On the east side of Hale Middle School in Woodland Hills, California, an eleven-foot-high chain link fence separates the playground from busy Platt Avenue and its storm drain. Most twelve to fourteen-year- old boys can scale the fence in a slow, methodical, link by link way. Mike and I are hitting fly balls and grounders to each other with the aluminum bat Mike gave me as a bar mitzvah gift and the baseball my father gave me years before. The ball was a replacement.
This is what happened: My father gave me that first ball when I was about six, its false threads molded in rubber rather than sewed through a proper leather cover. We lived on a hill, from which a long, steep avenue descends. Playing catch with myself at the top of the hill I drop the ball which spins down the street faster than I can run. There is grief and panic as the ball turns a corner down another hill and disappears. Mourning, I walk home in tears. But my father soon brings me a duplicate ball. And now, years later, I watch as Mike belts it over the fence and onto Platt Avenue. As the ball rolls towards the drain. I am again overtaken by dread.
But now I am older and stronger and dash towards the fence. Leaping in Olympic desperation I land on the chain links, hurl myself upward, flip myself over the top and down to the sidewalk, dash into the street and grab the ball just before it drops into the drain. Returning triumphant, I toss the ball to Mike. His jaw has dropped. He is amazed but doesn’t understand.