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Authors: E.L. Konigsburg

About the B'nai Bagels (9 page)

BOOK: About the B'nai Bagels
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Aunt Thelma talked a long time about how bad it was for them to be so inseparable and how they would never develop individual personalities, but I say that Aunt Thelma should be so lucky. Or me. It wasn’t as if they absolutely adored each other; I’d seen them quarrel. It wasn’t as if they were each one half making a whole; it was like one and one making two, and two is a good number to face the world with. As a matter of fact, I think that’s the reason so many people get married, and as a matter of fact, I think that’s the reason I wanted to get Hersch back.

Simon and Sylvester returned with my magazine. I thanked them before I asked for my quarter change. One
of the twins said, “We’ll match you double or nothing. Simon has your quarter. If you tell us which one is Simon, we’ll pay you fifty cents. If you can’t pick out Simon, we’ll keep the quarter.” They looked at each other and grinned. I guessed wrong, but that was the last time I ever did. I knew that they wouldn’t have been able to ante up the extra quarter if I had guessed right.

Cookie walked me part way home. After she headed back toward the Projects, I examined my purchase. The girl in the center fold had reddish hair. After a while I noticed that she had fixed her hair in different styles for different poses. That was silly.

Getting
Playboy
into the house was an easy caper, men. I placed the magazine in my mitt, after being careful to make it into a firm, tight roll. I draped my sweat jersey over the sticking-out end. Casually I called “hi” as I entered the house and bounded up the stairs to my room. Fortunately, that didn’t take long since it is only a half-flight. I stowed the merchandise between the mattress and spring of my bed. Bottom left-hand corner.

In some silent way practices at the Projects had promoted me from a C- to a B+ and sometimes an A-player. I think that regular practices with the team had helped in an out-loud way, but they had probably helped
the other kids more. To the world we were known as the B’nai B’rith team, but to us we were the B’nai Bagels.

My mother was something of a comical genius on the practice field. She could nag those kids in such a way that they thought that it was fun. One of Mother’s big manias was to have each kid lengthen his stride. “C’mon,” she’d yell, “stretch those legs. Three steps take less time than four; two take less than three. C’mon, you guys, take a giant step.” The Bagels would tease her and say, “May I?” And Mother would play it straight and answer, “Of course.”

Another of her specialties was fielding. “Back up your man!” “Call your balls! Call your balls!” And then Sonefield would say, “Matzo balls!” and someone else would yell “Ding dong balls!” but they would be catching like crazy as they did it.

If Mother was the comical captain, Spencer was the tough drill sergeant, and, strangely enough, the kids loved that, too. We practiced twice a week and after each session you could feel your muscles loosen and your nerves tighten. Our fielding became like some complicated dance number, the timing was so good. Spencer’s having been catcher on his Little League Championship Team helped, too. He remembered how he felt
at first
; that kind of remembering is unusual in older brothers,
especially when they are as old as Spencer. But he remembered how heavy the catcher’s equipment felt, and how you wished that you could sight the ball from behind the plate as well as you can when it is coming toward you in the outfield. And he remembered what a nervous-maker it was to have that bat swinging in front of your eyes. Right in front. And how that made the ball even harder to sight. So what Spencer did was to train a catcher for us. He trained Hersch, who took it very well.

Spencer also made us practice bunting even though it quickly became obvious that Barry was the only kid who could pick a spot to lay down a bunt and beat it out. It should have happened to some nicer guy because Barry resented bunting the way I resent having to wear rubbers when I don’t really believe it will rain and would like to take my chances with shoes. Barry always thought he could get a big hit.

