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Come on Mrs. Dunn, Douglas thought to himself, that question is sooo easy, even Alan has his hand raised.
Ten, the answer is Ten! You just gave us two examples, and that problem was assigned as homework! I even remember the answer!
I'm getting tired of waiving my hand in the air, and you end up calling on someone else.
This is a waste of time.
Just like our drawing class with Miss Casey.
Everyone in class knows that Kenny can draw better than anyone else, yet Miss Casey gives him a "D" for a grade. Unbelievable!
Could it be that she doesn't like Kenny?
I really don't understand, I know he is the only black kid in the class, but he's a good guy, and a terrific artist.
It's the type of logic that belongs only to a teacher.
I wonder why we never know the teachers' first names?
It's always Mr. Sousa, or Mrs. Stein, or even Coach Michaels.
They must have first names.
All my friends have first names; even my mother and father have first names, although they would probably ground me for life if I called them anything but Mom and Dad!
Finally, she called on someone that knew the answer!
Maybe now we could end this class and move on to something else.
I can't stop thinking about Little League tryouts, even during lunchtime.
I have to put last year's tryouts behind me, even though I thought I was treated unfairly.
I had a dentist appointment after school, at the time of the first practice.
When I arrived at the following practice, I was told that the teams had been chosen.
I tried to make the manager understand that I couldn't be there because of my appointment, and begged him for a chance to make the team.
He wouldn't listen, and I lost a whole year of baseball.
This is not going to happen this year!
It's happening again, my daydreaming has made me lose my place.
"Where are we, Elaine," I whispered quietly, "What number are we on? I lost my place."
I always liked Elaine, she always wore pretty dresses and listened to me when I talked with her.
She wasn't like Jean.
Jean was constantly wearing her Girl Scout uniform to class, especially when it was "picture" day. The class was obliged to follow her progression through Brownies, and now, to her merit badge laden sash and green uniform.
She always thought that she was better than the rest of us.
Thank goodness for Elaine, it was tough to have a girl for a friend.
Math class was nearly over, we knew this because of the old wall clock.
We watched the synchronized clock on the left-hand wall, just above the blackboard.
It moved its minute hand in two minute increments.
We had the timing down pat, one more lunge, and it would be 'class over.'
In a way it was tough leaving that particular room.
Kenny had drawn seasonal paintings, using colored chalk to accentuate the colors of springtime.
As I said before, he could really draw.
Now it was off to English class with Miss Higgins.
Fortunately for us, the room was next door, through the solid oak door which led to the corridor.
Miss Higgins was an older teacher, and very demanding.
She always wore high-heeled shoes and very colorful dresses. She used reading glasses that hung around her neck like a dog on a leash.
She wasn't too tall, but even the tallest and biggest guy in school didn't mess with Miss Higgins.
She had a booming voice, and took pride in having her class 'under strict disciplinary control.'
If you received an 'A' in her class, you must have worked your butt off.
She was tough, but fair, and towards the end of the year, I began to see her real value.
She was hard, but was a great teacher, her gray locks had seen plenty of smart mouthed sixth graders, but she wore her battle scars well.
One time in her class, when I took in my weekly English test, at the end I saw that I had forgotten to put my name on the paper.
I quickly grabbed my pencil and started to write my name at the top of the page.
Suddenly I heard her shout, "Douglas, put your test in the wastepaper basket, I said, 'Pencils Down!' There was no use talking with her while the class was in session.
Once the bell rang I approached Miss Higgins.
She waited until the entire class had left before acknowledging my presence.
Raising her eyes above her reading glasses she said, "well?"
"Miss Higgins, may I say something please?"
I lowered my eyes and explained to her that I grabbed my pencil to write my name on the top of my test, which I had forgotten to do, not to 'cheat!'
She quickly sized me up and said, "Nevertheless, you disregarded my instructions. If you had raised your hand and told me of the problem I would have allowed you write your name. You did nothing of the sort."
Blood rushed from my wrinkled forehead, Miss Higgins knew I wasn't a trouble-maker and my eyes pleaded for mercy.
