Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hot Fun in the Summertime - Part 2

At the end of Part 1, we left Jimmy as the last bell of the school year was ringing, and the line of boys in their white shirts and blue ties filed out of Our Lady of Lourdes into the sunlight of freedom. A whole summer to play baseball, swim at Coney Island or Cypress Pool, punchball, stickball. four-handed Brisk on the was enough to make me almost giddy with pleasure. The blue tie came off before I hit the corner of Broadway. Then a right turn up Hull Street, past the firehouse and the house where my buddy Joe D. used to live, left on Stone Avenue and right on Somers Street to my house. As I walked, I made sure not to step on any sidewalk cracks; I had my doubts about this superstition, but why take any chances with vacation just beginning.

I hollered to my mother that I was home, as I shot up the stairs, shedding my "good clothes" as I went. I jumped into my summer uniform...dungarees (they only started calling them jeans when the prices went up), white tee shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and U.S. Keds sneakers, black and white, no lights, springs, wheels or any of the other useless crap on sneakers made today. I raced down the stoop into the street as if summer vacation lasted for only one day and I couldn't afford to waste a minute of it. I thought about who I'd call for. This is a quaint expression that sounds a little out of place on a Brooklyn street, but that's what we said. "I'll call for you at six" or "I'll be home all day, call for me".

If you had to go someplace, you asked a friend to "walk you". Literally, this sounds like something usually done with a dog, but the term was another example of Brooklyn street talk. "Walk me to Spinners". If your friend refused, you called him a "flat-leaver" or some variation of the phrase, for example, "Alright for you, you flat-leaving bastard!" If you were shooting marbles in the street and there was an obstacle between you and your target, you took a "roundsies" meaning you moved your marble in an arc to the left or right to get a clearer shot. The little carved out hole near the curb that you rolled your marbles into was called the "shimmy". I have no idea how these terms originated; this was the street language of 50s Brooklyn.

During the summer we hit the streets around 8am and began "calling for" our friends. If a lot of guys were around we went up to the vacant lot and started a softball game. The bat was taped, the ball was taped, we had to clear the rocks and broken glass off the base paths, and the bases were made of scraps of cardboard, but we had as much fun as the kids playing today on manicured fields with uniforms and expensive store-bought equipment. If only a few guys were around, we played punchball, stickball with home plate painted on the wall, triangle, or a game where we threw a Spaldeen ball off the pointed edge of a stoop step for a single-double-triple-or home run, depending on where it landed. After the game we'd head up to Louie's or Sam's Candy Store for freezing cold Mission sodas right out of the red ice chest. Pineapple was my all-time favorite flavor.

The nights were hot. We had no air-conditioners in those days so we stayed out late, usually with our parents keeping vigil from the stoop. To cool off we'd have a Bungalow Bar ice cream or a Popsicle. I had a second floor bedroom and used to sleep with my head out on the window sill for relief. I had to give up this prized spot when my father bought a fan which was placed in the window where my head formerly rested. The fan was a real luxury for us; I felt that, like "The Jeffersons", we were movin' on up. The quintessential example of this poor man's view of the world came from an episode of the old Honeymooners show. Ralph Kramden had found a large sum of cash on the bus (later found to be counterfeit) and was spending like a drunken sailor. Being poor and not knowing how else to spend his windfall, Ralph decided the ultimate in luxury would be to install a phone on the fire escape! Classic.

If you're reading this and thinking we must have felt deprived having as little as we did, you couldn't be more wrong. The reason we didn't feel cheated is that we had no higher standard to compare ourselves to; all the kids I knew were pretty much in the same boat as me. If life gave us lemons, we not only made lemonade, but lemon ice! I know now that a lot of kids had it better than we did back then, but you know what? I'll bet (let's pinky-swear here) that they didn't have as much fun as the kids in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Look for the next and last installment of Hot Fun in the Summertime coming to a laptop near you.


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Joseph Del Broccolo said...

With absolutely nothing, maybe a spaldeen, a few bottle caps and picture cards, we had more fun than anyone today could possibly image. It is a lot like that saying: "I saw it on the radio!" We had a better electronic device than anything sold today, we had our brains, our imagination! No kid today has that! They are the ones who are deprived, sadly.

Jim Pantaleno said...

The problem is Joe that the dire necessity that drove us to be so creative in our play is gone for the generations that followed ours. Ironically it was our success that allowed them to afford the things we couldn't, to BUY their fun instead of improvising games that cost nothing. This in my opinion is what dulled their imaginations.

The Whiner said...

I had no idea Spaldeen Dreams was up and running again! I am glad as I have really missed it.

You are right, today's toys do everything so there's nothing to imagine. I've actually stopped buying so much junk for Ava...she's happiest with the simple things, like markers and paper. The other day she spent ONE HOUR coloring a cardboard box and making it into a mask.

Of course we also have TV and computers, which dull the brain, mine included...