My few friends and I had formed our own clique by Fifth Grade, with Ronald, Stuart and I at the core. (That is Stuart and I getting punched, but the third boy isn't Ronald. I'm not sure of his name, he was Stuart's cousin I believe.) We ate lunch together and we played together at recess. We may have been the outsiders, but we worried less about getting in the games with the others. As far as we were concerned, they were the outsiders now. We kind of kept to ourselves to avoid any teasing. There is strength in numbers.
Today the powers-what-be would ban a lot of the games we played on the schoolyard. Busybody buttinski politicians, elitist know-it-all control freaks that think they know what’s best for everybody else when it’s none of their business wouldn’t like our games. Our games were too violent. Even the game names would have them calling out the social workers. Games such as “Kill the Man,” for instance.
“Kill the Man” was a simple game played with a football. You start by tossing a football straight up in the air. Somebody catches it and begins to run about. Everybody else tries to tackle them before they toss the ball in the air again. Tackle, yes tackle, throw them on the ground and jump upon them shouting, "Kill 'em! Kill 'em!" thus the name. This was played without padding and helmet. We wore whatever street clothes we were sporting that day, be it blue jeans or shorts. It was a brutal game with a lot of yelling and piling on and a plethora of skinned knees and elbows. Bruises, oh yeah, we got bruises, which we wore like badges of honor.
Not all the games were this rough, there were some less violent, such as “Hit the Bat”. I know “hit” sounds like more violence, but you see you are hitting a piece of wood, an inanimate object, not a person.
This was a game for when you didn’t have enough people to play baseball, which for us meant less than four. You begin by choosing who bats first, but not “einee meenie mitey mo”. You choose by tossing the bat to one of your buddies and then each would place a hand on the bat above his hand. The last hand at the top that could still grip the bat got first swings.
The batter would stand at home plate, or whatever bare spot or piece of litter so designated, toss the ball into the air and try to hit flies into the outfield, where everybody else stood. There was no pitcher or catcher. It didn’t matter if a fielder caught the ball in the air or not. If you got to the ball first you threw it toward home plate. The batter laid the bat widthwise across the plate. The object was to hit the bat. If the ball hit the bat, you got to be the batter.
If we had four or more kids available we would play a modified game of baseball. The aspects of how this was done changed depending on the number of players we had. Obviously the closer to nine we got the closer to the real game it became, but we seldom had more than four to six players.
Someone’s glove would become home plate and a tree over a way might be first and the only base. We’d have two or three to a side. When one team was at bat, then one would act as catcher. The opponents would have a pitcher and a fielder or two, If three to a side, then one an infielder and the other in the outfield.
If the batter hits the ball and he would have to hit it eventually because we didn’t call ball and strikes. Once hit the batter would run for the tree and if no one caught the ball on the fly or beat him to the base, he would be safe. If he could touch the tree and run back home before anyone got the ball back to the pitcher that was a home run. And so it went…
Our favorite game was mumbley-peg because you could play with any number and it was easy to play during recess. This was the version we played. First, get a short stick of about three inches. Pound this into the ground with a rock, leaving only a fraction of an inch showing. Take out our pocketknives. Yes, Virginia, almost all we boys carried pocketknives with us at all times in those days, even to school. We would stand or sit in a circle (or facing each other if only two were playing) and step back on the heel of one foot with the toe pointed up. We would place the knifepoint on the top of our toe and then flick it off with a wrist motion. If it stuck upright in the ground, we got to go to the next station, generally the kneecap. If it didn’t stick we had to repeat that toe toss again on our next turn. After toe we held the knife to our kneecap, then to our hip, then up our arm, wrist, elbow and shoulder. The top of the head was the halfway point (no pun intended). Once successful from your head you worked down the other side of your body. The winner was the first to stick each station. The loser was the last to finish. The loser had to pull the stick out of the ground with his teeth. I say “his” because girls never joined us in this game.
Oddly enough there was another rough and tumble game I indulged in and it actually involved Jack Swarner. I had a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with Jack Swarner, much like I was to have with Gary Kinzey. Jack’s friendship was of shorter duration. There were times I visited Jack’s house. He lived in a home (pictured left) on Washington Avenue a few front yards up from Green Street. I believe his mother was a Den Leader for the Cub Scouts when I was a Cub and we had our meetings there. I could be wrong.
But several of us did play a certain game in front of his house and for a very good reason. His front yard had an embankment above the sidewalk. It wasn’t a huge hill, but it served its purpose. We played “King of the Hill” upon it.
