Archive for ‘The Significance of Place’

July 25, 2013


When I was growing up I spent more time at church than anywhere else. One of the things my friends and I loved to do was play Wallball against the main edifice of the church. One of the great things about that was a ridge that ran across the wall about a yard above the ground. Hitting that lip just right could send the ball sailing over everyone’s head. A friend’s mother recently asked me to write up the rules of the game for younger generations to continue the game.

Wallball Rules:

Equipment: tennis ball or other rubber bouncing ball approximately the size of a baseball; wall

Numbers: 2-infinity, but I’d recommend something less than 10

The object of the game is to be the last man standing. Generally, you mirror baseball’s rules, with three outs before you sit and tie goes to the runner.

General concept: free for all throwing the ball against the wall and fielding the ricochets. There are no turns – if you want the ball, field the ball.

The ball MUST be thrown toward the wall.

If a ball is thrown against the wall and caught on the fly (by the thrower or another player), the thrower is out.

If a fielding error occurs, the player who erred must touch the wall before another player can field it cleanly and throw the ball to the wall. If the ball beats the runner, that is an out.

In wall ball, error is used broadly to mean having the ball touch the ground after you have touched it. A ball that rolls as you try to pick it up is an error. You can’t dribble the ball, but you can toss it up in the air and catch it.

However, a ball that bounces off you and is fielded on the fly by another player would not constitute an error. But if that other player doesn’t field it cleanly but drops it, both players would need to touch the wall.

Throwing Errors:

There are two philosophies on throwing errors. The first and most straightforward is that to not hit the wall on the fly is an out. That means a bounced ball, blocked throw, or clean miss is an out.

The other philosophy is that to miss the wall constitutes a normal error. One could miss the wall and yet avoid the out by touching the wall before the ball can be fielded and thrown against the wall. Obviously in this case a bounced throw would beat the thrower to the wall.


Often a younger player’s favorite aspect of the game, “Butterfly” maybe yelled once another player has grabbed the ball to force them to throw from that spot. To be called in general play is obnoxious (hence a younger player’s favorite part) but a key facet when the ball is fielded in an unfavorable location, i.e. far from the wall, behind a tree, behind or nearly parallel with the plane of the wall.

In situations where the ball is in an unfavorable location, the person closest must go get it.

For the attentive and competitive, there is Butterfly Bending Over. If this is called as soon as the player grabs the ball and is still bent over, they must make the throw from that position. If they have stood up before this is called, they don’t have to be bent over, but they must still throw from there.

The very cynical player would probably just throw the ball in the other direction, but so the clause was instated that the ball must be thrown towards the wall. The slightly less cynical player often drops the ball in these situations, taking the error and tries to beat the throw to the wall.

Situational Rules:

You may block other people’s throws. Depending on the rules you follow in terms of throwing errors (above), merely catching someone’s throw before it hits the wall may or may not constitute an out.

If your throw ricochets off the wall and is in danger of being caught, you may try to block the catch. The cynical jackwad would swat it to an unfavorable location, which, while legal, is not really within the spirit of the game and will probably result in said jackwad not having friends. Contact is permissible, but nothing flagrant is within the spirit of the game; the risk of losing all your friends is your own. Also, no one likes a whiner.

If you commit an error but out of reflex still field the ball, it must be dropped before running to the wall. You may not carry it to the wall, you may not throw it away, just drop it. On your way to the wall you may try to block another player’s throw, but that is usually inadvisable as it will probably slow you down.

Play ball!

Playing wallball with my siblings at our old church.

Playing wallball with my siblings at our old church.

June 14, 2013

Get Up and Go

When I was in third grade my dad worked for Truro Episcopal Church. His boss was Father Herb, a 5’7” Canadian with just enough stock to not be skinny. He grew up on hockey and was drafted out of high school by the Detroit Red Wings. But knowing a man of his size would not survive, his father forbade him to go. Decades and a broken marriage later, he became Father Herb: Episcopal Priest, Pastor of Outreach, father of three kids roughly my age, and informal hockey instructor. The string of Schlossberg children running around the church pronounced his title as though we were James Cagney: Fadda Hoib.

During the summer, the kids would schlep their rollerblades and hockey sticks from their mother’s home in Texas to Father Herb’s. Other staff members’ kids would come with their parents to the church bringing their rollerblades; Father Herb would bring out his extra sticks. We’d drag the hockey nets out to the back parking lot and begin. I had just started rollerblading; I learned quickly, but skated without panache. Father Herb and his kids had removed their rear brakes and could stop on a dime. Matt and Will took two dimes to stop; Peter and I took three.

All I had were skates, a helmet, and the desire to play. Father Herb lent me a stick. One day my dad dropped Will and me off at Father Herb’s house and we all played in his drive way. Afterwards, Father Herb took the stick I was using, the white one with Jamir Jagr’s machined signature in Pittsburgh Penguins gold, and sized it for me, cutting off a couple inches and taping the handle. It was mine now. I’d skate around our apartment complex with that stick and a tennis ball, lofting wrists shots at dumpsters.

In sixth grade, I outgrew my skates. Father Herb’s kids visited less frequently and when they did, they rarely played hockey. My dad moved from the church office to the homeless ministry across town. Ike tried on my old skates, but without anyone to skate with, he gave them up. Without anyone to play hockey with, there was no reason for me to purchase new skates. My stick with the golden signature languished in a corner.

