The Games--How we Played Them

It was a clear and sunny day one summer, forty-five years ago. Any day will do. At first light my street came alive with activity. Within the confines of a single city block in the Bronx, the kids emerged to play the typical street games we all knew and loved. The scene was set.
     My block (184th Street between Washington and Park Avenues) is the venue for these dozens of games and activities. It was a narrow, flat, one-way street, paved with asphalt; parked cars on either side. Concrete sidewalks along the length both sides, curving around Park Ave with an open sewer at each corner, same toward Washington Ave., with a couple of straight-armed cast-iron lampposts, fire hydrants (Johnny-pumps) on the sidewalks. There were three manholes right through the center of the street. At the corner of Washington Ave was the Catholic Church garden enclosed with a cyclone fence, a two-car garage between it and the first apartment building (which had a five-step stoop). My building was on that side of the street (south) with a two level courtyard. The next apartment house at the corner of Park Ave didn't have a stoop, just an entranceway. The end of the block was the white wall against the sunken railroad tracks of the Hartford-New Haven line, which ran in an open trench along Park Avenue. Swinging around to the other side of the block was another corner Apartment building, no stoop, just an entranceway. All the apartment buildings were six stories. Further up the block on the north side was the sand lot, and then the remaining section of the neighborhood were the row of wood frame and brick private homes, usually two stories high. At the northeast corner catty-cornered was a billboard. There was room enough for only one passing car at a time, one way from Park to Washington. This was our playground.
     We made use of the walls, the stoops, courtyards, sidewalks, curbs, sewers, manhole covers, parked cars, lampposts, fire hydrants, even the red fire alarm box at the corner! Everything on the block had potential; nothing was untouchable and became an integral part of play. For instance, bricks set back in the wall of my apartment building served as a way of hitting a ball against it into the street causing the ball to fly or bounce in an odd way. The back alleys were used as hideaways mostly. We were ready to play!
     Rules governing street games were basic and simple to learn. Everyone seemed to know them, even instinctively. There were no rulebooks to read or formal texts to study. The street was our teacher. One thing to remember about the games described here was none of these games were played with a referee or umpire. The children set the parameters of the rules and settled their own disputes usually fairly and accurately without too many fistfights.
     Here begins a list of games and expressions of which I personally witnessed and experienced. The list is by no means complete and the descriptions not always similar in every respect to the way they were played. It's a compendium of my recollections, trying my best to give a comprehensive summary of how I remember them. This is merely an attempt to share some happy memories of my childhood, opening my urban diary relating how I spent countless hours in the street or playing indoor games on rainy and wintry days. I am striving to be as accurate and informative as possible. The 1950's and early 60's was a marvelous time to grow up in the city and I feel fortunate to have been a part of it.
















































ACE-KING-QUEEN (KING-QUEEN): Usually four or more players each occupying a sidewalk box facing an apartment building wall. The ranks were Ace, King, Queen, Jack, all the way down to the lowest position or breadbox or breadbasket (sometime the ace would be lowest, hence the name KING-QUEEN), The person who was in the Ace box or King box would start the play by hitting the spalding (spaldeen) with the palm of his hand against the wall on one bounce into the adjacent box. The ball must bounce to the ground only once. The receiving player would have to hit the ball on the fly or after one bounce into another adjacent box, it didn't matter which one. And so on in the same manner. If a player misses or if it bounces more than once before he can return it a point against was charged and he was demoted a to a lower ranking square. If the King or Ace missed, no point was charged, he simply moved down to the lower rank. When a player accumulated a certain number of points (usually 11 or 21) he is eliminated from the game. The last remaining player wins.
     There is much strategy and a need for skill and agility. There were special serves like submarine sinkers -slamming the ball against where the sidewalk and wall meet causing the ball to flatline. Impossible to return the serve. There was a shot we called waterfalls hitting the ball high and close to the wall that it cascaded down parallel with the wall, like a waterfalls - a difficult shot to recover.
     You could hold a serve in your box hitting it back and forth until you were ready to hit it into another box--a delaying strategy intended to fool your opponents. There were out of bound shots to deceive another player and other methods to win.

ASSES UP: In certain games if a player lost, his punishment was to face a wall, bend over making his bottom the target. Each member of the team would have one chance to throw a spaldeen at his backside. They would line up around 30 feet away and take aim at his butt. King-Queen losers were usual targets. Worse things happened to you if you tried to run off. You had to stand there (or rather bend over) and take your medicine.

