Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Playing like a Girl (and in this case, that's a good thing)

I grew up on Long Island. I was born in Brooklyn, where most Long Islanders are actually from. My parents bought a promise of a house in a new development after the Korean War pretty much around the time Suburbia was being invented. As with most subdivisions, the streets were all named after the builder's relatives. In my neighborhood, there was Sherman Drive, Ronald Lane, Richard Lane, Ira Road and Miller Boulevard. The builder - Mr. Miller - may have been Jewish. I don't really know. Maybe he was related to Mr. Levitt.

Our block, Sherman Drive, was a dead end. Not a cul-de-sac, mind you. A real DEAD END. No friendly circle turn around at the end, just a guardrail. There was a sign that said DEAD END. Some wise acre kid (I think it was Wayne, who we called, 'Wayne, Wayne, the big fat Pain') had carefully printed the word 'REAR' between the DEAD and the END. When you are seven, this is hilarious.

Since there was little traffic on our block, we kids often played in the street. Kickball, Stickball, SPUD, Monkey in the Middle, Touch Football.

Both girls and boys played most games, with the exceptions being Stickball and Touch Football. These manly games remained boy-only. There was one girl on my block named Patty, who was a natural athlete (she went on to play high school and college sports and to this day referees at high school field hockey games). She was so good, the boys realized they would be fools not to include her. Patty was in.

But in order to balance out the teams, one other girl was needed, or so our young senses of fair play dictated. There was Elizabeth Ann. No. She didn't like getting her nail polish chipped. Or Tracy. Tall and awkward. Marylee. A crybaby. Nancy. No. She lived on Ronald Lane and, as everyone knew, THEY were the enemy.

That left me. I was a pretty good choice. I was small and wiry and fast and not afraid of the ball. I hit fairly well and, even though I didn't own a mitt, I could catch too. So, I was in.

Much of my remembrance of that time of my life comes, not from actual memories, but from the enhanced recall that the 8 millimeter home movies my father took of us imparted. Once, after dinner, instead of playing the usual ball game, we decided to have relay races up and down the block. The hard part was that the races would be run on my little brother's John Deere Tractor and my other brother's hand-pumped go-cart. We had all outgrown these two vehicles and looked very funny and awkward on them, with knees and elbows sticking out to the sides.

This was my moment in the sun. I was still small enough to handle both vehicles smoothly. And, as I mentioned, I was wiry and fast. We have film footage of the races, where Bobby and Jackie and Henry and Alex and David are having trouble getting the go-cart to do anything but go backwards and me fiercely pumping for the win every time. Did I mention we have actual footage of this?

At one point, the boys got tired of losing and began sabotaging me on my laps. They would dart in front, or hand off the cart facing the wrong way. At one point, Bobby actually jumped ON to the front of the tractor I was pedaling and tried to brake with his big clodhopper feet. I was furious. The final footage of this delightful film reel is of me punching Bobby in the back so hard, he falls off sideways. Henry jumps in and pulls from the back. I turn around and slug him hard in the ribs. He falls off. I win and all the boys are lying on the ground. Dad, can we see this one again?

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