Then, almost apologetically, she said, "I tell you what, I'll correct your test. Please remove it from the wastepaper basket. As you did break 'our classroom rules,' your grade will be marked down one letter grade for your actions today. Don't let it happen again, or there will be more serious consequences!"
I thanked her for her compassion and told her that it certainly would not happen again. I had learned another important lesson from Miss Higgins, which was much more important than the test on participles and prepositional phrases.
It was about character.
She was one, and I had to develop some.
Strange bedfellows were made in that sixth grade class.
English was the last class of the day.
We were on schedule # 2, which meant that we were released after period six.
I rushed to the homeroom, where I quickly stashed my books, except for Health.
Our teacher, Mr. Scanlon, had assigned us a project on diabetes.
It was due in two weeks-- 500 words, double-spaced, and it HAD to be typed!
I liked Mr. Scanlon, but then again he was the gym teacher as well.
I am lucky that my Mom took business courses in high school and had learned to type.
She kept an old typing instructional booklet and during the summer of the fifth grade, I learned the basics of typing on a manual Underwood typewriter.
Because you had to have the keys strike the ribbon, and the paper, I developed a very "heavy" touch.
I looked for my friends, as I ran from the classroom.
It was a cool day and I had to zipper-up my jacket.
My best buddy, Steve, met me at the first crosswalk.
While only in the sixth grade, Steve already had a following from the girls in the class.
He had blonde hair, blue eyes, and was tall for a twelve-year-old boy.
He had an air of independence that could only be described in leadership books.
He was my best friend in the whole world, and we shared so many secrets.
He also loved baseball!
The clocks had already been moved 'ahead' for the springtime, so there were a few hours left of sunlight when school let out.
We walked home, threw down our books and headed for the sandlot.
Steve lived across the street with his parents and two sisters, so it only took a few minutes to be on our way.
We had slung our gloves over our patched-up bats and headed to the sandlot.
We would shag flies for one another, and then take a few turns at bat.
Steve was much stronger than I was, but I had a "level" swing.
He belted the ball with his "Big Bertha" bat and I followed with line drives to left.
We would knock them dead at the tryouts!
I had the most fun at the sandlots.
Sure, we had baseballs that were covered with electricians tape, and bats that had split so many times that thumbtacks held them together, but it worked.
No arguments, no bullying, no jealousy, nothing but the playing of baseball.
The "older" kids never treated us like "misfits," they let us play with them for the love of the game, or maybe it was because they didn't have enough players!
They never made fun of us if we messed up, but they never made it easier on us either.
That's how we learned to play the game.
We never had nine players on each team, we never had a catcher and first base was optional; it was always "pitchers hand" for an infield out.
Our make-shift rules included anything hit to the right side of the infield, or to the left if you batted "leftie", was fowl.
That's why I am a dead pull hitter.
Today was Thursday and the Little League tryouts were on Saturday.
We played at the sandlot until the sun crashed into the horizon.
We left the field and hurried home for dinner.
Dinner was always at five o'clock at my house, no matter what happened during the day Dad expected dinner to be on the table at five o'clock.
Heaven help Mom if it wasn't!
Dad never complained about the food, but it better be on the table at five!
Steve's Mom was a nurse with a busy schedule and not I'm sure if the same rules applied at his house.
Steve and I walked to school on Friday.
Steve was on a different schedule and that meant that he had gym for his last class.
I dreaded Fridays in school, except for the lunch because they served pizza.
I had Drawing, Math, English and Science.
Our Science teacher was a real prize, maybe too many science projects exploded on his face, but he was definitely 'out there.'
Anyway, we were able to survive the Friday before tryouts.
We met after school as usual and we made plans for the next day.
Parents were not allowed on the field during the tryouts and the "players" were expected to be there on time.
Steve and I planned to arrive at the field around nine o'clock, one hour before the official time.
We would toss the ball around and scope out the field for other candidates.
Kids arrived from all parts of the town.
Fat kids, tall kids, some with partial uniforms, others with expensive-looking sneakers and new leather gloves.
All kind of bodies covered the playing field while anxious Dads were everywhere.
