There is a narrow alley way that sits behind the row of houses that stretch from corner to corner on East 19th Street between Avenues Y and Z in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. For what seemed like every summer day from approximately 1970 to 1980, and not so frequently for a few years after that, it served as a private playground for me and my cousin and our friends. Most of the time, the hanging out took place on the stoops of the houses out front. But, when my cousin and I wanted to have a good, uninterrupted toss of the baseball, or a few games of either Horse or 21 on the basketball hoop attached to the top of the Braddisch's garage, the alley way was perfect. The traffic was one car every four hours as opposed to four cars every change of the street light on the corner.
21 was a losing battle. It wasn't that I couldn't shoot, or that my cousin excelled at basketball. I was simply born a loser. To spice things up, we'd each put up a record from our collection. "Who's Next" versus "Yes-Fragile." The winner would get the record, a very big deal when you're 12 years old. It didn't matter if I was winning 19-3. I would lose 21-19. Always. Just always losing. Losing records at 12 years old was like getting fired from a job at 40. I would get fired from three jobs every summer day, and yet, I couldn't wait to play 21 the very next day. I never gave up. It was too much fun to just give up.
Another way to pass our time was Balls & Strikes. We'd each choose a pitcher--Stan Bahnsen versus Luis Tiant--and act as both catcher and umpire for nine full innings, all the time, trying our best to emulate our chosen pitcher's wind-up. We'd even go to the bullpen if we thought our particular pitcher hadn't brought his stuff, and by inning 6, one of us would be winding up like Sparky Lyle and the other would be calling more strikes, naturally. There was something incredibly zen about this whole exercise. Each walk was a run, and those balls and strikes were being called by the same person who was trying to beat you when it was his turn to pitch. The most amazing thing about Balls & Strikes? It was the calmest and most relaxed my cousin and I have ever been with each other, and we always managed to play fair. I don't recall ever arguing over the calls at the plate. I don't think the two of us could have a 10 minute conversation now that we are in our 50's, without losing patience, or you know, "arguing the call at the plate."
I've been waking up every day for about two years now, expecting the worst. I wasn't always like this, though some would argue, I was only ever like this. But I'd fight that. Times were good, for a nice stretch, too. I don't feel that way now. But I also don't think we play fair anymore. It isn't Stan Bahnsen versus Luis Tiant anymore. It feels like a universal need for understanding versus a universal lack of understanding, with absolutely no game plan. Just two entitled sides who want what they want, with zero sacrifice. It's been said when two parties come to an agreement, it's because both felt they walked away with something. It sucks walking away with nothing.
We all miss the good old days and I believe to my soul, the times we had will come again. We just have to want it. Taking off work, finding an alley and playing balls and strikes isn't a realistic plan. But we don't have to be so adamant about not playing at all.
Children can be cruel. My cousin and I were occasionally cruel to each other, but somehow, we always finished the day okay, looking forward to the next. If only adults could play like children. Just figure the fucker out, whatever that daily fucker is, and go home okay. Walk away with something.