Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good w/ the 'Hood: Ball in My Court


The Place
Across the street from our apartment was a tiny park, wedge shaped. It was fronted by the back of a failed furniture store. (Picture isn't it, but it sets a mood).

The furniture store was one of those that doesn't care if you have good credit. They do what they do, and its customers end up paying outsized dollars for a sofa that is covered in a rust-and-orange rooster print. I guess the neighborhood got tired of rooster sofas. The signs that closed off the windows fell when the tape lost its glue and it became a space for dust and another sign of abandonment and loss.

The other two sides of the street converged next to a middle school. The park was big enough to be lined with small city-sized trees. It had a metal fence around it in good repair (but no gates) and a lot of broken glass on the sidewalk. Inside the park, that glass was mostly brown beer bottle. Outside of the park, it was mostly auto glass. But it was our dog's "yard". I swept the sidewalks on the inner part, including some of the dirt, every week or two, so that Rosie could run and play and retrieve the ball. Since the building was there, I could knock the ball against the wall, and she would catch it.

The obstacle/opportunity: Rosie
The kids in the neighborhood (and their parents) were deathly afraid of dogs--panic, screeching, trembling, crying--it ran the spectrum. The "Rose-ster" was not a blood hound, or a German Shepherd, Doberman, or Pit Bull--any of the breeds I would associate with police work, huge-ness, mean-ness, or fight--she was a Border Collie, friendly, not an alpha fem, and great with kids. But fear is not rational.

Still, every time we went out to play, six or eight kids would stare at us, clenching the fence. They were fascinated by the fact that Rosie would catch the tennis ball almost every time. When she didn't, it was always the fault of the pitcher (me-not going out for baseball, ever). They asked questions and finally I was able to get some names from some of the kids.  A couple of them threw the ball for Rosie, but they did not want her bringing it back to them.

After a week or two, B-- finally came to the point--ah, indirectly. "What are you going to do with the ball afterward?"
"Ah, well, we're just going in. Sometimes she plays with it inside, but," I shrugged.

They wanted the dog-spit soaked ball so they could play. These kids had nothing to play with. I was struck by the opportunity and also a little upset with my vanity. Here I thought it was my dog that was the draw. But No, there was an Agenda Underneath. It was also a test: was I a mark, a bitch, or a neighbor lady? I gave the ball to B--.

"You can play with it as long as you like," I told him. "When you're done with it, ring the top doorbell," I pointed, "and I'll come back down and get it. Okay?" I made sure I used his name. He knew he was responsible. It was a test back now.

They had a fine time. B-- brought the ball back. He asked if they could use it again: of course.


This worked for two months. Then one evening B--buzzed my doorbell in a panic. "Hey, Hey, I gave the ball"--I didn't catch the rest of it, he was yelling too fast.

"Okay, I'll be right down."

B--was there, extremely worried. Next to him, another boy was scowling. B--started right in. "He's got the ball, but he won't give it back," he said. "I told him I was supposed to give it to you--"

They started arguing. I turned to the new kid. "Hey, I'm Ann," I said. "It's good to meet somebody new." We shook hands. No, I do not know any fancy handshakes. I just know the one that my Dad taught me, plus the Texas variation, which grips too hard for the rest of the world.

"I'm W--," he said. I got the ball back, no sweat. B--and W-- calmed right down. I gave W-- the policy, backing B--'s efforts up--and invited W-- to ring anytime he wanted the ball.

That ball was checked out and turned in like clockwork for months until it went into a fenced yard the kids wouldn't approach. Probably it had a dog in it. Or somebody cranky at the front door.

I later learned that W-- had considerable artistic talent. He had a sister, R--, a very savvy and self-possessed young lady. I never met any of these kid's parents. But I'm pretty sure they knew who I was. Whether they did or not, the kids had a rocking time and I got to watch.

Upstairs I had nine tennis balls. I only needed one.

Maybe I should have handed them out, but I don't think so. I think it worked the way it went.

Images: Flickr.com and toptennispro.com

3 comments:

Christopher said...

And with that I believe I've found a new favorite author. Color me intriuged.

Capt. Schmoe said...

Tennis balls. An inexpensive way to connect with the neighborhood. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Ann T. said...

Dear Christopher,
Coming from an author like you, that's a real compliment.

And yes, Captain Schmoe, Thank you for your interest! I think they're pretty versatile sports equipment!!

Thanks for reading,
Ann T.