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More On The Way Things Used To Be

May 17, 2008
One day Barry Bogardus picked up a broken marble someone left lying on the street, went round the corner to West End and put it up against the curbstone.

"A hundred if you hit it!" he called out.

That got everyone's attention. West End was twice the width of 88th so the true amount should have been forty if you hit it, not a hundred. Everyone ran to West End, including Cedric who even holding his bulging pocket, got there first, expression blank, mouth hanging open.

Just as I never saw another guy bend at the waist, legs straight and reach down to tie his shoes the way Cedric did and I never saw another guy shoot marbles his way either.

Most guys stood legs spread and rolled the marble thumb first. But when Cedric sat down to shoot across West End Avenue, he folded his legs beneath him like a mermaid's tail, held the marble between his thumb and first finger and slid the side of his hand forward to release the marble. It didn't go as fast but it was more precise and he corrected his aim after every roll.

His first shot missed to the right by three inches. He shifted left and began getting closer shot by shot. On his eighth shot he missed to the left instead of to the right, and shifted back a couple of millimeters. His ninth shot hit Barry Bogardus's broken marble square. We all cheered and Cedric ran across to collect.

Coolly, Barry counted out the marbles Cedric had rolled and dropped them into Cedric's cupped gloves. "Seven, eight, nine," he said. "That's all I got right now. I owe you 91."

Then he picked up the broken marble he'd put up and dropped that into Cedric's gloves. "That makes it ninety and a half," he said.

Kenny Nails shoved his hands into his overcoat pockets and did his windshield wiper laugh, but the rest of us were stunned. For us, it was like the day they discovered fire or maybe the day Cain killed Abel. But then none of us knew that of the 376 four engine bombers that raided Schweinfurt and Regensburg without fighter support and "had ball bearings bouncing all over Germany," sixty of the bombers were shot down and another eighty seven damaged beyond repair.

The other kids shook their heads and walked away, but I stood there staring at Barry, trying to get up my nerve. I knew a snake had come into the neighborhood and that things weren't going to be the same anymore. But I kept thinking how big he was and how he'd beaten up two kids from Columbus Avenue and in the end, with Barry and Kenny Nails laughing at me behind my back, I walked away too.

The years went by; I went off to college; the Korean War started, I went into the army, got out, wandered around Europe for five years, got married, moved to Connecticut and one day in Grand Central Station, I heard someone call my name.

At first I didn't recognize him, but it was Blue Book. The last time I'd seen him he was a hatchet face. Now he was a moon face.

"Guess who died," he said.
"Who?" I was afraid to guess.
"Cedric. I went to his funeral last week."
That surprised me. "What happened?"

Blue Book shook his head. "I guess he just ran out of life."
"It was nice of you to go to his funeral."
"Hey," Blue Book said. "He was a punch ball Hall of Famer."
"Hell of a pass catcher too," I said.
Blue Book acted as if he hadn't heard that. "Best lead-off man in the history of 88th Street," he said. I think he still resented that I'd favored Cedric over him as a pass receiver.
"What was his batting average?" I asked.
Blue Book gave me an embarrassed smile.
"No, really," I said.
"Around .875," Blue Book said.
He knew the exact figure. He kept meticulous records on everything from pitching nickels to association football. That was how he got the name Blue Book.

"Lifetime?" I asked. "Or best season?"
"Lifetime," Blue Book said. "But his slugging average? It was under .900."
"He was a singles hitter," I said.
Blue Book shook his head again. "What an epitaph!" he said.

I hadn't meant it that way and a sudden picture of Barry Bogardus counting out the marbles Cedric had rolled, dropping them into Cedric's cupped gloves and saying, "That's all I got right now. I owe you 91," flashed through my mind. It made me feel sorry it took me so long to do anything about that and that Cedric never heard what I had done.

"A singles hitter was all he ever wanted to be," I said, probably a little too piously.

"Nothing against singles hitters," Blue Book quickly said. "He was a client."

Blue Book had gone into insurance and, excepting me, had sold one policy or another to every marble-shooting punch and stoop player from 79th up to 96th Street.

(Originally published at AuthorsDen and reprinted with permission of the author, Herbert Lobsenz).
About the Author
Herbert Lobsenz studied literature at Heights College, NYU, went into the army during the Korean War and, following Robert Jordan of For Whom The Bell Tolls, became an EOD specialist. His second novel, Vangel Griffin (1961), won the Harper Prize and appeared on the Times best seller list. His latest novel, Succession, will be published in May 2008. Visit Old Time Writer.
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