Monologue — From the January 2014 issue

The Boys on the Block

My personal memoir

Download Pdf
Read Online

There was a game we played. Maybe it wasn’t a game in and of itself. Is a ball a game? A ball is not a game. But you can make a game with it, can’t you? What can’t you make a game with or of? You just have to decide you’re going to do it, is all. Or not even make up your mind and go ahead and decide as such. All you have to do is take the thing and start doing something with it and then say to a boy on the block, Can you do this? and then you show the boy that you can, and then the next thing is that that particular boy has to see if he can do it too or even if he can’t, well, I ask you, is there or is there not already enough of a game going from just that much of it already? Or even better, let’s say he can’t do it, the boy, that particular boy, then even better, even better that he can’t, except who can say, maybe before you know it you’re the boy who’s sorry you started the whole thing in the first place, because maybe the boy we’re talking about, maybe he can go ahead and do it better than you can do it, and then you wish you had never even taken the reins and started the game and could instead of any of that just stop playing it, but you can’t stop playing it, because every time that particular boy on the block comes around he’s got the thing you need for the game with him and he says to you, Hey look, can you do this, can you, can you? even if all you have to do is do it as many times as he can, or do it a little farther than he can, or do it faster than he can, or, you know, more times, or do it some other way different like that.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

It was like that when I was a boy.

So the thing itself in the case I am thinking about, it was a little red ball — and there was this mysterious way they had of getting the little red ball stuck to a pretty long red rubber string, and the string, this pretty long red rubber string, was stapled to a paddle, that was the thing I want for you to picture for yourself, the paddle and the ball and the string — are you with me? — the paddle and the ball and the string, which the whole idea of the game was for you to grab the paddle in your hand and see if you could toss the little red ball up a little bit and then smack it with the paddle and then keep on smacking it with the paddle until you missed it altogether or, you know, you just didn’t smack it right and it went all crazy in the wrong direction and then it was the other boy’s turn, or if there were a lot of other boys, which was the way it just so happened to be on my particular block, even at this day and age I could name every one of the boys if you dared me to, if you happened to want to take the time it would take for me to go ahead and look back in my mind and name every single last one of them or, okay, maybe if truth be told, maybe I wouldn’t be absolutely able to name every last one of them, but you can bet your bottom dollar I could probably name plenty enough of them for me to give you the general drift of the thing I am taking the trouble to sit here and tell you about, such as the Stanleys, for instance, such as the Stanleys themselves, who were, for your personal information, the biggest of all of the boys on the block and who I wouldn’t at this particular point in history be the least little bit surprised if they were probably the oldest of all of us too, Stanley R. Florin, for instance, and Stanley S. Baughman, for another instance. That’s right, I’m right, those were the two Stanleys, Stanley R. Florin and Stanley S. Baughman, they were referred to as the Stanleys, or as the two Stanleys, and they were pretty good at the game, let me sit here and tell you that the two Stanleys, that they were pretty goddamn terrific at it, yes indeedy, I am here at this point in history to goddamn tell you the Stanleys were good, the Stanleys were great, the two Stanleys were the best at the game of anybody on the block, them just going ahead and taking the paddle from you and then smacking the little red ball with it and then just keeping on smacking the crap out of it and then on and on and, wow, holy cow, making the little red ball come whipping right back at the paddle to smack the shit out of it all over again and then smack it some more and keep smacking it some more and, you see, you see, just look at it, are you really trying with your mind to look at it, either one of the Stanleys just smacking that little red ball every time the long red rubber string goes snapping out and then comes snapping back at the paddle again — and then again and then again and then this way and that way until, Jesus, who could stand there and believe it anymore, until you just had to stand there praying and hoping and hoping and praying your turn was never going to come up again, but no matter how much you stood there pleading with Jesus himself, you pleading with Jesus, Please, Jesus, please don’t let it, don’t, don’t, please don’t let my turn come again, please, Jesus, please, but it would, oh you bet it would, and there you were, standing there with the vicious paddle, ashamed all over again and sad, so sad, so awful sad from just standing and standing and from hearing yourself screaming out loud to yourself inside of yourself for it all of it to be all over and finished again, please, for it all of it to stop, just stop, just for it to break and be broken, string gone, ball gone, paddle flown out of your hand, and for everybody, for all of the boys, for them just to fall over and finally be dead.

Oh Jesus, your turn!

Oh Jesus, my turn!

Oh me, I’m telling you, I myself as a boy, I’m telling you, I’d go ahead and take the handle of it in my hand and go ahead and give the little red ball a little bit of a toss, but try as I might, and I tried, oh brother, boy oh boy, did I for Christ’s sake try to just get the little red ball to go up and come back down just even twice for once, even if I hit it just as easy as pie, just only straight up and right straight back down to the paddle just twice for once.

Previous PageNext Page
1 of 2

You are currently viewing this article as a guest. If you are a subscriber, please sign in. If you aren't, please subscribe below and get access to the entire Harper's archive for only $45.99/year. Or purchase this issue on your iOS or Android devices for $6.99.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Download Pdf
Share
’s new book, Goings: In Twelve Sittings, is out this month from OR Books.

More from Gordon Lish:

Readings From the January 2013 issue

Knowledge

Readings From the April 2000 issue

Act

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content
Close

Please enjoy this free article from Harper’s Magazine.