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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