Saturday, June 13, 2009

Back in the Day, 'Round the Way ...

We've had a pretty feeble spring her in Boston. Every time we get a bit of good weather and begin to hope that it might stick around for a while the rain and the cool winds come and chase it away. Today is nice ... yesterday afternoon was too. So here's hoping that Persephone can stay out and play with us for a little while.

And, speaking of playing ...
The other day, Shemetra and I came home from work only to find a gang of kids hanging out in front of our house. Okay, yeah we do live in "the 'hood" but it wasn't a gang as in Crips and Bloods ... more a gang as in Our Gang -- you know, Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat 'n' 'em. Yes, these were young kids, riding bikes, playing ball, being children. There was something quite heartening about it. Reminded me of the kind of fun we used to have as kids 'round the way, back in the day. But these kids don't play like we used to play ... sure we had days like their's that were sort of unstructured, free-for-all fun, but we had actual structured games we played. Here are a few of the best ones:

Hot Peas and Cold Butter. In this game, one kid would take a leather belt and hide it somewhere, preferably in a vacant lot that had a lot of flotsam, jetsam and debris strewn around. When the belt was hidden, the hider would scream out "hot peas and cooooold butter!" This would let all the other kids know that it was time to come and look for the belt. The hider would give clues ... at first, everyone would be pretty "cold," that is, far away from finding the belt. Then the hider would say, "Rodney is getting warm." At that moment, each player would have to make a decision: do I go over by Rodney to try to find the belt or do I ease my way back to the base. Because, you see, whoever found the belt was then permitted to beat the crap out of anyone he or she could catch before they got back to the base (usually somebody's front porch a considerable distance from the field of play). As the hiding place became more compromised, the tension would build ... "Rodney is red hot! Oh man, he's burnin' up! He's on fire!" By this time the most timid and the slowest runners are already halfway back to base and only the boldest are still searching. Believe you me, you don't want to be anywhere near ol' Rodney when he finds that belt ... especially if you were the dude that smacked him hard right 'cross the bee-hind with it a couple of rounds ago.

Red Rover. This is the game pictured above. Two teams would line up facing each other. Each team would link hands to form two opposing human chains. After some consultation, one team would say to the other, "red rover, red rover send Frankie right over," at which point Frankie would run as fast as he could attempting to break the link between two of the opposing team members. If he broke it, he would rejoin his team in triumph, if not he would have to join the other team. Now, the strategy was for Frankie to find the weakest link and then run in a swerving pattern to surprise those two players at the last possible minute. Now the game was supposed to end when one team had acquired all the members of the other by forming the most unbreakable links ... but it usually ended when someone (often yours truly) unable to break a link either flipped over it (hitting the front of his head on the asphalt) or bounced off it (hitting the back of his head on the asphalt). Note: somehow we never quite figured out that you shouldn't play this game on ASPHALT ... grass or even sand would have been better. But of course, there ain't too much of either of those in the city.

Chinese School. Sorry for the politically incorrect and racially insensitive title ... but we were kids, we didn't know any better. This was a much less violent game and was essentially, stand up comedy for elementary school kids. The audience would sit on the front steps of somebody's house and the teacher would step to the front of the group and recite the following rhyme:

"Chinese school has just begun,
No more laughing, no more fun.
If you show your teeth or tongue,
You will get a penalty done."

Then the teacher would launch into a stand-up routine to try to get people in the audience to laugh. If you laughed, the teacher would then give you a penalty ... often something silly or embarassing ... like singing a love song to the next girl to walk down the street or getting a wedgy and having to keep it ... er ... lodged until the end of the game. My brother Darryl was the master of this game. If you know him, ask him to do the "frozen pudding" routine for you ... but you'd better prepare yourself for the ensuing penalty 'cause there's no keeping a straight face in the midst of the "frozen pudding."

Kill The Man with the Ball. This was one of several manhood testing games. Nothing complicated about this one. The ball ... (usually a deflated football or baskettball that wasn't good for anything else) ... would be thrown into the air and whoever caught it would have to elude everybody else because there was only one rule in this game ... you have to kill the man with the ball! It was a test of agility, endurance and guts. Oh, the bruises, chipped teeth and scraped elbows and knees this glorious game produced. I still have scars.

Chase. This was the most Homeric of all neighborhood games ... really seperated the manly boys from the girly-men. Two teams would start at opposite ends of the predetermined territory (usually about a three block radius) and would split up in groups to find members of the opposing team to beat the crap out of and then capture and lock in a "prison" (somebody's porch that was guarded by two or three guys). The object of the game was to capture everyone on the opposing team. There were ambushes, jail breaks, traitors, valiant last stands, heroes who fought, and a few cowards who hid. It was AWESOME ... no weapons, only hands, feet and wits. It was like an inner-city Iliad! This game is probably the reason I don't walk right to this day.

Now ... if you are a kid reading this, let me say that you should NOT try these games at home. We were trained experts working under controlled conditions ....

Okay, so we were nuckle-heads, risking limb (if not life) for the sake of a good time. But nobody died (at least not that I can recall) and we sure had us some fun ... boy, I'm tellin ya!

1 comment:

VallyP said...

Oh Van, your games were slightly different from ours in the old UK, but the structure and excitement and the fun fun fun were just the same. We used to play a lot of stuff like charades and hide and seek and the normal things, and often we used to play them up and down our street to, but you're right. No one got hurt and we all seemed to have endless summers with loads of fun too..oh me, those were the! Great to hear your kids were all playing outside too. In the village where I spend a lot of time, the kids play in the streets too...very healthy is what I call it!