By David Ralph
When I was thirteen, I hated everything there was to hate. I hated school. I hated life. I hated my mom for being such
a sea-hag. I used to love baseball when my dad coached my little league team, but then he left when I was ten, so I hated
In those days, my routine consisted of skipping class, hating, picking fights, hating, shoplifting, hating, and did I mention
hating? I wanted to prove that I was the toughest kid in town; I actually had it in my mind that I was one of those criminal
types that everyone loved, like Al Capone. I could see the headlines, "Beloved Criminal Goes Down in a Hail of Bullets."
But then my life started to change when I met Papa Oscar.
I was busted. I wanted the new "Ozzie" CD mainly because my mom would turn the station if he came on the radio, yelling
at it as if he could hear her, "Devil worshipers!" Devil worshiping wasnt my thing but I wanted to hear an entire song. Plus,
I loved the way his raspy screaming and the loud electric guitars smashed together like two rams in a fight for dominance.
Besides, anything that ticked my mom off was an extra bonus.
Later that night I made my way to the music aisle at Walmart. After a quick glance around, I slowly pried the CD out of
the plastic covering that held it tightly in place and then shot like a hyperactive gerbil on a caffeine IV toward the door,
but before I could put a foot into the open air, a talon-like grip grabbed me by the collar and drug me away.
"Two hundred hours of community service," smoothly boomed down on me from the slow motion mouth of the probate judge. "200"
kept echoing, echoing, echoing in my mind so many times that my head began to throb. The throb was compounded when he followed
up with, "To be carried out at Pine Ridge Community Care Home." Crap, I hated old people. I was forced to go to Pine Ridge
once when I was in the fourth grade. We had to sing Christmas carols to the old fogies to cheer them up for the holidays,
because most likely their own kids wouldnt show up to celebrate with them. Old people have a certain stench that disturbed
me. They smell like a combination of urine, denture cream, Ben Gay, hair dye, fecal matter, and death. I never really got
over the smell of death.
200 hours, begin countdown.
Every day after school, I was to report to Miss Plath who was the activity director at Pine Ridge. Miss Plath looked old
enough to be a resident of Pine Ridge herself and acted as if she belonged in the nut house. She was constantly running around
trying to get everyone involved, which was worthless in my mind; no one seemed to know where they were. She gave me the prestigious
privilege and honorable duty of becoming the BINGO caller. Calling numbers sure beat the image I had of cleaning out bedpans
with a tiny brush or taste testing pureed grilled cheese sandwiches. I called out numbers despite most of the geriatrics being
stooped over in their wheel chairs, half asleep or waiting to die.
"B 7, B 7."
I never understood activity time. Some of the old people would be talking to themselves in words that no one could make
out while many more would be screaming that they wanted to go home, all they wanted was to go home.
"I 13, I 13 and you all are about 400 years old."
His laugh was full of life and filled the room as he sat in an old red vinyl chair in the back. His chuckle would have
been extremely infectious if everyone in the room had not been immunized against laughter decades ago. He obviously thought
my joke was funny, but Miss Plath did not and shook her head at me as she directed me to read the next BINGO ball.
When I was ready to make my getaway the old prune with the lively laugh cut me off before I could reach the door, "You
going to be back tomorrow Sammy Boy?"
"My name is Tony, and unfortunately, yes."
"Good. Good. These old fogies might start a riot Sammy boy if they don't get to hear their BINGO numbers called. You ain't
seen nothin' until you see a bunch of old dried up raisins raisin' a ruckus."
He was funny. I could see a bunch of old people throwing walkers while chanting BINGO! BINGO! BINGO! I figure this senile
old coot might help pass the hours.
"Do you remember me? My name is Oscar, but you called me Papa Oscar. Remember Sammy Boy?"
"Tony. I'll see you tomorrow."
"See you then Sammy Boy."
142 hours to go.
Papa Oscar soon became my biggest ally in keeping me away from Miss Plath and out of the activity room. He started making
requests for me to come down and clean his room, which Miss Plath and her crazy scattered brain bought every time.
"I could strike out anyone. Anyone Sammy." By this time, I had given up on correcting Papa Oscar every time he called me
Sammy and had actually gotten used to it.
"Do you still play baseball Sammy?"
I had never told Oscar I played, but at that moment, the only thought I could bring up was the day my dad left. That day
I was so mad I took my glove, the one thing I treasured most, and threw it in the creek. I never wanted to play baseball again.
My dad loved baseball and when he left me, I hated it. I didn't want to tell Papa Oscar why I quit playing ball so I quickly
diverted his attention.
"Did you ever make it to the majors?"
"I had one year in the majors. I played for the Red Sox in '43. I watched from the bullpen as Ted Williams had one of his
best years. He had a .356 batting average, slammed 36 homers, and had 137 ribbies, but I'll be damned when he got runner-up
for MVP to that no-good-bum-bastard from those damn Yankees, Joe Gordon."
"Ted Williams?! Radical! Did you ever get to pitch against him in practice or anything?"
"Yep. Struck him out too. He was a sucker for the curve ball. I could strike out anyone."
"I bet you could Papa Oscar."
I wondered to myself how much a new glove would cost.