I am not clumsy. I don't just inexplicably drop things or fall for no reason. I've always been the kid picked first or second in gym class and more often than not been the one doing the picking, so I am fairly athletic. Throughout my life I've had a problem with poles and I'm not talking about the kind that everyone makes jokes about. I'm talking about those pesky objects sticking up from the ground. Whether they be of the telephone, light or those holding up clothes lines variety, I've had a problem with them.
Case # 1:
I was about 10 years old playing a game called "Three Flies, You're Out" in my backyard located in the Fairmount Projects, Hyde Park, Boston, Massachusetts. When we didn't have at least 10 kids to have a game of 5 on 5 baseball (which we considered the minimum) we would play this game. The batter would toss balls in the air and hit them to the waiting fielders. When a particular fielder caught three fly balls it would be his turn to hit the fly balls. Competition was fierce to make the catch.
I had caught two balls and was lining myself up to catch a third. I was running full at steam keeping my eye on the baseball. It was hit to the deepest part of the backyard where there was a fence and a clothesline full of freshly washed, drying clothes. I reached up and caught the ball on the run. Simultaneously I saw nothing but white followed by complete darkness with dots of white light streaming toward me from a black hole. When I came to I was lying beneath a gaggle of faces staring down at me and clothes blowing in the cold, stiff March wind. "Sully, are you OK" said one of the faces. I couldn't focus on which face had asked the question. I asked "What happened?", nervously. I felt like puking. "You ran into the clothes yard, through some sheets and hit a pole..... you're up." said a voice which I think was my friend Sean. I staggered to my feet and went to take my turn hitting balls. When I realized I had started walking in the wrong direction I cool-ly turned to my friends and said, "I'm heading home", covering up the fact that I barely knew where I was. Sean ran up to me and grabbed me by the shoulder. Startled, I turned around, still not quite sure of my surroundings. "We need the ball" Sean insisted. I looked down and the ball was still in my glove.
I was a little 13 year old bastard. My friends and I would torture this older guy in the neighborhood who collected disability and did nothing all day, but smoke weed and drink PBR. This guy was in his twenties and lived with his elderly Mom who went to work all day while he stayed home and self medicated. I was living in a housing project called Hampton Gardens in Northampton, Massachusetts where I spent my teen years. During the summer when we weren't playing ball or finding a swimming hole, we were finding trouble. Mentally torturing Pat was a fun way to pass time. This is what we would do. We would bang on his door and then hide in a bush adjacent to his apartment to see his enraged reaction when finding no one there after he had to get up from his chair, put down his beer and his bowl, walk down the stairs and open his door. We were to this guy like Bart Simpson is to Moe of Moe's Tavern. When he would open the door and find no one there he would scream "I am going to kill you little fuckers when I catch you, you are all fucking dead!", not unlike Moe's reaction when Bart places prank calls to his bar. As soon as we could see him sitting down in his recliner through the second floor window we would bang on the door again.
One day, my friends Manny and Richy and I were bored. We took our positions just out side of Pat's door. We slammed his door and went to our usual hiding spot. A minute went by and nothing. Manny went back to the door and kicked it so hard I thought he broke it. Just as Manny dove back into the bushes we heard screaming. The screaming wasn't coming from the door, but from directly behind the bush; he had snuck out the back of his apartment and figured us out. We bolted from our hiding place. I was the first one out of the bush and started running through the maze of apartments. I turned to see Pat hot on my trail. The crazed, drunk stoner was focused on me and was gaining ground. I turned back to make my next move and BAM, nothing but stars. I had ran into one of the many light poles strewn across the housing complex.
I came to quickly. Standing above me was Pat. He was wild eyed and breathing heavily; he smelled like a bar room floor at closing time. I stood up and he screamed "What the FUCKKKK!". He went to grab me. I ducked and got by him. Being at least 15 years younger and not stoned out of my gourd, outran him to Manny's apartment and bounded inside. Pat slogged to the door, peaked in and sloshed back to his hovel. I stood in Manny's kitchen trying to get my breath. Manny was laughing, maniacally. "Whats so funny" I asked, irritated that I bore the brunt of Pats rage. He pointed down at my crotch. I looked down tentatively. I had pissed my pants.
I was in line at D'Angelos last week, waiting for a grinder, when I had seen an old friend from Hampton Gardens I hadn't seen in years. Tim was a few years older than I and was one of the guys I looked up to. He is black and used to have a huge fro back in the day. His hair is now close cropped, due to style and to minimize the effects of middle aged hair loss. I said "Hey, where the fro?". When he recognized me he said "Shit, Sully, I haven't seen you since that football game at Jackson Street".
Ahhh, Jackson Street.
Every Sunday morning in the Fall from the time I moved to Northampton at age 12 until I was 25 we would have pick-up tackle football games at Jackson Street School football field. At the very least we would play 5 on 5. If there was a huge turnout we would have 30+ kids there, with a full line and even subs. Tackle football with no pads or helmets is not for the faint of heart. Often there would be concussions, broken limbs and bloodied faces. One Sunday when I was about 18 we were having a particularly violent and close fought game. It was tied 9 - 9. Even though we had goalposts we only counted touchdowns. We usually played for three hours or until one team got to ten. Tim was playing quarterback for my team, a position I usually played, but we would switch it up occasionally. It was one of Tim's last games at Jackson, being that he was moving to Amherst soon. In the huddle he called the play. I was to do a post pattern. We only had ten yards to go for the winning score, so I would have to make my break at the two yard line. Tim lofted the ball to the back of the end zone. I had beat my defender and was reaching up to make the game winning catch when BAM, I ran into the goalpost. I never lost consciousness, but had a huge gash running across my nose. Blood was running everywhere and I had to take off my shirt and hold it against my gash. Everyone was cracking up. From my perspective, not so funny. Everyone else said it was the funniest thing they had ever seen. They all decided to end the game there, not out of deference to me and my injury, but because the sides were uneven and no one wanted to sit out on the other team. The guys spent a few minutes imitating my smashing into the goalpost complete with sound effects and pratfalls. We walked back to the "Gardens" with everyone laughing at my expense. The laughs would only get louder when I tried to blame Tim for leading me too much, into the goalpost. It crescendoed when I said I would have caught it if the pole wasn't there. My mother wasn't laughing when she drove me to the ER to get stitched up.
I had another incident with a clothesline that had to do with running from a girlfriend's house when her mother came home from work earlier than expected and me trying to put shoes on, while running on the ice, while looking behind me, but that's another story for another time.
This summer at the park my son Matt was running from my son Pete while playing "tag" and he ran into a pole holding up a swing set. He wasn't hurt badly, but yelled angrily "that pole got in my way!". All I could think was "I know son, I know".
I hope this pole thing is not genetic.