Nostalgic Reflections On Broken Windows


April 20, 1991|By Rob Kasper

A speeding soccer ball narrowly missed crashing through th kitchen window the other day. It reminded me that the broken window season had begun.

This is the season when the kids go outdoors. They play ball. The balls break windows. Then the dads repair the windows.

I know, I've been on both the window-breaking and the window-fixing ends of this cycle.

My prime window-breaking days were years ago when I was kid playing baseball in our backyard. The backyard was, of course, "too small" to hold a real ballgame in. That is what my parents repeatedly told my brothers and me. They also reminded us that a big park, with a real baseball diamond, was a mere two blocks away.

I now regularly tell my kids the same thing, urging them to kick the soccer ball in the alley, or to hit the baseball in the nearby school yard. My kids react the same way I did to my parents, they pay little heed.

That is because one of the primary reasons kids play ball in backyards is the space is so confined. The close quarters and nearby windows give a small kid a feeling of power, a chance to make his mark.

When you play ball in a big airy park it is hard to be impressive. The "sock" of you clobbering the ball is somehow swallowed up by all the open space. Surrounded by all that grass there is no evidence of your work, no spot on the neighboring wall marking where your best shot landed.

One of my sons, for instance, spends hours kicking a muddy soccer ball against a backyard wall. He tells me he likes to compare the size of muddy impressions left on the wall. The stronger the kick, the muddier the mark.

This feeling of being a big fish in a small pond is also why he and his big brother enjoy hitting the tennis ball with a tennis racket in our tiny backyard. They could use a baseball bat, they told me, but the ball goes farther with a tennis racket.

I disapprove. But I understand. When you can send a ball soaring over a nearby garage roof, or up against the next-door neighbor's siding, or through a window, you feel you've done something. It is a frightening sound, when a ball shatters a window. But at the same time, it is thrilling. It is a statement saying "that was some shot."

Even now years after the event took place, I still take some pride in being "the kid who broke a window with a whiffle ball."

When I was kid, it was OK to play whiffle ball in the backyard. The whiffle ball was shaped like a hardball, but it was made of plastic. The ball was light and also had holes in it, meaning it couldn't travel very far. And theoretically, it couldn't break anything.

I hit my shot that was heard around the neighborhood, in the spring. I know it was spring because we were playing in the "save the lilac" formation. There were three lilac bushes in the backyard. When the bushes weren't blooming they served as a backstop, something to stop the ball when it sailed past the batter.

Mom was fond of lilac blossoms. And this meant that when they were blooming, the ball game changed.

All ballplayers were under strict orders not to touch the sacred bushes with the baseball bat.

L Compliance with the mom rule required rearranging the field.

In lilac season, the batter moved to the other side of the yard, and the lilac bushes became part of the center field wall.

On the day in question my brother Mark was pitching, and he did his best to make the ball appear to "hide" in the brightly blooming lilacs as he threw it toward the plate. For a moment the ploy worked, I lost sight of the pitch in the lilacs.

But then at the last instant I saw the ball coming right toward my shoulder. I jerked the plastic bat around, in self defense. Immediately there was that unmistakable "twonk" of hollow plastic hitting hollow plastic.

The ball started toward the left field wall, also known as a neighbor's house, like a missile. Many whiffle ball shots start this way. But instead of soaring up onto the roof like other drives, or diving into the driveway, this speeding shot held its course.

Through some mystery of physics, this whiffle ball dids not whiffle. Instead it trucked. It hit the window, a storm window three-quarters of the way up the "wall," with an authoritative smash. We all recognized the sound.

It was the same sound we had heard when another brother, Dan, had bunted a hardball 40 feet through a garage window. It was the sound we had heard when another cousin, Jack, had sent a fly ball through a distant and heretofore unreachable window in center field of his backyard.

We knew what would happen. We would get in trouble with our parents. They would give us a lecture and would ban us, for a time, from playing any kind of ball, near a window.

If we were old enough to get an allowance, it would be garnished until the cost of replacing the window had been met. As a kid I didn't like getting my wages sliced up, but I must say it prepared me for the adult phenomenon of having taxes withheld from my paycheck. Finally, if the offending ballplayer was old enough, he would have to help my dad replace the broken glass.

That is how I learned to fix a broken window. That is how I learned to wear gloves and first remove all the broken glass from the window. That is how I learned to delicately pry off any wooden trim around the glass, to get replacement glass that is slightly smaller than the frame, and to use Glazier's points, tiny metal triangles, to hold the glass in place, until you finish off with glazing putty.

I watched my dad do this season after season.

And the other day as the soccer ball came sailing toward the kitchen windows, I knew that sometime soon I would be repeating the window replacement ritual.

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