Friday, August 2, 2013

Ode to the Front Stoop

Like so many other things, stoop sitting in the big city is a lost art. While it’s not completely dead and buried, its heyday is definitely a thing of the past. Once upon a time stoop sitters were a ubiquitous lot on summer nights in the Bronx’s Kingsbridge and elsewhere. It’s what city folk did as a rule before the advent of computers and Facebook. After suppertime in the warmer climes, men and women of all ages migrated to the great outdoors to sit on their stoops, spit the breeze, and—yes—dish the dirt. Some hit the stoops with beach chairs. Others emerged from indoors with pillows to soften the blow of resting their derrieres on brick and concrete. Heartier souls just plopped down on their stoops’ rock-hard steps and sidewalls and found it perfectly comfortable.

Stoop sitting was emblematic of the sense of community that existed. It brought neighbors together on a daily basis and encouraged the art of conversation. Stoop sitters from the past had no cell phones in their pockets. They weren’t on tenterhooks awaiting calls and texts. Nor were they checking their iPhones every thirty seconds to see what breaking news and incredibly important stuff was happening in their lives in real time. These groundbreaking—and, yes, stoop breaking—technologies were decades down the road.

As a boy, my evening itineraries didn’t entail me sitting around and chewing the fat with the older generations on the front stoop. Post dinnertime, we kids were otherwise engaged in street games, even after sunset. “Flashlight,” or “Flashlight tag,” as I’ve sometimes seen it referred, was a favorite night game of ours. Still, I recall ending up on the front stoop after the elders had said their "good-nights." It’s where we typically finished our always-busy summer days and shared some final thoughts.

Of course, I spent countless hours sitting on the stoop in the daytime, too. “So, what do you want to do?”—summertime’s most frequently posed query—was Front Stoop 101. And after doing what we had settled upon doing, the stoop was where we usually ended up afterward to both catch our breaths and plot our future adventures.

There’s very little sense of community in these parts anymore—and a lot of other places it would seem. I remember knowing just about everyone who lived on my entire block and well beyond its borders, too. When there were things called neighborhoods—real neighborhoods—we even knew people that we didn’t know. Knew their names at least. We didn't all associate with one another or like one another. There were the good, the bad, and the ugly around town. But it was a neighborhood—with character and characters in a vastly different time.

I remember how our family dog, Ginger, so quickly acclimated to being a Bronx stoop sitter. She instinctively knew when we were just going outside to sit on the stoop, and she’d promptly assume her position on the third step, where she could both contentedly rest her head on a low wall and keep a vigilant eye on all the goings-on in the neighborhood. RIP: the energy of the front stoop.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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