I got hit by a car in 1983 because you can’t play baseball in a trailer park.
My brother Layne the Favorite and I didn’t play much baseball after we moved into a Winnebago and left New Jersey, where we had friends and a back yard to play in. He had also lost some of his enthusiasm for playing with me since I turned out to be a better pitcher than he was. I kept reminding him that he had many other fine qualities, not the least of which was that Mom always liked him best.
He finally relented when we lived in Florida, after a long loop around the country. We went out in the trailer park’s street, next to the bar where we had once taken our mother’s special cache of silver certificate five-dollar bills and spent them on video games.
Mom: “I can’t believe you took those five dollar bills! They were an invessssstment! And to talk your brother into this! You know he’s too nice to be a criminal!”
Me: “He sure enjoyed hitting high score on Centipede while being underage in a bar.”
Mom: “SSSSStace. What is wrong with you? You stole money. Do you get that?”
Me: “Maybe you should have hid them better. And the lock on that cash box you left in the storage compartment next to the sewage tank under the rusty pipes behind the spare propane canisters was pretty flimsy. You’d think it would take more than a couple hits with a big rock to bust it open.”
Mom: “That was your brother’s college fund!”
Me: “Fine. He can have mine, then.”
My mother stared at me blankly. I surmised that perhaps I didn’t have a college fund. Hard to believe. Better to just wait a few years to find out for sure.
Mom: “You’re just like your father, that son of a bitch.”
I doubted that. There was no way Dad could beat my score on Pac Man; he was color blind and had carpal tunnel syndrome. I would have smoked him. Unless she meant the thing about the money—after I was born he took all the cash I got from my circumcision to the track and lost it betting on a gelding named Snippet while I was still simmering in my incubator. Isn’t that a kick in the recently-bobbed genitalia.
Here’s how you know there are a lot of large windows in a trailer park:
- Look around. Each trailer has a huge back window. The ones you can drive have huge front windows, too.
- Toss a baseball back and forth for about five minutes. You’ll see angry faces start to pop up in the windows.
- If you’re out there long enough the trailer park manager (or his representative), will come along on his speedy golf cart and say something indicative.
Trailer Park Manager (or his representative): “What the hell are you doing?”
Me (shrugging eloquently): “Playing baseball.”
Trailer Park Manager (or his representative): “So you’re some kind of smart ass.”
Me: “Recent polls have me pegged as a son of a bitch. And a criminal. And a corrupter of the innocent.” I jerked my chin at Layne the Favorite. “Him.”
Trailer Park Manager (or his representative): “Didn’t I see you two coming out of the bar the other day?”
Me: “Top score on Pac Man. Only cost sixty bucks.”
Trailer Park Manager (or his representative): “Quit playing ball in the street. Can’t you see all the windows?”
We took our dilemma to Ted the Drug Dealer. When it came to defiance of authority, he was our spirit guide. His nuanced interpretation of interactions with those in charge was worthy of the ancient philosophers.
Ted the Drug Dealer: “That’s total bullshit. We pay rent here. You can shit right in the middle of the street if you want.” I could almost picture him walking through the woods of ancient Greece with Socrates and Plato, the marble city of Athens in the misty background.
Me: “Thanks, Ted. Good parenting. See you around.” To Layne the Favorite: “Let’s go.”
Layne the Favorite: “I don’t think we should. We almost got in trouble. Mom will be pretty mad at you if something happens.”
Ted the Drug Dealer: “I’ll go with you.”
We were dumbfounded. Ted the Drug Dealer was going to play baseball? I sensed an actual father-son moment in the offing. Our first ever!
The three of us went out into the street of the trailer park. Lined up on both sides, glinting in the late afternoon sunlight, were rows of big windows. I tried to ignore them. Ted the Drug Dealer stood in the middle of the street. Layne the Favorite stood opposite him and a few dozen feet away.
Layne the Favorite: “Me first!”
