Friday, October 10, 2008

What's a Carpet Gun?

In Brooklyn neighborhoods, toys were often improvised, like the skate scooter discussed in the post called "The Key to Happiness". Another home-made toy was the carpet gun, made out of long, flat, narrow pieces of wood, a clothes pin (the kind that opens and closes), and a rubber band. The rubber band was attached at the bottom of the gun, then stretched over the barrel to the far end of the gun where the clothes pin held it in place. You then loaded it by placing a small rectangular piece of linoleum tile under the rubber band, and shot it by opening the clothes pin. Carpet guns were extremely dangerous and wildly inaccurate, but the weapon of choice when we attacked the kids around the corner.

Every guy in his sixties will tell you that he once had a baseball card collection that would be worth a fortune today. Baseball cards were either flipped, with your opponent having to match exactly the number of heads and tails you flipped, or they were tossed from behind a line with the object being to get your card closest to the wall. A “leaner” by your opponent, where the card rested against the wall, was nearly unbeatable unless you could knock it down with your tossed card. Hard to imagine today but we did this for hours on end.

I can't remember the last time I saw a kid play with a yo-yo. These wooden toys on a string were so popular during the fifties that the Duncan Yo-Yo Company would send experts to local neighborhoods to do tricks like walk the dog, around the world, and rock the cradle. I can do these tricks to this day...it's on my resume. Wooden spinning tops that used string for propulsion were another favorite. Just 15 cents to buy, the tops were wound around with string and then thrown. With just the right flick of the wrist, you could make them spin forever. Being ruthless Brooklyn kids,we would try to throw our tops so that the metal point split the other kids’ tops. Nice, huh.

Last, and certainly not least, there was marbles. There were many game variations, but all were played in the street. Marbles had names like cat's eyes, pips, jumbos and clearies. If something in the street blocked your shot, you took a "roundsies" moving your marble in an arc around the obstruction.It wasn’t enough to win the other kid’s marble, we actually placed side bets. (Hey, it was Brooklyn.)

Some of the more entreprising lads would cut holes of graduated sizes into the bottom edge of a shoe box. Then players would try to roll their marbles from about six feet away into one of the holes. If you rolled your marble into the largest hole, you won five marbles, the medium hole earned 10, and the smallest hole was the jackpot....25 marbles. It was our neighborhood equivalent of Caesar's Palace.

Being poor wasn't an excuse to sit around waiting for someone to amuse us. We didn't have much, but we made the most of what we had.
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