© 2010 by David Wainland
“Don’t go near the door. Stay away from the window. The stove is hot, you’ll burn yourself.”
Our perimeters are set early, even as far back as the crib. In the beginning the apartment was my world and in the end, before I moved to Long Island, my neighborhood stretched from river to ocean and the whole of The Bronx was my neighborhood.
On warm days mom and even dad would sit outside on folding chairs, perched like an army of giant praying mantises, along with the other parents and adults in the neighborhood. I was four, maybe five and as I played with my friends they would warn me to stay in sight even though they knew one of the sidewalk sitters would watch and be prepared to capture me if my investigations went too far.
“Not in the street David. Do I have to get your mother?”
By eight I wandered the avenue corner too corner, from 176th Street to Mt. Hope, the only red brick paved street that I remembered from The Bronx. Sometimes, when and adult consented to walk me, I could enter the school yard across the street and run wild with my friends. I was even allowed, again with permission and a corner guide, to expand my frontiers across the southern gutter, travel as far as the candy store or around the corner to the fruit stand.
By ten, I was clipping, Chinese apples, pomegranates to the uninitiated, from the fruit store stand and spitting ruby red pits all the way to Claremont Park, blocks from my home. After Christmas we would gather all the abandoned yuletide trees, drag them around the corner, down Mt. Hope to an empty lot. My friends and I would pile the trees creating a huge pine cairn and light a pyre whose orange flames and dense black smoke rose to the heavens high enough to anger the Gods.
It was in that same lot Little Ira threw a snowball hiding a hard coal cinder in the core and gave me my second hole in the head.
“Duck David,” he screamed smiling, moments after the ball hit and the blood started flowing. We settled that during the next snowstorm.
Our fences now lay far past our immediate neighborhood. We wandered down to Jerome Ave under the rumbling El. where we visited the bagel bakery and the pickle stores and movie theaters. I even traveled as far as Davidson Ave, far across the subway platform and up a giant flight of granite steps. Sometimes we went south several blocks and played on the shear cliff of rocks that hung above Walton and are now gone and buried under the oily black macadam of the Cross Bronx Expressway.
“David, it’s time for supper!!’ I could hear, or believe I heard, that voice of love cry out across the blocks to the Grand Concourse where I sat with the guys watching the neighborhood girls’ parade the blocks in ponytails, tight sweaters and straight skirts. Of course I was twelve then and my hormones were raging. My hair was shoved tall in a black pompadour and I was in junior high school riding the subways and electric trolleys with my friends, from the riding academy in Woodlawn to the Wolman Memorial ice skating ring in Central Park.
Once we went to the Bronx Zoo, miles from home, ran out of money and hitch hiked home. I carried my seven year old brother Jerry half the way on my shoulders, after he began to cry.
“Daddy, daddy, I want my daddy we’re lost.” We were never lost only dumb kids who did not plan. The creamy vanilla ice cream laden with bits of black vanilla bean that they sold at the zoo had proved too much of a temptress.
Then, I was suddenly fourteen, hanging out on the corner and defying the youth from other neighborhoods.
“This is our Turf, our homes. Go home and stay away if you know what’s good for you.” Street gangs like the infamous Fordham Baldies now roamed the borough and we closed ranks. The nights were spent beneath the lamppost playing knuckles till our hands bled, smoking cigarettes in cupped hands, chugging Cokes and spitting spent wads of Juicy Fruit into the dirty spaces between the parked cars. The girls hung close also. We had kissing parties in our apartments.
The nights were not for wandering, but the days belonged to us. We feared nothing, traveling the rails to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the Polo Grounds in Manhattan and the shrine of the baseball world, our own Yankee Stadium.
There were few perimeters, only a city spread before us, challenging our wanderlust with places like the Paradise movie theatre and Krumb’s Candy and ice Cream on the Concourse, White Castle on Fordham Road and even Times Square in Manhattan.
The Bronx was changing, the suburbs beckoning. Hyme’s Kosher Deli put a sign in the window, Si habla Espanol.
“We are moving to Long Island son.” My world crumbled about me. Long Island was a place where people went for vacation in the summer or for old people to go to and die. Another world to me, and how did I handle my new perimeters? Badly I am afraid to admit, very badly.