BASEBALL CARD FLIPPING: Cards were flipped one at a time to the sidewalk. Anywhere from one or more (no limit on the number) could be flipped. It was how many cards you were willing to risk losing. The opposing player must match the obverse or reverse of the card on the ground otherwise he'd lose that card he flipped. Many techniques were employed to try and match the cards. A quick motion with the wrist, or a swing your arm back then forward for a fast flipping release. Another was to hold your arm stiff at your side and let the card tumble slowly to the ground.
     One variation was to hold the card flat against the apartment building wall and let it flutter to the ground. The great advantage was to flip first and get all face cards or all tails. I'd prefer to be "larry", a term meaning I'd flip second.
     Hockey, football and basketball cards were also flipped. It would have to be from the same sports cards. You'd never mix flipping basketball cards with baseball cards. Baseball cards were the most commonly used. Many times you would trade doubles or negotiate for your favorite players. Funny thing, no one thought to buy a complete set. We'd go to the candy store and buy individual packs. Probably just to get the bubble gum inside the packs.

BASKETBALL: Aside from playing in the local schoolyard, we'd improvise and use the bottom rung of a fire escape ladder as the hoop. Using the lower rung of the ladder we'd run and toss the ball through scoring the usual points, however since there was no backstop we'd approach the "basket" from both sides.

BOX BALL: Using two sidewalk squares, two players would face each other. A spaldeen would be served by slapping it into the opponent's box. The lines on the concrete define the boundaries and the crack in the middle is the imaginary net separating the court. You would win a point with a successful volley, that is, when your opponent misses a shot.. Twenty-one is normally a winning score. You must win by two or more points, so the score could range higher than twenty-one.
     There was a way to put some English on the ball with a cutting motion to get more spin and make it difficult to return. Soft shots and hard ones were intended to fool your opponent.

CAT'S CRADLE: A girl's game normally. Using both hands, a string or elastic was employed to make shapes passing them back and forth between two persons. Some designs I remember were the Cat's Eye, the Manger, Diamonds, and the Army Cot. You need two people. A string long enough had to be used so intricate shapes can be made, taking turns developing the shapes. "You" is the first person; "she" is the second person. Each person taking a turn making a series of loops, scoops and twists, pinching and pulling the string until the desired shape is achieved. My sister and her friends played cat's cradle. I watched them, fascinated. I tried to do it once, but gave up in total frustration. I left it for the girls to figure it out!

CHALK-IN-THE-SOCK: Taking any colored chalk place it inside a knee-length winter woolen sock. Then you would crush the chalk until it was a fine powder at the toe of the sock. Tie the open end and use it as a mace, swinging it around hitting a wall, the sidewalk, each other and leaving chalk marks everywhere. Instead of wooden swords we'd use chalk-in-the-sock in street battles, taking ash can lids and using them as shields. What mayhem ensued!

CURB BALL: Hit the spaldeen against the sharp edge of the curb causing it to fly up as high as possible. The fielder must catch it on the fly to get an out...otherwise the amount of bounces determines if it was a single, double, triple. Four bounces is a homer. There were no bases to run. You just take turns when the inning was over. A regular nine-inning game was played.

COWBOYS AND INDIANS: I was all of six years old wearing my Hopalong Cassidy outfit. It was black from ten-gallon hat to my boots. I had two fancy six shooters. The girls had their Annie Oakley and Dale Evans outfits. Some of the kids spanked themselves on the butt running up the street pretending to be riding a horse. Some children dressed as Indians and the battle began.

ERRORS: Two players face an apartment wall. Each takes turns throwing a spaldeen against the wall toward each other. The player must catch the ball on one bounce without dropping it or a point was scored against him as if an error was made.

FLY'S ARE UP: When there weren't enough guys for a stickball game, we'd play Fly's Are Up. The person at bat hit the ball to the fielders. Whoever caught the ball on the fly got a turn at bat.

FOOT RACES: Simple hundred yard dashes up and down the block. The end of the block served as the finish line.

FORTUNE TELLERS: This was one of the names we called these paper-made creations. Take a piece of blank white paper, square it off to 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 fold it at the corners inward then back again. Four pyramid shaped pockets are the result with flaps on the inside. Some of these inside triangles had to be cut with a scissors to open the flaps up. You would then number the outside pockets, and inside flaps and write either a funny saying under them or a fortune.
     Using the index fingers and thumbs of both hands you would place them inside the outside cups and open and close them until the other person selected a number then a flap to pull up. You would pick an odd or even number and a fortune was read depending on if it was a multiple of four! I can still create one of these things today.

