Chronicles from 51st Street: Confessions of a Double-Ditcher

No exaggeration.  Growing up, there were over fifty kids from babies to high-schoolers, living on our block.  Summer time was playing outside with them, pickle and kickball and kick-the-can.  When it rained, we girls gathered in Bee's basement for epic rounds of Life, Clue, and Detective. Or we spent whole days making radio shows on Bee's cassette recorder, the pinnacle of modern technology.  But the most beloved and sacred game of all was Hide-and-Go Seek.  Acre's to Rock's. Heenan's base. The boundaries shifted, depending on which neighbors were least irritated with us. But Heenan's front porch was always base. They lived in the stucco directly across the street from us. Bewilderingly, Mary and Peggy were twins, but looked nothing alike.  They and Beth Gillespie were my best friends and worst enemies, depending on the slightest shift of the weather vane.  Because I was youngest, I never understood what prompted Beth to inform me that Mary was no longer my friend, or Peggy to take me aside and say that she still liked me even if Mary and Beth did not, or Mary to make me swear that she was my best friend even though I wasn't hers, or Beth and Mary to say that me and Peggy could only be friends with them if we stopped being friends with each other, or Peggy and Beth and Mary to say that I couldn't be their friend unless I learned to flawlessly sing all the lyrics to Barry Manilow's "Copacabana."

But Bee was Queen.  When I was ten, Bee was sixteen.  She took me on as a helper one glorious summer when she drove the two of us to Marian where she attended Catholic girl's school.  She had her own key to the dark room. We spent hours developing and printing black and white film for Bee's photography class.  What a wonderment, to frame a bit of vision, and then to watch it appear on a glossy sheet of paper under black light after the ritualized preparation.  Ghostly. The chemical pierce in the nostrils, the shock of total blackness, the panic when we fumbled, transferring the light sensitive film from camera to developer, the emergence of shape and line that solidified into a miniature deja vu.  Sometimes we became too enamored with the magic and neglected to dunk the paper into the stop bath in time to save it from going black.

That same summer, Bee also taught me to play tennis.

At the time, I remember my mother puzzling over the fact that this sixteen year old wanted me hanging around.  But who wouldn't want a devoted follower to do the grunt work and play tennis just well enough to make a match but never well enough to win.

And Pete was King.  I fell in love with Pete one night when I encountered him in the flood light at the end of his driveway batiking a sheet he had hung from the garage.  He was even older than Bee.

And I was still ten.

In Hide-and-Go-Seek, the most sacred breach of contract was going out of bounds.  Inside was out of bounds.  So was crossing the street.  It sometimes rose, from the most malodorous pit of our natures, the decision to ditch the Greek kid who lived down the block.  He covered his eyes and started the long march to one-hundred while we - Bee, Mary, Peggy, Beth, me, and all the others - chased Pete across the street and down the block, the double ditch, the dirtiest kind there was.  We ran down the McGaffin's driveway and started to make our way back, sneaking behind houses.  My heart was still pounding from the sprint, when Pete screamed.  He had slipped, climbing over the Monrad's rotting picket fence and now he had punctured the back of his thigh.  We were too stunned to be of any help.  We ran to the sidewalk and watched Pete hopping across the Neiman's front porch, grasping his leg, and screaming.  It was so comic, the way stinky old Grandma Neiman just kept on rocking as she watched him writhe, that we figured he must be faking it.  That's just the type of thing Pete did to make the girls scream.  After he disappeared inside his own house, we waited, gathered around the front door, waiting to see what would happen.  Finally, the door creaked open and Pete hopped out, making it look very painful.  His sister scolded us for playing so rough and then lifted the bandage she was holding over the back of his thigh.  We leaned in and gasped.  A bloody crater littered with paint chips.  We screamed and ran back to the fence. Sure enough, a long piece of Pete's skin.  We argued over who would get to keep it.  Of course, Bee won.  


  1. There is nothing better than the breathless, sweaty run through backyards and over fences when you know someone is looking for you. Unless, of course, you suffer a puncture wound. But it's GREAT if you witness one.

  2. Hooray for other people's puncture wounds!