Author Topic: The Yard  (Read 6227 times)

Offline Nagelberg

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The Yard
« on: January 28, 2013, 10:24:44 AM »

“Someday I’m going to write a book about this place and call it ‘The Yard.’”   So spoke my friend, Sid Daniels, talking about the P.S. 69 schoolyard in Jackson Heights, Queens.  He said it over fifty years ago, and since no book on the subject has materialized, I’ll pinch hit for old Sid, wherever he may be.

In the 1950s, the P.S. 69 schoolyard was an after-school oasis for kids who wanted to recreate, or socialize, or just hang out. This was before it was covered with asphalt to make it a safer place to play.  We played on rock hard concrete peppered with pebbles that glittered like diamonds in the sun.  Cuts, scrapes, and contusions that simply came with the territory.

The Yard was a chain-link sanctuary that was open 24 hours a day. It had courts for handball and basketball, a brick wall for stickball, and just enough space for cramped, urban versions of baseball, softball, and touch football.  Grownups rarely set foot in the Yard.  One exception I can remember was a hoopster named Polachek who was there for so many years he outlasted every kid who played him for quarters, grew up, and moved on. 

Then there was Joe the Cop.  I never found out if he was a real cop or not, but I tend to doubt it given his fondness for playing poker with 

Left to our own devices, we found plenty to do in the old schoolyard. We played Chinese and American handball and box ball with pink rubber balls called “Spauldeens,” a corruption of “Spaulding.”   

Stickball was big, too. You stood in front of  a wall and swung a broomstick wrapped with  black electricians tape and, if you really connected, the ball made an arc that seemed to double back on itself and was a beautiful sight to behold.

We flipped baseball cards, read comic books, and rode bikes that clattered and buzzed with playing cards stuck in their spokes.  In the summer we bought ash cans, cherry bombs, and lady fingers from older, harder kids who weren’t afraid to stock up on illegal fireworks in Chinatown and Little Italy.
Moe & Archie’s provided sustenance. Fifteen cents bought you a giant pretzel and a bottle of Mission soda. 

There could be so much going on in the Yard that you had to constantly be on the lookout for people and objects in motion.  On a busy Saturday the Yard could look like a modern version of Peter Breughel’s Flemish Renaissance masterpiece called “Children’s Games,” a painting crammed with Flemish Renaissance children entirely absorbed in their games and pastimes.

Despite the high volume of kids the Yard supported, we coexisted in a way that would have made Rodney King proud.  The hoodlums (we called them “rocks”) occupied the steps near the basketball court at the northeast corner of the Yard.  Basically they just sat their smoking cigarettes and looking sour.  My friends and I lolled around by the handball court to the southwest of the Yard -- and never the twain did meet. . . except once, one summer night. . . when a confrontation did occur and we discovered to our great satisfaction that the rocks weren’t as hard, and we weren’t as soft, as we thought we were.

Where are they all now I wonder?  The jocks like tall Paul Wladzarck who smacked into a pole going out for the pass and wound up in the hospital.
Fellow handball players Nick Carter, Bill Baglive, and Doc Simpson, and a guy named Milo who could beat us all.  Big Aaron, at one time the only African-American who played in the Yard.  Assorted tough guys: Donny LaRosa, Buster, Kevin Young and the Rubino brothers.  And the kids who lived across the street:  my friend Mike Tate who graduated Bronx Science High School at fifteen; curly headed Dennis Malpedi; Leo Gaumont who joined the Navy, and Michael Steinfeld who played the Cello. 

Memory comprehends them, and myself as well.  For some persistent reason my thoughts will drift back to a fine Spring evening when it‘s still light out at seven o’clock , and privet blossoms scent the air, and I climb a low brick wall and look out across the Yard and there it all is -- that Breughel painting! 

It’s April.  I‘m twelve again.  And everything lies ahead. 

Offline E train

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Re: The Yard
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2013, 08:42:01 PM »
I was a stick ball player in the 50s and the Yard was where I played. We had a chalked up strike zone in the middle wall where I mostly played. On the longer wings of the Yard there was also stick ball played but for some reason we mostly played in the middle, the Ebbetts Field of the Yard. There was also some strange variant of stick ball played on the hand ball courts where the ball was slow pitched against the wall. I can't remember the rules and how we avoided knocking the ball into 77th St. I played with Doug Ehrhardt a lot, Richie Neubauer sometimes and whoever was passing through and wanted a game. The pink Spaldeens were mostly what we used but occasionally we tossed the more expensive tennis balls that made for the possibility of a curve. If you got a hold of it though you could literally knock the cover off it. That was a shortlived pleasure because that was ususally the end of the game.We played thorough the summer and the Mission soda and YooHoos from Moe and Archies kept us hydrated.

I went to a street festival some few years ago that celebrated NY street games. There was an exhibition street stick ball game- the kind played in the street where the pitch was on a bounce which I never much cared for but it was good to see it being reinvented even momentarily. There is a documentary about NY street games that incorporates some of the events which included Johnny Rides a Pony, War, and Salugi to name a few although I suppose that it starting another thread.

As to the "rocks" I remembered Richie Rubino who was tough but not menacing. Kevin Young though was the worst sort of bully and 60 years have not dimmed my detestation of him.

Thanks Nagelberg for the reminder and speaking of Nagelberg were there any games played at 145 other than handball?

Offline NYC Native

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Re: The Yard
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2013, 10:55:58 PM »
Thanks for the Good Read!  :)

Sounds like we played the same games in the 70's and 80's in the Bronx.  I was an extraordinary switch hitting stickball player.  I played and traded baseball cards until I was about 12.  I know collecting is a big hobby nowadays, but I dont remember ever seen kids playing with their baseball cards (we used to bet our cards) after my generation.  I have never seen kids play stickball in Queens
Time is running out!