GIANT STEPS: You remember this one. Take small or giant steps toward the person calling the game. Simple.

HANDBALL: We had no handball court on our black so we went to P.S. 59 where we played Three-Wall-Handball. There was a configuration of one corner of the main building that cornered on three sides, one long two short. Two or four players could play. Rebounds off a three-sided wall made for interesting returns. Each miss was a point until the loser scored 21. After each game (using the good old spaldeen) my right hand was swollen twice its size. In regular handball many players used a fingerless padded glove and a harder black rubber ball.

HANGMAN'S NOOSE (aka HANGMAN, GALLOWS) (This could be played indoors as well as outdoors). Using chalk or a pencil and paper, begin by drawing the beginnings of a gallows. It will look like a figure seven with a diagonal line at an angle. The hangman selects a secret word (any word) and draws a blank line for each letter under the gallows. The condemned man seeking a reprieve asks the hangman if a certain letter is in the word, for instance, "a" (we'd usually start with vowels). If the letter is in the word it was written on the proper line if not the hangman would add to the gallows. Each missed letter another part of the gallows was constructed, then the noose, then the stick figure of the condemned man. If all the body parts were reach, arms legs etc, it was curtains, and the condemned man was hung. If the word was discovered before all parts of the gallows and victim was complete, the condemned man was freed.
     Usually the longer the word the easier it was for the condemned man to guess all the letters and get a reprieve. Even a three-letter word can cost the man his neck. Exotic or obscure words were not allowed. They must be common every-day words. Usually you get around ten guesses before the noose was tightened!

HIDE AND GO SEEK: Typical hide and seek. But no back alleys could be used to hide.

HIT-THE-STICK: Using a Popsicle stick (after the Good Humor man sold his ice cream) it would be placed on the seam in the sidewalk. Players stand at either end of the sidewalk box behind the line defining the box. You could not step over this line. The object was to hit the stick with the bouncing ball scoring a point. The first person to reach 21 wins. Many times the players would try to flip the stick over! This can also be played with a coin.

HOPSCOTCH: (aka POTSIE): Normally it was a girl's game. It was the pick up the stone or marker variation. Tossing a rock or marker or any heavy object into a numbered box you would hop up the court turn and pick it up after making a round. A hopscotch court was drawn with chalk or painted permanently in the asphalt street. Each box was about 18 inches square numbered from one to eight or nine with a home box at the far end. Some were the straight box style; some were the straddle numbered type. The player tosses the marker into box one. It must land directly inside the box without bouncing out or touching the line. If the marker is in the wrong square, the player loses her turn. Side by side squares are straddled, singles squares are hopped on one foot. Each time through the course the player must pick up the marker or stone without missing a square, stepping on the line or losing her balance.
     The players must run the course for every number. The first player to complete one course for every numbered square is declared the winner. I never played this game, I usually watched the girls hop around. I got to know the rules by just observing.

HOCKEY (STREET HOCKEY): We played with roller skates, a hockey stick, puck and some uniforms, using the manhole cover as the goal. We played far enough up the center of the block so we never lost any pucks down the open sewers like the balls lost in stickball.

HULA HOOPS: I just mention this because it was a fad that never lasted long. It stopped as fast as it started. Kids got bored with the notion of twirling a hoop round and round your waist.

JACKS: (Pick-up-sticks was a variation). Another girl's game it was played indoors as well. Two players sit face to face. There were 15 Jacks and one small ball. Jacks were thrown into the air, whoever caught the most went first. Then the first player gathers up all the Jacks in one-hand tosses them gently to the ground inside a circled space. She then tosses the ball in the air...with the object being to pick up a designated number of jacks with the same hand. It starts with one jack till a player misses. The game continues until someone succeeds in picking up all the jacks at once. I watched my sister play this game and never remember anyone ever being able to pick up all the jacks. No one ever won at this game!

JOHNNY-ON-THE-PONY (RIDE THE PONY as we called it): This was a two-team game. One team forms the horse. The lead person would stand erect against a wall, bracing himself. Each person as part of the horse would bend over. The first person would bury his head in the stomach of the lead or upright party (sometimes called a " post"). The other team members would bend behind one another
     Grasping each other at the waist. Forming the back of the horse.
     The opposing team members called "the riders," would run, one at a time and jump on the backs of the horse as far ahead as possible, so the other members had room to land. The object of the game was to see how many kids the pony could carry before it crumbles under the final leap. Boys and girls participated together.

