Whatchu Know Good — Part 1, Chapter 4

All dressed up with no place to go.

“You shot me in the nose!” I yelled in pain. “You could have shot my eye out!”

Shade had a BB gun: a pump action rifle. I’m not sure how or where he got it. I don’t think it was an infamous Red Ryder, but it may have been. It wasn’t very powerful, but it could break the skin if pumped enough times. We mainly used it to shoot at trees or intimidate the younger kids who lived in our neighborhood; Steven or Jamie or Ramzi. Occasionally, Shade would shoot one of us, just for fun. Tori may still have a BB lodged in his butt cheek from being shot at close range in our kitchen.

Shade sawed the end off of the BB gun, to make it look more like a sawed-off shotgun. It helped neither the velocity nor the accuracy of the weapon. That is how I was shot in the nose. It was winter; we were in high school and messing around on our street. I was wearing a puffy jacket which should have been impervious to fire from the handicapped weapon, if the BB had made contact with it. Instead, it veered off course and connected with my ample schnoz. It didn’t bleed, but it did leave a good dent that lasted for several years.

My nose has taken some punishment over the years. The first time I broke it was playing little league baseball when I was ten or eleven. I lost a fly ball in the sun and it came down right on my nose. I remember the cartoon stars and tweety birds circling around my head. I remember my father picking me up from practice, and having a bag of frozen peas pressed against my face.

I was on the worst little league baseball team you could possibly imagine. We didn’t win a single game. It was the first year the kids were allowed to pitch for themselves instead of having one of the parents pitch. It was ugly. My specialty was getting on base by getting hit by the ball because I’m left-handed and no one knew how to pitch to me. Getting hit by the ball, even thrown by a ten or eleven year old, really hurts. Our coach was the kind of coach who thinks his kid is the most amazing athlete ever, even though they are really terrible, so he makes him the pitcher; the most important position on the team played by the most incompetent member of the team. I had the same coach and the same problem when I played little league basketball. He made his kid the point guard, even though he couldn’t dribble. I did meet Chucky Harris for the first time while playing on that team, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

So I preferred soccer to baseball or basketball when I was a kid. My father was always the coach of my soccer team. He also coached Seth’s little league baseball team, which actually won a game. He was a great baseball and soccer player. He played baseball in the army and was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies for their minor league farm team, but he didn’t end up going because his parents were immigrants who didn’t speak English well, and he felt guilty about leaving them on their own in Brooklyn. He played soccer in Israel, where he lived from the age of five to thirteen, and semi-professionally in New York. We would play baseball in our backyard and he would hit the ball into the backyard four houses down.

When we were small, before Leia was born, Seth and I would ride around on our father’s back on the brown shag-carpeted den floor, playing Bantha. He was the Bantha, a domesticated beast of burden from the Star Wars’ planet of Tatooine, and we were Tusken Raiders, chasing after our prey.

We always had a lot of pets growing up. There were always a few dogs, a couple of cats, gerbils, hamsters, parakeets, lizards, or the occasional box turtle that we would find after a heavy rain and keep, feeding bright green leaves of lettuce, until they were ready to be returned to the wild. We called it the Grossman Zoo. Sometimes a gerbil or hamster would go missing, only to be found under a bed, half eaten by one of the cats. My father always kept a spectacular aquarium full of fish. The purple neon light gave the fish an otherworldly glow. It entranced me almost as much as the glow of the television that it sat beside.

The first television I watched as a kid was a massive black and white beast. There were only four channels and you had to get up to adjust the knobs on the front to dial them in. It was connected by rough wiring to large, rickety antennae fastened to the chimney. There was no reception in bad weather. It didn’t matter. We took what we could get. I remember the first color television set we got. It still had the knobs, but it was in color! I remember the day John Lennon was shot. My parents were watching the evening news. It was the first time I had ever seen my father cry.

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