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The Irresistible Force


Harry Buschman

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 skated home.

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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