…Big Maxx’s uncoordinated approach to this game was something to see and experience. Maxx could not and would not stand appropriately in front of and to the side of the square. He would stand off to one side of course and slightly angled off to the left of the square so the pitcher could see his target but held his back against the backstop itself. Somewhat like a rat caught in a corner with no avenue of escape. And when the pitcher began his rotation, his motion toward the white chalked square, Maxx would begin to crouch, his whole body as tight as a tight spring and so tightly focused like a panther waiting to launch. His eyes seemed to be on fire with facial features that were designed only for intimidation. And if looks could kill, Big Maxx’s sneer could annihilate.
Maxx would position his body so as to present himself with a full frontal aspect to the pitcher. He held the bat in front of his mass, vertically; with just a slight back and forth motion, toward the pitcher. Not your typical practice swing mind you but a slight to and fro rhythm. As if to say to the pitcher: “okay asshole, give me all ya got. – if you dare”. Without having to say a single word Maxx’s physical presence spoke volumes and to a young lad, a young pitcher like me, spelled B-U-L-L-Y. It was bully-ish like behaviour for sure. Perhaps this was the reputation that Maxx inadvertently, but unintentionally, presented to the world around him.
And when the pitcher finally found the nerve, wound up and fired that ball from about 45 feet way, Maxx in anticipation would turn, and run with the bat still vertical at what seemed like a gallop, toward the ball’s trajectory, but to an invisible spot that only he could fathom in his mind’s eye then swing that bat as bloody hard as he could muster with all of his massive might in a frame that convulsed in such physical rapture and tumultuousness. The entire evolution was not unlike “Happy Gilmore’s” golf swing. Most times Maxx missed and fell on his ass but when he connected, look out, that ball was gone or destroyed. Indeed, I think one of his batted balls is still up there in orbit somewhere.
We normally played for 2-3 hours then quit. Hot, thirsty, ready to cool off. Then of course came the requisite juvenile male banter:
“So, whatdaya want to do now? Oh, I dunno. Whatta you wanna do? I dunno whatta you wanna do? Oh, I dunno, whatta you wanna do” or something similarly profound, and on and on it went.
Good friends, good cheer and awfully good conversation among us. You know, judging from Maxx’s and our own literary skills, his physical strength, his hand / eye coordination, his and our conversation skills and diction, boys really are different than girls.
Maxx and I hung out quite a bit for awhile. He was always good natured to me even with his brusque approach to life in general.
“John”, he would say, “You are my best friend. Hope to all of good hope that we stay good friends, always.”
“Sure Maxx” I reassured him.
In those days all of your friends were your best friends at any given time or another. You always had a best friend hanging around. We had some good laughs me and Maxx. In later years I loved to go over to his house Saturday nights, especially during those cold winter months, for his dad had a secret stash of booze in his basement. Secret, only to his dad of course, for we knew where it was.
Maxx’s basement was great. His was one of the few finished basement that I knew of in those days. Only rich people had finished basements, with a wet bar, with a TV room, with a pool table, with a toilet, in the basement for heaven sakes. That was so cool. O’Grunts had a finished basement as well but for good reason. They had eight kids – 7 boys and one girl, plus Mom and Dad. All living under one roof. In Maxx’s house there were only four: Mom, Dad, Maxx and his sister.
Do the math. A small post war bungalow, 3 bedrooms and one toilet, small kitchen, even smaller living room and a tiny dining room, with a piano thrown in for Chopin’s sake. In addition to the normal 3 bedrooms on the main level, Sean’s house also had a bed in the laundry room, a bed in the play room, bunk beds in the furnace room, double bed in the back basement room, another bed in the cold storage room and one bed in the garage. It was great! But, I don’t know how they managed given that the kitchen didn’t have stainless steel appliances. Mornings must have been chaos.
So Maxx and I would play pool and suck back on a couple of shots. No more. Too dangerous. We didn’t quite smoke yet but the smell would have been a cruel giveaway. Maxx always won. He was damn good at pool. Maxx could also be somewhat philosophical:
“Hey John, do you think I’m stupid?”
Where the hell did this come from?
“Nope, yellow in the corner.”
“Do the other guys at school think I’m dumb?”
“The ones that are still breathin?” I joked “Nope” I continued “And if they did I doubt that they would ever say it to your face.”
“So, they do then?”
“Nooo, no,” I lied “Sure you have some quirks Maxx. But your English compositions are great. Everyone cracks up.” and that was the truth.
“I know, but sometimes I just can’t seem to understand what’s going on. What I see and think sometimes comes out as what I think then see. You know what I mean? Things seem to be bass ackwards. My dad says I should go to Trade School but I don’t want to go. I have nightmares just thinking about it. I’d miss my friends too much. I’d miss guys like you and O’Grunts”
Damn Nuns I thought.
“Don’t worry Maxx, everything will be fine.” Now let’s play pool.
He never brought that up again, at least to me. Yeah, Big Maxx was somewhat of a lout. He had his problems but was a good guy. I liked him a lot. Nevertheless we drifted apart after a few years primarily because of his tendency to repeatedly repeat grades. Then one day, I noticed that he wasn’t around at school anymore. And after about a week of looking out for him I finally worked up the courage and asked Ms McFayden – our resident chain smoker – if she knew where Paul was. Courage, because deep down inside I kinda sensed that I knew his fate but I was afraid to hear the obvious.
“Paul’s gone to Trade School!” she announced.
“Damn.” I cried.
No, Maxx was no bully. The real bullies at that school were the Nuns and the Priests.
I lost track of Big Maxx after that. I did run into him years later though. He was indeed dyslexic and once that condition became clear to him he excelled, scholastically and practically. On completion of trade school he took an apprenticeship in plumbing. In five years he became a journeyman and did exceedingly well. He went back to night school, earned an undergraduate degree in business then opened his own plumbing business. He then went on the get an MBA and is beginning to expand his business into a franchise based organization. All is well with Big Maxx except, as he told me, he still cannot write a flowery English composition…