I shrugged and sat down on a nearby picnic table to watch, listening for the sound of the trailer park manager’s (or his representative’s) golf cart.
Kids—don’t try this at home. Oh, wait. If your home isn’t on wheels and you don’t live in a trailer park, it might actually turn out okay for you. Go ahead—try it at home.
Ted the Drug Dealer was Ted the Cab Driver then, so he was attired in the uniform of his profession: saggy blue jeans, a short sleeve button down shirt with a pocket on each breast. These pockets were overflowing with business cards from people he picked up, parking stubs, gas receipts, and pens. On his belt was a wallet on a chain, a huge keychain full of keys, his holstered .22 pistol, a bowie knife, and a blackjack. His pants pockets were full of coins. He creaked and jingled with every step.
He looked around for any signs of authority, smirked, and threw the ball, a bent-elbow, hand-by ear, looping arm motion that we referred to as “throwing like a girl.” The ball sailed high in the air and crashed through the huge back window of the trailer whose picnic table I was sitting on. Glass rained down. Through the now-open window, I heard, “Son of a bitch!”
Layne the Favorite’s eyes widened. He bolted past me and into our Winnebago, followed closely by a frantically jingling Ted the Drug Dealer, who left a silver trail of bright coins in his high-stepping wake. Almost simultaneously, I heard the metallic slam of the Winnebago’s door and the electric whine of the trailer park manager’s golf cart. He had not sent his representative.
Trailer Park Manager: “Well, well, well.”
Me: “Oh boy.”
I was a great disappointment to my mother that day.
Mom: “SSSSSSSStace. I can’t believe you did that.”
Me: “Neither can I.”
Layne the Favorite and Ted the Drug Dealer had each discovered some pressing business far, far away from our motor home that night. Ted the Drug Dealer was shopping for one of those belt-mounted coin dispensers so he could better organize his loose change. Running to the Winnebago had cost him nearly three bucks. Layne the Favorite said he was going along to buy a present for his mother, who looked so sad about the events of the day.
Mom: “Layner. You’re such a good boy.”
I hit upon a solution pretty quickly, but needed co-conspirators.
Me: “Hey, Ted. How about a ride to the mall?
Ted the Drug Dealer: “No. Besides, you can’t afford the fare.”
Me: “Fare? I think we’re way past the fare, my friend. I’m sure my mother would be very interested to hear what really happened to that window.”
He leaned forward in his seat. Some business cards fell out of his pocket. He grimaced as his new coin changer dug into his belly. Its mechanism ratcheted and fifty cents fell on the floor.
Ted the Drug Dealer: “You think she’ll believe it wasn’t you?”
He had me there. Well-played, Ted.
I rode my bike to the Hollywood Mall, which was only two miles away. I found what I wanted at Sears: a whiffle ball and bat. No chance of breaking any windows with that.
On my way back, I was stopped at the light where Pembroke Road crossed 20th street. I could see the beer signs in the bar that let me know I was near home. The light turned green and I started through the crosswalk to the concrete median strip that bisected the four-lane road.
A huge black Cadillac moved from a dead stop and started a sweeping left turn. I could see only a small tuft of hair and the top rim of huge eyeglasses above the steering wheel. I hit the grille and rolled up onto the hood. My face pressed against the driver’s side windshield and I stared down into the lined, ancient face of the driver. Mrs. Lindbergh stared straight ahead and kept driving, grimacing at the screeching sound my bike made as it was crushed under the wheels. Flying on instruments, she didn’t seem to notice the boy pressed up against her window.
By the way, my head didn’t break the window. Not even a crack. To this day, I have yet to break a window. It’s all in the Mother’s Day card I’m sending this year.
A plumber in a pickup truck who had been stopped at the red light gunned his engine, ran the light, and cut Mrs. Lindbergh off. When she stopped, I rolled off the hood and landed in the median strip, where I sat quietly, checking for damage. Pants ripped, shirt torn, one shoe missing. My bike (and my whiffle ball equipment) was nowhere to be found.
