Toy Soldiers


Hey, maybe I do have my finger on the pulse. I predicted people would become uneasy with this exile.

It’s not that I’m getting stir-crazy. I’m pretty good at keeping myself abused, I mean amused.

This is because I am immature. I still play Strat-O-Matic baseball, a game we played when we were eight or nine that entailed reliving an entire Major League Baseball season “pitch” by “pitch” using dice and playing cards. It would take hundreds of hours.

The idea, I think, was to show how statistics can vary, but only so much . . . a guy who hits .300 in real life baseball will hit close to .300 in Strat-O-Matic. Eventually I realized there was no point in replicating reality, so I started cheating. Then it got fun.

My brother and I used to have toy soldier wars. We had thousands, and the wars would take months, the soldier set up on the basement floor and each move chronicled in a journal for accuracy. He beat me one year by sending a “Death Troop” behind my army and massacring my Elite Royal Guard from the rear.

Every day for eight months, he would secretly move his Death Troop the requisite 10 yards. He’d gather up his guys and hide them on the stairs on the way to the bathroom. Then he put them on a shelf 10 yards farther away. Once they were in the washing machine. They circumvented my entire house and one morning he pulled them out of a floorboard while my Elite Royal Guardsmen were sleeping. I cried for three days. Hell, I was only 26.

The difference back then was I could have gone out if I wanted to. There were many times I didn’t because I was afraid of the bully at the school yard or I didn’t do my homework or whatever. Then, as now, there were no physical restraints. Now, though, there is something worse — the psychological fear, the unsaid worry that a virus lurks in the air waiting to infect us with its death grip.

I’m here to tell you I’m getting sick of this — staying home that is. I want to go to the deli in the morning and get my buttered roll and the newspapers.

I want to go to my office and check my mail and see if I left that half-eaten liverwurst in the refrig before someone else discovers it the hard way. I want to drive down the beach with the windows open with “Live/Dead” blaring so loud that the waves themselves are jerking to the spastic semi-rhythms of the twirlers.

I want to go to a restaurant — one of the garish, overpriced ones — and get a cold cocktail “shaken not stirred” and pretend to be James Bond while I decide between the “Pork Roll Flambé with Coriander Mole” and the “Rubbed Sirloin Soy Chop with Ginger and Rogers,” both of which come with mesclun salad (weeds) and Moose Skowron Reduction.

I went to the post office Saturday. I was going to go in, knowing my box is overflowing, but I chickened out when a coughing guy came out. Plus, I know there are no checks, only bills in my post office box, though there are sports magazines. But what good are they when there are no sports?

I want to see a ball game. I want to read a boxscore. I want to stop creeping around like I’m a prisoner. I want to be part of the resistance.

But this isn’t the kind of enemy you can confront. The only way to win this confrontation is to lay back, wait, eat your pork roll, dream about the way things used to be, and pray we get back what we had.

There was something about being a little kid left alone that was exhilarating. It was the fear, and sheer joy, that you would do one of the unspeakable horrors your mom was afraid you’d do. It was like living without a net — kind of like when you grow up.

Best Sports Movies:

“Bull Durham”

“Major League” (Part One)

“When We Were Kings”

“Jerry Maguire”

“Vision Quest”

“The Cutting Edge”

“Any Given Sunday”

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