-- Pauli's Wall --
Passing by this spot, you'd see him
day in and day out,
a small, thin boy with a pink, rubber ball.
For hours he'd throw a pink sphere
against the wall
anticipating its bounce, ready for the catch.
He must have thrown that ball
a thousand, times a thousand times.
Pauli was his name
and baseball was his game,
though in winter he did football,
and when the cold winds of winter
wrapped snow around his grandparent's house
he went inside, not the big house
but a smaller home,
out back, where he lived with
his mom and dad, thin, fragile people,
I think of them always as old.
His grandfather lived in front --
Once as I bicycled into his yard, the German
grandfather spoke of my "wheel"
and Pauli and I winked at one
another, at the funny turn of phrase.
Imagine, calling a bike, a wheel,
but the man was old, and from another
land, so that was expected.
When Pauli was indoors he worked feverishly
on his scrapbooks, volumes of them, on
baseball, football, basketball.
He followed the careers of his heroes
like no-one we knew, but that was Pauli,
that was his way.
I met Pauli at 4th grade, when we moved from City Point
to Montowese and Pauli lived a
block away from our little house by the
railroad tracks, where my dad
worked as a fireman, then an engineer
on the New York, New Haven, and Hartford.
Pauli was a bright, sparkly kid, with dark hair,
who reminded me of Humphrey Bogart,
as a kid, of course.
We hung around together some,
and as I didn't like baseball, or the
other ball games either,
we didn't hang out as often as we might have.
But I played too, not very well, and as
infrequent as possible.
You had to play ball
in this neighborhood or be left out
altogether, and no kid likes being left out.
So we played ball together, and being
a small neighborhood we played kids of
all ages, from 3 to 4 years older
to 3 to 4 years younger.
And of course there was the usual
choosing up and picking sides,
and the pains of being picked
somewhere toward the end.
Fortunately there was always someone
worse, or younger than I so at least
I wasn't chosen last,
all the time.
But Pauli was a demon when it
came to sports
and he was ready to play ball
any time of the day or night
and he usually did.
Pauli sparked his teams, he was the
electricity that made them run,
he was the organizer,
and the shortstop,
or the catcher,
whatever was needed
I've tried to remember,
if we were really ever "friends"
but that's hard to recall.
Then again, I don't remember
being friends with any kids
in the neighborhood.
We played together,
needed one another
for the games boys played,
swimming in summer,
diving off the trestle
at Muddy River Bridge,
or hiking up Peter's Rock,
or Scout Camporees
at Sleeping Giant.
Working the fields in summer,
our first jobs, pulling
weeds at Balletto's farm.
There was Johnny "Redcabbage"
and "Chicken Charlie"
Bradley, "Big Tony"
Jo-Jo and Red, older guys, these two,
but they tolerated us
younger kids, to get a quorum to play ball.
Then it was on to high school
And it was the bus for us
as our little town
was too small for
one of its own
We scattered then, to other towns,
and the gang of nineteen merged
with the world.
Pauli played baseball, basketball and football
and his winning smile enchanted all, well almost all.
And again after that, the four years like
evaporated in the morning's glow.
Again we diverged, Paul and Brad to the Paratroops
I and cousin Dave to the Air Force
now citizens of the world.
Pauli and High School Advisor
I stopped, the other day,
at Pauli's wall, to survey the past,
to photograph the wall,
now crumbling away,
I needed to have something
to remember that memory of Pauli,
out there, being a one-man
Years ago I phoned Pauli,
talked to one of his boys,
Pauli was in the hospital,
diabetic that he was, and his leg
was being amputated.
I called Pauli then talked with him, told him he'd be okay,
and I'd see him when he got out.
But he never got out, the illness got worse,
and then he was gone.
I didn't go to his funeral,
I don't know if it was guilt at
not taking his illness more serious,
or that I was dealing with my own son's
dying of AIDS. But no matter, I didn't go.
And for that I'll always feel some guilt,
that I wasn't there for him
when he needed all the help
he could get.
So I pass the cement wall and I visualize
Pauli there, throwing his rubber ball,
calling the plays as the sphere
flys up into the air.
