Mr. Hitter

I’m re-posting a few of the things I originally published on my now-defunct Geocities site, from what I like to think of as Via Negativa’s 11-month gestation period. Here’s one from February 14, 2003. We were hearing every day how Carthage must be destroyed…

“Unstructured play” was the rule during recess at the New Day School, where my big brother in 1970 would’ve been a first grader, had there been any formal recognition of grade levels. And as it happened, an unstuctured variant on the game of tag grew up around an old board, some six feet long, that had a tangle of rusty nails sticking out of one end. They called this game Mr. Hitter.

The biggest six year-old in the state of Maine attended that school. His name was Joshua and he was always It.

This was a state of affairs the other kids strove valiantly to maintain, no one wanting to risk the consequences of a successful tag. No one but Joshua, in fact, was ever especially eager to play this game of his. The more precocious among them, like my brother, had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate their leadership abilities by attempting to distract him with a variety of ad hoc diversions, like seeing who could spin around the longest before falling, or if anyone could lob a brick clear over the school.

But most days Joshua would eventually remember, and grabbing the board by its good end he’d sweep it before him like a mace, staggering from the weight and momentum of the thing. With fanatic glee he’d careen around the back lawn howling Here comes Mr. Hitter! And everyone would scatter and regroup in his wake, like gulls at the town dump when the backhoe drove through.

I remember this from the half dozen times I got dropped off there after nursery school, and being the youngest and slowest I had to rely on my brother each time to dissuade Joshua from trepanning my skull: Leave him out of it — he can’t play! A delicious phrase I learned then and there never to resent.

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