It’s strange that since I’m not the biggest baseball fan, that my next blog would also involve baseball. Yet a story popped into my brain that I hadn’t thought about since it happened when I was in 9th grade (more than 30 years ago).
The story actually starts when I was in 5th grade. A kid named Mike moved into town and everyone at our elementary school disliked him. He had this arrogance that was annoying, and his family had money, which he’d brag about. The only thing we liked about him was at lunch once a week, he’d yell out “Ice cream is on me!”
On the days he’d say that, we’d all run up to the line in the cafeteria, and he’d buy us each a fudgesicle or creamsicle. Sometimes there’d be 28 of us, and we’d each get one. There’d be the occasional kid he had a beef with about something and he’d go up to that kid in line and say, “You’re not getting an ice cream today” and the boy would sheepishly walk out of line.
He also had cool birthday parties, since he had a big backyard with a swimming pool. Although if you gave him a birthday present he didn’t like, he’d let you know right then and there.
In 8th grade, our teachers started telling us our reports had to be turned in all typed out. Now in those days, computers weren’t around. That meant you’d go to a typewriter. Even electric typewriters weren’t as common as regular typewriters in the early ‘80s. I was lucky that for some reason, I could type really fast. I was typing 120 words per minute and in typing class, the teacher would often bring me longer paper during testing days, because I’d run out of space on the regular page. A big production was made out of how fast I could type and truth be told, I dug the attention. Well, Mike said to me one day, “Since you can type so fast, and I don’t know how to type, I’ll pay you to type my reports.”
He’d give me $5 to type his papers, which in 1983, was the equivalent of $9 today [sorry, but I’ve always wanted to write a story where I did that]. About halfway through the year, the light bulb went off in Mike’s brain. He said, “Instead of me paying you $5 to type the reports, I’ll pay you $25 to write them for me, too.”
I jumped at that deal. And it was going along well, until finals came up and he needed a report that was really long. I was busy with my classes, and told him I didn’t think I’d have the time to write him a 20 page report on the career of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He said, “Well, for this one I’ll double your pay, and give you $50.”
Never one to turn down cash, I did it. [not important to the story, but he ended up getting an A- for it]
When I gave him the report he said, “I’ll pay you on Monday.”
I had no reason to doubt him. Yet when Monday rolled around, he had this smirk on his face and said, “Ya know, I was thinking about it all weekend, and...I don’t think I’ll pay you, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. If you try to tell my teacher, you’ll get in trouble, too.”
It was sound logic on his part, although I quickly started thinking...his teacher for that English class wasn’t my teacher, so maybe I wouldn’t get into trouble. But, how would I be able to prove I wrote it? My options were limited. I spent the rest of the day at school angry that I got used. Then, the light bulb went off in my brain. His dad was from Atlanta, and had a huge collection of sports memorabilia from the Atlanta Hawks, Falcons, and his favorite team -- the Braves.
Not wanting to be obvious, I waited a few days. I even listened to Bill Cosby’s album “Revenge” for inspiration (anybody that knows that funny story knows what I’m talking about). I then walked over to his house. He looked a bit nervous as he opened the door, but I just said I wanted to go swimming. He then smiled and said, “I’ll go get my bathing suit on.”
As he walked into the other room to change, I went over to the fireplace. That’s where his dad had a baseball autographed by the Atlanta Braves. It was signed by the entire team. I remember the signatures of manager Bobby Cox, as well as Bob Horner, Chris Chambliss, and pitchers Pascual Perez and Cy Young winner Bruce Sutter (who’d eventually make the Hall of Fame). MVP Dale Murphy had signed it on the sweet spot.
Mike came sauntering out of his bedroom in a bathing suit, with a towel wrapped around his neck. I was bravely holding the Braves ball, in its round, glass case. The smile started to drop from his face as I said, “I don’t know how much this baseball is worth, but it’s probably worth at least the $50 you owe me.”