I think of Pauli
And I wonder how such a
strong wall, could crumble
A Return to Pauli's Wall
Several years have passed by since I wrote my first poem to Pauli's Wall. That wall has been a chronometer for me as I remember it from childhood - the way it was then - the way Pauli lived at that wall, bouncing his rubber ball high into the air as he lived his baseball fantasy life. I've seen the wall crumble slowly over the years, at least over those years when I was in the area. Now I'm back in town and when I pass the wall regularly, usually on my Sunday visit to my mother I give the old cement structure a wink as I drive by.
Actually Pauli was the starting point for the second part of my childhood. He was the first kid in the neighborhood that I met when we moved to the "suburbs" and he sort of took me under his wing. I always thought we were best friends and maybe we were at first, at least in the way boys are chums. We went to Montowese Elementary School together, along with seventeen other kids, a few more, more or less. Kids like Ronnie T. moved out and were never heard from again, like they dropped off the edge of the earth . . .
Today I visited Mom, she was kind of forgetful, as she often is now a days. But afterwards I headed out, toward Vals. But first I stopped and took a picture of our old house on Quinnipiac Avenue. It's not the same anymore, they've fixed it up, looks real nice now, not rundown like when we "owned" it.
Then I thought to shoot some more scenes, pictures of houses of kids
I'd known when I was in grammar school there. Some homes were easy, especially
Billy L's old place, a converted barn. (His father was our scoutmaster
for a while) and Uhl's cigar factory across the street. But I couldn't
find Charlie B's house; it could have been any of a dozen small houses
on the street all looking the same.
But Smitty's drive-in was still there. I remember when it first was built and opened as Vicky's Spa. What a wonder! A spa in little old Montowese where you could get ice-cream sundaes and pay the pinball machines and act like a cool big kid who knew what he was doing. The city was coming our way.
Driving down the main street, Quinnipiac Avenue, past the firehouse,
then Smitty's Drive-in, I tried to remember who lived in the houses along
the way. There was Bradley P.'s house, and Norman R's, Duggie's, Andrew
T., Johnnie R., David G.. And, down the lane was Johnnie, and Marilyn,
and Allen. What I realized was, that in the other houses, most of them
in fact, I never did know, or care to know who lived in them. It was almost
like those houses were props in an imaginary movie of my life.
Sort of an "Our Town" feeling came over me then, realizing that I'd never really known the town nor anyone other than the kids my own age. And I never knew them very well either. And Pauli, my "best friend" perhaps I knew him the least of all. Somewhere in childhood our friendship soured. Maybe I lost faith in him or he in me, I don't know. But we tolerated each other in high school, speaking very seldom and then of things of no consequence.
I had the feeling that Pauli was trying to be somebody else than who he was, sort of trying to redefine himself. It's possible, at that age, that I was trying to do the same thing. Anyway, after high school we all went our separate ways, Pauli and Brad to the paratroopers and I and my cousin David to the Air Force and time moved along.
Years later Pauli got married, moved to Fairfield, had kids, became an advertising executive, wrote a novel . . . Brad came back, studied at a seminary and became a Catholic priest, even though he'd been a Baptist all throughout his childhood. Charlie became a skater, married a skater, they had a child, he got divorced, then remarried.
Johnnie Redcabbage moved upcountry, has a farm I heard. I used to run into George T. often, then heard that he married late in life, had a little girl, then suddenly George died.
Once I met Marie B. in a local store. She was divorced, had a kid, and was undergoing treatment for cancer. Later, she too passed away . . . Ralph D. became a teacher and worked part time to make extra money making pizza at his cousin's restaurant. I met Linda M. the class sexpot in a grocery store and she had two kids in her grocery cart, one in her arms and several running around the store. . .
Met rolly-poly Tony B. at the gas station as he was pumping gas. Heard later that he passed away too. Wesley B. married an older woman with teenage kids. One day I heard that he put a shotgun into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Don't know what became of the others, either those from grammar school
or high school. I hope they had a good life . . .
So with every tick of the clock, Pauli's Wall continues to collapse and disappear a little bit more. Pauli himself passed on several years ago as have other members of our class of 1950. Even some of those who we called our "juniors" have gone on. But the wall continues, at least parts of it do, notably the stairs which seem to be made of slightly studier stuff than the wall. I nod to that wall as I pass by. It knows me, that wall, probably better than I know myself. . .