JUMP ROPE: Strictly a girl's game in my neighborhood. Either a single rope was used or two held by a girl at either end, while other girls jumped in the middle. Double Dutch was most popular form. Sometimes a song or a rhyme was started as the girls jumped. Jump to the beat then jump out when the song or rhyme was over.
     Double Dutch used two ropes. I always watched amazed at how coordinated the girls were as the leaped and skipped over the ropes. Later I was even more surprised when as a very young kid with a new TV (1952) I as a prizefighter jumping rope. Up until then I had always thought it was strictly for the girls. There were some variations of the game I noticed, like a rubber or elastic was looped at the ankles and slowly made its way up the torso to the neck. When there weren't enough girls to jump completely, two girls would tie one end of the rope to a lamppost and take turns jumping, using the lamppost as a third party turning the rope! There were other variations, like a rubber or elastic loop placed at the ankles and working its way up the torso to the neck.

KICK THE BOX (CAN): Get a cardboard box usually around twenty inches square and kick it back and forth at each other trying to touch your opponent. The object being to dodge each attempted kick. I've played this in apartment house basements, in the alleyways, even on the roof. Played with two persons, normally.

LANYARDS: These were plastic strips usually four to a set, each a different color. The kids would weave them together to form braided strand to be used as key chains, bracelets etc. there were several different types of stitch, diamond or snake stitch, barrel and braided. Kids spent hours in the streets or at their homes weaving these things.

MARBLES: (Archboards): This is the only version of marbles we played on my block. Taking a cigar box or shoebox three different sized holes or doorways (archways) were cut at the top spaced equally apart. Each doorway represented a difficulty level at for which you would win a certain amount of marbles if your shot entered that doorway. Finding a seat by a curb, with enough space between two parked car, the marble maven would set up by turning the box over exposing the hole toward the street. The shooter would then take aim at the smallest box hoping to have his marble enter there and win the most amounts of marbles from the box holder. If he missed, his marble was lost to the box owner. Again many kids had special techniques to try and gain an advantage...but like a gambling casino, the odd were with the house.

OFF-THE-WALL (THE WHITE WALL): The west end of 184th street ended at Park Avenue because of the sunken railroad track. There was a 15-foot long four-foot high white concrete median erected there to guide cars away from the tracks. We used it to play Off-The-Wall. Each corner had an open sewer, which we used for bases. There were three bases ... first, third and home only. A square box was painted in the middle of the wall. We would slam the ball against the box and run toward the first sewer. The fielder would throw to the first baseman for the out...and the game was under way. That section of Park, which paralleled the tracks, was still cobblestone surface, so when the ball bounce on the ground it took all sorts of crazy hops and spins. It made for a real interesting game. Kids from other neighborhoods came there to use OUR wall.
     One note to make is that passing traffic constantly interrupted these types of street games. We were forever alert and ready for the next truck or wagon coming up the street.

PADDLE BALL: The small rubber ball was attached with an elastic stapled to the wooded paddle. You would simply hit it back and forth slapping it with the paddle over and over again. This was a fad that was made popular after the 3-D movie "House of Wax" with Vincent price appeared in the theatres. Remember the pitchman outside the Wax museum. He paddled the ball into the audience's laps with the 3-D illusion. Everyone had to have one of these. And like all fads it didn't last long.

PEA SHOOTERS: Dried peas shot through a straw with the velocity of a blowgun made for great fun.
     We'd bushwhack unsuspecting victims who later retaliated when their chance came along. We were never without our peashooters because you never knew when the battle would begin!

PITCHING-IN: This is a derivative of stickball. A painted square was targeted by the pitcher throwing a spaldeen toward a batter with a broomstick. This was played across the street, not up the street, so the height of the ball against the opposite wall determined the bases or runs scored. This could be played with only two players.

PITCHING PENNIES: Toss a penny as close to the curb as you can from an agreed upon distance. The next person in order to win that penny had to come closest to the curb inching ahead of the first penny tossed. I've seen instances where a penny actually leaned against the curb in a vertical position!

POGO STICKS: Not many kids had them and only the six or eight year olds would ride them. Not very popular on this block.

