The Sordid Story of the Sodium Balls. Part II. By Bob Mitchell

The Sordid Story of the Sodium Balls. Part II. By Bob Mitchell

The Sordid Story of the Sodium Balls. Part 2. By Bob Mitchell. Enjoy your day, Yareah friends, art is everywhere and up to you!


Green and Pink. Photo attribution Sharon Apted

The sordid story of the Sodium Balls. Part 1

The night was clear, but dark without a moon. A mile downstream the lights on the Constitution Bridge sparkled. I didn’t notice any boat lights on the river below, so I was relieved I hadn’t dropped the heavy glass jar on a passing boat. What a disaster that would have been.

As we came back across the bridge and came to the spot where I had tossed the jar, a fireworks display that rivaled a Fourth of July celebration shot up from the river below. Fiery balls of sodium hissed straight up in the sky, some bending in giant arches back towards the river with tails of brilliant white flames in their wake. We were about thirty feet above the water. Some of the fiery balls went as high as the bridge scaffolding above us. Fragments sputtered down on the roadway near us. Other balls dove back into the water only to explode all over again.

“Holy shit!” exclaimed Hickey, as he slowed to dodge balls landing too close, but also to take it all in. Even though we both held up an arm to protect our heads, he was not as concerned about getting hit with a sodium ball as he was anxious that the cops might see this fiery display from back across the bridge in the city. He knew that if they saw it, they would come racing in our direction, and if they got here in the next few moments, they would cut off our escape route. We didn’t want to go to the Lockport side, now behind us, because there was no place to hide over there.

With another, “Let’s get the hell out of here!” he gunned the old Indian back to its throaty roar, and off we went like a posse of cowboys.

As I hung on for dear life, now with two arms, I looked back over my shoulder to watch sodium balls still popping and fizzing all over the place. Hickey drove as one possessed straight over the bridge, past the court house, and made for Jordens Alley, half a block straight ahead. He swung into it and quickly stopped in the shadows of the darkest building he could find, and abruptly shut off the noisy engine.

The silence jarred my ears. Putting an index finger to his lips, “Shhhhh,” and jumped off the machine. We both froze as we heard patrol cars on the main streets on either side of us. We cringed as beams from the swirling red lights bounced off the nearby buildings.

“Come on!” At this whispered command, he began to push the bike up the alleyway toward his house. He grabbed the handle bars, while I fell in behind to push on the back seat from the other side of the bike. At some point we had to get over to Willards Alley, a block over, the one that went past the back of Hickey’s house where his shop was. He knew that sooner or later the police would stop by his shop to see if he were there. They knew him, and he knew them. He needed to get there first to establish an alibi.

We rolled the bike as quickly as we could, especially when we had to cross a main street, but we had to stop at least twice in dark shadows as squad cars passed by on those main drags either side of the alleys. Thank heaven no officer thought to check the alleys. Of course, they were not only looking for us, but listening for the boisterous sound of the old Indian as well.

By the time we got to his shop we were both dripping with sweat. Jim immediately swung open the large front door of the shop and switched on all the lights. He quickly disassembled the Indian’s hot gearbox, with much swearing about burnt fingers and arms from touching hot engine parts. After spreading the parts on the floor we found rags to wipe away our sweat and sat down to try to appear cool. The scene was set.

Sure enough, as if on cue, we heard tires approaching, crunching on cobblestones in the alley, accompanied by the extra-bright head lights, and saw those sickening twirling lights from atop the squad car splashing red on sheds and trees alike.

The car stopped right in front of the shop door, engine and lights still running. Slowly the officer got out. Deliberately he walked around the front of the car, passing through the headlights so that his sidearm, ammunition belt, and badge all glinted in the headlights as he passed by them, quite intentionally to intimidate us. His large frame overpowered the open doorway of the shop. With dark glasses glinting in Jim’s shop lights, we couldn’t tell what he was looking at. A tense eternity passed as he stood there, thumbs locked in his gun belt.

Having wiped away my sweat, I tried very hard to appear as calm as Hickey. Suddenly, as if he hadn’t noticed him before, Jim looked up and flashed one of his winning smiles at the poker-faced officer.

“Oh—Hi there, Officer Clancy! Com’ on in!” Hickey said in his cheerful baritone, motioning him to come in and take a seat as if he had been expecting him to drop by and hang out with us—which wouldn’t have been the first time. Jim knew the entire troop by name as well as they knew him.

Officer Clancy just stood there, stone-faced, looking at us without a word. He seemed to be deciding what to say. Slowly, a knowing smile crept over his face at the same time he was trying to suppress it. Finally he broke down and smiled broadly, a wry, “OK-you-got-me-this-time” smile.

Raising his right hand, which he now raised in a mock salute, he said,

“You boys have a good evenin’.” Shaking his index finger towards us, he continued, “Stay out of trouble now, y’ hear?”

“Sure thing!” Jim beamed.

“No problem, sir!” I offered.

As he dipped his head toward us we could see our reflections in his air force-style glasses. His right eyebrow raised, admitting his defeat, he turned slowly back toward the car, retraced his steps, got in, turned off his top light, and resumed the slow crunch of tires on stones down the alley, still with his glasses on—that seemed to glow in the dark.

As we looked at each other, we listened intently to the scrunching sound of his tires fade into the darkness. Only then did we heave a joint sigh of relief.

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Bob hold a B.S. degree in Voice and Opera from the Mannes College of Music in NYC (1964). For thirty years he sang opera at night and on weekends while pursuing a career in marketing systems at Scholastic, Inc., the New York-based educational publisher. Later he earned a Master of Divinity degree from New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NJ), and served as a co-pastor with his wife for seven years. Now retired, as he looked back at the forty-plus roles he sang, he decided to share his story of courage, persistence, and sacrifice.

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