Hooked

A map of the fictional nation of Panem from Su...

A map of the fictional nation of Panem from Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s it, now I have to read book three. Suzanne Collins has ensnared me with the Hunger Games Trilogy. The first was absolutely spell binding. The second a little less so but the plot kept evolving with hints of the future secreting themselves into the fray throughout.

I thought Catching Fire was bit less exciting than Hunger Games, but that is because Catching Fire involves the same characters repeating their participation in a new set of games. The winners from previous games were supposedly exempt from being chosen for new games, but the dictatorial President of Panem decided to show his government  has the power, and control to do anything they want to the citizenry.

The arena games are more contrived and mechanical. The characters are less savage and the gamekeepers are the villains this time. They invented some horrendous ways to kill off the characters who formed alliances and spent a good part of their time avoiding gamekeeper traps.

The hook comes in the final few pages of the story. A surprise occurs and the story reveals a new trap. The trap is set for the reader who now must go to book three to learn the outcome.

Simple Amusements, Part Seven – Losing My Marbles

Four Marbles

MARBLES

            Springtime was easy to spot at Our Lady of Hungary. At recess, the boys started playing marbles.  Marbles were easy to carry in the pocket.  Before school, at lunch, and at recess, the boys challenged each other.  All it took was two players to get started.  By the end of the day, dozens more played.  I’d go home for lunch to find my tin-can full of marbles. A quick scoop of the hand pulled a pocketful out of the can. I slid them into my pocket, ready to go. I ran back to the schoolyard to catch a game before the bell rang.

One of the more popular games involved a pot.  A pot is a small hole dug in the ground.  It is three to four inches in diameter, and about one inch deep.  The ground around the pot must be smooth, and flat without any debris so the marbles can roll easily. The edge, or rim on the pot is always smoothed out to allow the marbles to roll into it easily.  After preparing the the site, a player draws a line in the ground by dragging his heel, or stick, across the dirt. He scribes a circle around the pot about five feet away.

The best game involves several players.  Having a distinctive marble as your shooter is also best.  Most marbles are multicolored glass balls less than one inch in diameter.  An ordinary marble has a base color of white with a swirl color.  The swirl is usually a primary color. The swirls come in various shades and hues.  We bought the marbles at the little corner store across the street from the school. Sometimes it was from Kresge’s five and dime.  They packaged them in little net bags with a draw string at the top.  Ten or twelve marbles came in the bag. Very rarely, they mixed a purie into the bag.  Puries were very distinctive marbles. They were one color, and were transparent.  I could hold one up to the sun and see the light shining through it.  If I put it up to my eye, the world became the color of the purie.   A shooter prided himself on the beauty of his purie.  The color and clarity made the marble distinctly his because they were more scarce than ordinary marbles. They were valuable and highly prized.  It was a sad day when I lost a purie in a dog fight against my mortal enemy.

To play a pot game, a group of shooters lined up, toes to the line, to ‘lag.’ That meant tossing your marble toward the pot.  The object of the lag is to get your marble into the pot.  The closest marble to the pot became the first shooter and so on. Getting into the pot, or very near, is crucial to the game. The first marble into the pot qualified the shooter as a ‘killer’. Each player had to reach the pot before he qualified to shoot at another player.

To shoot, the shooter placed the marble between his thumb and his first finger. To make the marble move, he flicked his thumb in a forward movement. All the time, the shooter had to keep his hand on the ground. Either the heel of his hand or his knuckles had to touch the ground.  Lifting a hand off the ground during a shot disqualified the shot, and resulted in a lost turn.  We were all watchful of each other for this detail because calling the foul kept a player in the game longer.

After reaching the pot, and killer status, the shooter got a second turn.  That’s when the real game began.

A killer took his next shot from the pot.  Knuckles were in, and against the rim.  To score, a player with killer status would shoot at any other marble in the ring.  Naturally, the shooter went for the marble closest to the pot to make it easy.  When the killer’s marble hit a victim’s marble, the killer got another turn.  He could continue to shoot at the same marble and keep hitting it until he knocked it outside the ring.  At that point the shooter eliminated the victim from the game.  A good shooter could blast out all his opponents without any opposition because each time he shot and hit another marble he got another turn.

Marbles are similar to billiards.  The shooting marble is the cue ball, the victim a numbered ball.  When the shooter hits the victim there is a distinct glassy ‘click.’ The victim rolls away in a direction dependant upon an angle that the shooter’s marble hit it.  A really smart killer will try to hit multiple victims with a single shot.  Once a shooter misses a victim, he loses his turn until the rotation is back to him. Very often, they knocked the shooter from the ring before he got another chance.

We played this game endlessly during recess, at lunch and after school until another activity started.

Marble players riddled the school yard with pot holes for all the games going on.  There evolved a core of expert shooters who played each other. A pecking order of players descended with skills ranging from expert, amateur, and the beginner.  Each group had its players, and each rank had levels of ability.  The very skillful players always wanted to play ‘for keeps’.  In these games, if a killer knocked a victim out of the ring, he not only scored a point, but he got to keep the victim’s marble.  It was a sorry day when I was bold enough to play my purie and lost it in a “for keeps” game.  Many boys who played in “keep” games had large cloth bags filled with marbles.  The more marbles in the bag, the more prestige he carried.  It was a badge of honor to carry a large bag of marbles. Some of these boys brought an empty bag with them in the morning, and by the end of the day, the bag was full.  As with any game or sport, winning carries prestige. In marbles, the prestige came from showing off a big bag of marbles. Soon, all the players wanted to show off a big bag of marbles, and all levels of skill began to play “keeps.”