PUNCH BALL: Played with a spaldeen and a fist in the middle of the street. Similar to a stickball game except that there was no pitching- in or use of a stick. The "batter" would throw the ball in the air and punch it toward the fielders, running the bases which were usually car door handles, tires or sewers. It was scored like a regular baseball game.

RINGOLEAVIO: Choose up two teams of any number of players, usually 10 or more to each side. One team is the "hunters", the other team "the Prey or the Hunted," A "pen, or "den" or "jail" as they were called was established as a holding area for the captured team members. These pens were located in front of building or garages, or nearby stoops. It couldn't be enclosed; it had to be exposed with imaginary fences.
     The game began when the hunted team ran off and dispersed down the block, taking refuge wherever they could, even in alleyways, but not the back alleys, they were off limits, so were hallways and rooftops. The goal of the hunters was to catch all the members of the other team and bring them back to the holding area or pen until all of their fellows were capture. Not as easy as it sounds. The hunters had to travel in packs to surround or corner a targeted victim. The capture was made by holding the victim and he had to submit to becoming a prisoner. He was escorted back and placed in the pen. Meantime other members of the victim's team were scurrying around trying to avoid capture and also using some strategy to try and release their captured fellows.
     The prisoners could be freed if someone from their team managed to dodge past the guards standing around the holding pen and touch a prisoner without getting captured themselves. The shout would go up "Home Free!". And the release was official. The game could go on for hours, but usually ending with the final capture of one stray member of the hunted team, the last man out. The rescuers always ran the risk of getting caught themselves, but they endeavored to free their fellow prisoners to keep the game going. The side to win captures all their opponents.
     This game required stamina, cunning, resourcefulness and courage. Many times the most agile of players got injured by making a sudden dash and getting tackled to the pavement. Ouch! I myself got crushed against a car by several of the hunters. They nearly ruptured my spleen! But it was great fun and one which kept everyone in top physical shape.

ROLLER SKATING: We had those adjustable steel roller skates with the leather straps and metal buckle. Flipping the skate over there was a nut to adjust the length between the toe and the heel to make the skate shorter or longer depending on shoe size. The clamp up front secured your shoe or sneaker. A skate key was needed. Many kids, especially the girls, wore their key on a string or chain around their neck so they wouldn't misplace it. Many a sole was torn off eventually because of the tightening of the clamps at the toe. The ball bearings in the wheels didn't last that long either. The wheels would flatten and I'd be asking my parents to buy me another pair within a year or so,
     The noise these skates made was deafening especially on the concrete sidewalks, but we'd roller skate for hours round and round the block. It provided hours of fun.

RUNNING BASES: Running back and forth between two manhole covers (bases) two fielders would throw the ball ahead to the person at the base trying to tag us out. It was simply an exercise in running ability, beating the throw before you got tagged. We'd never slide on asphalt.

SCOOTERS: The scooter was a popular substitute for a bike and probably more versatile. It was made from a four foot long 2" x 4" piece of lumber. A single roller skate was separated and the wheels nailed under the plank of wood. Next a milk or vegetable crate was nailed at one end; wooden handlebars were attached to the top. The crate was adorned with soda cans, bottle caps and flags and anything else to give it distinction. It was hard to steer, but it served for running errands for our parents, using the box to haul back groceries. We raced the scooters many times. Friends of mine even raced them down Snake Hill (184th between Tiebout and Webster). It was a windy, curvy hill; also Convent Hill (185th between Washington and Bassford.) was another popular site for the scooter. It was called Convent Hill because the Dominican nuns had their Convent on that block).
     We stored these great works of art in the basements of our apartment buildings or under the stairways in the buildings lobbies.

THE SHAM BATTLE: This might be considered a forerunner of Paintball! This was a war game played among adolescents. Equipment consisted of plastic helmet, (some kids had authentic steel helmets their fathers brought home from WWII), a rifle that shot rubber bullets, any sidearm would also have to shoot rubber bullets, a rubber knife, canteen, binoculars for some a back pack with some food, and a lot of boys. Usually we would meet at the Snuff Mill Restaurant in the Botanical Gardens. The surrounding woods, Bronx River and open fields served as the terrain we'd used to conduct the war games.
     After assembling at the Snuff Mill, we'd chose sides and separate into squads with captains and sergeants leading the groups. The armies would disperse into the deepest woods and the battle would begin. We would plan and coordinate attacks, forays, and ambushes or run an all out assault. We'd have fortified positions and bases from which we launched our attacks.
     No prisoners were taken. You either lived or you were recorded as a kill. Those that were killed walked back to the Snuff Mill and awaited the outcome. My favorite strategy was to launch a Banzai charge against a fortified position. Philip Ambrosio and I led the charges yelling "BANZAI, BANZAI," running ahead of our men. We never survived one of those charges! The team that lost all its soldiers lost the war. The game lasted all morning into the evening. Afterwards we'd all the participants from both sides had a picnic and discuss the shortfalls of the strategy and tactics. Then we went home exhausted.

