Popping Rocks

A left hand pushes hard upward, fingers open, releasing a jagged little gray mass. This left hand, it quickly joins the right at the end of a fat red plastic bat and then both hands are swinging hard counter clockwise until the thick end of the bat connects with the chunky rock hanging midair. The dull thud echoes loud and bits of dirt explode fireworks into the air, showering bits of soil and mud to the ground. The rock launches across the expanse of lawn that Dad makes me cut when it starts to sprout dandelions. It sails past the two wooden sheds near the corner of the property and flies over the chain-link fence that separates our yard from the neighbors. I don’t see where it hits but I hear it land, cracking twigs and branches until it’s just rustling leaves that could be coming from any direction.

This big red bat, thick as a sewage pipe, came with a grapefruit sized plastic baseball. One Christmas after I turned eight, I opened up the package in awe because now I could practice hitting home runs like Ken Griffey Jr.

Once I got older, I would stand in the backyard on the patio near the edge of grass and practice the way I’d remember Griffey standing, waiting for a pitch beside home plate. I’d gyrate my wrists and hold my elbows perfectly still behind my head so only the bat would move. And then, only when I was ready, I’d toss up the thin plastic baseball with my left hand and smash it as hard as I could.

The thing is, the ball never really went anywhere. Once the air caught it, that weightless, hollow ball would line drive downward into the long section of yellowed grass and bounce a couple times before stopping. No matter how hard I hit it, I could never get it to travel very far. It wasn’t until I busted a hole in the side of the ball that I had to switch to hitting rocks that I’d been able to really nail the homers I’d wanted.

On warm summer days, I’d stand out there in the backyard for hours tossing up rock after rock of all sizes. Sometimes they would dent in the plastic bat, but I was always able to pop the pliable surface back into place.

About two weeks before this my parents had gotten new windows on the house and, in the kitchen, they’d replaced the old one with a protruding garden window. One that had a little ledge to put flowers or herbs or knick-knacks.

Anyway, after the new windows were replaced, both my mom and dad continually yelled at me for standing out there slamming rocks into the neighbor’s yard. They kept telling me that I was gonna be sorry if I broke a window or, worse, the neighbor’s, and I’d stop and shoot a couple baskets on our adjustable basketball hoop, and then when they’d gone back inside I’d go right back to my trusty red bat, popping rocks left and right like I was in the home run derby playing for the Seattle Mariners.

This happened consistently until one day I tossed up a moss covered rock and nicked it, sending it tumbling in a severe trajectory to my right, directly in line with the house. Immediately my stomach sank and I watched in slow motion as the rock took a line drive and punched a golf ball sized hole through the dead center of that garden window. I heard the rock tumble somewhere inside the kitchen, bouncing off cabinets, off tile.

And that’s when I hear it loud as day, “What the hell?” My dad’s voice booming through that tiny hole in the window, and I swear I can feel his footsteps in my body all the way outside. I drop the bat and it bounces off the concrete and rolls until it hits dirt.

The back door flies open and he screams my name.

I turn the opposite direction and run like I’m stealing bases.

Ricky OlsonComment