"Whatcha got?" I asked Clyde as he came into the house.
"I found this in the trash on the way home," he said holding up a broom whose straw bottom made a C at the end of the handle. Its days of sweeping were long over. The trash was the only place for it.
"What good is that old thing? You sure can't sweep with it."
"Sweep?! I'm not going to sweep. I'm going to educate you on the game of Half-rubber."
"You poor ignernt foreigner. It's a game we invented. Come on, nef, lemme show you.”
He took me outside to the garage and found a saw in granddaddy's tool box.
"Hold that end steady while I do some cuttin' here."
I held it fast and he buzzed through the broom where the straw was attached to the handle.
"There. Now we don't need that part. Here toss it into the trash."
I ran off with that portion of the broom while he stood there swinging the newly released handle like a baseball bat. Whoosh! Woosh!
"Hey!" I yelled. "You nearly hit me with that."
Woosh! I ducked again.
"Well, get out the way, nef. Yeah, that's nice. Just thick enough to grab the ball and heavy enough to give it a good clobber. OK. Now we gotta find a rubber ball."
He looked at me.
"Didn't you just buy one?" he asked.
"Yeah. We gonna hit it with that stick?"
"Well, yeah, but..."
I knew something was coming.
"I gotta cut it in half."
"Oh no! You ain't cutting my brand new ball in half."
"How else you gonna learn the game. I don't have money for one and you already got it, so let's see it."
I fussed a bit but I knew he'd win. I wandered inside to fetch the brand new rubber ball I had bought the previous weekend. The door slammed as he snatched it from my hand.
"Oh yeah. Perfect."
He pulled his knife from his pocket and unfolded it.
"Now you gotta be real careful when you cut these so's you have two perfect halves."
He commenced to cutting as I started to protest.
"Oh knock it off, ya baby. This game requires half this ball and if one of us should hit it so's we can't find it you'll have the other half to use. You'll thank me."
I knew I wouldn't. He spent a good while cutting into the body of the ball with his knife.
"Ain't very sharp, that knife," I said.
"Oh shut up. This is a very delicate thing. Leave me alone while I concentrate."
He cut through it with the result of two perfect half-rubbers.
"OK," he said. "Now we need some players. Come on we'll give 'em a call."
Since we were on a party line we had to wait because it was in use. He picked it up and stayed on the line listening and mimicking our neighbor's conversation with all the facial expressions he was convinced were happening in the house across the street. There was a silence on the other end and I heard a very urgent tiny voice saying, "Who's that listening in. You better get off this line while I'm on!"
Clyde hung up. Every 5 minutes he would pick it up to check and give the other person a hint to get off. About a half hour passed when he picked up to hear the dial tone. He called his friends and they agreed to meet at the Riverland Terrace School grounds.
"Here, carry these."
He handed me the two half rubbers and the stick, or bat as he called it. We began the walk to the school grounds. His friends were gathered at the basketball court on the edge of the playground. He took the bat and balls from me.
"Hey guys. Try this out while I teach my nef how to throw this ball."
They began swinging the bat and sailing the half to each other.
"Come 'ere nef. Now stand over there and try to catch this."
He held the ball round top up, crooked in his first finger and thumb space. He reached behind parallel to his waist and whipped it to the front sending the half along a straight path to my open hands. It bounced from my hands into my face and behind me. I ran to get it.
"Hold it like I did and sail it back to me."
"It looks like a flying saucer the way it floats through the air."
"Yeah it's called lift. Now try it.”
I mimicked his hold on the half and sailed it right into his hands. The look on his face was shock.
"Wow, that was a heck of a throw. Try it again."
He whipped it to me. It sailed into my hand but bounced off, into my face and behind. I ran back to get it. Getting back to my position I let it fly right into his hands.
"Wow. Hey guys How about letting my nef pitch. He's good."
They said yes and we took our places.
"Alright, nef. Throw it like you mean it."
I threw it right into the space and the batter connected. The half flew over our heads and past the swings. Clyde ran to get it. He flipped it to me and I let loose, right into the swing of the batter. Off it went again past the swings. Clyde ran to get it.
He ran back handing the ball to me and said,"What the heck are you doing, nef. He's hitting the ball every time you throw it."
"I thought that's what I was supposed to do. I throw it, the batter hits it."
“NO, no, no...you're supposed to throw it so he misses it."
"No buts, get with it if you want to have a turn at batting."
He returned to his spot behind me. I looked at him, puzzled, then turned and zipped the ball smack into the bat and it flew, once again, passed the swings. Clyde ran to get it and ran back to me.
"Go on, get back there and get 'em when they fly passed."
“But I want pitch some more."
"You pitch too good, nef. You gotta learn how to make the ball do what you want. Just watch."
I ran close to the sidewalk and stood waiting. He flipped the half and it sailed up to the batter and dipped as the broom handle whooshed around. The catcher tossed it to him. Again he flung it hard and it rose as the broom handle whooshed through empty air.
When the game was over, the sky was growing dark. We began to walk home after he tossed the halves and the bat into my hands.
“How did you do that?" I asked.
"Make that ball dance around the bat like that?"
"You know, nef, I really don't know. I just look at the guy standing there, line up, then zip it around and it seems to do what I think it to do."
"So, you gonna teach me how to do that?"
"Like I said, nef. I don't know how. I can't teach you if I don't know how I do it. It's almost like magic."
"You mean you can't show me?"
"Nope. How about I teach you how to whistle instead."
He had a way of whistling that sounded like Tarzan's yell. He warbled a few bars of whistling from high to low notes. I listened astonished and began trying immediately to copy it. It took a long time but I did finally learn to whistle like him. That was all well and good but danged if I could ever throw a half rubber with such precision and style.