Paul

Posted: December 4, 2014 in Traskland
Tags: , , ,

We moved the summer I turned ten, leaving midtown for downtown. My parents bought an old, weather-beaten, single family house, two miles to the south. Two miles was no different than two thousand. Downtown was a foreign land, much like Portugal or Brooklyn, one I knew nothing about, with weird stores, odd smells, and strange kids. I left the familiarity of a quiet neighborhood with a few friends for a raucous one with a dozen boys stalking about like a sanitized version of The Sharks.

In those days the social rituals of ten year old boys were uncomplicated. I suspect they still are. Everything revolved around sports. Athletic skill was the foundation upon which friendships were built. The first day I showed my face on the street I was quickly surrounded, brief introductions were garbled, and a series of mettle gauging physical tests abruptly commenced, a sort of Olympic trials for the newbie.

It started with a block-long footrace. We lined up, spanning the street from curb-to-curb like a twitchy marching band. Someone shouted “Go!” and off we went. Separation occurred immediately as one kid burst to the front and rapidly put distance between him and the rest of us. His name was Paul and he won, as they say, going away. I finished third, respectable enough to merit further evaluation and, more importantly, avoid withering disapproval.

The football toss actually gauged two things – arm strength and accuracy. Touch football was a staple of the fall/winter street gaming regimen and quarterbacks were as prized then as now. If a kid could thread a tight spiral between two parked cars without clipping an antenna…well, that was noteworthy. Although I had the accuracy of a sniper my arm strength was wholly unimpressive, more Joe Mannix than Joe Namath. But I didn’t embarrass myself. Mediocrity is common for a reason. Only one kid nailed both strength and accuracy, that speedster named Paul.

The objective of the free kick was pure distance. Skinny legs are the enemy of any kicker and I was pathetic, but so were most of the others with their normal legs. Paul, however, stood majestic. It was as if Thor’s hammer powered his right leg. The football climbed end-over-end and landed further than reason allowed. Thankfully, nobody cared about comparisons as we silently watched it sail far over the power lines.

Someone produced a Spaulding rubber ball, that small, pink thing of beauty, the centerpiece of many street games. Three skills were tested: How fast could you throw (or “whip”) it? How well could you catch it? And, of course, how far could you throw it? We didn’t have a radar gun, so we used sound to judge whipping success, the hard *smack* of the ball when it hit the hands catching it. I did much better catching the ball. The Spaulding was thrown at me from a criminally short distance, jettisoned by equal measures of bravado and sadism. It honed in on my right eye like a round, deadly missile. I’ve always believed in the adage that the best offense is a good defense. Quick defensive instincts prevented my eye from being violently relocated to the back of my skull. In contrast, the distance throw was boring and anti-climactic. And, since it was easy to quantify, Paul triumphed again.

The final test was the running jump, more commonly known as the long jump. We had no sandboxes, no measuring tape, no complex regulations. A chalk line was drawn on the pavement. You could start running as far behind that line as you wanted. The only hard rule: you had to start jumping before stepping over it. As you might imagine, a person who runs like The Flash with the vitality of Thor’s hammer in his legs might hold an advantage. Not surprisingly, Paul dominated like Bob Beamon.

Overall, I did enough to be welcomed into the group. I didn’t beat Paul at anything, but nobody did. Even though every boy participated in each event I wondered if the real test was seeing how I compared to Paul. He was the barometer by which everyone was judged. Beating him would have upset the established order and, let’s face it, social revolution is never pretty. Doing okay – but not winning – probably gained me more favor than any victory would have.

These memories shook loose when I recently learned Paul passed away last year. The truth is we were only friends for a few years. Once high school rolled around I splintered off to a different school and a new group of people. The last time we met was sometime in our early 20’s. He had obviously extended his physical prowess to weight training. We chatted for a few minutes in the stilted manner of people who drifted apart. I don’t remember any specifics of that conversation. It was simply a chance encounter with a childhood friend. But today I recall with absolute clarity those first impressions he made. Looking back I realize the “tests” on that warm June morning were more than a way to see how I would fit in. They also gave Paul’s friends another chance to watch him do his thing. I hope life treated Paul with kindness, laughter and dignity. I hope he was happy. And I hope he is now in a place where he can once again display those marvelous gifts; where he can throw like Hyacinth, run like Achilles, and jump like Chionis; where footballs soar above the clouds, forever on the rise.

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Comments
  1. There is always a Paul in every street, isn’t there? One who is impossible to beat, the one who everything else is measured up by. A delightful memory recollection. Loved the story.

