Survey No. 6: Street Games

"Home free all!", or a reasonably garbled variation of that phrase, was a frequent cry heard from the streets of the Bronx (which my Mom still calls "the guttah" to this day). Of course, children will play, regardless of the venue. The Bronx culture imposed certain characteristics on our games, making some of them unique representations of the inner-city world we inhabited. Three-sewer stickball was not typically played in the suburbs for obvious reasons, and neither was Off-the-Stoop.

This was the first time we included gender as a factor in the responses, and although interesting, it didn't produce any earth-shattering statistics. The survey topic apparently elicited some warm and detailed memories, since so many responses provided heartfelt prose on various Bronx street pasttimes. I'd like to share one of these here with you, for I believe it touches on an aspect of our Bronx heritage that persists in our present-day lives. Since the survey responses are anonymous, I'm unable to give credit to its author, but thanks for this bit of insight, whoever you are!

It wasn't so much that the games "could only be properly played on the streets of the Bronx", but the fact that we had the "street-wise" attitudes as children, and quite frankly, the intelligence, to devise the rules of the games to fit the street scene or area that we were playing in. This "street-wiseness" has made us ex-Bronxites a head above those we have met in our adult lives. How many times have we taken jobs in faraway places and, to ourselves, said, "How do these people exist - can't they make a decision?" Or how many times have "WE" saved the day when these "foreigners" couldn't adapt to an immediate situation?

An interesting, provocative notion, no? As usual, I leave it to you to render your own analyses based on the returns. Thanks to everyone who participated.

The total number of unique, usable responses was 97. Of these, 51 were from males, and 46 females.

Which of the following games do you remember playing on the streets?
(multiple responses were allowed, so the total percentages will exceed 100)

Boxball/box Baseball4486%1533%5961%
Hopscotch (Potsy)2141%3985%6062%
Jump rope1835%4087%5860%
(Mother) May I (Giant Steps)2345%3372%5658%
Off-the-stoop (curb)4588%3372%5658%
Red Light, Green Light3569%4189%7678%
Red Rover2141%2043%4142%
Slug (King-Queen)3059%1226%4243%

Among the "Other" games listed were:

Briefly describe some aspect of one of the games you played that you feel made it unique to the Bronx.

Several responses mentioned the local architecture (stoops, curbs, walls, sidewalk cracks, etc.) as having the most influence in making Bronx street games so unique. Here is a sampling of some of the responses:

Please share one or two game-related phrases you used when playing on the streets (like "Chips on the Ball")

Well, just about every guy responding to this question reiterated the "Chips" example in one fashion or another. However, one fellow observed that "chips" were never really collected, at least not in cash. Another frequently mentioned phrase was "hindu", which was used to call a "do-over" because of an unintentional, weird hop of a ball, usually off a crack in the sidewalk. No one mentioned that this phrase was derived from the word "hinder". Here are some others that were offered:

How do you feel about the following statement:

The games we played in the Bronx were almost exclusively gender-specific. Boys played their games (Johnny-on-a-pony, stickball) while the girls played theirs (hopscotch, jump rope).

Totally Agree1631%37%1920%
Not Sure24%37%55%
Totally Disagree00%49%44%

What game do you feel could only be properly played on the streets of the Bronx? Why?

Since leaving the Bronx, have you ever played Bronx street games with (or taught them to) anyone?


Do you think today's kids are suffering from a loss of imaginative, physical or social games because of the popularity of video and computer games?

Not Sure12%12%22%

Amen to that last issue. I truly believe that for all their sophistication and technophilia, kids today have too much of a need to be externally entertained, rather than creating their own forms of amusement. Although I don't frequently get the opportunity to observe inner-city children at play, I believe that this problem is not confined to spoiled suburbs-kids. An ironic fact is that when I taught my daughters to play hit-the-penny, they absolutely loved it. (Certainly cheaper than another Nintendo cartridge!)

One game that no one mentioned which I remember playing quite frequently was Saluggi, wherein one of us would grab something from someone else (a hat, a glove, or anything which that person didn't want to relinquish), shout "Saluggi!", and throw it around to each other, keeping it from the owner. If anyone out there knows the origin of that word, I'd love to hear from you!

November, 2003 - Rip Green from Boca Raton writes: I believe it is a contraction and corruption of two Italian words, or their Sicilian variants: the verb saltare (to jump), and the noun oggetto (object). The plural would be "Sal' oggetti!" (a shortening of "salti gli oggetti"). As anyone who has played this game of torment knows, the poor guy trying to retrieve his possession is forced to continuously jump up in the air to catch it.

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