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The Irresistible Force
You don't see kids on roller skates these days, the clamp-on-your-shoes kind of
roller skates. It's roller blades now. They have shoes attached and you've got
to wear a helmet and designer knee pads. They cost two hundred hundred dollars a
pair. What a terrible idea!
Good old Union Hardware roller skates! Clamp-on-your-shoes roller skates. Six or
seven kids would get in a line and snap the whip. The kid on the end of the line
would knock over the baskets at Bertucci's vegetable store. We'd skate through
the winding paths of Prospect Park and scatter the old men who ventured out for
the sun, we'd shout obscene epithets at the lovers in the grass and put the
pigeons to flight. We'd skate to school – we'd skate in school if they'd let us,
but normally we'd take them off, strap them together and wear them around our
necks all day. Coming home I'd clomp up the four flights of stairs with my
skates on until I saw my mother bending over the stairwell shaking her fist at
me. It felt strange when you took them off. You almost had to learn to walk
again. Weekends were the best of all, we'd hitch rides on the back of trolley
cars and find ourselves in parts of the city we never saw before. It was a kind
of junior edition of the New York Times Sunday editi
on of "The Sophisticated Traveler."
On the whole God went easy on us – there was a war coming and perhaps he had
other plans, but really, I think Ernie and me were so good at it He couldn't lay
a finger on us. Eddie Fox was another story. I wouldn't say Eddie was clumsy,
but he was the biggest kid in school – big as a teacher. He was so big he wasn't
afraid of bumping into anything or anybody and whatever he bumped into fell over
or broke. Eddie wore out two pairs of roller skates every summer.
I remember a late Saturday afternoon, but with the sun still high, the three of
us attached like sucker fish to the side of the Flatbush Avenue Trolley car way
out in Canarsie. The area between the tracks wasn't paved so you had to hang on
to the side of the car.
Fate played Eddie a cruel trick. Because of his height his head was above the
window sill of the trolley car and he could look inside and see the passengers.
Who should be looking at him straight in the eye – but his father! Like all of
us, Eddie had been told, "If I ever catch you hitching a ride behind a trolley
car I'll kill you, understand?!" Yes, Eddie was big, but he was nowhere near as
big as his father who worked in a box factory out there in Canarsie. Eddie's
face went white as a sheet – he turned to us and let go at the same time
shouting, "IT'S MY OLD MAN, HOLY SHIT, IT'S MY OLD MAN!!"
We couldn't see Eddie's father, we weren't big enough, but we were pretty sure
God had caught up with Eddie after all as we watched him slingshot in a graceful
(yet irresistible) curving trajectory away from the trolley car and into the
open door of an Italian bakery.
It's been more than a few years since that experience and I hope I may be
forgiven if the subsequent sequence of events seem disjointed. I know the
trolley car ground to a halt, perhaps Eddie's father stopped it or told the
motorman to stop. I know Ernie and me peeled off before it stopped and coasted
up to the bakery so we could see inside. By then Eddie had disappeared through
the open door. Eddie's father got off and from the look in his eye he was
definitely going to kill Eddie – if Eddie wasn't dead already. I think God might
have more lenient with him than his father was.
Things were not ship-shape in the bakery either. From our vantage point Ernie
and me could see that the Italian pastry counter was in shambles and much of the
bread was on the floor. We stayed long enough to see Eddie with his skates still
on leaving the bakery hobbled by his father's half nelson. We slowly and soberly
There were repercussions. "Were you out with the Fox kid yesterday?" ... "Oh no,
Ma ... Ernie and me went to the library, see ... here's the book I took out." As
I mentioned before, God was forgiving -- if my mother had looked at the date she
would have seen I borrowed it a week ago. Well, to a lesser degree God had been
kind to Eddie as well – aside from a dislocated shoulder, either from his
father's half nelson or his pileup in the bakery, he escaped permanent injury.
He never snitched, he never threatened us with exposure ... the code of silence
remained unbroken. We thanked him later the only way we could – we took him to
the movies ... "Ben Hur," starring Ramon Navarro.
It was the least we could do.
©1996 Harry Buschman
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