TOPPS baseball cards cost a nickel and were highly valued. When you purchased a packet of them the actual cards were assigned randomly. You had no way of knowing if the baseball players you got were any good or valuable. The flat bubble gum included was mostly for decoration and was rather stiff and tasteless. Somehow the scent of the bubblegum transferred to the cards but eventually wore off. There were a lot of negotiations and trades with the cards with your buddies. The better players usually demanded multiple cards just like real major league baseball player trades. One of the games played with the baseball cards was “flipping”. We would pick out a wall and each player would flip one of his cards against the wall. Often the cards corners would be bent as a result of this game. It was sort of a baseball card version of craps or dice throwing. The object of the game was the card closest to the wall would win the other card that was further away. It was a winner takes all game. Most players would never risk a good player in the game of “flip.” Players had to adjust for weather conditions including wind to get their card closest to the wall. The further away from the wall, the more that the element of luck that was involved. Arguments usually resulted in the declaration of a tie and a re-flip. On occasion arguments got heated.
One day at recess I was playing a game of flip with Jim. I thought that I had clearly won Jim’s baseball card but Jim objected by punching me in the mouth. I retaliated with a blow to his eye. The results were a cut lip and a black eye respectively. Almost instantaneously the Sister Michael Jerome swooped down upon us. To us she was a giant over six feet tall and very athletic. She could hit a baseball three times further than any of us. She grabbed us both by the scruff of our necks. She unceremoniously dragged us back to our classroom and she instructed us to sit there in our desks until recess was over. She ominously promised that she would “deal” with us shortly. We were in big trouble.
When recess was over, the rest of the class returned to the classroom and quietly settled into their desks. Sister Michael Jerome announced that fighting during recess would never be tolerated. Unfortunately for Jim and I, a very graphic demonstration was about to take place. Not content to have an audience of just one class, Sister Michael Jerome went to another classroom and led two other classes into the back of the classroom to watch the demonstration. The drama began to grow and the only thing that I could think of was from the Passion Week gospel and the scene about the prisoner Barabbas. I was hoping that my classmates would shout “Give us Tom, release Tom “, to Sister Michael Jerome. This did not happen. Jim and I were instructed to stand up and go to the front of the classroom. There was dead silence in the classroom. No one moved or even uttered a peep. I remember the wind blowing into the open classroom windows and rustling the test paper results that were hung up around the room. Sister grabbed a very thick ruler and told us to stick our arms out with palms down. Jim and I knew what was coming, and we were also smart enough to not pull our hands back, as Sister Michael Jerome delivered about 10 hard blows across our knuckles. The pain was severe but neither one of us cried or yelled out. I could see my schoolmates closing their eyes and wincing. The punishment had been swift and certain. We were allowed to immediately return to our seats and Sister led the other classes out and back to their classrooms. Later in the afternoon Sister Michael Jerome showed some mercy. She told Jim and me to report to the nurse’s office where the school nurse put bags of ice on our knuckles.
Needless to say, for the rest of the year no fighting occurred during recess. The two pugilists had been appropriately punished and the next recess I even shook hands with Jim and we continued to play flipping baseball cards. Jim and I reconciled and agreed not to argue about baseball cards anymore.
In a stroke of playground genius, we agreed to have an appointed umpire, Donna Lombardi, settle our disputes. We continued to enjoy many games of baseball card flipping during recess. I however knew that Donna loved Tasty Cake treats, so whenever I had an extra one I would “share” it with her. For some reason many of the close calls in baseball card flipping, delivered by umpire Donna, went in my favor. Ironically Donna eventually married Jim but I don’t think she has ever mentioned my Tasty Cake strategy to Jim.
So, I won the fight (well maybe a draw), experienced swift and painful punishment from Sister Michael Jerome, had the satisfaction of not crying or complaining about the punishment, but eventually lost the girl (newly appointed Baseball Card Flipping Umpire Donna Lombardi) to Jim.
They can’t make B movies any better than this incident.
P.S. When I got home, I expected to be disciplined by my Dad, but he asked “What happened to the other guy?” and I said, “I gave him a black-eye.” He smiled and said “Good, but don’t let it happen again.”