Saturday, April 25, 2015

Stoop, The Sequel

Last September I wrote a brief post called: "The Stoop" View . It doesn't begin to cover what part this architectural appendage played in the lives of people growing up in Brooklyn during the 1950s. For those not familiar with the term, a "stoop" is simply a set of steps leading up to a residential entrance....whether it was just a few steps or a full flight, it was still called a stoop. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "stoop" is derived from a Dutch word (stoep) meaning "front porch." The word came to America through New Amsterdam and the Hudson Valley, and has spread from there, most commonly used in the Northeast United States. (There, now you more thing you can stop wondering about.)

The stoop was a place where people from the neighborhood congregated to socialize. Most houses on my old block had stoops, but some were better than others. My friend Tommy Dowd's stoop on the corner of Somers Street and Rockaway Avenue was primo, and that's where we hung out. (If I could tack on the time we spent on those steps to the end of my life, I would edge out Methuselah!) The stoop was home to young and old alike; every block had an old man who minded every body's business... they called him "The Mayor of (your street name here.) Invariably, the Mayor ruled his kingdom from his lofty perch atop a stoop. Some important things to look for when selecting the best stoops:

1) Location, location, location. One reason for sitting on the stoop was to see the comings and goings in the neighborhood. This required a stoop with a lot of pedestrian traffic, preferably one near an intersection where you could see the main street and the cross street. A bus or subway stop in the vicinity was a plus because you saw people returning from work or school. A real bonus was if your stoop was near food stores; in Italian neighborhoods, Salumerias (Italian delis), bakeries and fruit stores were veritable bee hives of activity.

2) Construction. Some stoops were unsuitable vantage places. Higher stoops were better than lower ones simply because you could see more. Also, some had landings at the top of the stoop with nice, flat brick railings that were perfect for sitting; these were the "box seats" in stoopville, and very hard to come by. Because of their comfort, they were popular spots on a summer evening where people would sit waiting for the Bungalow Bar Ice Cream truck to come by after dinner. A well-built stoop was also perfect for stoop-ball, a game played with a Spaldeen that required real skill to hit the point of the step for extra scoring points.

3) Owner tolerance. I like the joke about an Italian's idea of a vacation....sitting on someone else's stoop. That's exactly what we did. Well-constructed stoops in good locations were not enough; you also required a home owner who would tolerate groups of teens lounging on their stoop every day for hours on end. If you were lucky, one of your friends lived in such a house, making it less likely (but not a sure thing) that the home owner wouldn't chase you away. Most parents were happy to know their kid was sitting just outside the door, and would cut you some slack if you cleaned up your soda bottles and cigarette butts.

As people walked by the stoop, there would be exchanges with the stoop sitters. "Hey moron, your Yankees lost today, this is the Dodgers year." The reply: "How many World Series the Dodgers been to, pinhead." “Who wants to walk me to Ariola’s for pastry?” After receiving negative replies: “Drop dead you flatleaving bastards”. Or: "Hey Sal, when you gonna pay me the two bucks I loaned you?" The reply: "What are you, the Dime Savings Bank? I'll pay you Sunday." Of course there was a lot of girl watching going on too. Those were the days when girls walked around in pairs, wearing tight pedal-pusher pants, satin jackets, tight sweaters with those Madonna "bullet bras" underneath, and of course the obligatory kerchief covering up rows and rows of hair curlers.

There were two girls who cruised all the stoops in the neighborhood "being seen." Their names were Terry (from Rockaway Avenue) and Rosemarie (from Hull Street). They were two Italian beauties who knew they were hot. We would melt when they passed by and yell idiotic things like "marry me, beautiful" in the pathetic hope they would glance in our direction. No chance. Their noses stayed in the air, as if a bunch of losers yelling "marry me, beautiful" wasn't inducement enough for any red-blooded American girl to run across the street and throw her arms around us. We called them "stuck-up" because they never responded to our smooth, Cary Grant-like advances.

In Brooklyn, in the wonderful 1950s when the world was young, "The Stoop" was our vantage point on the world. Now we have Starbucks. (See "Sorry, I Don't Speak Starbucks" View)

(Originally posted 5/25/09)


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