Spencer’s proclamation that everyone should walk to the playing field cut down on the number of parents who came. Mrs. Polsky came with Mrs. LaRosa, though. Sidney and Louis walked, and their mothers drove alongside in the Polsky’s VW. They had to drive so slowly that the car never got out of first gear and their coming was announced by the erg-erg-erg sound getting louder and louder. Barry’s mother also came to all the practices;
she watched her son as if he were Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The whole parade. Did you ever get the feeling about a guy that everything he does is rehearsed? Like the way Barry walked. I got the feeling that he had watched baseball movies and practiced that loose-jointed kind of saunter. Maybe a baseball uniform just makes you look that way. Maybe I even looked that way as I left the field. I wouldn’t mind if I did.

Long before our first game came along, everyone on our team was in love with my mother. They called her Mother Bagel, and they called Spencer Brother Bagel. They preferred Mother to Brother, which wasn’t exactly one of the Great Decisions of the Western World. But it does show that they had quite forgotten that she is a woman.

Simon and Sylvester, who are Catholic and who used to cross themselves before each time at bat, began tipping their hats to the Big Light Fixture in the sky. It wasn’t that Mother did anything to convert them, it’s just that kids have a way of imitating people they like. That’s how Si and Syl probably began crossing themselves in the first place; they saw some ball player doing it on TV. Everyone including mother was having great trouble telling which was where on the field. They each had a number: Simon was Number 5, and Sylvester
was Number 4, but Mother always had to check her list to see which number belonged to which. She finally brought a red handkerchief and made Simon wear it in his back pocket, but it was always falling out, and Mother couldn’t remember whether she had assigned the handkerchief to Simon or to Sylvester. And sometimes for fun Sylvester would pick it up and wear it. Mother ended up addressing either or both of them as Twin. All she knew was that they were terrific.

Of all the kids who loved my mother, Sidney Polsky loved her best. Mother had been the first to call a spade a spade and fat, fat. Maybe Sidney didn’t know that he was fat because no one had ever told him that before; his mother had banned the word from the entire language. I can see her now, changing all her recipes to “fry the potatoes in Crisco plump.” After Sidney realized that what he was was fat, he began to lose weight, and Mother congratulated him after each pound he lost. The polite thing to do would have been to ignore his losing weight because you were supposed to have ignored that he was fat in the first place. But Sidney reported to Mother each pound he lost, and Mother reported to the team, and we all cheered. I mentioned how Mother’s enthusiasm was a hard thing to be up against.

The kids loved it, and it made them love Sidney. He
was looking better on the ball field, too. Partly because of Spencer’s coaching, partly because of Mother’s enthusiasm, and partly because of his mother’s hiring a baseball tutor for him.

Aunt Thelma came to all but one of the pre-season practices. Even Spencer got used to having her around. She now wore golf shoes instead of high heels. Aunt Thelma did help out being that she liked to talk about her two specialties: raising children and educating them. Mother and Spencer would sometimes turn business over to Aunt Thelma if the parents wanted to talk deeply about their kids.

It turned out that nobody ever changed anybody’s mind about anything. Grown-ups don’t get talked into an idea. They get talked into adjusting to it. And that was Aunt Thelma’s new greatest specialty. Mother was captain, Spencer was sergeant, and Aunt Thelma was chaplain.

W
e won our first game. Dad’s strategy paid off; Mom’s nagging paid off; Spencer helped; and the Our Lady of Mercy catcher helped, too. The Our Lady of Mercy catcher couldn’t. Our team stole home three times. Once on a wild pitch, and the other two times on normal mistakes. And in Little League mistakes are normal especially during the first game of the season. The score was 7–2. We would have had one more run if I hadn’t watched to see where the ball was going; it was two outs when Barry hit the ball. I was on second at the time, and I should have begun running immediately, but I waited to see whether the ball would land on the ground or in a glove. They were so slow fielding that I could have made it home if I hadn’t waited. It cost us a run, but it didn’t cost us the game. And I guess I called my attention to it louder than Mother or Spencer did. As we left the field, Spencer
said, “Let’s run on those long flies with two outs. Got nothing to lose, kid.” I wondered if Spencer knew how much more embarrassed I was than either Botts or Hersch or any nonrelative would have been.

