Don’t let anybody tell you Jim Maloney doesn’t know how to make a good time better; I give you Saturday as a case in point. First I should mention that Oneonta is a town of about 15,000 when the colleges (SUCU Oneonta and Hartwick College) are in session. Small as it is there are still neighborhoods and a mall. As it stands, it is still incorporated as a city. We have churches and bars, Rotary and Moose,movies, restaurants, Garden Club, Chamber of Commerce,free swimming pool , symphony and art galleries; we’ve got it all, and our street, Woodside, is the best street in the whole city.
We have a great mayor, Dick Miller, but on our street we have a pair of honorary or unofficial mayors who know how to get things moving. Saturday was the day named for the Woodside Avenue Annual potluck supper and the Annual Watermelon Pit Spitting Championship. It speaks for itself, doesn’t it, but but not very well. It doesn’t mention the people practicing to improve their form. Some may remember Lauren Bacall’s answer when someone asked how you whistle and she answered, “You just put your lips together and blow.” For a week before the celebration you will see young and old out on the block pursing their lips for minutes at a time. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone wasn’t out making book on the outcome.
Now to set the scene. The ladies are cleaning up the wide area between the Grau’s and the Gibsons where the tables have been set. There’s lots of news to exchange, what with all the vacations and summer travel people have been enjoying over the summer. Boys have drifted off to throw a ball around, while a few of this year’s graduates talked over their plans for the coming year. There was no traffic on the one-way street. Everyone was at the party, even some who didn’t even live on the block. Responsible persons could be found preparing the street for the contest. The supplies for the contest are simple enough; still there are the grand slices of juicy watermelon to pass around, a large trash can to be maintained for holding the discarded rinds. Soda and popsicles must be available at all times and of course the spitting field must be set up according to explicit measurements. Someone will probably forget the chalk and there must be a substitute available just in case.
Then suddenly you see neighbors gathering along each side of the street, sitting on the steps or the lawns, and young mothers are busy rounding up the little ones who are already finishing off the slice of melon that will provide a good supply of spitting seeds. The little children are covered with juice, but that group will be over soon and six to ten will be called to perform. They will be neater. So far the longest spit is Kyle’s seven feet. As soon as the ten year olds start spitting spectators see more professionalism. Judges run up both sides of the field with their chalk, string and measuring tape.Tension is growing through ages twenty to thirty, a group with quite a large number of participants, the distance record at this time being 27 feet and two inches.
No one imagines anything more exciting can happen, but there is a warning engine, up the street comes a fire truck and out jumps Jim Maloney ready to take on 40 to 50 as soon as he swallows the rest of his melon. He stands, toes behind the chalk line,hearty and so over-confident. It is his turn and his lips flutter, then pucker. He spits the seed 27 feet and three inches. When he finishes he waits patiently, even modesty until, I, the last one to go, am finished. Jim has won! Fiona jumps up and down with happiness. Dave won’t let Jim leave until he puts on the king suit Dave keeps for this occasion. Jim is very impressive, his crown carefully balanced on his hairless head. It is his second win. All are agreed that it is fair. Jim is photographed, takes off his gilt king robe and climbs back in the cab. Jim returns to life saving duties. Everybody helps clean up the watermelon and the children go to dream about next year, and once again Jim takes an ordinary pleasant occasion to a whole new level of excitement and fun.