Monday, January 25, 2010

40th Street (Cont. #8)

More about growing up in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

XI: Pitcher

The counselor told me that that was a good pitch. I had just made a good pitch.

We were playing softball at the Kinderweldt (pronounced kinderveldt) summer camp, in upstate Accord, New York, where I went for a few weeks one summer at the age of eight, or maybe nine, courtesy of charity from the Brooklyn Hebrew school I attended: the Chaim Nachman Bialik Folk Shul, on 47th Street and 16th Avenue.

I loved what the counselor said, because I always felt that I was lousy in every sport—in every thing—I did. It’s not that I was a poor athlete as a result of being overweight, or anything, or slow moving. Or clumsy. Actually, I was small and agile and skinny, maybe too skinny, which is why my mother used to refer to me as “skinny-marink-a-dink-a-dink,” and then laugh (or maybe just grin) because that was so funny. Also, if anything, I was too fast-moving, which is why so many people told me I should learn to calm down and relax and not be so impatient. Just relax, kid, they’d say. I didn’t know what they meant. I still don’t, sort of.

I felt I was lousy in everything because that’s what I was told, or made to believe, pretty much, by my father. Like I’d show him a drawing that I did, when, maybe, he’d be reclining on the couch, reading. His “comment” was a grunt and a wave of his hand, as one waves away a pesky mosquito.

See, once—before he got a job packing crates at the Brooklyn Navy Yard—he had been an artist, having gone to art school, where he met my mother, who had also been an artist. So if he didn’t think my drawing was any good, it wasn’t.

So then I’d show it to my mother, who--especially if she was entering one of her unstable moods--would say it was excellent, unbelievable, great, terrific, so beautiful it should be in a museum. “Oh Harry,” she’d call out from the kitchen to my father, who was lying on the couch in the living room, “look what Nathan did, it’s so beautiful I can’t believe it”. . . .on and on, unreal, increasingly bizarre, her "praise" having less and less to do with what I actually drew, until her response meant nothing. My father dismissed my drawing directly, my mother dismissed it indirectly, by glorifying it, crazily, reflecting yet another sinking step into her impending psychotic break (one of several during those years).

So back to the pitcher stuff. It was at camp, and somehow I was asked to be the pitcher for my team. Maybe somebody--a counselor, a director--said he thought I should try out as a pitcher. So I did, and I became the pitcher.

This is how I pitched. I'd stand at the pitcher's mound, leaning forwards slightly, staring at the batter. Then I'd step forward with my left leg, at the same time whirling my right arm in a kind of double-arc around my head and back down to my side and slightly up again. The ball flew, as if by its own accord, out of my hand. When it neared the batter, he would swing, and miss. Or hit a foul. Or hit a pop fly, which one of my team mates could easily catch.

When I did that a few times, the counselor said to me that that was a good pitch. You're a good pitcher, he said. I felt so swelled up I could burst.

And something even better happened. At the end of camping season, I was given a cloth decal, a round patch that looked like a softball, which said "pitcher" on it, along with the name of the camp. An award. A prize, that everybody in the world could see!

So when the bus from camp got back to Brooklyn, I held the decal tightly and sped up the stairs at 1546 40th Street and ran right into my apartment, where my father was lying on the couch, reading. I showed him the decal. "I won this," I said, breathless. "I was the pitcher."

My father glanced at what I was holding, grunted, and went on reading.

So I stood there a second or two. Or maybe longer. Then I went into the kitchen to show it to my mother and ask her to sew it onto my jacket. She was in a good--that is, sane--mood.

"Harry," she called out, "did you see what Nathan won?"

No comment from the living room.

"Harry?" my mother called again.

After a moment or two my father replied. "I'm sure they give those out to all the kids," he said. Then he went back to reading.

* * *

1 comment:

ArthurZ said...


Thank you for sharing these stories. Your observations of life, and of growing up, are inspiring and insightful.

Reading this reminded me of quote: "To bend a bamboo, start when it is a shoot." Yes...the bamboo can bend from many things, including one's father.