Trying something new. Happiness in the morning.
I’m going to tell you a story about a time when I was happy.
I’ve written before, here, there, somewhere, about trying to revisit the narrative of my past to remember more of the good times, even if they didn’t happen. In other words, to spin those days of lore as better than I ever thought they were. Because if I was always happy, then I’d have no reason to be unhappy now, which I don’t. It’s all about how you think about your life. And whether you think life is worth it. And whether you’re proud of who you are. And whether you can or do recall, at any moment, a memory that will make you smile.
I grew up in New York City. It was diverse in my neighborhood then. Not just black and white, but various denominations of Hispanic: Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican (not so many Mexicans). And Chinese, and Japanese. Also Catholic and Protestant and Jewish and Muslim and Atheist.
And the weather was great then. That’s how I remember it, a spring or fall day every day. I remember the distinctive smell of those Tamarind looking things (except flat) that fell from the trees and you could shake them, like Maracas. Speaking of Maracas, shaved ice! And Sabrett hotdogs. And Pizza. The Pizza was so good. Get it with extra cheese if you ever go back in time.
I remember how wonderfully dirty it was in the subways and on the streets. There was dog shit everywhere.This was before pooper scooper laws. The law was that you were supposed to “curb your dog,” which meant to let it shit in the street, where the street cleaners, that never came anymore because the city was practically bankrupt, would clean it up. But people didn’t curb their dogs anyway. The police would never enforce something like that, or jaywalking, or hardly anything those days, they left you alone. There was one street, 29th, between 8th and 9th which had buildings only on one side. The other side bordered a small green space, but there was a fence in front of the grass, so you couldn’t take your dogs in there. The residents of the buildings would cross the street and let their dogs shit on the sidewalk. To watch kids traverse this particular street was like watching them play hopscotch. I don’t know why we ever went down that side of the street, but we did. I guess because it was so much fun.
There’s this smell I remember, like it’s still in my nose. It is the smell of hot garbage piled up on the street near I.S.70, my jr. high school. Let me tell you what it smelled like. It smelled like home. And who wouldn’t want trains that were colorful and painted with Graffiti? When they solved that problem in NYC, they ruined my life. After that it was all downhill… well, just kidding. I’m still the happiest guy I know of. Seriously.
I never knew who painted the trains, but I knew guys in 9th grade who would tag everything with their own “handles” so to speak, the walls of the school, mailboxes, and the insides of train cars. Mace and Strider and Saki were some of their tags. Saki’s actual name was Sasaki, Brian Sasaki. He tagged the music room of our school with “Saki”, and the teacher asked us to rat him out.
“Was that Brian?”
“I don’t know.”
There was this rectangular blacktop playground near my apartment building. We played pickup softball there. There was no right field so we would play that if you hit to right field it was an out.
Second base was first base, so you had to run there first. Old ladies walking on the path out in (the) right field (that wasn’t) would yell at us, scared they would be hit, but those old ladies could run when they had to. Just kidding. I don’t ever remember almost hitting any old ladies. We also got yelled at for walking on the grass, making paths where there already should have been some. We built those paths, and now they are paved. Now adults walk on them too. Well, we’re adults. We helped design the cityscape, And I’m proud of that, even if we never got any credit.
Here’s a thought that makes me happy, water keys. There were faucets attached to the buildings but they required a certain kind of key to turn them on, so that only the building maintenance staff could use them. But you could buy a key, it was really just a tool, and we all had one. It made me so happy to have a water key in my pocket. You know what else made me happy? Drinking water when I was thirsty and not because I should stay hydrated.
Was it dangerous in New York City? Well, we grew up there, so no, we didn’t think so. I got mugged a few times, but you got mad and then went on with your life. We were feral. We were free. We kids would meet at the playgrounds, and play freeze tag, or tag no touching the sand, or we would wander around, climbing fences, taking the subway at all hours with our school train passes that were only supposed to be used to get to school and back, or we would jump the turnstiles, or when we had to, we would pop a token into the turnstile. I miss tokens.
We would climb on top of elevators and have our friends operate the elevators from inside. We would go to the roof of our apartment building and survey our domain. We would head down past the warehouses on the west side, past the hookers that hung out there, and play on the elevated and abandoned (after a truck fell through it) west side highway and light firecrackers. We would go to central park and ride our skateboards, or play in a pickup softball game there on a real field. We would take the train out to Coney Island and “pay one price” for all of the rides and go to the Mets games day of, and get great seats.
This is what it was like to be a kid in NYC.