GET YOURSELF INTO THE PICKLE

Frank Crocitto - Pickle Ball

So I goes to my neighbor to see if he's got a pry bar so's I can pry something and he ain't got no pry bar but he sez to me like he's a hen that's been sitting on an egg all day and just can't wait to ask somebody this: D'ya evah hear o' pickle ball?

Now me, whats played baseball and basketball and stickball and hockey (on skates and off) and futball—which is what they call  soccer in Italy and such places which don't know no better—and real trueblue football and handball and tennis and volleyball and kick-the-can-running-bases and plain old kick-the-can and punchball and slapball and a lotta other things and so on and so forth and etcetera, I think to myself: Me?!! Me??!! never heard of a game? What kinda game could it be if I never heard of it? You know how your mind goes when it's too stupid to realize it's not the center of the universe. Besides what the heck kinda game that's worth playing goes around with a moniker like pickle in its name? The only name dumber than that of the games I ever heard of that ain't got no dignity to it is that dopey game called Monkey-in-the-middle. Right?

So I sez to my neighbor with all the distance and looking-far-down-the-schnozz disdain jest like I'd taken a big bite outa a very very sour pickle like used to come in a barrel in a Jewish deli I used to frequent on Second Avenue—when Second Avenue was Second Avenue. "No, I never heard of it," sez I, ready to drop the whole matter and go somewhere else for a pry bar. But my neighbor jest smiles and acts like he didn't hear the tone my voice was taking and the way my legs are turning my whole body around like two greyhounds that are gasping and tugging to take me home. And he sez without taking time to spit, "I tell you what: let's go see Rick."

Rick? I think to myself. I don't have the time to go see Rick.

"He knows all about it. Come on." And he's getting up off his duff and starting off toward Rick's. So what am I going to do? I start after him 'cause I don't want to be rude, like some people I know. But all I can think about is that damn pry bar which I don't have yet and all the prying I got ahead of me and how both shoulders are killing me, which is what comes of pitching too many games of stickball and not warming up to play handball when I was a stupid kid. Then the sun comes out in my mind which has been lumbering around like a half-witted elephant. Good ol' Rick might have a pry bar!

So me and my neighbor, we goes down the road and we pull good ol' Rick outa the clutches of his smiley, decrepit wife for a few seconds but before I can ask him about the pry bar, Richard—that's my neighbor's name—starts asking him and telling him that Frank wants to know about pickle ball. Now the fact is I never wanted to know nuttin about pickle ball and another fact is that I ain't never been in a neighborhood that has so many Ricks and Dicks in it.

Anyways, the next thing me and the Moon in the Mona Lisa know is good ol' Rick is digging deep into his trunk (his car's trunk, that is—of course "that is" 'cause Rick is no elephantom but a small guy with a dark moustache who has to straighten it out before he says anything that means anything) and out come a couple of whiffle type balls and some paddles and here we go we're on the asphalt in back of his house popping the ball back and forth while he tells me all I need to know. Before we get far Richard, my neighbor is going off puffing on a cigarette (which is the last thing a guy who just had a heart attack should be doing) and laughing at how easily I am sucked into a pickle. Before the sun slinks off in the west I am committed to the dumb game, and I am also looking forward to tomorrow and playing with a bunch, or should I say a flock, of snowbirds who gather on the re-configurated tennis court on Clarke Street to play pickle ball three times a week.

When tomorrow dawns I'm there to greet it with some of the hoopla in my heart like I used to have when I was ten and thought I was going to have a carefree life. It's a bright day, too, fresh, with barely a wind to ruffle the piffle on the whiffle ball. And, just like there was back in Brooklyn, there is that wild smell of God's ocean, on the air, tangy and tasty. On the court is Rick and Ron and Gid (which stands for Gideon) and Claudette and a  couple of others whose names have slipped through my fingers. And there I am on the court playing a game that has a ridiculous name with a flock of old fogeys. But, begees, were they good! They put me to shame. Especially this here Claudette who hardly moves but beats back anything you hit to her until you can't keep up with her and wind up hitting it foul.

Snowbirds, farts, old fogeys, whatever you call them—the good part is this: they love to play the game and they play to win and they play it all winter long down in a place they call Florida, where there is a kinda community-city, The Villages, which to hear them talk is the closest an elderling can get to paradise on this planet. All of which goes to show that a personage over 70 is not completely mortified and doesn't have to flop into that old rocking chair while they still have plenty of kick in them. These folks can still swat a ball and can still prance around in the sun; they have plenty of youth and vigor enough to give ol' death a run for his money.

Neighbor, I got a helluva lot more to say about this game and my good and bad efforts to get deeper into this pickle. Let it be for now. One last word: this here pickle ball is a game fit for an old man like me and it's a game to keep an old man fit. And I don't just mean in body, either. Richard and Rick and me recommend it. So go on—get yourself into a pickle—before it's too late.

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