We left Washington DC before its current athletic renaissance began, before Ovechkin brought relevance to the Verizon Center. Before Harper was profiled in Sport Illustrated as a high schooler; before RG3 was drafted; before the brief, shooting star that was Agent Zero’s Wizard career. When it was easy to forget DC had a professional hockey team, so there was no one inspiring me to lace up the skates and I certainly never went to a game. If pressed, I claimed the Capitals as my team out of my DC loyalty only, not out of affection for the team. Eight years in the Midwest did nothing to engender hockey allegience either. Occasionally attending games was entertaining, but merely being a spectator doesn’t suit me.

But this year I got rollerblades again. A friend moved, leaving his behind, and they fit well enough. I strapped them on and slowly skated the circumference of my car in my garage without falling; it felt great; it felt natural. I called my brother Abraham, asking him to check my parents’ New York garage for my stick; it was gone. The white stick with the golden signature had been left in DC or Wisconsin. Play-It-Again Sports sold me a new stick for $12 and a ball for $3. Nick and I visited the local park street hockey rink after work. After thirteen years I was skating without a stationary car to provide balance: I fell ten times in the twenty minutes before we were mercifully evicted by proficient skaters. I left with skinned knees, a bruised tuchus, wrenched back, and bleeding ego. The following Saturday I laced up again, falling just once in an hour.

The general assertion is that the Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in sports, and I concur, but I’ve had trouble following the sport. It’s not the Russian names; I like Dostoevsky’s novels. The playoffs this year have been easier to follow; while the success of the local Blackhawks could be the reason, I prefer to think it’s that I’ve started playing again. I only understand sports I play. I’m not playing the way I did with Father Herb and I’m sure 12 year old me would smoke current me, but the fact is that I am playing. What are you doing?


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August 6, 2012


Remembering Truro Church

Earlier this year, the church in which I grew up lost its historic property in a bitter legal battle. As I wanted to devote a portion of this site to the significance of place, and this church specifically, I’ve asked my friends from that place for their own thoughts. This is from my friend, Kirsten Rodgers.

July 29, 2012

Reset the Narrative?

Earlier this year, the church in which I grew up lost its historic property in a bitter legal battle. I decided to focus a portion of my thoughts and writing toward the significance of that place on my life. I’ve also reached out to friends from that period of my life and asked them to share their own thoughts; these will follow shortly.

I am waiting to press the reset button. I have been waiting for almost eight years. There has always been the expectation that one day everything would be restored. I would press the button, return to my homeland, and everything would be the way it was. January 11th, I realized that it was a dummy button; were I to press it—that is all the result I would get. My finger would push a spring loaded device into a depression and when I withdrew the force of my hand, the spring would return the device to its original location; there is nothing on the other side of the button. No result. The last eight years would still be there, a yawning chasm between me and where I’ve always wanted to be.

Truro Church. One of three historic churches in Northern Virginia. It predates the Episcopal Diocese. I spent more of my waking hours there than I did at home. That is where I envisioned getting married; where I envisioned having my ashes scattered. Why do I put so much emphasis on a large brick building in a D.C. suburb? Is it where God lives? No, but it is my Wailing Wall. It is something I can’t get back. But I felt at home there. I was integrated; I had relationships; I had purpose.

Then the Episcopal Church splintered and the congregation was a shard— a shard that further splintered as families left one Sunday afternoon only to not return the next. Then I moved 649 miles away. Then a court decided that the Diocese owned the building.

This is like the death of heroes. My hero died three times. His name was Kirby Puckett. He led the Minnesota Twins to two World Series victories before I can remember. But as long as I can remember, I have idolized him. In 1995 his career was ended by glaucoma. That was the first death. He could no longer play baseball. That I all I had ever wanted to do. And now my inspiration for doing so could do that no longer. The second time he died was when he divorced his wife among allegations of abuse, assault, and adultery. He was no longer the charismatic family man who loved children and told them that just because he couldn’t see, it didn’t mean Jesus didn’t answer prayers. I was at Truro when I found out. The third time he died, he was dead. He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t going to abuse anymore women or eat anymore lard or play anymore baseball or let anyone down.

Truro lost its beautiful brick property, of which I knew every niche, to the Episcopal Diocese from which it had separated itself. Via the mysteries of grace, the congregation will not be forced to move for another year yet, but the spiritual body of the church is now legally separated from its physical shelter. People argue that we’ve placed too much emphasis on a building and The Church is not about a building, but it is an icon, a physical—blood, water, and brick—narrative of Christ’s church in Fairfax. It wasn’t just a building when a teenager on a bike would be the first to arrive and the last to leave every Sunday and would choose to spend most of his week there too; it was an opportunity to be a participant and student of Christian polyphony.

I’ve passed up opportunities over the past six years to press that reset button and I never had the chutzpa to test its spring; I’m not sure whether my hand was stayed by a subconscious knowledge of its false nature or just cowardice but due to that denial, my narrative has progressed. Truro was a vital section of my narrative and its significance has propelled the story forward, but to attempt to relive it would be to repeat a completed section of the story, like doubling up signatures in a book.

I’ve accepted that there is nothing behind the reset button but a spring. I can still go back every summer and pretend I’m still sixteen years old throwing out my shoulder by hurling tennis balls against a brick edifice for hours on end. I can still watch footage of the 1991 World Series. And I can still pray to God wherever I am. But I need a new Truro, just like I need a new hero, for the twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-whatever me. For the Chicago me. The me that is still searching for integration, relationships, and purpose.