All the parents and spectators on our side came swooping down on the field as Mother was yelling, “Do you like the feeling?”

Everyone chorused, “Yeah!”

As the parents and spectators arrived, Mother and Spencer were shaking the boys’ hands and patting them on their backs and telling them encouraging little things. Mother patted Sidney on his plump and said, “Five more pounds off that, and you’re going to be the fastest thing on our team.”

Mrs. Polsky took Sidney’s hand and jerked him around and said to Mother, “You are more concerned about my Sidney’s width than I am.”

And Mother answered, “That’s all right. I don’t mind. Think nothing of it.”

Mrs. Polsky poked a hole in the air with her chin and marched Sidney toward the exit.

The Our Lady of Mercy coach came over to Mother. “That was a good game, Mrs. Setzer.”

“Terrific. Simply terrific,” Mother admitted.

“That’s quite a nice little pitcher you have there.”

“Got another one just as good. Got two. Twins. They’re terrific. Simply terrific.”

“Your catching was good. Very good.”

“Terrific. Simply terrific,” Mother repeated.

Spencer didn’t have Mother’s ability to have one hundred per cent joy. He always sprinkles a mountain of joy with some worry like pepper over mashed potatoes. So he said to the Our Lady of Mercy coach, “We need to improve our batting some.”

The coach said, “Yes, you will when you meet the Elks. You’ll need some good batting for them.”

“Aren’t they the League Champs?” Mother asked.

“They’re terrific. Simply terrific,” the coach said.

“We’ll be terrific-er,” Mother answered. Mother wanted undiluted joy. Mother was not a gracious winner.

We worked like something beautiful on the field. Mother would meet with us before each game and tell what she planned to do; she met with us after the game to tell us what we had done wrong. She wasn’t gentle; neither was Spencer. They were sure of themselves, and it got results. We won our second game and our third. And then we lost our fourth game to the Elks, and we felt rotten. Mother had wanted that, too. She and Spencer analyzed and scolded and made us work harder, and we won again.

She had made the team care, and she (and Spencer) had given us enough training to make it count.

A lot of the mothers cared, too. Too much. Too many phone calls worth. When your mother is manager and your brother is coach, the phone rings a lot. Often it is just to find out what time the game or practice is. Often it was Mrs. Polsky, wanting to know something like could she get an extra uniform for Sidney because she didn’t think it was sanitary for him to have only one uniform the whole year. She had forgotten all the trouble we had getting his pants in the first place.

Very often it was Mrs. Jacobs. When I knew that it was Mrs. Jacobs calling, I listened in on the extension. She sure knew how to stick up for her kid. I would be embarrassed to have my mother take such good care of me.

MOTHER
: Yes, Mrs. Jacobs. (That’s when I picked up the extension phone. Quietly. It’s an easy caper.)

MRS. JACOBS
: Mr. Jacobs and I are somewhat concerned about Barry’s attitude toward these practices, Bessie. Barry seems less eager to practice this year. He seems to feel that he is being held back.

MOTHER
: Really, Mrs. Jacobs, I had no idea. You tell Barry that if he is being held back,
retained
they call it now, Mrs. Jacobs, he shouldn’t come to practice at all. Not at all. School work comes first.

MRS. JACOBS
: I was not referring to his school work, Bessie. My Barry is a straight-A student. I am referring to his work on the baseball field. You keep telling him to choke up on the bat, and you keep making him practice bunting. How can he make home runs that way? Last year he was the star homer hitter on the B’nai B’rith team, and I know he would like to be again this year.

MOTHER
: Mrs. Jacobs, he can hit homers all he wants to in the games. That is, when he’s given the signal to hit. Right now I want he should learn other things. That way, when he gets other signals, he can do other things. Like bunting is other things.

MRS. JACOBS
: Do you think that bunting is the right thing to do? After all, you are holding him back.

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