Saturday, January 30, 2016

Red Light...Green Light

As kids growing up in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, we used to play a game—among so many others—called “Red Light…Green Light.” In this youthful diversion of ours, somebody was It. More times than not, being It in an urban street game was the booby prize. But not in “Red Light…Green Light.” It is what the game’s myriad players aspired to be, because the Anointed One got to cry out, “Red Light…Green Light…1, 2, 3...1, 2, 3” with It's eyes covered and back turned to all others. And right after this rapid-fire recitation, It promptly pirouetted in an attempt to catch advancing players in the act. That is, the game's players endeavoring to reach the coveted finish line. Players who could not—under any circumstances according to the rules—be caught in motion. We were permitted to advance only during the “Red Light…Green Light…1, 2, 3...1, 2, 3” clarion call. If caught moving forward by the All Mighty It, we would be sent back from whence we came—the starting line, actually, and a long, long way from being the game’s impresario. That’s the way “Red Light…Green Light” was played—if that makes any sense. And, believe me, it was a lot of fun being It and not It, too.

But this blog is not about the game just described, which I played forty-five years or so ago—and one, by the way, that withered on the vine with just about every other street game after my generation, the baby boomers, retired our spaldeens. No, this “Red Light…Green Light” game that I played some forty-five years ago was a One Night Only affair, an on-the-spot creation of yours truly as darkness set in one chilly, pre-Christmas December evening just before suppertime. I was nine years old and playing outside with my six-year-old brother. We did that sort of thing in the 1970s. We were outdoors as much as physically possible, even in cold weather and without the light of day.

True, the 1970s were a high crime time here in the Bronx and just about everywhere else in New York City. There were plenty  of muggings, break-ins, and the like. Still, I don’t think my folks were even remotely guilty of parental negligence. Anyway, this “Red Light…Green Light” derivative involved a literal, working traffic light on Kingsbridge Avenue, a street a couple a blocks away from where I called home. My younger brother and I participated in a frenetic running game that took us down alleyways, over a short backyard wall, and through a curious nook and cranny—a small space to slither through that bordered a low wrought iron fence with spikes atop it. It was there—X marks the spot—where one could catch a glimpse of that traffic light. Red meant stop and green meant go—simple enough. But for an energized nine year old, stopping on a dime—for a red light in this instance—could augur trouble, especially with a spiked fence in the vicinity.

So, yes, I got a spiked that night—beneath my chin—and the blood flowed. Without delay, Mom brought me to our family doctor up the hill on Kingsbridge Avenue, a mere block away from the notorious red light. The old sawbones stitched me up—I have the scar to prove it—and informed my mother and me that a half-inch or so to the left and I might have been impaled. The following day, my best friend in grammar school at the time—a kid named Mark D—mockingly pointed out to my peers that I was wearing “one bandage over another” on my chin. What are friends for? This, in fact, is how I can remember how I old I was when the near-impaling incident occurred. I’ve got a signed report card envelope to prove it. 

Postscript: I've noticed that modern-day fences of the kind that nearly impaled me are sans spiked tops. They're flat.  And this flatness is a good thing. I’m glad, though, that I was permitted to go outside and play a game—for lack of a better word—that I conceived in the moment. I’m happy, too, that there was a family doctor still in his office to patch me up—one bandage over another—without any fanfare. Kids with their smartphones just don’t know what they’re missing.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.