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Our street games were measured in sewers, blocks, squares of cement, parked cars. We played inverted handball: the ball hits the ground before hitting the wall -- which had a different name in every borough. In the Bronx (at least in my neighborhood) we called it Captain. In Queens it was called "King Queen", and some places called it Chinese Handball. But everyone knew that if a ball hit a piece of garbage it was a hindu (a do-over). My theory, about this term was that it was derived from the fact that Hindus believe in reincarnation or do-overs.

Trees and grass didn't exist in our world. It was a hard, stone world. Water fountains were made of concrete. Buildings were brick. And we were experts on which were the best cement squares to play on. A big event was when a new cement square was poured. It meant that a new place to play games that required a smooth surface, such as marbles, or skully (sp?) was coming into existence.

Most of our games didn't require much more than a piece of chalk, a bottlecap filled with wax which we melted into it (Skelly*), or a marble that we dropped onto a hot pan to crack.

There were so many games, that every kid had a chance to be the best at something. "Box baseball" where you pitched a rubber ball across one cement square into your opponent's square and he had to hit it back into your square, was my own specialty. By squeezing the rubber ball in various ways, you could make "a fastball" or a "curve" or a "slider." And there was the same strategy involved as in "real" baseball. Sometimes you'd pitch your opponent three "slow balls" in a row, so that he would be waiting for another one and then zip a fastball past him.

And I guess my point in all this, is that nowhere, did you ever see any reflection of this life: not on t.v., not in the movies, not in books. We watched the same t.v. shows: Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver as everyone else, and liked them just as much. We had no idea that this make-believe world wasn't our own world and probably didn't exist anywhere on this good earth.

Our little society of street kids was based on physical ability, daring, guts, and the ability to make alliances -- no matter how temporary. If you had none of these traits -- you would be scapegoated. If you had one or two of these traits -- you were one of the pack. And if you had them all, you were king of the hill. Captain of the block. Lord of the Flies. Survival of the strongest. The Call of the Wild. The cry of the jungle. We (and I place myself somewhere in the middle of this bell curve of jungle law) had no use for the future poets, the future inventors, the kid who wouldn't fight back.

In choosing up sides for stickball, there was always the klutzy kid, or the smaller kid, who would stand in line while sides were picked and was picked last, if at all. Where are those kids now? Destroyed by the gang? Or more determined than ever to prove themselves? Where is the kid with the brace on his leg (polio) who couldn't play any of these games, and could barely make it down the stairs from his fifth-floor apartment? His name was Eddie. Sometimes, if it was raining out, I would go upstairs and play "baseball darts" with him. I remember the look on his mother's face -- so happy to see that some neighborhood kid was going to play with Eddie. I remember that Eddie would be lying in bed, in a dark room -- but as soon as he'd see me he'd brighten up and guess what? He wanted to fight! That's right -- Eddie the kid with polio wanted to pummel somebody. And he was wiry too and you'd have to be careful he didn't scratch you up with that big brace. A dangerous kid Eddie was. Sometimes, instead of throwing darts at the dartboard -- he'd get it in his head to toss them at you. I had to stop going up there after he almost took my eye out with one. And I could see Eddie from the street, leaning out the window -- sometimes he'd just drop things out the window. Anything that was handy. Forks, plates. Kids would scatter and his mother would drag him from the window.


*Skelly was a bottle-cap game, the object of which was to land safely in a series of boxes towards the goal in the center. We weighted the bottle caps by filling them with melted Crayola crayons (or candle drippings) so that they stayed upright over the bumpy concrete surface. The other reason for giving the caps heft was when you landed near an opponents cap, you could blast his bottle cap into the nether regions. It would sometimes take two or three shots to return from one of these nuclear blasts. [courtesy A.G.]

 

I offer several Bronx photographs as Note Cards here

All photography copyright Dave Beckerman.