I don't remember seeing Moms.
You never heard of 'single moms' in that time, you know that there had to be some, but why were they so invisible? I'm not smart enough to know that answer.
Candidates were listed in alphabetical order, who ever thought of that process?
Ask the Aaron's and Zyminskis of the world, they might have something to say!
We waited on the sidelines until our names were called.
Steve was towards the middle of the pack, I was near the end.
The day was getting warmer as the tryouts dragged on. I decided to remove my jacket, forgetting that my 'number' was pinned to the back, I was warm.
Steve did great, catching a sinking line drive in the outfield and making a perfect throw to the cut-off man.
I could see that the managers were salivating at some of the prospects.
So much for the 'love of the game', this was a winner take all experience.
After what seemed like an eternity, I took the field.
The only open position was second base, which I scrambled to secure.
After a few ground balls to third and to short, the adult hit a ball towards me.
It was a line drive, well above my head, I jumped, but could not catch it.
Another ground ball was it in my direction.
I scooped up the ball and threw to first, an easy play.
Next, the adult hit to first, then to third, to shortstop, and then to me.
The ground ball was hit to my right, near the second-base bag.
I backhanded the ball and threw to first, a pretty good play.
Suddenly I heard a voice say, "Second base, what's your number?"
"Forty-two" I yelled back.
"OK kid, thanks".
I continued to field my position until the next serial of players took the field.
I felt sorry for the catchers at the tryouts, they played through multiple levels of players without ever getting a break.
Their sweat was obvious to the players, only the coaches failed to see their fatigue.
Where have I heard that before?
After everyone had fielded their positions, it was time for us to showcase our batting skills.
Steve batted before me, and did terrifically.
He hit the ball with authority, driving the outfielders to the chain-link fence on two occasions.
When my turn came, I drove the ball into the centerfield gap and hit a line drive between the third baseman and shortstop.
Once the entire field had batted, all the players laid on the grass and awaited to see if they had been assigned to a team.
Now, the agonizing waiting was next on the agenda.
We waited for about thirty minutes, although it seemed much longer, while the managers huddled near a make-shift dugout. They were comparing notes and they took their time in writing down the 'numbers' of each coveted player.
Eventually they finished their writing and a representative of the Little League called out names, along with their associated teams.
Steve's name was called for the Indians and I was called for the Blue Jays.
We had made the first cut!!! Now to make the team!
In my happiness I glanced at the guys whose names were not called.
I felt sorry for the guys that gave it their all, but were left off the roster.
Such a tough lesson to learn on life, especially when you were only eleven years old.
Steve and I left the ball field and decided to celebrate our mini victory at the Dairy Queen.
Steve ordered a sundae and I ordered a medium cone with a chocolate dip.
I could never figure out how the person made the ice cream 'twist into an inverted six' before it was dipped into the chocolate bath.
We devoured the ice cream and headed for home, our bikes seemed to float upon the road, like our lofty goals of making our teams.
I don't know why, but the poem, 'Casey at the Bat' was stuck in my mind.
It was joy in Mudville, if only for an afternoon.
We had to tell our parents of the good news, what good is joy if it can't be shared with someone?
I reached home and saw my father in the front of the house mowing the lawn.
He had bought the lawnmower from a neighbor, along with a 'roller' and a wheelbarrow.
He had paid Mr. Sherlock fifty dollars for the equipment, Dad had made a great deal.
I let my bike scrap against the sidewalk and brought it to a stop.
I walked towards my Dad and shouted, "I made the first cut, and so did Steve."
He stopped the lawnmower and glanced towards me.
He looked like he had won the lottery!
"That's great Douglas; your hard work has paid off! I'm so very proud of you!"
Wow, a complement from my Dad, now that was enduring.
The last time he gave a complement was in the bakery, after getting my report card, when he said that I could "pick out the best jelly doughnuts from the rack."
This was an unfamiliar feeling.
The weekend before tryout for the team was upon us.
We had two days to perform the usual Saturday and Sunday rituals.
One was going to the bakery on Saturday mornings with my Dad.
