Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our Woo Woo Song

When Kingsbridge’s “Stickball Boys of Summer” gathered together this past week for a long overdue reunion, I unearthed a treasure trove of the mostly crude scorecards that chronicled of our exploits. One that I came upon was dated June 18, 1978. What was most intriguing to me about this day and game was not the seventy degrees temperature or the final score, but rather Commissioner Meatball’s admonition to us to “WATCH THE OLD LADIES.” Our game’s imaginary mascot commissioner was referring—as I recall—to an incident that had occurred a short time prior to this date.

Occasionally when we arrived at John F. Kennedy High School all gung-ho for a stickball game, we would be unpleasantly surprised that our field was occupied by someone else, or that the school was hosting an after-hours or weekend event of some kind. The latter entailed cars pulling into a parking area—a key part of our playing arena—and people getting out of them and walking through tennis ball fallout territory. Playing under these conditions was pretty uncomfortable, I remember, but—come hell or high water—we almost always did. The game meant that much to us. Very little could deter us.

Anyway, a few days prior to the June 18th stickball game, the high school was host to a pre-graduation gathering. Automobiles en masse were pulling in at an unrelenting clip. We kept playing, though, as folks of all ages paraded in between pitcher and fielder. Chasing after fly balls in our designated double and triple zones became hazardous undertakings. So, when the senior member of our stickball contingent ripped a hard line drive, which had double written all over it, into a senior citizen’s mid-section, our game was at last put on ice. The old lady cried out “Woo…woo!” when the airborne tennis ball struck her. We uttered a “so sorry” or two to the woman and her companion, as I recall, while the pair stood by contemplating their next move. The consensus was that the woman didn’t appear any worse for wear— a bit startled, perhaps—as she started walking in the direction of the school’s entrance. However, she kept stopping, pivoting, and casting us dirty looks.

Observing this stop-and-go, our fearless leader, nicknamed “Cheese,” said without missing a beat, “Follow me,” as he made a beeline to the back of the school and away from his nearby parked car. “Where are we going?” I asked. You see, Cheese was the far-thinking Head Cheese. He was making absolutely certain the old lady and her cohort didn’t see us getting into his car—with his license plate.

This is precisely why Commissioner Meatball advised us on that mid-June day to keep our eyes peeled for old ladies when playing our favorite summer game on Bronx asphalt. The scorecard from this day in 1978 identifies our foursome by our nicknames: Cheese, Met, Geek, and Fish. Fast forward a year to 1979 when I, evidently, determined that our scoring ways and statistic-keeping merited a little more professionalism and class. We were thereafter referred to by first name initials and surnames. Commissioner Meatball, nonetheless, was brought back and continued to offer us sage and practical advice on playing the game like fine gentlemen and good neighbors.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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