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Full Circle: The Clean Sweep
It was hard to get a handle on halfball

Getting an old broomstick from my mother was like getting blood from a bagel.

“Mom, we need a broom stick for a bat,” I said, gripping a broom we had since Truman was president.

“You can’t have that broom,” she said, with a dagger in her voice.

“Why? Look how broken up it is, and you have a brand new one right next to the washing machine. You don’t need two brooms.”

“Sure I do. What if something gets stuck under the refrigerator? I’m not going to use a brand-new broom to push it out.”

“What could get stuck under the refrigerator?” She thought for a second. “Frosted Flakes.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “How could Frosted Flakes get stuck under the refrigerator?”

“The way you pour a bowl, they’re always ending up on the floor. And do you know who has to clean them up? It’s not you, that’s for sure.”

I shook my head. I wasn’t buying it.

“And what about matzoh?” she said. I could tell she was getting desperate.

“How’s matzoh going to get under the refrigerator?” I said.

“It’s very thin, you know.”

“But it doesn’t have legs.”

Now, I had her on the ropes. But she wasn’t going down.

“What about a mouse?” she said.

“A mouse?”

“A mouse runs across the floor and gets caught underneath the refrigerator. And God forbid it dies. Do you know what that’s going to smell like a week later? I’m not going to waste my good broom on a lousy, stinking mouse just so you can play halfball. Play something else, damn it!”

“We can’t play something else,” I told her, “my balls are bald.”

“You shut your mouth! Is that a way to talk to your mother?”

I pulled out a ball. “Look,” I said. “There are no pimples left on this pimple ball. We played with it so long, they’re worn off. All we can play is halfball. But we need the broom handle for a bat.”

You have to understand. Halfball is a game for the downtrodden, the people who eat chicken fricassee on Monday and chicken fricassee leftovers on Tuesday. Halfball is to baseball what dark meat is to turkey. It’s no one’s first choice. It’s just what’s leftover when all the white meat is gone.

And you needed a pimple ball to play. Not a pinkie ball. Pinkie balls were too hard and too smooth. It wouldn’t curve or drop when you pitched it. A pimple ball had great aerodynamics. That’s what the pimples were for.

And to hit the ball, you needed a bat made from an old broom handle. Mop handles just wouldn’t do. Broom handles were made of harder wood and harder wood equaled more power. The care and feeding of a good broom handle was most important. I took care of mine like it was the family car. I protected it with pine oil and embraced it with shiny electrical tape, carefully rolled and layered to give a grip that would choke a horse.

The making of a halfball was simple. All you needed was a tired old pimple ball and a pocketknife. One swift slice and you were in business. There weren’t very many rules. There were no bases. No umpires. No second chances. One strike and you’re out. It was a lesson for life.

It was a game that could easily be played by two people. A pitcher and a batter. Only rich kids had catchers. If you hit the house across the street, it was a triple. If you put it on the roof, it was a homer.

There was one place you didn’t want to hit it, though. Down the sewer. But we had a plan for that. His name was Billy Flanagan. Billy was skinny enough to fit through the sewer grate. He would work his body all the way down and we would try to hold him by his ankles so he wouldn’t fall in.

May he rest in peace.

See Sally Friedman’s column in next month’s issue.

April 2020
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