Rich Galen

On the call of "CAR" all players would retreat to the nearest "curve" - which is how we pronounced "curb" until about 11th grade - while the offending auto drove by.

The only other thing that would be a legitimate reason to pause the action was if the Good Humor truck came by. Then everyone went running at full-tilt into their houses begging their moms for 10 cents to buy an ice cream.

A stickball variant in our neighborhood was played in the schoolyard at Hillside Grade School. This involved drawing, using chalk, a reasonable facsimile of a batter's box on the brick wall outside the gym.

The same scoring obtained with regard to singles, doubles, and triples. A homerun was scored if the ball hit the fence on the opposite side of the parking lot on not more than one bounce. If the ball went over the fence, the game was over because (a) we were afraid of the man that lived there and (b) we would have to walk all the way up to Larry's Candy Store on Hillside Avenue to buy a new one.

The ball, by the way, was a "Spalding High Bounce" rubber ball. It was bubble gum pink, but we didn't know that playing stickball with a pink ball might raise questions back in those days.

We also didn't call it a Spalding High Bounce. It was known - even in as distant a place as at my cousin's apartment house in Far Rockaway, Queens - as a "Spall-DEEN;" a fact that my brother and I found astonishing. Like finding out the word for "cellphone" is the same in Kansas and Kenya.

Like futbol, these were very popular sports on Long Island because you could play them anywhere. All you needed were some kids, a ball, and some space.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: The "official" rules of stickball and a photo of a Spall-DEEN in all its pink glory.

Also a Mullfoto of storm clouds gathering over the Lincoln Memorial the other evening.

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at