BRONX, NY – It’s muggy this evening in the Bronx, though not 1977 muggy, if you catch my meaning. But, with warm weather upon us like Tiger Woods on a middling internet adult film actress, my mind drifts back to summer’s past. Them good ol’ days when a quarter would buy you a 15-cent bag of Wise Onion Rings and a 10-cent Fla-Vor-Ice. When drinking an RC Cola could net you that quarter, or 50 cents! The day school ended, parents would set their kids free in the streets at sun up, then once again after lunch, then one final time after dinner, until you came home just a little bit late and got a swift kick in the ass for your troubles. It was a simpler time when young people were free to express their artistic vision on public transportation and genuine homespun nutballs like David Berkowitz could deliver the mail and converse with canines and satisfy their bloodlust without someone recording it on their cell phone and posting it in YouTube. Most of all, those days and nights were spent playing all sorts of outdoor games. Here’s just a handful of endless summer memories.
Baseball. I recall spending the better part of the summer following graduating from sixth grade playing baseball day after day after day in Upper Manhattan’s Inwood Park and behind John F. Kennedy High School on the other side of the Harlem/Spuyten Duyvil Creek. The fun of Inwood was playing on an actual Little League field with fences you could shoot for. I never launched one out, but this manchild named Roberto Vargas sure as hell did. Roberto hailed from the DR and got plunked down into our 6th-grade class late in the year. It was clear that he was older in that I seem to recall that it always looked like he needed a shave when school was dismissed and had arms the size of tree trunks. He was only in our class because he needed to catch up on learning English. Good guy though, and he loved baseball. The dude put on a power show that summer that made a Grucci fireworks display look like a couple of sparklers and a smoke bomb. He was truly a Gulliver George Foster playing among a bunch of Lilliput Dave Chalks. No one cared. It was awesome to behold.
Swimming. There’s no way to sugarcoat this, our local public swimming pool at Van Cortlandt Park was pretty much known as New York City’s largest outdoor toilet. Still, if we couldn’t escape to the beach, it was off to Vannie to brave the yellow menace.
There was no actual swimming during prime hours because the pool was packed with pimple-faced humanity. Me and Grote and our friend Chris Wilson did get access to Vannie early the in the morning before it opened, as we all took our final swimming lessons. It was glorious in those post-dawn hours. The water was actually clean and calm and you had it all to yourselves. Late at night, word had it, the older kids would jump the fences with beers and girls and practice their breast strokes. Come to think of it, that early-morning pool water probably wasn’t all that clean.
Round Up. One of the best games ever, we used to play “round up” quite a bit at night. For those who never played (I pity you) round up was basically an extended game of tag/hide and seek with a huge group of friends involved. The boundaries were large too, often a loop within our neighborhood. You kept looking for people and catching them until it was a mob looking for the final one or two players. Joe Murphy, one of slipperiest of my friends (both at dodging tags and the store detectives at Woolworth’s) would never bother to hide. He would just camp out under a street light a dare whoever was “it” to try to catch him. It was futile. Most of the rest of us hid, and you could hide anywhere! Under people’s porches, in their backyards, gardens, under cars, you name it. Today you’d be shot for trespassing. Back then the kids pretty much owned the neighborhood.
I could easily do an additional thousand words or so on our classic Wiffle battles, many starring one JG Clancy, or Evel Knieveling your bike through an open hydrant, or the absolute mania of procuring fireworks for the Fourth of July. But, ya gotta stop somewhere. Those endless summers eventually came to an end too, but they were a hell of a lot of fun while they lasted.
Come back tomorrow for MTM’s Good Humor Man, Phil Istine.