Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Note from Rebus: When there aren't enough guys to field two teams to play baseball, kids will make up a game with it own rules. Half-rubber is one of a thousand-an-one variations on that joyous theme.  


An excellent photographer, Jack Leigh (1948-2004), was part of the Biograph Theatre’s staff in 1973. While he worked at the Biograph as an usher, Leigh taught me to play half-rubber, a game he said originated in his home town, Savannah. Half-rubber is a three-man baseball-like game that is played with a broom handle and half of a rubber ball.

Jack eventually moved back to Savannah and produced five books of his photographs, including Oystering, which featured a foreward by James Dickey.

Jack’s best known picture was snapped in 1993, when he was commissioned to shoot the photograph in a Savannah cemetery that would appear on the cover of what became a bestselling book -- “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. Later the same photo was used to promote the movie with the same title.

When I knew him, Jack was earnest and quick-witted. He liked to play chess and talk about movies, and of course -- photography. In his Biograph days he was already a very good photographer.

Once, when we went out shooting pictures together, he snapped his shutter maybe twice. In the same amount of time, a couple of hours, I went through two rolls of Tri-X. The quiet style Jack would use throughout his career was already evident. He eventually authored six books of photographs, including "Oystering," which featured a foreword by James Dickey.

So, to kill time one warm afternoon, as per Jack's instructions I cut a red rubber ball in half and ruined an old broom. Then I crossed the street with Jack and the theater’s assistant manager, Bernie Hall, to learn how to play a new game. At the time there were several vacant lots on Grace Street, across from the Biograph.

It turned out the key to pitching in half-rubber was to throw the half-ball with a side-arm delivery, with the flat part down. That made it curve wildly and soar, somewhat like a Frisbee. Hitting or catching the damn thing was quite another matter.

Oh, and hitting the ball on a bounce was OK, too. In fact, it was better to do so, from a strategic standpoint.

The pitcher threw the half-sphere in the general direction of the batter. If the batter swung and missed, and he usually did miss, the catcher did his best to catch it, which wasn't easy, either. When the catcher did catch it, providing the batter had swung, the batter was out.

Then the pitcher moved to the catching position, and the catcher became the batter, and so forth. Runs were scored in a similar fashion to other home run derby-like games.

But the best reason to play half-rubber, other than the laughs stemming from how foolish we looked dealing with the crazy ball, was the kick that came from hitting it. When we connected with that little red devil it left the broomstick bat like a rocket. Smashing it over the theater and halfway to Broad Street was a gas.

All rights reserved by the author.  

1 comment:

  1. Yeah,Terry, I am glad to read your remembrances of Jack, and the half-rubber game. Jack was the best brother-in-law a kid coming of age in 1970 could have had. His influence on me was profound, introducing me to Jack Kerouac and On the Road and Dharma Bums, when I was 12,setting a course for my life that I could never have guess at...i was already enthralled with Jack London ( an all of his socialist, IWW writings, like the Iron Heel, Martin Eden, etc. Jack was the funnest guy, homemade pizza weekly dough from scratch, a gracious Southern boy through and through. The time at the Biograph and Poor Richard's with Jack were some of my funnest memories, he was such a clown. But as you know, he was a serious guy with a vision, introspective, intelligent, and spiritual. He introduced me to the pure B&W photographers, Walker Evans and others. Taught me composition, showed me that 80 percent of his work was in the darkroom. Even after he and Kay divorced, we stayed close over the years, I visited him often in Savannah, and he took me in when I travelled through, always open-hearted. He always remained my brother. I never knew he was ill and had spoken to him on the phone while one of my ship's was in port, probably a few months before he even knew he was learn of his illness. I always will remember him in the highest regard....we lost Jack far too soon. Thanks for this post!!