Thinking for me was always a form of worry. Even as a kid I used to worry about my dad coming home late a night after drinking with the men at the Knights of Columbus. Or wondering if I would have to go to Mc Auliffe’s Tavern to bring him home for dinner. But whenever I had a spare moment there would always be thoughts to fill the time. It wasn’t all bad! I was a creative kid which would sometimes get me in trouble like the time Steven Bell from across the street and I decided to play mailman and we collected all the mail from the entire block and redelivered it to other people’s mailboxes. It was fun and we were just trying to see what it was like being mailmen. Unfortunately, our neighbors didn’t see the humor and Steve and I and my father redelivered the mail to the 30 or so houses on the block along with sincere apologies! I decided I wouldn’t be a mailman even at age 6! I did dumb stuff like this growing up, even after much thought that at the time seemed very logical!
Now some 70 years later I am still thinking a lot cause during this quarantine there isn’t much else to do. My thoughts go back to those years sometimes and sometimes they look foreword. There is a big bay window in my living room that looks over the neighborhood. I stand in the window each morning just checking things out. I have observed things I probably would not have noticed without this down time. Everything is viewed through the lens of a street kid who grew up In NYC. The first thing I realized is kids don’t play in the street anymore. We used to play catch or stick ball in the street, and when a car came somebody would yell, “Car, Car, C-A-R” and everyone would scatter to the sidewalk til it passed! We picked sides by doing Boo Boo Boo, One Potato, Two potato…..we Used Spaulding balls and we always had a bucket attached to a pole to retrieve the ball after it rolled down into the sewer. But the streets are quiet now and empty. There isn’t even much traffic!
Today, I look for neighbors to wave to or yell to. Just a connection to make me feel like part of the neighborhood- any kind of connection to help me feel like I belong.
Then my mind wanders to my family. They have all passed except for my kids but now, with all this
time on my hands I have a bunch of questions for them. Like I wonder if my grandparents ever became American citizens. What made them settle in NYC? I have a hundred questions for my dad about being on Iwo Jima during the war. And how did he get to write a column in Semper Fi Magazine. He never talked about the war. And my brother who was 8 years older than I ( pre and post war babies) said that he wasn’t the same dad who came home. They called it shell
shock back then not PTSD! Later, he wrote a column in a little local magazine called The Gramercy Graphic in NYC. My mom used to play the banjo! I never asked her why. My aunt was a tatter in a sweat shop on the lower east side. And another aunt, my mom’s sister, had a wing in the Mahanoy City Public Library named after her.. And I don’t know the answers to any of these questions!
The remainder of my day’s thoughts move to life after Corona! What will school look like? Maybe kids will start playing in the streets again? I imagine a world where people are kinder, more neighborly, helpful and friendly to one another. Unfortunately, the answers to these questions will be played out in the future. I hope when it does that younger generations can look back and remember with fondness the way I remember stoop ball or I Declare War!
Ode to A Spaldeen
George’s memory has gotten me to thinking about street play. Perhaps many of us share the memory of playing stickball in the street… if the ball went two telephone poles it was a homerun… in a fly past the second baseman (if there was one) it was a double – and so on… Sometimes we would walk to the park a couple of blocks over and play two person stickball, using the cement wall as the backstop – drawing the strike zone in chalk.
The one thing in common with many of the games – stoopball, stickball, or handball – was the gold standard Spaulding (or should I say the “pink standard”?). It bounced the best and felt just right in the hand – neither too hard nor too soft. We never bothered with the marketing name ‘hi-bounce’, but did call it the ‘spaldeen’.
When we used the spaldeen for handball, it was usually Chinese handball – that is bouncing it once before it struck the wall. Sure I know, a real handball is black and much harder, but we used the Spaulding. However, we did watch the ‘old men’ play American handball (hit the wall on the fly) with their gloves and hard little black sphere rocketing around – looked fierce and painful to us eight year olds.
You could bring a Spaulding to school and play against the brick wall at recess or after school. I mean, the Spaulding wasn’t the be-all and end-all – it was simply a requirement. You had to have one. And of course, inevitably they would get lost.
Each week, my brother and I were granted a 75 cent allowance (do you realize that there isn’t even a ‘cents’ key on my qwerty keyboard anymore?) and our aim was to trek two miles into the hobby shop and buy a plastic WWII airplane model to build. The two of us would sit on our front stoop and glue it together. However, when the Spaulding was hit into the undeveloped lot, rolled into a storm sewer or landed in unfriendly territory – well – we’d have to divert part of allowance (was it 15 cents?) to getting a new one at the hobby shop and possibly forego the airplane model. I guess the Spaulding was like a utility for kids… we didn’t pay electric bills, but we had to have bounce energy.
I have read that the pink Spaulding ‘hi-bounce’ was discontinued in 1979 due to decreased popularity of stickball (or maybe it was the rise of disco), but it was reintroduced in 1999 in a variety of colors. Amazing that such a simple object can be the source of such enjoyment.
The New Thinking
George opens up another facet of this pandemic that also affects the majority of people around the word; what are we all thinking about during our minimal interactions and limited options for mobility? Are some of us simply contemplating more of the same kind of thoughts? Are some of us more reflective, now that we have fewer distractions and obligations? Are we turning to the past for comfort and guidance, or are we thinking this is the opportunity to break old habits and move forward?
Depending on the day or my mood, I can accept responsibility for being in each of these categories. Most of the time though, I’m inclined to use this experience of isolation to rid myself of actions/reactions that don’t feel good. It is a perfect time to reflect. I find it easier to focus on what I’m doing and being present. My daily mediation (from The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday) is devoted to paying attention to a habit or behavior you wish to diminish or eliminate. The process involves setting your intention and then marking off each day you can accomplish it, extending your streak for as long as possible. My progress is painfully slow but moving in the right direction.
But, like George, I also find myself drifting back to my childhood. I recall many days of wandering about in nature, more often with my dog than with friends. And today, as a senior citizen living in New York during the Coronavirus pandemic I spend my days wandering about in nature and only with my dog. However, unlike my childhood, instead of sprinting down a hill or climbing a perfectly laddered sapling, I stroll down the hill and simply gaze up at the tree. Every once in a while though, as my boyish sense of adventure wells up in me, I smile and think, maybe tomorrow I’ll sprint and climb. But then I remember that I haven’t yet taught Duke how to fetch the first responders from my driveway and bring them to my side if I should fall and break a bone or two. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll teach Duke, or take a chance like I did when I was a kid.
I also think about how much I miss sharing my space and my adventures with friends and family. As much as I receive intense satisfaction from my daily escapades, it’s never as grand (this word’s for you Laur!) as sharing them with others.
And again, like George, I think about post stay-at-home life. I try not to think about my re-emergent world without hugs and handshakes. I remind myself to be grateful that I’ve lived a long and happy life without restrictions, extreme cautions, and with great freedom. And now, I’ll prepare myself for appreciating what remains. At least that’s what I think right now.