the players moved aside to let it

Mr. Zisk yelled again and threatened some more
Then he finally stopped his yelling
But the problem was now an insurmountable one
The High Flyer had gone to the felon

No more High Flyers to be found anywhere
And at twenty-five cents a pop
No-one had the money to buy another one
And the other pink balls were a flop

So we made a deal to meet once again
Next week at a quarter past two
We would settle this score once and for all
But in our hearts we already knew

The moment was perfect
The setting was there
The players were ready
There was ELECTRIC in the air

That day would never come again
Although we certainly would play some more
But that one day, that one special day
Was gone forever more

I often think about that day
If Spazzio had hit the ball straight
If Fat Bobby Nuncio had caught the ball
Wouldn’t that have been so damned great!

 

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Fort Belvoir, Virginia and Lion Dogs – A Memoir

1976, Fort Belvoir, Virginia. My lion and I skating..

My son recently read C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  Discussing the book with him reminded me of my own childhood.  I was one of those kids that didn’t need a ton of toys or games (besides my bike.)  My imagination, much like it is today, kept me entertained completely.

When I was a child I had my own Lion, my own Wardrobe and even a Witch.  My Lions name wasn’t  Aslan, but Ivanhoe.  Ivanhoe looked like a collie dog with a golden mane, long snout, warm eyes and a protective stance, but to me he was a real life lion.  I would make him sit patiently while I bandaged his pretend wounds and lectured him on treating his friend, namely my nasty cat Sabrina, so rudely.  He would apologize to me with his eyes – trying to explain what had happened, while I would hold Sabrina up to his face so he could apologize to her as well.  He wouldn’t even flinch when she would smack him, claws out, hissing.  Lions are like that; very regal and stoic.

My Wardrobe was the back door of my townhouse on Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  Outside of my house was thick woods that literally held hundreds of paths leading to the Potomac River.  Depending on the time of year the woods were either dark with a heavy leaf canopy, or bright, airy and cold with colored leaves carpeting the ground.  Sometimes, the blanket of snow was so deep the woods appear to partially disappear and when the river would freeze, my lion and I would ice-skate.  He would pad on the ice, slipping and falling and eventually head back to the edge and roar at me.

Ivanhoe and I would spend hours and hours exploring the woods, hunting for salamanders, rescuing birds that Sabrina had tortured, hiding under fallen trees and even spying on my brother and sister and friends.  We had special powers that made us invisible, so spying was no problem.  On the occasion our invisibility powers were weak and we were caught, we would use our super human speed and run home – me in the lead and Ivanhoe right on my tail.  We’d rest and eat and then be off again to the woods of Narnia.

Our Narnia had a Witch too.  I never saw her, although I would feel her around us occasionally.  My brother told me that there was no witch, but spirits of dead soldiers walking the woods and that people had been known to see them near “Dead-Man’s cliff.”  He and his friends would hunt for old war relics and tell scary stories.  The Queen, my mother, wouldn’t allow my lion and I to go to “the cliff” and said I was too young and it was too dangerous.  I went anyway of course, as I wasn’t fond of listening and knew my lion would protect me.  I never saw the dead soldier ghosts walking in the woods or standing at “Dead-Man’s cliff” so I never believed in them.  I didn’t have to see the Witch to know she existed.  She was always the one to whisper to me to break the rules and explore anyway…..

I lived on Fort Belvoir for only three years. My Lion, my Narnia, my Wardrobe and even my Witch gave me some of the most memorable days of my childhood.  I can still feel Ivanhoe’s mane, smell the forest floor of the woods surrounding the Potomac River, visualize the backdoor of my townhouse looking out at the woods and occasionally – my Witch still whispers to me……

Forgotten Language

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?
-Shel Silverstein