Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Days of the Long Rain

I got rained on walking my dog this morning. My dog got rained on too, but she complained less about it. Getting rained on has been very common this summer as my community is having a very wet time of it. We must be about double our usual rain total for this time of year by now, and the wet weather is all the more strange because we have been in a drought for the last several years.

Areas go through wet and dry periods. I was born in the midst of a drought that was probably as bad as the one that contributed to the dust bowl. Then, at various times in my childhood, we had periods where it seemed to rain for most of the summer. I recall several July 4 celebrations that were effected by water logged fireworks.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, my father had a large screened in porch built for the house. This was a good deal for me as it cut into the amount of back yard I had to cut every week. The porch took on a ping pong table and quickly became a neighborhood gathering spot in the summer. Especially when it rained. I remember looking out of that porch as the rain fell for hours and hours. Houston had long rains in those days. The neighborhood kids would have long ping pong tournaments, invariably won by my best friend John Phillips who was an outstanding player. I beat John maybe 10% of the time and the match up was so unfair that he once had to volunteer to play me left handed just to get me out of my reclining lawn chair. As you might guess, he beat me.

The greatest ping pong game of all though was a challange match between John and our then next door neighbor whose name I can not recall. He was a short bald guy about ten years younger than my parents. He had an attractive wife , and they hung around our house some. During the 1966 Thanksgiving Day Game between UT and Texas A&M, I listened to this fellow, over our fence, suffer thorough the Horns loss that put the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl. I do mean suffer.Wild and loud drunken cursing, the hurling of lawn furniture and gardening tools. The man really suffered.My Dad was not amused. He had little use for hot heads, and less use for drunks. Besides, he had never felt the same about the couple since they showed up at out house one midnight, very drunk, insisting that my folks join them skinny dipping. Where this skinny dipping was going to take place was never figured out . The only two options were the neighborhood pool and Braes Bayou, neither of which made much sense.

At any rate, this guy ( I do wish I could recall his name, Bradley, that's it, Bradley was his last name) was drinking beer on our back porch one very rainy Sunday afternoon, watching Phillips make mince meat of the ping pong competition. Being two sheets, on his way to three sheets to the wind, Bradley began bragging about his prowess as a ping pong player. He liked John and I, he liked us a lot better before we managed to put a ladder through his window while painting the siding on his house,but he liked us well enough still.John, who never thought of Bradley as an adult figure,began laughing at him and talking about how he had probably lost a lot since his salad days at the University of Texas. John, who hated the Longhorns, even said a few things about the previous A&M game which poured salt in some wounds that had not healed, over the previous eight months.His wife, a loyal lush began backing Bradley up on his stories of table tennis triumphs. Finally, goaded by John, backed by his wife, and lifted by the power of the four of my dad's Schlitzes he had downed, our tournament was stopped for a special match game between John and Bradley.

The fact of the matter was that Bradley was good. Damn good. Of course he probably had not played in years and was fairly drunk besides, two handicaps that he was going to have to overcome.The contestants played but one game. winner take all. It was quite a battle. John, who did not have to play his best to beat the ususal competition around the porch, really turned up his game a notch. The ball was a white blur and each ping sounded like a thunderclap as it echoed around our porch. The game went on and on, never more than two points seperating the contestants.The attitude of the players was different. Bradley had trned into a mean, grim drunk. John kept smiling and baiting his opponent.Finally at the end, John slammed one home for the victory, which I believe was 23/21. It had been very close.

Knowing from previous experience just what kind of a sport Bradley was, I kind of held my breath. He did not disappoint me. He slammed his paddle down onto the table and made some type of an anguished animal sound. Then he stalked around the porch shouting at Phillips, finally ending up with the cry "you'd have never touched me in my prime." His wife, ever loyal to this oaf who had just screamed at a 14 year old kid, looked at John and said, "That's right, I was there !". Then Bradley and Bradley threw open our sliding glass door and stalked through our living room and den and out into the front yard. Walking home through the long rain.

Bradley never played ping pong with us again. He did play a little basekteball with us once, but there were no fireworks. Not long after that, the Bradleys moved away, much to the relief of my parents who had not been enamored with them as neighbors.My father divided the world up into "riff raff" and everyone else. Although he never said it, I had no doubt as to what side of the line he felt that Bradley fell on.


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