Monday, June 23, 2014

No Taking Advantage

In Brooklyn,where I grew up until the age of 10 1/2, there were a crew of kids in my and the surrounding buildings who played various games seemingly, in retrospect, continuously.  Kick the can, barrel ball, stickball, stoopball, Johnny on the pony, catcher-flyers-up, off the wall, punch ball...others.

Before we'd begin, if the game involved a ball of any sort, someone in the group would yell either, "chips on the ball" or "no chips."  If it was your ball you hollered the former.  If you were not quick enough, the rest of your pals shouted, "no chips."

"Chips on the ball" meant that if someone lost the ball, the person who lost it was responsible for buying a replacement. This was not insignificant if you were playing with a Spaulding (pronounced Spall-Deen) because those cost a quarter.

How could you lose a ball playing say, punchball?  Well, a punched ball could go down a sewer;  the sourpus lady on the bench could confiscate it when it hit her for the sixth time; the ball could go through an open window in a building used for the center field wall; a big kid could pick it up and run; or maybe you just could not find it in what we referred to as the "sticker bushes."  Regardless of where it went, if you threw it there, or hit it there, and there were "chips on the ball" you were hung for a quarter.

"No chips" was a recurring chant before a game.  A less frequently uttered, but a regular other shout, was the call "No Taking Advantage."

Let's say you had seven kids ready to play a game.  The sides would of course be uneven. So, we would hunt around for an eighth kid to play.  Usually we could find a reluctant eighth but typically this person was not especially "good."  The eighth person might play an outfield position where balls were unlikely to go.   A clever player might try to hit it to the weak player to increase the chances of getting a hit. Therefore, the call, "No taking advantage" would be declared. This meant that you could not hit the ball to the weak player.

I thought of the "no taking advantage" rule a couple of Thursday's ago during my regular old man's double match.  I have been having some trouble with my mobility lately. I can go on the elliptical machine for long spells, but can't move easily to my right or run for any duration.

After about six months of this problem figuring it would go away, I went to the doc this morning.  He took an x-ray, showed me the picture and said, "Look here."  I looked there, saw my bones looking as they typically do.  He showed me that there was not much space where there should be a gap and told me to go see someone who specializes in this area.  (Unfortunately, the specialist only works on Thursdays, so whatever I was to see in the picture will remain for several weeks).

Point is, last week when I was playing, my opponents--I think--were trying not "to take advantage".  Every so often I thought a shot would come my way, but they hit it the other way, because they figured I could not get to the better shot and did not want to take advantage of a guy who was moving like Methuselah.

This bugged me.  At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, I was never someone who was the reason for shouting, "No taking advantage."  In our foursome, I was as strong as anyone on the court, at least in our early years of competing.  Opponents would not hit the ball to me then, because I was likely to get it back. Now they weren't hitting to me because unless it came right to me, I would need a cab to get to the ball.

That night I eventually loosened up some and got to quite a few balls, and played better than I have in months.  But the thought hung around: What would it feel like if you knew someone was being nice to you because of a deficiency. Wouldn't "No taking advantage" take its toll on the person who was the reason for the shouting?  Probably should have realized this when I was nine, and I may have been ahead of the curve then, because I think I was more likely just not to hit the ball to the weaker player as opposed to announcing that I wouldn't or we shouldn't.  Still, I remember the shouting and playing and not hitting it to so and so because that meant we would be taking advantage.

Probably not that profound of a realization, but I think there is a lesson in there somewhere. You can't yell "chips on the feelings" if someone hurts them.  And you might be inadvertently hurting someone by shouting "no taking advantage" whenever they get in a game.

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