As an unrepentant smartass, I’ve gotten into more than my share of sticky situations. I’ve never actually been physically beaten for my insolence — though there were several times I probably should have been.
(Remind me sometime to tell you the ‘steelworker at the dive bar’ story. I’m lucky I wasn’t pounded with my own severed arm that night. Jesus, was he mad.)
“The bane of a young smart aleck’s existence, a spanking is the only real deterrent to running your mouth in clever and inappropriate ways. Until you grow up, of course.”
Of course, there was one form of beating from which I was not exempt — the spanking. The bane of a young smart aleck’s existence, a spanking is the only real deterrent to running your mouth in clever and inappropriate ways. Until you grow up, of course. As adults, we could get fired, slapped, arrested, divorced, fined, stabbed, sued, pistol-whipped, run over, or banned. Or worse, sent to ‘sensitivity training’.
As a kid, there were less serious repercussions. Though at the time, my father threatening to take off his belt was just as frightening as a cop today asking, ‘What did you just say, sir?‘ At least the cops don’t ask me to drop my pants and bend over their knee. Most cops don’t, anyway.
To be fair, my spankings were reasonably few and far between. I generally knew when I could get away with mouthing off, and when ‘sassback’ would lead to ‘sore ass’. And I’m happy to report that I was never spanked by the principal in school.
(Yes, that’s right. I was in school before they outlawed corporal punishment. We rode to class on brontosauruses, and learned about painting caves and controlling fire and how cool life would be if we ever invented something called a ‘wheel’. Eat me.)
With the family, though, I’d occasionally slip up. I remember one incident vividly, more than twenty years later:
I was about eleven years old. We lived just across the street from my elementary school, which also housed a baseball field. I was on a Little League team, and my father was also our coach.
(You’d think that would be a whole other set of horror stories, but Dad did a pretty good job of not putting me into uncomfortable situations with the other kids.
At least from my perspective. Maybe they all wanted to give me a big fat wedgie and hang me from the left field fence, but I thought we got along okay. Maybe he was paying them off in Three Musketeers or Slushie coupons, or something.
Back to the story at hand.)
Needless to say, we practiced quite a bit. Besides working drills with the team, I spent a lot of time throwing and fielding balls off the garage, or the front steps, or any wall I could find. We didn’t have one of those fancy balls-on-a-string that would come back to you for hitting practice, so I spent much of my youth beating the hell out of a large cherry tree in our back yard with an aluminum bat.
(The tree was fine; I took a little of the bark off one side, but the thing’s probably still standing today.
On the other hand, I developed an unfortunate reputation around school for ‘beating the cherry tree’ in my spare time. That took years off my social life.)
Like I mentioned, I was a big baseball fan, and I genuinely liked playing, or even practicing. Most of the time. But I was also a ten-to-twelve year old kid, with cartoons and toys and a brand spanking new Mattel Intellivision to play with. So I was lazy sometimes, too.
(Yes, dammit, I said ‘Intellivision’. I’M JUST THAT FREAKING OLD, ALL RIGHT? LET IT GO! Sheesh.)
One Saturday, Dad asked if I’d like him to pitch me a few balls over at the field. It was a generous offer, just the sort of thing every young ballplaying kid would want ol’ Dad to ask. It’s heartwarming, if you think about it.
Only, I was watching TV. Captain Caveman, maybe, or Speed Racer — the details are lost to the ages, but the fact was, I wasn’t much interested in practicing baseball just then. It was hot, it was humid, and how the hell were Scooby and Shaggy and the gang going to get out of this mess, anyway? No, thanks.
The next bit of time is a little fuzzy. Either he asked me again later, or I realized a good offer when I thought about it, or he made it clear that my butt was to get off the damned couch and pick up a bat, if I knew what was good for me. All I know is that twenty minutes later I found myself, sweaty and petulant, swinging at curveballs on a dusty baseball diamond.
Apparently, I wasn’t swinging very well, though. Why? I’d give it about fifty-fifty odds between ‘having a bad day at the plate’ and ‘acting pissy about being dragged out when I didn’t want to be’. Make that forty-sixty. Or thirty-seventy. I was eleven. Cut me some slack.
Anyway, after a couple of dozen balls, Dad decided to give me a little nudge. Now, my father is many things, and he has a number of talents. ‘Great motivator’ is not one of them. He yelled from the mound:
‘Hey, don’t hurt your arms flailing at those pitches, son.‘
The sarcasm dripped like the sweat down my back. I forgot where I was and who I was sassing to, and replied:
‘Well, don’t hurt that candy arm throwing them in here, Alice.‘
That pretty much wrapped up our baseball session for the day.
My dad gets quiet when he’s pissed. Very quiet. After a short, clipped sentence to let me know that was ‘it‘, we gathered the equipment in silence, and walked home. In silence. I went straight to my room. I don’t remember whether he sent me there, or I just figured it was the safest place I could be at the time. I even put the Intellivision away under the bed. You never want to be beaten with your own game console.
I’m pretty sure he never spanked me for what I came to call ‘The Incident’. But he let me sweat for a while, that’s for sure. He might — might — have spoken to me again by dinnertime, or bedtime, or sometime the next day. Things weren’t quite back to normal for another couple of weeks. And to his credit, he continued to coach, and — after a few days — work with me one-on-one, too.
And I never complained a word about baseball practice again. I think if I had, he’d have beaned me and left me on the field. And I wasn’t so sure about that ‘candy arm’ to risk it.Permalink | 4 Comments