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SLUG - GENE GOLDFARB


In the summer you went slumming when all your friends were in day camp and you weren’t. Without it, you’d be moping around, or doing errands all day long for your mom till she got sick of you pestering her and sent you outside to find someone to play with. Embarrassing, humiliating, call it what you like, but it meant you were a self-evident loser and had to find someone else who was a bigger loser than you or suffer endless boredom.

So, you’d go around the streets searching for someone to play with from the B list. And the B list had almost no one on it. If you found someone, you could go around and do things, play games, not have to come back inside the house and watch TV till supper. Fortunately, I saw Morty, someone I ordinarily don't go near, but this time I buddied up with. Morty didn't seem to care who he played with.

Here was a list of some of the things you could do in those days when there were only two of you to play: 1) fungo, where one of you'd hit balls around with a light bat or a broom handle and one of you'd play the field and catch; 2) "off the curb," (you could do it off the stoop too), which was another type of game launching a ball and going around bases; 3) handball, the only real sport that had actual tournaments with world champs; 4) throw water balloons off the roof of a building onto some stranger, a great mischievous endeavor; 5) hang around the candy store and trade baseball cards or read Classics Illustrated without buying the issue till the owner threw you out of the store for curling the page ends and not buying; 6) go to one or the other’s house and play war with toy soldiers, manually dispatch and activate your troops, and use your deep voice as a commander or to simulate machine gun fire, heavy artillery hits you simulated with a single loud 'Pow!' or 'Bam!’

On this hot summer day, Morty and I decided on "Slug." In some neighborhoods they called it, "Ace-King-Queen." You had your own sidewalk box and the one next to it that adjoined the wall of a building, and alongside your line of boxes, your opponent or opponents had their boxes (often there were four players or even more). And you would hit the ball with a bounce before it struck the wall and your opponent had to hit it into another set of boxes temporarily owned by someone else the same way.

Sometimes you’d hit it with a slice. And sometimes you’d hit a shot so low it hit the ground and the wall at almost the same time. We’d call that a 'killer,' where it bounced back so low as to be virtually unreturnable. You always wanted to stay in the first spot or Ace. If you lost the point, you'd be demoted to the lowest unoccupied square and everyone else would move up.

Anyway, after we were playing slug for a while, this other pair of rough-looking guys came along, almost right up to us and the leader said in a loud voice, 'We challenge you for the court.' His friend merely seconded him, saying 'Yeah,' as if he were yawning or already bored by us. This meant if they won, we’d have to surrender the 'court' where we were playing on. I felt a chill. You had to accept the challenge.

'Okay. We accept,' I sighed.

So, we started in, and Morty wasn’t bad. We held our own for a while. In fact, with a little effort our chances on winning looked pretty good. But I saw these guys were getting more

and more frustrated, especially the leader. I was afraid these guys would be looking for an excuse to beat us up. And push us off the court.

At one point, I was able to signal Morty that we’d better take it easy and let them win. No shame in that, they were brawlers not players. Sooner or later they were going to blame us as cheating if we started really pulling ahead.

Then the leader got into an argument with his man. And I kept hoping they kept their sore feelings focused on each other. Morty just smiled in a sneaky way toward me. He was onto them but didn’t open his mouth.

I had this growing sick feeling they were about to blame us somehow cheating for their falling behind. Unfortunately, that seemed exactly about to happen.

The leader started waving his arms like an umpire signaling a runner was safe. He yelled, "Wait a minute. Something’s goin’ on."

"What are you talking about?" I replied. This was the moment on the verge of where we might get our asses kicked.

All of a sudden, a guy rode by on a bike who they seemed to know yelling, "Hey Mickey. Your dad’s home and your mom wants you there pronto."

"Oh yeah?'

"I think they’re mad, just sayin’."

Mickey took the ball, spiked it angrily, and left with his wing man as quickly as they’d appeared.

"Hey Morty," I confessed, relieved. "Imagine if the stakes were ‘Asses Up.'"

That’s where the losers lined up facing a wall with their hands raised up against it and their legs spread, and the winners would throw a ball from across the street at your heinie hard as they could. That could really sting.

"Ooh," was all Morty said in agreement, shaking a hand sideways like he was drying it.

"Hey," I popped up, "I'm thirsty. Let's go for a lime rickey."

"Now you're talkin'," Morty cheerily snapped back.

We had luckily dodged a nasty bullet. Somehow the thought then emerged as I was walking home with Morty that I wasn’t slumming anymore.



Gene Goldfarb lives in New York City, where he ponders, love, hate, mortality and what's up with the guy who hangs around the building. He loves movies, books, travel, and international cuisine. His works have appeared in the very small press, Adelaide, Black Fox, Bull & Cross, CafeLit, Fallow Ground, Open Door and Storytown.

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