For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Bronxites

My Bronx

by Bob Balogh


o you want to know about "my Bronx" in the 40's and 50's. Growing up was terrific. Youcan't even imagine what it was like, whether it was in Highbridge, my neighborhood, or anywhere else. Excuse me for a minute.

"Hey Mister, can you move the car a little – you're on third base. Thanks a lot."

By the way, we could play stickball in the streets and not have to worry much. There weren't that many cars following World War II. Even though I was only ten and eleven near the end of the 40's, there still weren't many cars.

"Marty, you did it again. How do you expect us to get the ball down from that fire escape? What? You want me to go into the cellar and get the bamboo pole to knock the ball down? Not on your life. You know Joe the Super is crazy. You hit it – you get it!"

Now where was I? That's right... the cars didn't interfere with our stickball game. For that matter they didn't interfere with our curb ball, stoop ball or diamond ball games either. You remember diamond ball. Someone would pitch the ball on one bounce and you could not hit it out of the infield on the fly. ‘Had to try to "slap" it through the infield. On Sundays, in front of 1081 Anderson Avenue, we would have a father and son game. Hold on for a second.

"Ma, Ma, the Bungalow Bar man is here. Can you throw down a dime?"

Ma would answer simply, "Bobby, catch the napkin - the money is inside."

"Thanks ma."

Well those were great days for playing ball. We seemed to play from morning till night. Mallaly Park on Sunday morning in the 50's had the best softball games going. First 20 guys played. Wrote our names on the black top just west of the swings and put a dime next to our name.

"What for?"

"Are you dense? For the clinchers we needed."

Always started off with two new balls. As guys showed up they would do the same so that the next 10 guys could play the winning team. Funny -–no girls ever hung out at these games. Wait a second.

"C'mon Sid, I would rather play third than left field. Yeah, I know I'm fast enough but I still like third. OK, I'll watch out for the guys on the basketball court. Man, that was Alan Sidorsky, Yeah, he's about seven years older than me. Right, he is one of my brother's friends. You know he just tried out for the Yankees? Great pitcher. And who do you think he asked to "catch 'im" before his tryout? That's right. Me. Man, was he fast. My hand is till hurting from his fastball."

Well it's getting late and I gotta go. I have to pick up a two pound sandwich rye without seeds on the way home.

"Hey, will ya walk me?"

Where was I? Oh yeah, I remember now. I asked you if you wanted to "walk me". Wow, that was a long time ago.

"Walk me. Aw, c'mon Just walk me".

The best conversations took place during ‘walk me' times. Plans were made for the movies, ball games, going to the Stadium. (You know which "Stadium".) After all, there was only one in Da Bronx. You know, Joe D. and the Bronx Bombers played there. "Walk me". A chance to talk about girls and things like that. The best exchanges in the world. Oh yeah – "Walk me". It was great.

Okay, so I wandered a little. Now I remember. Wait a minute.

"Ma, Ma, it's the Pizza truck. Can I have a slice?"

There was no one like Ma. Even if there wasn't that much money, somehow she found the fifteen cents to throw down in the napkin. Sometimes she had the whole dollar and had me order a pizza pie from the truck. Dad was working late tonight. I still hear the admonition, "Don't tell your father we had pizza for dinner." Was it the pizza or the money? I soon learned and never told.

Before the Pizza truck there were definitely problems in Highbridge, particularly when it came to playing in the street. Naw, it wasn't the cars. I told you there weren't that many. Harry the fruit man sold his fruit from a wagon. Hear him now – "Pee'ches, A'pples, Ban'nan'as – Pee'ches, A'pples, Ban'nan'as. Oh yeah, Harry could call it out. And his horse could make "deposits" right in front of our building. You remember, 1081 Anderson. The problem was that was first base. How do you get rid of horse manure? You could wait until the street cleaner came with his barrel on wheels or you could clean it up yourself.

"Okay, get Louie. He'll do it. He'll sneak in to the cellar and ‘borrow' a broom to sweep it away."

Louie was the greatest. Not only wasn't he afraid of the super but he would go into the sewer to get our balls back. What a guy, that Louie. Without him the game would either end or not even begin.

"Louie, the ball stinks, full of that sewer stuff."

"Just roll it on the ground with your foot and it comes off," Louie said.

He was right. What a guy.

"Hey Bobby. Was it Margaret Mead that wrote Growing Up in the Bronx?"

"Are you a dummy. She wrote Coming of Age in Samoa."

"Well, it's the same thing."

Now in Highbridge we had our own rites of passage. If you wanted to be grown up there were certain acts you had to follow out. One was going into the caves on the lot behind P.S. 73. Of course that was reserved for the "Andys", since only the guys on Anderson Avenue knew about the caves. It was dangerous as you had to Indiana Jones it and walk a narrow piece of land or you could fall three stories down. The reward: total privacy and a few smokes at a young age. It was great.

The next great test was going to the railroad tracks between Sedgwick Avenue and the Harlem River.

"Let's see if we can get into the Caboose and get some track bombs".

"OK we got ‘em. Let's take them home and set them off."

You had to drop something heavy on them to cause the explosion. The steps at P.S. 73 lent themselves to dropping rocks on the track bombs and watching them explode. Once we even placed one on the railroad tracks; not me, but Paulie, and when the Central went over it it exploded and the train stopped and started to back up. Man it must have gone back a mile. Scared the shit out of us. We ran home and forgot about it, except when we were in the "cave".

The last and greatest rite of passage was climbing the ladder behind the Flying A gas station on Jerome Avenue where Shakespeare begins. You know, across from 114. Well, that ladder seemed to be a hundred feet high though it was only about sixty feet. But it was rickety, rusty and loose. If you didn't climb it you were out. You only had to do it once and you were okay. But you had better do it or . . . OUT. It was scary but I did it. I think the guys who did it that day were Bobby Lawner and someone else. Someone else was the most important guy on our block. After all, he did everything.

"Did you take that comic book from the rack?"

"Naw, it was someone else."

Oh yeah, that someone else was very important.

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