The plumber called the cops. There had actually been a patrol car at the trailer park bar, breaking up a fight between two of the patrons over whose turn it was on the Pac Man machine. The cops left their car and walked out to the median strip. They made Mrs. Lindbergh get out of her Cadillac.
Mrs. Lindbergh: “Look, Buster. I don’t know what this facochten chazerai is, you momser.”
Patrolman 1: “Ma’am, I have no idea what you just said.”
Me (wearily): “She doesn’t know what this fucking bullshit is, you bastard.”
Patrolman 1 (dangerously): “You better watch your mouth, boy.”
Me: “I was translating. I speak Old Crabby Bitch.”
Patrolman 1: “Ah.”
Mrs. Lindbergh: “I don’t know why you’re hauling me out of my car, Buster. I’ll have your schvants in a zwinge, shlemiel.”
Patrolman 1 looked at me expectantly.
Me: “Your dick in a vise, jackass.”
Patrolman 1: “Thanks, son.”
Me: “Belt her with your nightstick and cuff her right quick if you want to retain the proper use of your goodies, Officer.”
Patrolman 1: “Ma’am, are you aware that you hit this boy with your car?”
Mrs. Lindbergh: “What? What boy?”
Patrolman 1 pointed at me. I waved. She glared at me through her bottle-glass spectacles.
Mrs. Lindbergh: “No way! I most certainly did not hit any facochten mazik.”
Me (to Patrolman 1): “Fucking little devil.”
Patrolman 1: “Wow. That’s pretty mean.”
Me: “Not when you consider that she hit me with her facochten Cadillac.”
Patrolman 1: “That’s a good one, son.”
Mrs. Lindbergh: “I didn’t hit anyone with my car! This is total shmontses.”
Me: “Another word for bullshit.”
Mrs. Lindbergh glared at me.
Mrs. Lindbergh: “Halts moyl, leman a-shem, you tahkshit. Ikh feif af dir.”
Me: “Shut up, for God’s sake, you brat. You should go to hell.”
Patrolman 1 (marveling): “Wow. Nasty.”
I looked at Mrs. Lindbergh.
Me: “Gay kaken afen yan, you klafteh.”
Mrs. Lindbergh’s breath stopped. Her eyes widened and she fell back a step against her car. Her mouth trembling, she grabbed Patrolman 1’s arm. He helped her sit back down in the driver’s seat of her car. He looked at me.
Me: “I told the old bitch to go shit in the ocean.”
Patrolman 1 grinned. “Nice.”
Patrolman 1 left his partner to handle the citation for Mrs. Lindbergh, who was squawking for mit avocat (her lawyer). The cops had dragged the wreckage of my bike and my flattened whiffle ball and bat from under the Cadillac. Patrolman 1 helped me wheel my bike back to the Winnebago. The trailer park manager, who had been presiding over the nearby bar fight, zoomed over in his golf cart.
Trailer Park Manager: “What’d he do now, Officer?”
Patrolman 1: “Some woman ran him over with her car.”
Trailer Park Manager: “I can see that. He’s got a mouth on him.”
Patrolman 1 (chuckling): “That he does.”
Me: “Ir kinder vet mir makhn an arbm-shvakh.”
Trailer Park Manager: “Fucking kid’s speaking in tongues! Tase him!”
Me: “I said you kids are gonna give me a nervous breakdown.”
Patrolman 1 looked at me quizzically. I shrugged.
Me: “I only know the things that have been said to me.”
Patrolman 1: “That’s some childhood you got there.”
Me: “You don’t know the half of it.”
Patrolman 1: “By the way, kid. Doesn’t everyone shit in the ocean? I mean, eventually?”
Me: “We Jews don’t like to be reminded of it. We’ve had to swim in it ever since we lost the ability to split it in two.”