THE JAI LIFE
Back in the 1950’s, when I was in elementary school, one of the local television stations in New York showed Jai Alai from Mexico. I was one of the kids who watched this exotic sport with rapt attention as Mendi or Gorrichio climbed high up the fronton wall to catch the pilota in their sesta baskets and launch it back at over a hundred miles an hour. Fantastic.
Across the street, my friend Peter Drago also watched. Naturally, the next step for us was to remove our rear bicycle fenders, and after hammering them a bit and taping them to our wrists with black electrical tape we set out for the schoolyard and its handball court.
Now the schoolyard was reportedly the place where the ‘big kids’ hung out, a place of supposed danger to kids like us. Personally I never found that to be a problem but that myth hung over the place.
Nevertheless, we rode our fender-less bikes there, dismounted and, in perfect fronton ceremonial fashion, marched, one behind the other to the handball courts. The few kids that were around wondered what the hell we were doing, but we were focused and after a little practice we were soon whipping that 'spauldeen' (Spaulding) off the wall with force. Nobody bothered us because, as we swung our metal sestas around we looked dangerous, probably more to each other than to anyone else. We considered that day a success and left to plan our next foray into the Jai life.
The next time we entered the schoolyard we made one small change. Instead of a rubber ball we now were using a golf ball. If we were dangerous before, we were now deadly. The golf ball bounced off the concrete wall like a bullet, our sestas were now ‘weaponized’. We even attracted a little audience.
In the many years that followed I got to watch great Jai Alai players in Florida and an amazing spectacle once in Mexico, always thinking back to those early days of me and Peter Drago down at the schoolyard.
We were really something.