SKULLY (SKULLSIES, as we called it): A skullsies game board was painted permanently in the middle of the street. It was around five to eight feet square with numbered squares at the corners on each side and in the middle. A diagram and very detailed rules can be accessed on the Internet. The numbers ran one through thirteen (thirteen being the dead zone or skully). The boxes are about 4" square (This version is much smaller that other boards). There wasn't much room on the street in my block. The board size varied. The game was played by flicking bottle caps into the numbered squares. Two to six players were needed to play. I normally played with a friend of mine early on Saturday mornings when we had the street to ourselves. The surface was the asphalt street. It had to be smooth and unobstructed, no cracks, bumps or depressions. The center box 13 was the dead area, the skull.
     Players took turns shooting their bottle caps, eliminating their opponents by hitting their caps. You had to progress from one numbered box to the next until you reached all boxes then reverse from 13 to one. Some terms included marksies, popsies, skullsies (the dead man's zone).
     Many kids melted crayon or candle wax into the inside of their bottle caps to give it extra weight. Some even used metal washers. Increasing the weight of the caps gave you an advantage when flicking and hitting your opponent's cap and knocking it off the board.

SLEIGH RIDING: The winter time brought out the sleighs. Our favorite spots were Convent Hill and Snake Hill, which I mentioned earlier.

STICKBALL: This is THE game played on most city streets. Everyone played stickball. The equipment: A broomstick and the Spalding High-Bounce Pink Ball (the Spaldeen), three manholes and a lot of kids. Bases were car door handles, car tires, manhole covers, and Johnny pumps, anything that served as a practical base. The walls of the apartment buildings were the foul lines. If the ball hit them it was foul. Parked cars were ignored except if they were used for bases.
     There were three basic forms of stickball and we played them all:

Fast pitch: using a catcher the pitcher pitched in as fast as he could.

Slow-pitch: slow as slow and sometimes on a bounce before the batter swung at the ball.

Hit the ball yourself (Fungos):This was the most popular on our block. Some kids had the ability to toss the ball into the air and hit it as while it was still in the air, other bounced it once and took a swipe at it. Whatever method we used it all worked. I preferred to hit the ball on the fly. The game followed basic baseball rules and guidelines. It had all the dynamics of the baseball game without the regular field or umpires. There were constant interruptions as cars and horse drawn wagons pass through the street. Sometimes the games were postponed when the amusement rides and pony rides came through. And of course, we'd stop when the Good Humor Man stopped by.

Choosing Sides: An important aspect of playing to win was selecting the best players. We all knew who were the best and the worst, so choosing sides became crucial.Several methods were:

Sticking out fingers and calling odd or evens to get first crack at the selections.

Heads or tails on a coin.

Paper covers rock, etc.

After the selections were made and the sides were established the next step was to determine who got last licks. A broomstick was used in this instance. The stick was thrown into the air and caught by one of the team captains. The other captain then placed his palm or fingers about the person's hand holding the stick. Each took a turn up the bat until the top was reached. Whoever remained holding the bat won the home field advantage. Sometime the person holding the bat was using barely two fingers. So a final test was administered. The opposing team captain got one shot to try and kick the bat out of his grasp. If he could, the bat holder's team went last, the he was able to kick it loose, and his team would have last licks. Simple, fair and square.

Fishing balls out of the sewer. Occasionally during the course of the game a ball or bat would fall down the open sewer at the corners. Using a coat hanger was the answer. It could be stretched out and a loop made at one end. It was lowered down the sewer to fish out the ball and anything else worth salvaging. This saved a lot of "chips on the balls", for those unlucky souls who lost the balls. Had to pay to buy a new one. The game progresses through the nine innings or more if necessary. The line score was kept with chalk near the side of the curb. It had a very unique shape. A triangular box for team names and square boxes delineated each inning. We all took turns keeping score. There were three manholes up the block so we called it a three-sewer homer.

