It took a significant amount of thought to arrive at this beginning, to not start at the beginning. Not my style I guess. Picking through the stories and the baggage to select the first story to tell or retell has not been simple. To amuse, to shock, to inform, to otherwise entertain all seem like options. To choose from the present, the past or the distant past adds another layer to the selection process.
This short piece reveals a lot about my childhood street life……..
Stoop ball, handball, stickball, football. These were the games of the kids of 222 West 83rd Street. We were rarely joined by other kids, never girls. But the fifties and early sixties were a dangerous time for street ball players.
It was the fins.
Cadillacs were expensive and beautiful. They were not plentiful on West 83rd Street. My father had always said, “I never want to own one, I just want to be able to afford one.”
In those days, Cadillacs had incredibly large and sharply pointed rear tailfins. They were, to us anyway, the trademark of these wonderful, comfortable, rich man’s vehicles. Dad had a 1948 Pontiac, grey with a yellow steering wheel which was sold in 1960 for $100. I loved that back seat and when I got to sit up front, pressing that thin metal part of the yellow steering wheel that made the horn honk (that was a honk).
Stoop ball, as will be explained elsewhere, was a game for two or more. Played from the sidewalk into the street, the ball is intended to pass either between the parked cars or over them to the fielders in the street or on the other sidewalk.
Some pop-ups were dangerous; one pop up was almost deadly. Today I don’t remember who it was, but I vividly picture playing up the block, opposite the blank wall and fire escape of the Loew’s 83rd Street. The pink Spalding (pronounced spaldine) rubber ball rose about two and half stories up and away from the south side of 83rd Street. As the infielder, the kid in the street, went back and as he looked up, his head and the tailfin on one of those beautiful Cadillacs made serious contact.
The blood gushed, it was a scalp wound and I would later learn that they bleed excessively.
We ran for the nearest parent. Joel’s apartment was on the second floor on the east side of the building. His father was an attorney, his mother home. We ran up the one flight from the lobby and rang and rang to no avail. Now we were in trouble. Blood everywhere and no one home at Joel’s. Today I couldn’t tell you if it was Larry’s or Danny’s or David’s or Kenny’s or mine or somewhere else, but we got the blood stopped at someone’s apartment and the crisis was over.
This kind of incident would never stop the kids of 222. We played in the street with regularity and abandon. The fire engine from the firehouse one block east racing down the West 83rd Street hill was just another vehicle to cause players to step back between parked cars. When we played near the Broadway corner we exercised our ownership of the street often directing vehicles to stop so we could play until the light changed.
We did try to not play near the rich men’s cars anymore.