Another subtlety of the game employed ‘calling out’ a foul or a special action.  In a situation where a killer was near scoring by knocking a victim out of the ring but another obstacle, like another player’s marble, was in the way.  The shooter could call ‘knee hikes’.  If he called it first, he could shoot from his knee and thus shoot over the obstacle.  The victim could call ‘no hikes’ and if he called first, the shooter had to shoot from the ground.

The marble phase of school lasted until baseball started. Mysteriously, all marbles disappeared when the boys began choosing sides for a baseball game.

Junior Year-Missing the Ball or Hitting the Net

 After spending a year convalescing from the polio my being thirsted for involvement in everything that I could get into at Mendel.  I needed to make up for lost time.  Although the polio kept me from playing football I participated by going to the games.  During the second half of sophomore year I became buddies with Stan Kantor, an old rival from Burnside. Stan is one of the tough guys from Avalon Avenue who went to Perry School. He and his neighbors liked to think they were meaner and tougher than the rest of us on Avalon. We were about the same height and weight.  At Mendel, I learned that Stan was one of the nicest guys I ever met. He played quarterback position on the football team.

Father Theis started a booster club which I joined.  We designed and painted posters advertising the football games.  We hung the posters all around school to promote attendance at the games.  Some of my posters were good enough to hang in places where the hall traffic was the heaviest all day long.

My ability to do the posters got me recognized in the school club scene, and Father O’Neil invited me to join the year book staff as art editor.  On the yearbook I met some really nice guys who became great friends.  One of them is Jim Geil.  He and I became inseparable for several years after. Jim and I still correspond regularly by e-mail. because there are eighteen hundred miles between us.

The school dedicated a new chapel and monastery in time for the start of Junior year.  The monastery led me into a new opportunity.  One day, an announcement came over the PA about a job.  I applied, and got the job as the monastery phone receptionist.

In the new monastery, each priest had a room with a pager.  All of the calls came to a single phone in a small cell at the front door. The cell had a desk, a chair, a phone and a large light board on the wall. Each priest’s name was on the board.  If the priest was in, and the light next to his name was on, he took calls.  When the phone rang, I answered it, and determined who the caller wanted.  I placed the caller on hold, and buzzed the priest.  He answered and I announced which line his call was on. The priests let me know when they left the building, and I took messages.   The job required that I be on duty four hours a day from four until eight.  This meant that I got to screw-off after class until four.  Sometimes I walked up to Michigan Avenue.  Most of the time, I did homework, worked on a poster, or the year book.

In the spring, I tried out for baseball and made the fourth string.  Father Burns placed me at third base.  Throughout the time I played sandlot baseball, I always played second base. Third base was never my position but I was happy to play.  I fielded the ball very well; in fact, I robbed some hot-shot hitters of line drives by spearing the ball on the fly.  My reactions were very good.  unfortunately for me, I didn’t have the strength to throw the ball to first base on the fly.

I also tried out for the tennis and made that.  I often played against myself by stroking the ball against the wall of the handball court at Palmer Park. It was another way  to fill time after school before answering phones.  I never played a real game of tennis with anyone so when I joined the team I had to learn the rules as well as the strokes and the serve. That is when I met Jim Murphy.  We became lifetime friends, and roomed together in college. Jim also stood up at my wedding.

Although I played tennis well in practice I never won a match in competition. Years later I realized why.  During a match, I was so worried about making a mistake, I kept seeing myself missing the ball or hitting it into the net.  That problem stayed with me until my forties when I finally realized the power of positive visualization, that is, “see it in your mind and believe it”.  Why did it take me so long to realize that?

By the end of Junior year things were starting to come together for me.  The effects of the polio were still there, but my sports and weight lifting helped me overcome any handicap that I had.  Life was good.

Wabbit War Mind Game

War is definitely a mind game. Strategy is critical to the success of one, or the other side. Right now, I am trying to understand the new strategy of the Alliance. This morning my intelligence indicated a new player on the scene. Could the Wabbits be so smart as to ally with the Herons? Even if they are not allies, the heron represents another attack on Grumpa Joe. Now, I have to fight the enemy on one more front. Wabbits, ants, mice, now herons; how many more will join the battle before I raise the white flag?

I thought I won the heron battle last fall, but I lost. I last saw him standing on the frozen pond waiting patiently for the thaw. The temperature turned down, and he disappeared. All winter, I waited  to determine if any of my fish had survived his onslaught. They did not; he had eaten every one of them.

The heron is a formidable enemy. He is cunning, clever, and observant. The least bit of noise or movement, and he flies off making a giant circle around the neighborhood only to return and land on the roof of the castle. When opportunity presents itself, he glides down to the water, and patiently fishes.

I avoided buying new fish because of the heron threat. I did not see Great Blue for months, so I finally broke down and stocked the pond with five bucks worth of Comets. The fish are so small, that I have only seen them three times in a month. They disappear rapidly under the foliage of the water lilies.

Today, I did maintenance on the pond. I trimmed the creeping water plants, pulled the string algae out by the bucketful, and cleared the skimmer basket. The heat has evaporated several inches of water, so I ran the hose to top it off. As I picked up the trimmings and piles of algae, I spotted a toad. Then, a few inches away from the toad, I watched a green frog quietly slip into the pool. The frog is another threat. Will he win out over the heron, and eat the comets? Or, will Great Blue have frog legs for supper?  It doesn’t matter; I’m screwed either way.

As I said before, war is strategy. Grandma Peggy hates Great Blue because he eats fish. She will not have a fish eater as her ally, but she will remain faithful to the flower eating Wabbits. How do I resolve the dilemma of split Alliances? In one case she is with me, in the other she is against me. It’s a losin fight.

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