    Like

  2. rangewriter says:

    Death is the ultimate equalizer of us all.This is a beautifully written memorial to a Bunyon of a character.

    Like

    • John says:

      “Bunyon of a character.” I love it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • g2-d4a2d7e96df6be8ae8422f89f82a9202 says:

        Another quality that Paul had was that he was a good and kind person. Soft spoken, funny, and never a bully, although he had the strength to be one. I joined that group and met him the summer that I turned 14. We were a VERY sanitized version of the Sharks or Jets – basically harmless. Not all the gangs of kids in the Trask ‘hood were so easygoing….

        We all drifted apart at 18 or so, pulled apart by college, the military or marriage and adult jobs. Four halcyon years, in retrospect.

        And I must brag a bit and say that I was able to beat Paul at one and only one thing; bicycling, the only athletic pursuit I was ever really good at. Dave Ventre

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  3. John,

    I am not sure (or don’t remember) how close we are in age, but I may also have been friends with Paul. Did he live on Trask at Juliette and did his last name begin with an S?

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    • John says:

      Yes and yes. Based on your name here, I don’t remember you! lol

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      • g2-d4a2d7e96df6be8ae8422f89f82a9202 says:

        I am guessing you were writing about Paulie Sabo. I remember him very well. A nice guy and indeed always at or near the top in any athletic event. My actual name is Dave Ventre. I was one of the yoots who used to hang around Trask and 4th circa 1975 with people like Paulie, the Mindiaks, Joey Garufi, Eddie Dowling etc.

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        • John says:

          I think I remember you. Were you into car racing in those days?

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          • g2-d4a2d7e96df6be8ae8422f89f82a9202 says:

            I was, but only as a rabid fan. Amazingly, I didn’t buy my first car until I was out of college; all my spare cash went to diving gear and boat trips.

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            • John says:

              Now that I see your email address I also know you from when you used to be on Flickr. lol

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              • g2-d4a2d7e96df6be8ae8422f89f82a9202 says:

                John, I think remember we talked once about Olde Bayonne. You said (if I am remembering correctly) that you are not related to my old bud Brian Brennan (who lived in the projects on 1st St) but that you knew of him. How old are you? If you hung with Paulie Sabo, you must be near my age. It was a real shock to hear that he had died (not from your post; Brian let me know). Dave

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                • John says:

                  You remember correctly on all counts. I’m a week older than Paul which is kind of sobering.

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                  • Frank Sabo says:

                    What a great piece of writing! You obviously have great talent.
                    I came across your posing very recently through a relative who still lives nearby. I am Paul’s older brother, Frank. I moved away to start an Air Force career in 1962 when Paul was just 4 years old. Mainly due to our huge age difference my wife and I treated Paul as one of our own children. In fact, Paul spent many summers with us at different places in the world and was pals with my oldest son. In more recent years, Paul helped me crew my sailboats across the Gulf of Mexico on several occasions.
                    I was not aware of many of the things you mentioned in your posting. It did bring back tearful memories of our deceased brother for me and my 2 remaining siblings.
                    Thanks for the posting and the memories.

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                    • John says:

                      Thanks for your kind words, Frank. Let me share another quick story. When Paul and I were 14 we somehow convinced our parents that it was a good idea to let us the two of us go camping in Stokes State Forest for a week. By ourselves. At 14.

                      Not surprisingly, our enthusiasm was far greater than our preparation. Three days into our wilderness adventure we basically ran out of food. When we realized we needed the Calvary to come fetch us our focus turned to finding a pay phone. We wandered through the forest, across a glade, and down empty dirt roads without a compass or a clue. Horseflies the size of Buicks buzzed overhead looking suspiciously like buzzards through the soupy summer heat. Somehow we found a phone and made the call. A few hours later my dad showed up and our Lewis and Clark escapade ended. Perhaps the week did not turn out as we had planned, but who cares. It was a grand time and, I imagine, the type of thing kids in 2016 would never be allowed to do.

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                    • Dave Ventre says:

                      Frank,

                      Paul was an indelible part of those years we hung out on Trask. A great guy taken way too soon.

                      Dave

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                    • John says:

                      Nice to see you again, Dave.

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  4. Mark says:

    Well done, John. And I just had a gander at your reading list. That’s a good one. I’m trying to compile what’s been “feeding my head” too but I started late and can’t remember it all now. Want to look up some of yours. (Wish you had come to our Noir At The Bar last week in Asbury Park – lots of good writers to fill up 2015.)

    Like

  5. Rick says:

    Great remembrance.

    Like

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