The Old Man
Maybe he’d always lingered on the long benches beside the sand courts at the Alta House in Little Italy. As our bocce team, Cinque Piu Uno, began practicing there more and more, the old man’s face seemed to show up with increasing frequency. He was a short man, maybe 5’-4” or so, and usually wore the same clothes, the same shoes – white short-sleeved dress shirt, black slacks, and black tennis shoes.
One beautiful, warm evening in early June, Jdubbs, Thed, and I were rolling back and forth, having a friendly little practice when the old man came over and sat on the bench. He was old as hell, I could tell. Upon seeing him, dubbs perked up and got one of his grand notions, which are very easily discernable if you’ve known him long enough. His eyes flare and he exudes a determined aura, as if nothing can stand in his way. Dubbs made his throw, got his bocce inside and scored a point. Then he went over to the bench and sat down next to the old man.
Thed and I stood around and kicked at the balls while dubbs and the old man conversed. They spoke with brevity and both stood and approached our court. Jdubbs informed us that we were starting a new game.
"This is Antonio," Jdubbs said, "he’s going to play."
Thed and I shook his hand; introduced ourselves.
"You roll much?" I asked, putting on my best bocce pantomime.
"Eh, lil bit," Antonio said with a heavy Italian accent. He moved his hand back and forth in a ‘so-so’ manner.
"Who’s team do you want to be on, Antonio?" dubbbs asked.
The man’s ageless eyes flicked indiscriminately between dubbs, Thed, and myself. Eventually, he pointed at Thed.
Dubbs and I had been practicing close to three times a week since discovering the courts at the Alta House and we came to think pretty highly of ourselves. Thed came along intermittently, but was streaky and often skipped out on practice to spend time with his new lady friend. When Antonio picked Thed, dubbs and I assumed he had unknowingly provided us the advantage. As two young, virile twenty-somethings, we would show the old man and the flake who was boss.
During the first frame, our team got inside with a couple marginal tosses, as the two balls Thed threw went wide. Then Antonio stepped onto the court and readied himself with a stance none of us had ever seen before. With his left leg forward, he rested most of his weight on the right leg behind him. His right hand hung at his side, clutching the bocce. He took a two-step gallop and sidearmed the bocce at our inside ball. As the sphere left his grasp, he let out a moan from deep within his Italian soul.
His ball collided with ours and shot it out of range of the pallino. Then he sailed their forth and final bocce safely inside and scored a point.
It can’t be said that Thed and Antonio trounced us, though they did win decisively. By the end, Jdubbs and I were sweaty with shame and defeat.
"You’re pretty good," I said. "Looking for a team?"
"Eh, I play a lil," Antonio said. "Win trophy here long time ago. Friends, eh, they no around anymore to play."
We made sure Antonio knew that he was welcome to roll with us anytime. And that he should think about entering the tourney at the end of the month.
"Eh, I dunno," he shrugged, "I jus’ a old man."