From around 10 a.m. until the last vestiges of dusk turned the silver-blue cement ball field of P.S. 104 into an unplayable entity, Peter Goldstein, Paul White and I played any game that was seasonally appropriate. We were 12, 13 and 14 in our schoolyard prime. On Saturdays and Sundays we’d spend a minimum of eight hours a day at the schoolyard.
Jay Smith “ran” the park as the titular older kid, best all around athlete. Jay was 17, so he drove his family’s beat up Buick Skylark convertible to the park every day. When Jay and his older friends needed extra players for a touch/tackle football game, we were invited. If they needed an extra basketball player we were asked to join. Jay authored a game played inside the handball courts. We used either a pink “Pensy Pinky” or Spalding ball and basically played soccer inside the handball courts. Getting blasted, pushed, checked into the concrete handball walls by a player three or four years older was never fun.
The best basketball court was situated in left center field of the P.S. 104 baseball diamond. It was the court where the “best” players wanted to play their games. If my friends and I were playing a game on the “best” court and Jay and his friends wanted to play there, they told us to move. They didn’t wait for us to complete our game. They just came by, told us to scram and started shooting on the court as we were playing. Peter was a real wise guy and would often times shout an explicative or two at the older kids. He’d throw a basketball at them or spit in their direction. Depending on their mood they might laugh or come running after us in anger. If they caught us, which they often times did, they’d headlock us and tattoo our backs with punches to accentuate their position of authority at the schoolyard.
Junior High School 180 was so crowded that the seventh-grade class was housed on the top floor of an elementary school, a half mile away from the main building which housed the eighth- and ninth-grades. When you arrived at the main building at the start of eight-grade you were already a seasoned student of decentralized classes; each new subject requiring you to walk the halls and staircases towards your next class. What we were not familiar with, given our seventh-grade sheltered experience as sole tenants of the fourth floor at JHS 108 Annex, was the gauntlet of harassment that underclassmen endured at the main building.
As you changed classes in between periods, there were certain vestibules, hallways and staircases you quickly learned to avoid. If you carelessly made your way into these verboten areas, ninth-grade girls would have razor sharp hairpins in their hands that they’d use to jab you in the buttocks and back as you passed them sitting, socializing, in the stairwells. As you were assaulted, their male counterparts would knock your textbooks and loose-leaf binders from your arms.
My three younger siblings and I were fortunate to have both of our parents at home. Roberta and Jerry were always there to listen to our trials and travails. “You’ll be the big kid one day, remember how it felt.” “What’s the big deal, play on one of the other courts,” “You shouldn’t be playing with those older boys,” “Kick’em in the nuts and run like hell,” “Isn’t there another way to get to that class?”
My 12-year-old daughter received a threatening email from a classmate. The threat was repeated inside Mattlin Middle School when the same classmate scrawled a hateful message on the bathroom wall.
When Zachary was playing high school ice hockey, he found himself being the only Jewish boy on a travel team. Zachary was derided after a game, in the locker room, by a fellow player. His ability as a goalie was “questioned” based upon his ethnicity. I’ve greatly sanitized this incident. My friends and I were all bullied in our youth. My children were bullied in their youth. What wasn’t prevalent during those times, that has so exacerbated the bullying issue today is the 24-7-365, technological blanketing, that bullies can assail their victims with.
Sadly, I don’t believe that Roberta and Jerry’s witticisms, or “kick first” coaching are enough to protect our children today.