He dropped the towel and charged me. All the anger came surging through my body, as I grabbed him with my right hand and swung him, throwing him to the ground. I pinned him down and said, “If you pay me the $50 you owe me, you get the ball back.”
He started screaming, “It’s my dad’s! He’ll kill me if he comes home and it’s missing!”
I replied, “Then you’ll have to hurry and get my money.”
I walked out of his house, happy with how this all transpired. Until I was halfway down the block and saw him come outside screaming, holding a baseball bat in his hand. I wondered if it too, had been signed by any Braves players. But as he ran towards me screaming, I realized it might be my forehead on the end of that Louisville slugger. So I started running. I could hear him yelling that he was going to kill me. Now, all my years of playing basketball paid off, because I was in great shape and could run forever. His sport was bowling [fun fact: he eventually became a pro bowler]. I think he only made it ¼ of a mile before he gave up. I got home and the phone was ringing. He was calling, begging me to give him the ball back. I told him when he paid me he’d get it. He told me to come back over and he’d pay me, but I just kept thinking about that baseball bat. I said, “Bring the money to school tomorrow, and I’ll bring the ball.” I figured he wouldn’t tote around a bat, and there would be witnesses if he had another weapon.
He pleaded, saying “What do I tell my dad if he comes home and doesn’t see the ball there?”
He ended up not liking the idea of going a day with that fireplace mantle being empty. He said, “I’ll come over to your house in 10 minutes with the money.”
I told him if I see a baseball bat in his hand, I’m not opening the door.
He came over, paid me, and I handed the ball to him. He said, “Oh my god, thank you so much!”
I thanked him, saying “Nice doing business with you.”
(okay, I can’t be positive I said that, but I like to think I did)
Here’s where the plot thickens. I was on the JV basketball team at the time. Our team finished practice, and were in the locker room changing. I saw three big guys walk in. I knew one of the guys, and he was trouble [side note: 10 years after high school, the FBI was talking to a handful of my friends about him for an investigation they were doing].
I didn’t think much of it, even though they were standing off to the side and seemed to be staring at me.
My team had left the locker room, and I was walking out to go home. I was on the side of the building when I noticed these three guys following me. They started jogging, caught up to me, and surrounded me. I said, “Hey Larry,” to the one guy I knew. He said nothing. One of the guys that was 6’3” and covered in muscles, said “You Josh Board?”
It’s funny because as a movie critic now, I would say to myself, “Why did that guy say he was Josh? He should’ve just said ‘No, I’m Steve Anderson. How can I help you?”
I guess it wouldn’t have done any good. They knew who I was. I just didn’t know who they were. The big guy continues, “You like stealing things from people?”
I told him I didn’t know what they were talking about. One of them pushed me against the wall. Luckily, he then explained, adding, “You stole a baseball from Mike.”
The second the guy said that, an anger overwhelmed me. I was no longer scared about being killed by 3 thugs, I was ready to fight to the death. I started yelling, telling them the story. I said, “That idiot was paying me to do his school work. And, he owed me $50 and said he wouldn’t pay me, so I took his baseball. But he then gave me the money so I gave him the ball back. So I didn’t steal anything.”
Larry then looked at one of the guys and said, “Hey...Mike did the same thing to me! He was supposed to pay me once for some pot, and I had to keep bugging him to get it back. He does that sh** all the time to people!”
The most muscular guy looked disappointed as he said, “Does that mean we’re not kicking this guy’s ass?!”
Larry said, “No, no. Let him go. He’s cool. I used to sometimes shoot baskets with him in elementary school.”
They let me go, and as I walked home, I contemplated getting my own baseball bat and paying a visit to Mike.
I got my satisfaction when a year later Mike approached me, asking if I’d write him another report. I told him no. He offered me a lot more money, but I still declined. As I was walking away he said, “My dad always asks where you are, and why you don’t come over to go swimming any more. He said you were the only one of my friends he liked.”
I was tempted to turn around and say, “I never liked you. Nobody liked you. You just bought everyone ice cream.”
It was one of the rare days I took the high road.