The Latin phrase, “mens sana in corpore sana” (a healthy mind in a healthy body), attributed to the 7thCentury scholar, Thales, or to the playwright satirist, Juvenal, is inarguably, the universally accepted gold standard for full, successful human development.
We will apologetically, confess, that due to our own special interest in literature and the humanities, as the felt route to human advancement and growth, we have not sufficiently written on the subject of physical fitness, a subject, admittedly essential to the existential continuance of our species, and, as well, its full enjoyment of life. For the young, in addition to the salubrious effect of exercise, participation in team sports, from the high school to the University level, teaches important lessons in interactive dependency and self-control, encourages camaraderie, initiative and social skills; as additional dividends to its function as health-promoting exercise.
Professional sports, unlike college level sports, however, is a commercial enterprise, involving corporate ownership, high salaries, and is an enormous advertising and media phenomenon. Amazingly, in the past fifteen years, or so, the emergence of professional sports as a multiple billion -dollar corporate enterprise, can only be matched by the obsessive (perhaps, unhealthy) interest on the part of the public. It may be conjectured, that the temporal diversion of spectator sports can provide a necessary escape and diversion, from daily cares and responsibilities. We have learned, to our amazement, that, the basketball tournament, (only college level) known as “March Madness,” regularly grosses billions of dollars, and that the National Basketball Association (professional level) expends sums in excess of fifty-seven million dollars per team. These sort of figures, in a general discussion of sports as physical fitness is confusing and, boggles our mind. It also quite, unexplainably, induces personal, nostalgic memories of the contrasting experience in our participation in competitive sports, back in the ‘40’s.
In contrast to the widely- celebrated, mega business of basketball and football, which consume much of the leisure time of our contemporary citizens, we, at an early age, were aficionados and avid participants in the competitive sport of marbles. We have so many relevant anecdotal memories on the subject, recalled from our modest childhood in a East New York, Brooklyn neighborhood, [ a venue where insecure immigrant love, competed with indigence, for prime time] that we are obliged to be selective. In any case, this note is intended to primarily concern the neighborhood-wide grand sport of marbles
For those who need a primer on Brooklyn marbles, we would offer the following fundamental, details. To play, we would recommend at least two other participants, and importantly, an unpaved patch of dirt, relatively free from weeds and small stones. Such a marble-playing arena which we will now shall exalt by referring to it as “the pitch,” had to be sufficient in area to accommodate, three or four sets of small (soiled) knees and a few, additional feet for the marble hole if you were playing a particular game, otherwise, a pitch, merely big enough for a small circle (usually delineated with a twig), as another choice from a copious variety of tournament recommendations. It might be useful at this point, to delineate the variety and appearance of the primary objects, the marbles themselves, and, an additional word on their respective value, in accordance with the then prevailing neighborhood policy
The essential facts are that all marbles are made of glass, are round, approximately 3/4ths of an inch in circumference, and appear in various colors and designs. There is a larger size marble, which local Brooklyn kids called, (erroneously or not), a “karbola.” The latter item was only useful in one particular game, was clumsy in its use as a shooter, and so was generally, perceived to have little value. The ordinary, run of the mill marble, was multi-colored, most with a similar design. These multicolored ones were, when necessary, the most expendable, as will be explained. The next, highest marble, in the official hierarchy of value, was the single colored, glass marble, which, in turn was subservient to the single color clear marble (called, “purees”). The highest currency was awarded to a puree with a visible, internal bubble. Marbles were used both as, “shooters,” as well as the gaming stakes, and accordingly, their respective valuation had to be strategized. The lowest valued, of course, was the first, strategically surrendered, in the event of loss.
Every player had a favorite, “shooter,” which, when if owned, was a bubbled puree, which carried with it a karma, akin to religious sacrament. It was seen as the rarest and most beautiful of marbles. and hence, the most valuable, and was believed to bring good luck. There was a most compassionate rule to the effect that, regardless of the magnitude of a shortage, on the part of any losing party, in “paying up,” the loser was protected from the disgraceful surrender of his “puree-shooter.”
As many people may be aware, the game is played, essentially, by shooting marbles at a desired target, other marbles, or a small hole, depending upon the occasion’s tournament selection. The marble (the “shooter”) is placed above the tip of the curled index finger, and “shot,” by a flick action of the thumb, with the knuckles of the shooting hand, mandatorily, touching flat to the ground. In one type of game, marbles are provided, equally by the contestants, and placed in a drawn circle. Each player takes his turn, attempting to shoot marbles out of the circle, which then become his property; each player keeps shooting until he misses. Because shooting requires a quick flick of the thumb, which is precarious, there was another compassionate rule in case a shooting party was clumsy and failed to discharge his marble properly. This rule generously permitted the shooter a do-over, provided he shouted the word, “slipsies” before the opponent had the opportunity to initially declare “no slipsies.” The tactically quick timing of the respective calls, was eternally in dispute, calling for truly legally, profound, and heated debate.
To today’s sport fans, these games would comparatively, appear to small time, little boy contests; and we are obliged to agree. But, within the childhood context, as evaluated by the actual contestants, they were defining acts of reputational (neighborhood) skill, carrying with them, the perceived excitement and significance of major sporting contests. In the case of marbles, the element of a player being sidelined for injury, fortunately, was not present. The imminent concern, and danger, however, was the dreaded call to lunch. This, was, eternally a felt, untimely, interruption, perpetrated by a player’s mother (in this setting, loudly and publicly) from a window, in the “apartment residence,” as the owner, would designate the edifice, or, the tenement, as the occupants would, describe it. Compliance with the shrill, Eastern-European accented, command, such as, “Melvin, Lunch,” in those days was unquestioned, and such interruptions of the concentrated play, felt close to unbearable. When the game was thus interrupted and, in any case, temporarily adjourned, pending a player’s lunch, on occasion, one of the players would accompany him; to be often rewarded with a chocolate chip cookie.
In one such, rather memorable occasion, we accompanied Melvin to his apartment for lunch. A dispute ensued when Melvin was handed his traditional tuna fish sandwich (mayonnaise and tomato on rye) by his mother. Melvin, wanting desperately to get back to the game, repeatedly insisted that he was not hungry, but to no avail. His mother, leaving the room, rendered the judicial decree, providing, that until he ate the whole sandwich, he could not go outdoors. Melvin, who in later life, distinguished himself as an engineer in the Apollo Space Program, went to the family toolbox, carefully selected a small screwdriver, removed the four corner screws on the back cover of a nearby small table radio, inserted the tuna with mayonnaise and tomato on rye, inside, screwed the cover back on the radio, and quickly departed, returning to the adjourned game. One can only imagine the amazement and shock, of the radio repairman, at some time thereafter, at his discovery of the ultimate remains of the tuna, tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, recalling that, in those days, radios operated on large glass tubes, which heated upon use.
Engagement in sports and physical fitness, in general, requires true initiative and sincere dedication.