This game has a simple premise, which every good game does. All you need to play is a hill. One objective is to get to the top of the hill and stay there. Another objective is to let no one else get there. You push and pull, knock over or throw down, anything it takes. If you get a skinned knee, bruised elbow or lose your pants in the process, so be it. There were girls who sometimes played, not many, but they were nastier than the boys.
I never knew whether Jack was going to be naughty or nice toward me. He was a big kid with a bully side and unfortunately after a time there proved too much of the bully in him for me. The Charles-Bird-Way Gang had a tendency to show up around his place, since they lived on the upper part of the same block, and that made me wary of being there anyway.
While fearing some real life monsters (think Charles-Bird-Way Gang) on the next block down from my own, I was enjoying more fictional horrors at the end of the Avenue. My walks to the movies at the Roosevelt were becoming a little less stressful because Stuart Meisel was joining me more. I would walk to his place on Lancaster and we would be together from there. Sometimes Ronald joined us. He was still living down at the end ofWashington and we would meet where Washington ended at Brandywine. (Roosevelt Theater on left.)
It cost fifteen cents for a ticket if you were younger than twelve. Ronald was the tallest boy in our class. The ticket sellers and ushers would give him a hard time. They didn’t believe he was under-twelve. He was actually younger than both Stuart and I by several months. We were all only ten and they were trying to make him pay the adult price, a whopping 45 cents.
My folks generally gave me a quarter for the movies. Fifteen cents got me in and a large bag of popcorn was ten cents. If I had another dime I would also get a box of Milk Duds, Snowflakes, Goobers or Malted Milk Balls and a small coke.
The Roosevelt Theater didn’t show first run movies. Almost every film was in black and white, with the exception of the cartoons. You got maybe three or four cartoons on a Saturday afternoon, plus some boring travelogue that might also be in glorious
There was also the serial.
A number of serials starred Johnny Mack Brown, a Western star of the ‘thirties through the ‘fifties. There were other Western stars that did serials as well. Roy Rogers was one. I think every Western serial I ever saw had one episode end with the hero fighting in the back of a horse drawn wagon headed over a cliff. You would see the wagon come unhitched and go flying into space. A moment later it would crash down the side of the cliff flying all to pieces and the words, “To Be Continued” would appear. You had to come back next Saturday to see whether the hero lived or died. That was why they called them “cliffhangers”.
The hero always lived. When episode whatever of “Flaming Frontiers” or “The Vanishing Legion” began you saw the Hero had jumped out of the wagon a mile from the cliff. You always felt a little gypped by this.
One twist on this was in serials set in more modern times. Invariably in these at some point it would be a car going over the cliff. The automobile always exploded in flames when it hit the side of the cliff, too. And of course, the next week you would see the hero jumped out just before reaching the guardrail and smashing through.
By the way, in these serials the hero was generally fighting the Nazis or very stereotyped versions of the Japanese.
My favorite of the serials was Rocket Man. Here was this guy who wore a headpiece shaped like a bullet, strapped a couple rockets over his leather flying jacket and took off after the bad guys. It gets a bit confusing with this character. The original was Rocket Man, and was introduced in a Republic 12-parter in 1949. What followed were serials featuring a character named Commander Cody, the Rocketman. (one word now) Commander Cody first appeared in a serial called “Radar Men from the Moon” in 1952, also released by Republic Pictures, but with a different cast.
The Roosevelt showed a lot of Cowboy films starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. They also showed a good many Film Noirs. What we liked best were the Horror Movies. The greatest were the whole gamut of Universal monsters, “The Invisible Man”, “The Mummy”, “The Wolfman”, “Dracula”, “Frankenstein” and all their myriad spinoffs. These movies seem tame by today’s overkill of blood and gore, but to us they were scary.
One frosty winter day we were watching one of the werewolf epics. I had worn a pair of gloves lined with rabbit fur. When the transformation scene came I turned my gloves inside out and grabbed Stuart’s neck. He screamed and disappeared beneath the seats.
Ronald and I may have laughed at his fear, but the truth was we were scared as well. I ran those last blocks where I was alone on the walk home.
Ronald told me he lay in bed at night thinking he heard the Monster breaking in. I use to lie awake and think about such things after watching those movies myself. I had a way of reassuring I was perfectly safe. I reasoned that Washington Avenue was in the middle of the town’s streets. If the Monster or Wolfman or Dracula came down out of the hills they would come to many houses before mine. By the time they reached Washington Avenue they would be full and have no interest in eating me. I figured I could outrun the Mummy. Gosh, that Mummy was slow, how did he ever catch anyone?