STINK BOMBS: Rolled up pieces of photo film tightly wrapped and sealed inside loose-leaf paper or shopping bag paper was the essence of the "bomb". You would set both ends on fire, toss it on the ground or inside a hallway and stomp on it, creating black, acrid, pungent smoke that stunk to high heaven. Boys will be boys!

STOOP BALL: Played against the steps on a stoop. The sidewalk and street is the field. Providing there was no parked car obstructing play, the game could be played. Throw the ball (spaldeen) against the steps. Agree on amount of points. If the ball bounces back the player catches it on the fly, it's worth a certain amount of points. There is a chalk line the player cannot cross. it is called the "short line." If the ball bounces more than once, you're out. All players get to finish a turn. The term "last licks", comes into play here a lot ... it is the final attempt to get a better score.
     There were only a couple of exposed stoops on our block, so this game of stoopball wasn't played that often.

TAG: The player who is "it" attempts to tag (touch) one of the other players and when successful runs away, so as not to be tagged in turn. You cannot duck down alleyways, Fences and high stoops, like my courtyard are boundaries. You were confined to the block.

TOPS: A chalk circle was drawn and tops were spun one against the other trying to knock your opponent's out of the circle. Some kids lifted them up in their palm and layed the spinning top down as close to your rival as possible.

TOUCH FOOTBALL: This game is normally played during the winter months. Three or more players are needed. An agreed upon amount of touchdowns is determined before the start of the game. The field is from one manhole cover to the farthest one. These are the endzones. The parked cars are out of bounds. Score is kept by counting each touchdown; there are no points. After choosing sides and determining who receives the ball, the "kicking" team captain THROWS the ball to the opposing team. The "tackle" is made when a defensive player touches the ball carrier with BOTH hands or fingers. Blocks can be made to protect the ball carrier just like regular football. Play resumes at the line of scrimmage.
     The defense captain holds the ball (he has temporary possession!). When the sides are lined up, the defense captain tosses the ball to the offense quarterback. The offense has five seconds to run the play. The defensive captain begins the count... "One ten thousand, two ten thousand," or "One mississippi, two mississippi," till the number five is reached. The play is in motion and the defense can cross the line of scrimmage in pursuit. Meantime the ends are already in the backfield ready to receive a pass. The quarterback has the option of passing or handing the ball to one of his backs. Once again, the tackle is made by touching the ball carrier with both hands.
     No referee is ever used. There is no officiating of any kind other than the teams themselves running and stopping the downs. The first team to attain the agreed upon number of touchdowns, is declared winner. There is no time limit, no quarters. There are four downs to run the play, but you must give the ball to the defense after the fourth down if your team has not scored. No first down is allowed like in a regular football game. You simply have four downs to score. The ball changes hands on fumbles, and after the fourth down is reached.

YO-YOS: Most children carried a yo-yo and pulled it out to play with it between activities.


We were just as active indoors as well as out on the street. When the weather prevented us to play outdoors, we had plenty to kept us busy in our apartments and houses.
     I had a Peg Board (Peg Table). It was a wooden table similar in appearance to a schoolroom desk.
     The desk section was slanted with holes for pegs, lift the lid and there was a blackboard underneath.
     You would tap in your pegs with a wooden mallet, or draw and write on the blackboard. The desk was attached to a seat by metal tubes. You stored your pegs, mallet, chalk and blackboard erasers inside the desk compartment. You could put anything inside the desk.
     Lionel Trains were run even out of the holiday season.
     Toy soldiers, knights, castles, cowboys and Indian figures were played with. The girls had dollhouses and dolls to keep them occupied.
     Parlor Games: Eggs in the basket, Blind Man's Bluff, Pin the tail on the Donkey (usually at party times), musical chairs, charades, spin the bottle, post office
     Board Games: Some of the more popular ones were Monopoly, Clue, Go to the head of the Class, trouble, Scrabble, Parcheesi, Sorry, Rich Uncle, Checkers, Chess
     Card Games: War, Gin Rummy, Penny ante poker, Hearts, Canasta, and pinochle for the older crowd.
     Pencil and Paper Games: Tick-Tack-Toe, Hangman's Noose and many others.


I'm including some frequently used and recognized expressions popular with the kids in those years.

Playing "for fair," "for keeps"

"Finders keepers, losers weepers." If you were unfortunate and lost something it was picked up immediately by a "friend" who kept it and said these lines in spite.

"No Fair. Do Over."

