American Culture

Children, baseball bats, and foreign policy

The boy, bigger than the rest, strode into the schoolyard, carrying a shiny, new, 34-inch Louisville slugger. He saw groups, some large, some small, of other boys. In darker, shady corners, lone boys lingered. The big boy looked around, here, there, everywhere. Everyone noticed that. Some of the other boys had bats, too, but none were as bright, shiny, and heavy as that of the big boy.

He stopped at one group of smaller boys. He held his gleaming white, hard-maple bat behind him. When he spoke, they smiled. They showed him their bats. He inspected the bats, nodding every now and then. One boy held out his bat and asked a question. The big boy took the bat and showed the smaller child a better way to hold it. He demonstrated to the child how to swing it. The smaller boy stepped away from the group and practiced swinging his bat. The others nodded approvingly.

The big boy walked to another group. He held his bat in front of him, barrel pointed at the biggest of these small boys with furtive eyes. They would not look directly at him. Most had no bats. A few did, but those bats had splintered. Tape held broken chips to the bats’ barrels. A few of the boys sidled up the big boy, smiling, their hands outstretched. The big boy poked sharply at their hands with his bat. The smaller boys slunk away.

The big boy left the group and returned to the entrance of the schoolyard. He looked toward those darker, shadowed corners intently. A few of the loners were hunched over, their backs turned toward him. The big boy could not see their hands.

The big boy reached into a bag he’d left with a trusted smaller boy. He took out two of his large bats — but not quite as large as his big maple bat — and walked to the first group of boys. He spoke to two of the boys. He asked questions. He liked the answers. He gave each boy a new bat, larger than either had ever possessed.

He walked toward a dark corner of the schoolyard, beckoning the two smaller boys to follow. They did, emboldened by their bright, shiny, new bats. They waved the bats, almost arrogantly, at other boys as they passed by.

As they approached the loner in the corner, the big boy waved the smaller boys to his side. The trio of bar wielders fanned around the loner. The big boy approached the loner, whose face was indistinct in shadow. The big boy poked at the dirt next to the lone boy, motioning him back.

As the loner stepped back, his foot kicked a small bag, moving it behind him. But the big boy could see some of its contents — pieces of wood, some small, some large; some were maple, some ironwood, some ash. Then the big boy saw the glue. The bottle was nearly empty; the big boy could tell the loner had been given — or stole — a used bottle from some other boy.

The big boy spoke to the one smaller boys, who scurried off to try to find who provided the glue. As the big boy turned back to the loner, he spotted another solitary boy sidling along the fence toward the loner. The big boy stepped between the loner and the other boy and waved his bright, shiny, new bat at the latter. The boy slunk away. As he did, the big boy saw the tip of a piece of wood and a container of glue poking out of the boy’s pockets.

The big boy turned to the loner and waggled his bat at him. No bat building, he warned. The loner glowered at the big boy, angered. The big boy walked away. He ordered one of the smaller boys to keep watch on the loner, albeit from a distance.

The big boy walked around the yard again, occasionally smacking his bat against his palm. All is order, he thought.

But he’d lost track of that solitary boy with the piece of wood and bottle of glue in his pocket. The big boy never saw that solitary boy approach another smaller boy, sprawled in the dirt after being pushed down by an arrogant, ambitious boy who hung with that first group of boys favored by the big boy.

The solitary boy glanced around the yard. The big boy was back with his bat-wielding friends. The big boy never saw the solitary boy quickly ease the piece of wood and bottle of glue from his pockets — and give them to the smaller boy bullied by a larger one.

That small boy hurriedly hid the wood and disguised the bottle. Come another day, as the big boy circumnavigated the schoolyard, he paid no attention to the bullied boy’s dirty water bottle.

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