There was a special on our local Public Broadcasting Station last week about “NYC street games,” ninety wonderful minutes about growing up in New York City during the fifties. Those times before locked doors and arranged play dates, the world before Game Boy and cell phones, the magic years of my childhood.
There are things that only children who grew up on the streets of New York know. No one ever locked their door. So if you had to make a “pit stop,” you simply called out … Mrs. Perez I have to go. No questions asked.
It didn’t matter if the neighbors were Irish, Italian, Polish or Puerto Rican. It never mattered that we went to school with the youngest of the Lee family, whose laundry off Fifth Avenue did our father’s blue-collar shirts, while mom worked the late shift at the factory or dad came in early from the docks.
We never had babysitters. What for? The entire block watched out for the children on the block. In our case, the 57 varieties of Italian paesans on the block even looked out for the kids who lived around the corner.
“Hey Joey, watch that mouth, or I’ll give what-for.”
Joey’s mom might give me a whack if I spoke out of turn or crossed to the wrong side of Third Avenue. “Does your mother know where you are?”
The eyes and ears of the block were always on us. We went out after breakfast, sometimes not returning until supper. Then a quick change and off we went for the night games. The streets were our summer camp, the beaches our summer vacation, and we had more fun than a paid trip to Disney.
I watched and listened to the nostalgia, the memories of a time that has gone forever. More extinct than any species, the street kids were hunted down, strapped in and held hostage by “organized” sports, safe havens and supervised games.
But they will never know the thrill of racing down Dead Man’s Hill on solid steel skates or careening through traffic. Boys will grow up never knowing the sewer is second base or the edge of the front steps of your building is for “stoopball.” They won’t grab mom’s broomstick, and a Spauldeen and play a game of stickball, block traffic and make a home run through the neighbor’s kitchen window.
Hop scotch or double Dutch, jacks or handball, boys or girls, separate or together, nail an old pair of skates wheels to the bottom of an orange crate and you had a homemade scooter, kick the can or pitch pennies, punch ball or tag, ring-a-levio or Johnny on the Pony, kept us happy for days on end.
Brooklyn or The Bronx, any of the five boroughs was where we played. It was cheap and it was fun and it is missed.
fOIS In The City