"Chips on the Ball" (if you lost a spalding ball in the course of a game, you had to buy a new one)

"I'm Larry" Getting a final turn, last licks, going last in card flipping.

"Knuckle down"

"Dibs" Same as chips on the ball

"Red Light green Light, 1 2 3"

"Dare", "Double dare"

"Black, no backs," Say this while touching something black. The person you're talking to cannot talk back with a sassy remark to something you've just said, an insult or accusation.

"That's Boss," "She's (he's) Boss." Praising the person or object, extolling its virtues, cool, groovy.

"I'll sound you so low you'll be playing handball off the curb." There were many of these types of sordid remarks.

"He's got more nerve than brains."

"Go stamp chestnuts."

"Take a long walk off a short pier."

"Tell the truth and shame the Devil."

In a Foot Race often times someone would shout, "Last one to the stoop is a rotten egg." Then the reply would come from the last runner: "And the first one takes his place."

"You left me flat."

"Shake a leg."

"Put on your thinking caps!"

"Go fly a kite."

Murray the "K" Kaufman and the Swingin' Soiree began his show with a chant that went something like this:

"Bedah bey (OH), bedah bey (OH), cumma zawa zawa " (twice)

We were told it meant "Come let us pull" in Swahili.

"Last Licks." Getting up last in a street game.

"He's a real Susie-Mary" meaning a sissy.

"Liar liar pants on fire,"

"Spring for it." Buy me a soda.

"Gammanucce." A deriding term tagging a person as not very bright.

"Indian Giver." This is a familiar term signifying a person who gave something away as a gift but later asked for it back.

"Mau Mau," meaning a really physically ugly person. I believe the term began to be used on my block after an episode of that TV series Ramar of the Jungle (Jon Hall). After a while we seemed to apply it to anyone we didn't like ... "You're a Mau Mau,"

"Four Eyes." Any kid unlucky to be wearing eyeglasses we labled "four eyes."

"You stink on ice," or "He stinks on ice." Used in street Hockey expressing dismay over a poor play or inept player.

"Shot for Shot," or "Let's go shot for shot." This was an idiotic exchange of punches to the shoulder. Two boys would take turns hitting each other as hard as possible on the side biceps below the shoulder until one cried "uncle." We really came home with a lot of black and blues!

There are many other expressions, some unique, some well known. These street slang words were used constantly throughout the day.

ADDENUM: Not Quite Games

In the course of the day there were many activities that were borderline games. The children interacted with each other in many ways; here are just a few.

Indian Wrist Burns: Grabbing another kid's wrist, this person would use both hands and twist in opposite directions causing a "wrist burn," not very pleasant, but it happened quite often, and for no good reason.

Knucks: We corrupted this version of a marble game into two quite painful uses. The normal version of "kuncks" was to place a small marble between the knuckles resting the hand on the ground. His playmate shoots a larger marble at his knuckles and scores points everytime a shot hits the marble held in the knuckle. We never played this version, instead, we'd take a marble, place it firmly under the middle finger so the knuckle stuck out, then used the knuckle to whack someone on the head! Almost the equivalent of brass knuckles, except it was a single finger that was used.
     Another version that was just as violent was to take a deck of playing cards and knock it against someone's kuckles, most of the time scraping the skin. This was done as a penalty for losing a particular street game. I can't remember the exact circumstances, but it was painful! We called this "knucks" or "knocks."

Chinese Hand Cuffs: This was a little more fun, if not frustrating. The Chineese Hand Cuff was a three or four inch long wicker tube, narrow in the middle, flaring at the ends. If you stuck your index fingers inside either end it was impossible to pry your fingers loose. The trick was to push your index fingers into the device as far as they would go then pull apart in one mighty yank. This would release the fingers and you were free. Funny thing, you weren't forced to lock your fingers inside this thing. You hand-cuffed (rather finger-cuffed) yourself. Quite a silly predicament. You should have seen many of the kids struggling to get themselves free before thay figured out how to get loose.

Flexible Flyer Sled: I mentioned earlier we used these sleds down favorite hills or were pulled along by a playmate.

Radio Flyer Steel Wagons: Remember the red steel wagons everyone seem to be pulling a friend along? These were in constant use for many years.

*     *     *

I had fun compiling this information and hopefully it will kindle some fond memories for you as we travel back to those special years.

Gregory J. Christiano

Comments or questions, share your own recollections?

©2002 and Gregory J. Christiano
Sunday, June 02, 2002