Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Summers of Love

Gaelic Park in the Bronx's Kingsbridge is a neighborhood institution. Bordering West 240th Street on its south side, it is now owned and operated by my alma mater, Manhattan College. The grassy expanse hosts college-related as well as outside sporting events. It is an atmospheric piece of green, too, with a busy Number 1 subway train yard for a backdrop.

During my boyhood in the early 1970s, this parcel of land occasionally hosted summertime rock concerts that attracted people from near and far. There were more than a few famous names who performed in Gaelic Park, but I was too young to know or to care. On those past summer nights, the back streets, including my very own, became clogged with too many cars in search of too few parking spaces. While neighbors sniffed at their audacity and trashiness, the Esposito family leased the available space in their concrete backyard for a welcome sum of money in what were hyper-inflationary times.

Locals of all ages sat transfixed on their front stoops, watching the recurring spectacles of not how many clowns could fit into the automobiles parking all around them, but how many hippies would pile out of them. A parade of peculiar looking sorts marched past us on their way to Gaelic Park. Neighbors debated the gender of the passersby. Other than the scraggly bearded, who were presumed to be the male species, the clean-shaven hippies with the long, scraggly hairdos often appeared as gender neutral as they were generally unwashed.

It’s a safe bet that these "flower children," who are now Medicare recipients, were looking with similar wary eyes at the urban ethnics passing judgment on them from the steps of their stoops, and on beach chairs on the sidewalks. They didn’t trust anyone over thirty—and the Bronx stoop sitters were as untrustworthy as they come.

Despite the peculiar smell that wafted up the stoop steps and into the season’s open windows, and which seemed to linger especially long in the city’s muggy ozone, the species of hippie on parade were more Jim Henson than Weathermen. Except for a couple of guys relieving themselves against Mrs. Covello’s maple tree, the attendees came and went peacefully. The country at large may have been in turmoil, but these were the summers of love and tie-dye shirts, not iPods and iPhones.

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