Near-forgotten American street culture

Brain Dropping #65

     Street Games Long Gone.    The digital age has brought kid’s play off the streets and into the world of cyber space. No matter where you look a kid has his face buried in an ipad or his ear plastered to an iphone.  I won’t go into the usual warning of increasing isolation, or zombification in digital social networking, where texting has replaced conversation – the observable evidence is clear.  The glowing touch-screen has the same mesmerizing power as Bela Lugosi’s piercing eyes in any of the Dracula movies of my generation.
     Talking of my generation – I must mourn the loss of the street culture before the advent of TV and subsequently the electronic, digital age.  While it is true that skateboarding has the merit of bringing kids out into the open air to carom off sundry objects, for the most part the ingenious games which occupied my time as a kid are long forgotten.  So, the following is a catalog listing some of those games in an attempt to keep memory alive.
     -Stickball – Played in the gutter (street) with a pink Spaulding rubber ball and a sawed off broomstick as a bat
                       and a manhole cover as home plate.  The other bases are marked with white chalk.  Stick ball is 
                       played with fast ball pitching or a single bounce before being hit.  The bouncing pitch can be 
                       manipulated by squeezing the ball so that on the bounce it veers left or right. Good hitters can
                       send the ‘spalldeen’ three sewer covers away.
     -Johnny On The Pony –  Four, five or six on a side.  Perpendicular to a wall or fence, the ‘it’ team forms a 
                       ‘pony’, each boy bent at the waist with his arms around the waist of the boy in front.  Each 
                       member of the opposing team in a running jump, piles onto the back of the ‘pony.’  The ‘it’ team
                       has to support the weight of all its opponents while chanting: “Johnny on the pony 1-2-3” three 
                        times before yelling “All off!”
     -Ringo-Leevio –  This was our version of the traditional game of tag.  The ‘it’ person buried his head in his
                       folded arms leaning against a telephone pole home base, and counted to twenty while everyone 
                       scattered to a hiding place.  “Ready or not, here I come!” shouts the ‘it’ person.  He then has to 
                       ferret out the hidden players and race them back to home base calling “Ringo-Leevio 1-2-3” three
                       times as he taps the pole.  Each one caught then joins the search team.  The first one caught is
     – Three Feet Cross To Germany –  I can’t account for the name of this game. Why Germany? We did play it
                       during WWII.  Between two telephone poles, in the middle of the street, stands the lone defender.
                       On the sidewalk in front of him stand any number of players.  The street is no-man’s land to be 
                       crossed to the opposite sidewalk.  The defender shouts: “Three feet cross to Germany!” 
                       Everybody takes three leaping steps taking them to the middle of the street.  One foot remains
                       frozen.  If you move the defender can tag you and make you a co-defender.  The idea is to elude 
                       the defender’s tag and dash to the other sidewalk without running out of  bounds set by the
                       telephone poles.  As more players are tagged the line of defenders becomes more dangerous for
                       the remaining players.  If someone is stranded in no man’s land, players who have reached 
                       safety can clasp hands to form a chain, and pushing defenders out of the way, rescue him. We
                       would play this game at night under the street lights.
      -Kickety-Can –  Played at an intersection with each corner a base.  There were many fewer cars in the street
                        in those days.  It’s baseball, but instead of a bat and ball you kick a can from home plate and  
                        run the bases until the can is run down by the opposing team and tapped three times on the 
                        ground.  If you are between corners you’re out.  We played this at the intersection of Livonia Ave.
                        and Vermont St., with sparks from the IRT el showering down on us from the third rail, whenever 
                        a  train passed overhead.
      – Countries –  This was a version of dodge ball played in a large schoolyard.  With chalk we made circles 
                        designating as many countries as there were players, all within a twenty or thirty foot radius.
                        Each player stands in the circle of his chosen country.  The kid who is ‘it’ stands in the center and
                        calls out “France” or “England” etc. as he throws a soccer ball straight up, as high as he can. 
                        Everybody scatters until the one whose country was called catches the ball and yells “freeze” at
                        the top of his lungs.  All do so.  He then heaves the ball at one of the players closest to him.  If 
                        kid catches it he becomes the thrower. 
      These are just a few of the games we played until our mothers called us in for supper.  And later there was always “The Lone Ranger” or “Superman” on the Emerson radio.

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