I must be a very unusual kid, I do not like sugar.
Saturday morning's Dad would take me to the bakery, the clerk at the bakery knew us from our many trips there. I motioned to the clerk that I wanted to visit the baker in the back room.
"OK Douglas, you may go inside and punish our baker."
He pointed towards the room and I dashed inside.
The baker recognized me immediately and said, "Well, Douglas, you must be here to pick your own jelly doughnut!"
I smiled, and headed to the table on my right.
The baker then grabbed a 'filled' doughnut shell, without the filling or any sugar.
I took the doughnut and stuck it on a spindle attached to the table, then I squeezed a handle next to the jar of jelly and my doughnut was stretched into shape.
By the time I was finished the doughnut looked more like a softball!
The baker smiled and told me that he was losing money on the sale.
I told him that he would make-up the difference because I didn't roll the doughnut in the sugar.
He laughed and sent me on my way.
Sunday was church and visiting the relatives' day.
After church we crammed into the family car and headed out to visit the relatives.
It really wasn't that bad, I got to see my cousins as well as my aunts and uncles, and you could always count on great food!
Dad always drove because Mom didn't have a license, most of my aunts didn't drive either.
I never figured out why.
We always stopped at a bakery before we reached our destination, Mom said that it was impolite to visit someone 'empty handed.'
Once we reached our relatives homes we were greeted with showers of kisses and pats on the head from uncles. I enjoyed visiting with Mom's cousins because their husbands told the best stories and I always got to sip a bit of wine. Wow, it made me feel like an adult, even though it was 'children's' wine that had been brewed with a low alcohol level.
I usually fell asleep on the trip home, I guess that the excitement of the visit drained my energy and I had nothing left on the return trip.
Anyhow, I had to save my energy for the team tryouts on Tuesday, nothing could stop me from making the team, especially enthusiasm. I had to be physically and mentally ready, nothing could interfere with reaching my goal.
I just hope that am better than the other kids.
Monday came and went, sluggishly ending the first day of the new week.
Tuesday was 'the' day.
I went to school without thinking about anything but baseball.
Even the lovely 'Janice' did not make an impression on my persona, I was thinking only about baseball.
I had my priorities fixed in Plaster-of-Paris, these eyes were focused on baseball, not the lesson of the day.
I called Steve on the telephone because he had not been in school.
Steve's family did not have their own telephone number, they shared it with a spinster aunt that lived on the first floor of their house.
I really don't know who owned the house.
Steve's aunt told me that Steve was not feeling well, and that I should call him tomorrow.
Tomorrow, that was the team tryout day, Steve couldn't be sick!
I went to bed that night thinking of the tryouts and of Steve.
On Tuesday I went to school and feverishly looked for Steve.
I thought I saw him in the cafeteria but it turned out to be a teacher who looked like Steve.
I was out of my mind, this was our big day and Steve and I had to be together.
The bell for the last class buzzed without caring about my situation, it resonated in my head like an Edgar Allen Poe short story.
Where was Steve?
He had to be here, this was tryout day! My best buddy was missing and I had to find out why.
I ran to the nearby crosswalk, panic was about to take over.
I ran across the intersection and up Baptist Hill, it was named after a Baptist church found on the crest of the street.
I was out-of-breath when I approached Nevins Street, two more streets to go and I would be at High Street.
I stopped to catch my breath.
I placed my arms at my waist, bent over, and tried to think logically, above my deep breaths.
Should I try to see Steve at his house, should I try to call Steve before I stop at his house, what about the tryouts?
I was confused, real confused.
I gathered myself together and decided that I had to see Steve, he was my best buddy and I had to talk with him.
Was he alright, would he be able to attend school, could he make the tryout, what was wrong? Something like this is not supposed to happen, so many questions, so few answers.
I approached his house and knocked on the door.
My heart was pumping like an overloaded freight train.
Steve's aunt answered the door.
"I'm here to see Steve, if that's alright?"
"Oh hello Douglas, yes you may come in, Steven is upstairs in his bedroom.