Offline buzz

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Re: The Yard
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2013, 12:47:06 PM »
We have a group that has a reunion every year- Steps of 69!

Offline bob1954

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Re: The Yard
« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2013, 08:13:27 PM »
A lot of names I know. Donny LaRosa.. and Buster were 'older' and members of the local established 'gang' along with a number
of others from that same group... Tom McLaughlin, Rudy (never knew his last name) Larry Dronswick (spelling?) Larry Murphy,
guys who in later years I got to know when a social club was formed on 35th Ave and 71st Street. I knew Polacheck (spelling) very well... along with another guy with a Master's Ralph Pollack who was a friend of Polacheck's. I played poker with both at my house along with others... I was the youngest by far. I also played blackjack on the 'steps' during the summer... learned to be 'the bank' and always made out well. Kevin Young was the firecracker go to guy... actually quite harmless. He lived right by the school yard on 78th st. The Rubino's were in our club... (Richie and Bobby) Richie is a friend who I still talk to and exchange emails to this day. We both still hit the gym and work out with weights.... which is pretty amusing. The kids I knew best in those days... were Chester Lumish, and Paul Erhlich. We all played in the Little League together... along with Paul Speckenbach. Paul came close to making it with the LA Dodgers... but hurt his arm in the Pacific Coast league. He was signed right out of High School (St Francis I believe). Last saw him on the Flushing line... I believe he was a High School coach. I knew Dennis Malpedi as well... Dennis had an older brother Joe. Remember the (spelling again please excuse) Paul and Jerry Harribedian... their Dad owned the drycleaners on 78th street.. where I worked for years after school delivering clothes. Worked doing the Sunday papers as well at Moe and Archies... later Bill and Ralphs. Worked after school at Martin Drugs on the corner of 77th... and also delivering groceries at King Edwards across from the school. I knew every corner. delivery enterence, basement, in the Heights from the various local jobs. I was back there with my daughter about 8-9 years back. Not remotely the same place, but I'm thankful for having been around in the 50's thru 1974 when I and my wife moved to the west coast. The exception was 3 years in the army. Bob... aka Wiff... aka Bobby... joined this site a while back... and kind of lost track of it.           

Offline pizzaprince

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Re: The Yard
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2017, 01:48:19 AM »
I played basketball and stickball in the yard with Bill Daly, Bill Baglivi, Greg Kearns, Steve Connors, Doc Simson, etc. in the late 50s to early 7os.  The yard was the place to go back then.  We spent most of our time on the 77th st. side of the yard.  When we got old enough, we'd hit one of the bars after an afternoon's athletic pursuits; as we aged, the ball playing became less of an activity and we devoted more time to the bars! 

Don't recall too many girls hanging out back then.  There was Beatrice, who lived almost next door to the yard on 77th st., Barbara, whose father was some sort of medical professional, Julie, I think her dad was a cop, and Rhoda, whose parents owned a hardware store at the corner of Roosevelt Ave. and 76th st.  We really didn't date each other, just sort of all hung around together.

There was an incident that happened one snowy day in early 1961 that illustrates what relatively innocent times those were compared to today.  The previous summer, Bill Daly had whacked Julie hard on the butt with one of Barbara's sneakers.  Julie had quite the Irish temper and a razor sharp tongue when she was pissed, and she immediately took off after Bill and threw something at him that Bill claimed was a can opener laying in the street, and  said that it cut his back.  The following Jan., a bunch of us guys and Julie, Beatrice and Barbara were hanging out after a big snowstorm in the snow-filled schoolyard, throwing snowballs and rough housing.  Bill Daly, Doc Simson, and another guy whose name I've forgotten, grabbed Beatrice, carried her into the schoolyard and tossed her into a snowbank. She got snow all over her, but otherwise the event was really no big deal, just teenage boys being boys.

They threatened to get Julie next; she kept daring them to do it, but always got away when they tried to grab her.  The other girls egged the guys on, telling them to "get Julie"!  Julie would keep daring them to do it, telling them "Just try it and see what happens"!!  This went on for much of the afternoon; the boys were getting increasingly angry and frustrated while Julie continued to tease and taunt them.  No doubt they felt their masculinity was being tested.

Finally, late in the day, worn out from running and wrestling with the guys, Julie started talkng about leaving and going home; supposedly warm from all the activity, she completely unbuttoned or unzipped her coat.  This soon proved to have been a big mistake, because the guys grabbed her soon after and began hauling her into the schoolyard to meet the fate they felt she so richly deserved.  Bill Daly held her arms up high over her head, and Doc and the other guy each had a leg.  Unlike Beatrice, Julie's trip to the snowbank would be something that would be talked about for many years to come.  I'll have to resume this at a later date, out of time right now.  Let's just say the toss into the snow drift was probably the least of Julie's problems...the wardrobe malfunction that gradually happened while they were hauling her along was far more humiliating for her (and gratifying to the guys!)  To be continued...

Offline Morris-twins

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Re: The Yard
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2018, 05:25:17 PM »
Bobby Rubino's widow put me onto this site.  Bobby passed away in August of last year.

My question is this.  Shouldn't we all be using our real names here instead of "handles"?  Bit of a mystery why discussions include so many familiar old names except for the posters.

Some I can figure out like Nagel....... I recall he had a red headed older brother who wasn't a yard regular but whom I never saw in a pair of sneakers. Only black dress shoes.