In these tumultuous times I am conflicted about writing and publishing what some might call trite history regarding growing up sixty years ago. I continue to do so for two reasons: for some relief from the anger and chaos and to continue to preserve what now more than ever seems a better time.
We didn’t always play in the street. 222 and its sister building on 82nd street both had backyards. These were, unfortunately, divided by an iron fence. Access was by elevator to the basement, passing the laundry room and the garbage cans out the big doors turning right and right again to stand at one end of a concrete space that ran the 83rd street length of the building from the store next to the parochial school to the back windows of the H line of apartments.
The rears of several stores were at the Broadway end too. When the elevator men didn’t want us to go down there, we had our way under the gate that guarded the steps that were used when the trash elevator didn’t work. It was a straight run from the bottom of the steps to the end of the backyard.
That trash elevator did stink but it was fun to drive. The simple iron platform with a severe black arch had only the brass control to provide color unless the silver garbage cans were aboard. Of course, the operator which could be one of us and the building staff providing supervision also added color to the bleak moving space. It was really noisy. The steel arch crashed against the street level doors that rose out of the sidewalk with the bell screaming a raucous warning, “sidewalk rising, look out”.
We were known to play stickball back there. Too much traffic or an hour too close to the parochial school dismissal or just for variety, we were down there making noise and having a good time with the “spaldine” flying off the stick and up the side of the building when someone hit a good one.
Our bat was something like this one. I don’t recall it being being tapered. The black tape on the handle end was traditional and made for a secure grip. I’m pretty sure ours was pine.
The iron dividing fence often caused difficulty with its spiked verticals. When we needed to get the spaldine from the other backyard it was time to be careful. Not all of us could make it over this fence, like me. And, there was a small room-sized area above one of the stores that caught an occasional ball and required some tricky climbing for retrieval.
In spite of these complications, we tough guys, afraid of the parochial school kids, went down there to play.
Neither the noise we made nor the sound of the bouncing ball were appreciated by some of our neighbors who forced the doormen to come down and chase us out. Except of course for 7H. She was an older woman, to us, and we were not her favorites. She shouted down, “get out of there”, “you can’t play here” and more. But we were brave seven stories down and kept on playing.
And then there was the flying can of Ajax.
Red, white and blue with metal ends, one with the sprinkling holes, didn’t hit anyone after its seventy foot plunge. Remarkably intact, as well, after sailing out the window which we all knew belonged to her, in 7H, the “foaming cleanser” was carefully carried upstairs to 7 and generously sprinkled on the door and door mat of 7H. Of course, we rang the bell and ran up the stairs to nine where I lived.
We stayed out of the backyard for awhile after that day; clearly a bunch of little boys afraid for their heads and the possible punishments of our parents.
She never told and neither did we.