His Mother is watching over him, he has a real bad cold and a hacking cough, but we think the worst part is over. He'll be swinging his bat with you very soon."
I thanked his aunt and headed upstairs. Steve's Mom greeted me with a hug and told me that Steve had been asking for me. She said he was much better, and would probably be able to return to school within a few days.
I walked softly towards Steve's bedroom.
When I peeked inside the door I saw that he was taking a little nap.
I knew that Steve must have been really sick to miss the tryouts.
I didn't know what I was going to tell him, then I bumped against the bedroom door and saw Steve's eyes slowly open.
His eyes were like a curtain that had been stuck in the closed position and suddenly jumped when the gears engaged.
"Hey Doug, come on over here, don't worry I'm not contagious, at least that's what my Mom said, and she's a nurse."
"Hey man, how are you feeling? It's not like you to be out sick."
"Don't tell me you missed me! I'll bet you enjoyed scoping out Janice when I was not around."
"Cool your jets man, she has no interest in me, besides she only has eyes for you."
"I'm not interested in her eyes!"
"Man, you'll never change and I hope that you never will."
"Now that I'm thinking about it, what are you doing here, isn't today team tryouts?
Why are you here? You should be beating the brains out of a baseball instead of being here. What's your problem?"
I was speechless; suddenly I realized what was more important than baseball.
"Look, you soft-hearted blondie, I am here to see if my best friend is okay. I know that it might seem to you to be a trivial matter, and maybe it is, but that's why I'm here, so don't give me a hard time!"
Steve seemed to ponder into space, and then shouted at me.
"Listen you coward, I will not be your excuse for not making the Blue Jays. You get your tail out of here and knock them dead at the team tryouts! You will not be my best friend if you don't go."
I looked into Steve's heart and saw the true meaning of friendship.
"I can't get to the tryouts in time, I decided to visit you instead. Maybe I have made a lousy decision, based on your last comment, but there it is, for better or worse, I guess you're stuck with me until next season."
"There you go, trying to blame me for your hard-headedness. Get out of here and get to the tryouts." "I'm not going anywhere but here you may shout all you want, but I'm staying!"
We stared at each other like boxing opponents before a match.
Instead of intimidation we sought our inner feelings.
Steve shouted, "Look, I can't be there for the team tryouts but you can. Get out of here!"
Steve's voice had a discernible crack and lowering of inflection, his shield had been lowered.
"I am where I need to be, at the side of my best friend and terrific baseball player. I don't want to be anywhere else, unless you can arrange for a duel tryout with a major league baseball team. You may be blonde and tall, and have blue eyes, but you also have me, brown hair, short, and hazel eyes. Together, we make a great team."
"I told you to get out of here, you zombie!
Steve's mother suddenly walked into Steve bedroom and asked,
"Why is there all this commotion, what's going on?"
"Mom," he shouted, "Mom, tell Douglas to go to the tryouts, before he catches what I have. Get him out of here, it's bad enough for me to be sick, but I'm not going to listen to him for the next year whining about not making the team. Team tryouts are today and I just know he'll try to use me as an excuse for not making the team."
"Steven, listen to yourself, Douglas is your best friend. He is here to visit his friend and you are giving him a hard time, that's not like you and it's not becoming."
"But Mom, like I said, team tryouts are today, if Douglas misses today then he won't make the team! I have already lost that chance, he can still do it, but he must leave right now."
"Douglas makes his own decisions; you should know that by now. I'm leaving for work, your father should be home in thirty minutes."
And with that she left the room.
Steve leered at me for some time and finally spoke up.
"You're not leaving are you?"
"No," I mumbled softly. "I can't."
"You're going to give up all that we worked for, and throw it away? Well, I won't stand for it, you get your butt out of here and make the Blue Jays roster."
We stared at one another in silence.
"Look, my blonde feathered friend, you're stuck with me, and I'm stuck with you, baseball will go on forever, but right now, my place is next to you, not next-at-bat."
We stared at each other until we heard the apartment door shut when his mom left.
"Hey, how about playing a game of Clue?"
"OK, as long as it not "Clueless!"
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