I never owned a new baseball; I grabbed the high school team’s discards. If the cover’s stitching burst during practice, the ball would be thrown against the chain-link backstop and abandoned like it was biodegradable. At home, I’d strip off the loose cowhide and wrap the string-ball underneath with electrical tape. The rough surface grip tempted me to try a screwball pitch.
The Scaramucci’s, forties, were our next-door neighbors. Florio’s full-lips sported a pencil mustache, and Ann’s skin had the texture of crepe paper. They picked and hissed at each other like buzzards over a carcass. Florio, a bit on the short side, regarded me one afternoon.
“Anthony, how tall are you?”
“Five foot six,” I said.
Florio said, “I’m five-eight.”
Ann’s rejoinder was, “Who stretched you?”
My mother advised to treat neighbors like thorns, but the Scaramuccis had no kids and tolerated Gene Kaplan and I playing stoop-ball at their house. Gene was a redhead, Jewish, my best friend. He lived in the apartment building on the corner. Most times, his younger brother, Carl, stuck to us like smeared dog crap.
Stoop ball required a three-step brick entrance without rounded risers. You threw a Spaldeen against the steps and the opposing player tried to catch the ball’s rebound for an “out.” Scoring was “automatics.” A missed grounder was a single, hit the car parked at the curb on the fly for a double, and anything that landed on the asphalt street was a homer. The ideal toss hit a “pointer,” the sharp edge of the step, and flew over the opposing player’s head for a clean double or home run. On occasion, a throw against the flat of a step bounced forward, smashing into the screened door like crashed cymbals. While Gene and I played. Carl sat on the curb and picked his nose. After two terrible tosses that banged near the “S” on the aluminum door, Ann’s glowering face appeared beside a parted curtain in the front window, and I understood to pursue other activities.
Gene and I grabbed our gloves and my electrical-taped baseball. Gene’s mother bought him a catcher’s mitt for Hanukkah, thinking that a large glove would be an advantage, not understanding the positional implications. My old-style Rawlings glove lacked rawhide linking the fingers, and I caught with my mother’s used kitchen sponge tucked over my left palm as cushioning against fastballs. We threw on the street between parked cars. The Scaramucci’s Studebaker Silver Hawk was parked on Gene’s left. I’d ridden in the car. The rear seats’ foot wells filled with water when it rained, and the interior smelled like wet dog. Nonetheless, Florio kept the car clean and polished. Gene and I warmed up with short, slow tosses, then moved to fast pitches. For a screwball, my right hand pronated left imparting a counterclockwise spin. My throw started straight, then veered right in the last few feet like a darting falcon. On this occasion, the ball slipped wildly from my hand and smacked into the Scaramucci’s Studebaker’s windshield, creating a spider web crack in the glass.
My heart sank like I’d committed a capital crime. Florio’s pride and joy. He’d explode like Krakatoa. The replacement cost of a windshield far exceeded the allowance I’d saved. I imagined my father’s reaction. I gulped.
Gene looked at me like I’d contracted a fatal disease.
Carl reacted like he’d received a gift. “Anthony, you broke the windshield. I’m telling.”
Carl started toward the Scaramucci’s house. Gene grabbed his collar and held him like a puppet.
I could tell that Gene was anxious to leave the scene of the crime. I said, “See you later.”
“Yeah. Sorry.” Gene dragged Carl toward their apartment.
My mother frowned at the news. “You’ll need to tell your father.”
She didn’t scold me. She must’ve sensed that I suffered from a deed that tears couldn’t erase. As the hour for my father’s return from work approached, the sky darkened into evening. I sat on the plastic-covered couch in our living room and marinated in my misery. I prayed that the cup could pass, but the angst in my gut rose like a boil. Time ticked slowly, like I was being tortured on the rack. When I heard my father’s key inserted into the front door, I jumped to my feet. He hadn’t removed his fedora before I confessed my sin. He grunted, then continued to the closet and hung up his coat. My mother stood in the kitchen doorway. Their eyes met, then he said to me, “We’ll pay Mr. Scaramucci for the cost of the repair.” He closed the closet door.
His voice was calm. If he was sore or disappointed in me, it didn’t show. We sat at the kitchen table for dinner. My mother made eggplant parmigiana. I remembered that I was hungry.
Once we’d eaten, my father said matter-of-factly. “Anthony, the cost to replace the windshield will come from your allowance.”
I gulped. Mowing lawns wouldn’t get me out of the hole for months. No baseball cards, Hershey Bars, or Mr. Softie ice cream cones. A beating, at least, would’ve been over quick.
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, now live in Texas.
Joe’s stories have appeared in more than one hundred magazines including The Saturday Evening Post and Shenandoah. His novel, Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, was published by Harvard Square Editions October 2015. His second novel, Appointment with ISIL, an Anthony Provati Thriller was published by HSE in June 2017.
Joe was among one hundred Italian-American authors honored by Barnes & Noble Chairman Len Riggio to march in the 2017 Manhattan, Columbus Day Parade. Read the first chapters of Joe’s novels and sign up for his blog .