Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Street Values

I find myself returning to the theme of "resourcefulness" in describing kids of the 1950s. We didn't have Toys 'R Us back then, and even if we did, our parents didn't have the money to spend on frivolous things. Every once in a while an exception was made, but as a rule we had to find ways to amuse ourselves that didn't involve store-bought toys or games. Bikes were handed down, baseball bats and gloves often contained more tape than wood or leather, and so many games were played with nothing more than a pink Spaldeen ball. We also used discarded materials like fruit crates. old clotheslines and empty refrigerator boxes to create "toys" that were as much fun as anything that Fisher-Price ever dreamed of.

A few years ago these Razor Scooters were all the rage for around 80 bucks. We built ours for free with an orange crate, a board and one old roller skate. You had to take the skate apart to separate the front wheels from the back, then remove a piece of rubber from inside the skate which allowed the wheels to swivel freely, making turning the scooter easier. The wheels were then attached to either side of a four-foot board to fashion what looked like a modern-day skate board. The crate was liberated from the loading dock of Spinners Supermarket and nailed to the board to complete the scooter. Some kids decorated the front of the crate with bottle caps, and added V-shaped wooden handles to make steering easier. Old roller skate, $0; four-foot board, $0; orange crate, $0; cruising down the street on your homemade scooter, priceless.

Westerns were the rage on television with Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers starring in tales of the old west. This made guns a regular part of our play, but not being able to tote real six-shooters, we made our own. The side rails from the same orange crates used for scooters were fashioned into carpet guns. It would take too long to describe how this was accomplished here...suffice to say that the wooden guns used thick rubber bands to propel cut-up one-inch squares of linoleum at our intended targets (each other) at an alarming speed. Accuracy was tough since the squares sailed wildly after being fired. Parents today would have apoplexy if they found their precious child playing with one of these, but we had fun and sustained just the occasional gash.

Spaldeen-based games are many as you know if you were lucky enough to grow up in the fifties. Stickball, punchball, stoop ball, off-the point, box ball, Ace-King Queen, dodge ball, triangle, hit the penny and plain old catch. Girls used Spaldeens to play a game where they bounced the ball, sometimes looping one leg over the ball while they chanted rhythmically: "A" my name is Alice and my husband's name is Al, we come from Alabama and we sell apples. The idea was to chant your way through the alphabet from A-Z, as far as you could go without missing a beat or losing control of the ball. We played these games for hours on end, never feeling for a minute that the fun we could have was in any way limited by the 15 cents we had invested in the equipment.

"Five-ten-fifteen-twenty..." was how the guy who was "it" would count up to one hundred while everyone ran and hid. Hide-and-go-seek might seem like a baby game, but not the way we played it. Guys would hide under cars, in empty garbage cans, on rooftops, maybe even sneak home for a "sangwich" while the poor guy who was it spent a very long time seeking. There were variations on the game like ring-a-leevio or kick the can, where whoever was it had to be careful not to stray too far from "home" where a tin can was placed, because if one of the hidden players could sneak up and kick the can off home base, the game started all over again. Not complicated, but it helped pass the time for the 12 hours a day we were on the streets. Remember Red Light Green Light, Statues, Johnny on the Pony, Double Dutch Jump Rope, King of the Hill, playing cards on the stoop...all great games with one thing in common, they cost nothing.

When all a kid has to say is "I want", and the checkbook fairy delivers, that child is being robbed. Robbed of the chance to exercise imagination, creativity, inventiveness and yes, resourcefulness. Learning how to use things that are at hand, devising rules, developing a sense of fair play, learning to use your hands, and interacting with other children are things paranoid parents pay a shrink small fortunes to help their children develop. We learned them for free on the streets of Brooklyn.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association


Joseph Del Broccolo said...

My scooter had the best of the best! Bottle caps decorated it, and sanded handles with only the best knotless sugar pine! Dad made it for me! And the old guys that sat outside the Republican Club would curse at me after a while because of the racket the skate made on the concrete!

Jim Pantaleno said...

I knew this would ring a bell with you.