The Slightly Strange Saga of my Son’s Soccer Ball

This is a story that begins in a simpler, more innocent time–specifically, mid-October, before Hurricane Sandy came and took away our power and water (an event my children will forever remember as The Day The iPods Died And Could Not Be Recharged).

My 10-year-old is soccer-obsessed, which is mostly a good thing. I say “mostly,” because A) his steadfast conviction that he will one day play professionally in Europe–and thus will be dropping out of middle school as soon as he’s recruited into FC Barcelona’s player development program–has severely undermined our efforts to get him to take his homework more seriously; B) his rabid hatred of all things Real Madrid, which extends to strangers wearing Real Madrid jerseys on the streets of New York City, is not only psychologically disturbing but threatens to end with one of us getting socked in the jaw by an angry Spanish guy on Sixth Avenue; and C) his school is on the East River, with a playground fence that’s only ten feet high.

Here’s why C) is a problem: my kid loses a lot of soccer balls. I mean, a LOT. Like two a week. They don’t all end up in the East River. He’s lost them in playgrounds, parks, rooftops, construction sites, the overhead heating ducts at his indoor soccer camp… We even lost one in our shoe closet, which I still can’t figure out, because it’s a very small closet.

So when the line item in our family budget for “soccer balls” surpassed the one for “real estate taxes,” I decided it was time to implement some kind of soccer ball retention policy. This was easier said than done. Those of you who are familiar with soccer ball design will agree it is impossible to chain a ball to a kid’s wrist without compromising the ball’s structural integrity; those of you with children will recognize the self-defeating nature of ultimatums like, “lose this one and I will NEVER buy you another soccer ball;” and those of you with better ideas failed to share them with me when I asked your opinion.

Ultimately, the best policy I came up with was to write my cell phone number on every soccer ball before releasing it into my kid’s (maddeningly temporary) custody. Like most of my good-parenting initiatives, this was meant less to solve the problem than to make me feel like I’d at least made an effort. And the first few soccer balls that disappeared with my phone number on them seemed to confirm that this new policy was, in fact, totally useless.

Which is why I was so surprised when my cell phone rang on a Thursday afternoon in mid-October, and a friendly but anonymous stranger informed me that someone on a kayak had just fished a soccer ball with my phone number on it out of the East River. After a brief discussion of logistics, we agreed that the best thing would be for him to leave the ball at the North Brooklyn Boat Club for me to pick up later.

That the North Brooklyn Boat Club existed was news to me, but he gave me the address and told me it was conveniently located underneath the Pulaski Bridge.

That the Pulaski Bridge existed was also news to me. After I hung up, though, I went on Google Maps and worked out the geography of what must have happened:

The pizza place isn’t really germane to this discussion, but if you’re on 14th Street and hungry, it’s between First and Second Avenue on the south side of the street.

Anyway, about the North Brooklyn Boat Club: my mental image of the place was mostly derived from the yacht club scene in Caddyshack, but it turns out “boat club” and “yacht club” are two VERY different things. For one thing, you’ll never find a yacht club just downstream from a wastewater treatment plant (see map). And the NBBC ethos seems to be less, “let’s drink gin while wearing cable sweaters draped over our shoulders” and more…actually, it’s hard to tell from their web site. Or their Facebook page. As best I can figure it, they’re some kind of “hipster enviro-boaters.”

And they don’t have a phone. This proved important when, a week later, I found myself driving from a Saturday morning soccer game on Roosevelt Island to a Saturday afternoon soccer game in Red Hook, a route that took me conveniently over the Pulaski Bridge. Unable to reach anyone at the North Brooklyn Boat Club via their email address, I decided to just drop by and take my chances.

What I found looked nothing like the yacht club in Caddyshack, and a lot like the kind of back alley where low-level hoods get shot in gangster movies. But there, right in the middle of the alley, and not far from what may or may not have been the dismembered body of a Gotti family traitor, was my kid’s soccer ball:

I know, it’s hard to tell that’s a soccer ball from the photo. Here’s a blown-up image:

No question about it, that was my kid’s soccer ball. But the Boat-Club-cum-Sopranos-episode-execution-site was padlocked, and there wasn’t so much as an angry Rottweiler on the other side of the fence.

My kid, who had convinced himself (if not me) that this wasn’t merely the 18th soccer ball he’d lost since Labor Day, but in fact his FAVORITE SOCCER BALL EVER, was more than a little disappointed to be thwarted so tantalizingly close to a heartwarming reunion. But the next Saturday’s soccer game was also going to take us pretty close to the Pulaski Bridge, so I promised him we’d come back and try again.

Then came the hurricane. The North Brooklyn Boat Club was submerged under several feet of water, the soccer game was cancelled, and while we’ll never know for sure–because there’s no way I am driving all the way back over there–I can only assume the soccer ball was reclaimed by the sea.

There’s a lesson in all this–about our responsibilities, not just to ourselves and our athletic equipment, but to each other…or maybe it’s about how Mother Nature makes fools of us all…or maybe it has something to do with the importance of maintaining a working phone line, even if you’re a local community non-profit whose members likely all know each other.

But for the life of me, I can’t figure out what that lesson is. All I know is I had the photos, so I figured I’d post them.

And seriously, that pizza place on 14th is worth checking out.

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