I wonder if boys still have “cuddies”?
I seem to remember being wracked by the affliction. Girls used
to point at us and scream…
Or maybe they would watch us all drink from the same Coca-Cola
bottle and shrivel up their faces and shake with the imagined chills….
“Boys are disgusting!”
Heck we wiped the top of the bottle off on our sleeves between
swigs, so it was clean. What’s the big deal? That is what
sleeves are for, wiping off soda bottle tops, and of course your
If we dropped food on the ground, we kissed it up to God. It was
clean after that, so we ate it.
We even drank water from a garden hose on those hot summer nights.
Sure it tasted a little weird and maybe sort of rubbery. But I don’t
recall any garden hose deaths in my neighborhood. Ever taste the
water from those old green iron water fountains in Branch Brook
Park-remember the ones that looked like giant daisies turned upside
down? It used to taste like liquid iron, but none of us turned rusty,
How many times did you hang onto the back of a car riding down
your snowy street and get a free ride to the corner? Or maybe stand
in defiance of a snowplow’s wave of white stuff as it passed?
One cold winter morning, following a record snowfall, a Newark
garbage truck/snowplow once buried my friend Kenny as he stood bravely
at the curb. After it had rumbled past, only a talking head was
visible, as he laughed, screamed, cried, and hollered all at once.
We dug him out, and he survived. After that, he ran into his house
whenever he heard a snowplow.
We played with fireworks too. Cherry bombs, ash cans, the works.
All our fingers remained intact. No one spontaneously combusted,
except for a few sparkler burns here and there.
Contrary to popular beliefs, your insides did not get stuck together
if you ate school paste either. The kids in my classes loved the
stuff. They ate big gobs of it—put a big dent in the school
supply budget as a matter of fact; but somehow we all had normal
body functions following a paste-fest……no one petrified.
I still have a piece of pencil lead stuck in my right palm, from
grabbing the wrong end of a pencil positioned point up in my pocket,
so I wouldn’t jam it into my leg if I fell. I still recall
the moment I jammed my hand into my pocket to get something out,
and the stinging sensation followed by that awful sound of a pencil
point cracking. I am still here.
Threw stones too, by the handfuls. I was deadly with the damn
things. I could take out a bobbing soda bottle on the lake in Branch
Brook Park with one throw. Put several stitches in a guy’s
head up the street. He never threw stones at me again after that.
We survived our parents administering “the rod” when
necessary, and even having a teacher give us a whack on the old
padded area. There was no long-term damage to our psyches or some
intervening public interest group to meddle in anyone’s affairs.
You did the crime, you paid the price.
Climbed garage roofs, and fences too…..even those big schoolyard
fences. Hey that is what pointed toe shoes were for, so you could
get them into the links on the fence and get some really good climbing
Played tackle football with no helmets and no shoulder pads, no
cup either. Played touch football in the streets, and basketball
on asphalt playgrounds. No one died, or broke a leg that I remember.
Lots of skin abrasions, though. We survived.
We managed to dodge between trolley cars, buses and zipping autos
on busy Bloomfield Avenue. We crawled under cars with just a car
jack and some old tire rims holding our jalopies up. Did all our
own mechanical work, and changed tires too when they went flat.
Some of us can remember using tire irons too to get the tire off
the rim. We used highly volatile tire patch glue as well for those
damn near porous inner tubes.
We rode bicycles without helmets…can you imagine that!
How many times did you patch a bad muffler or exhaust pipe with
asbestos patch, dipped in water, much like the way a doctor puts
on a cast for a broken arm? Now you couldn’t buy the stuff
in a store if your life depended on it. It’s hazardous materials…..
“Son, thanks for helping me clean out the old basement workshop.
I’m too old to use this stuff anymore.”
“Just call me if you need something done, Pop.”
“Don’t forget to take that big box over there.”
“Where did that come from?”
“It’s all the stuff you can’t buy anymore—Freon,
termite killer, asbestos patches, lead based paint primer…all
that stuff they banned.”
You wouldn’t believe how that stash kept me going over the
years with home and auto repairs.
How did our Nation become such a bunch of pansies, wimps, and
Chemical spills…what of it? Take out the garden hose and
wash it into the street gutters. There were no guys in white plastic
suits every time someone spilled antifreeze or motor oil in the
street. Seems like overkill to me. Mother Earth survived volcanoes,
earthquakes, dinosaurs, and meteorite hits, and rock & roll,
and still pushes up the green stuff every year. Give me a break
Heck we burned the autumn leaves in the street, and everyone survived.
I remember no one gasping for air. Bronchitis and asthma was what
you got if you smoked all your life. Now someone gets asthma if
another person is smoking a mile away. People that sensitive ought
to be mounted atop firehouses as early warning signals. They can
be weathervanes that point in the direction of smoke smells……
“Hey you there on Bloomfield Avenue. Put out your cigarette.
I can smell you smoking all the way over here by the skating rink!”
“Kiss my ashes!”
Over 90% of the population now has asthma; and peanut allergies.
Where does the danger end? How can all American peanut butter suddenly
become so deadly?
We rolled in dirt, fell in lakes in Branch Brook Park, swam in
tar balls in the Atlantic Ocean, got stung by jellyfish, hornets,
and bumblebees, itched to death in poison ivy, oak and sumac…..
and still we are walking poor fragile Mother Earth.
Raise your hand if you stepped on a nail, got some stitches, skinned
your knees once a week, broke a bone, knocked out a tooth; and left
some skin on a Newark street after falling down…from playing
all day long in the street….with real cars going up and down
Lead paint? It was everywhere. It was your parents’ job
to monitor their kids and their behavior. What loving mother would
let her children eat lead paint? They took the lead out of the paint
to make it safe and now you paint your house every 5 years instead
Know what else we survived?
Having the Bible read to us in class every morning. It produced
no religious zealots, or made us “prissies”. It gave
us no guilt complexes, nor long-term hang-ups; and none of us had
to have remedial time with the school psychologist. It did make
us aware of right and wrong; and very few ax murders, drive-by shootings,
or drug binges resulted. No rapes, molestations, or other such behavior.
There was only one thing I remember as being able to snuff your
life out in the wink of an eye. It was the one thing that could
seriously endanger your life…….bringing home a note
from the teacher! That was about as close to facing death as I can
Somehow we all survived, and not once do I remember anyone suing
How, I wonder, did lawyers ever survive back then?!