Certainly, being retired and living in Florida, I do have my lazy and hazy days. Given the fact that summer lasts fourteen months a year, I often do get crazy.
However, the lazy, hazy, and crazy days which I am remembering are those experienced on Leland Avenue in The Bronx circa 1960.
When we weren’t trying to escape the sun by staying on the shady side of Leland Avenue, we were probably engaged in several summertime activities. It was never boring as everyone was out and about. Women were hanging out the windows recording all our activities with a motherly gaze. Teenagers were listening to the boss songs playing on their transistor radios.
There were few cars parked on the street as the men were off to work, so we had a wide playing field to occupy ourselves. Stickball, Tri-Angle, Stoop Ball, and Curb Ball played on the corner of Leland and Gleason on Hoch’s Corner.
For these games all was needed was a Spalding. I can still remember the smell of a new ball and the powder covering it. Stickball, of course, required a broom or mop stick or one of the new store-bought variety that was now available.
On special days we would go to a Yankee game and, if it rained, we went to the Circle Theater, The Rosedale (Who would have thought in 1960 that I would wind up in Rosedale in Bradenton, Florida?), or The Loews American to see a Japanese monster movie. Rodan was my favorite.
As the afternoon wore on the temperature rose to an uncomfortable level, but a faint tinkling of a bell heralded the arrival of instant relief. The Good Humor Man on his bicycle ice cream cart was peddling our way.
You always need a few coins in your pocket back then. Either to chip in for a new Spalding or to buy an ice cream delight from our Good Humor Man. Who wouldn’t be in good humor, he had a boatload of ice cream in front of him!
He always had some new concoction to sell us. There was a Fourth Of July ice cream bar with red, white, and blue bits. Of course, it was soon replaced by Strawberry Shortcake and later on a Chocolate Eclair. My favorite, however, was the ever-popular Coconut Bar.
Whichever variety you bought, you had to eat it fast before the sun deposited it on your shirt or Leland Avenue.
The afternoon games would adjourn to dinner, and after a hasty summer meal, we were back at it. Summer evenings were cooler, which allowed us to play Manhunt or go for a bike ride. We always seemed to have our bikes handy. When we were younger, it was roller skating that kept us moving, but we gave up our skates last fall when we built our scooters out of milk crates and used our skates for wheels.
My father would often take a group up to Ferry Point Park, which was in the shadow of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. We would play softball and climb the Big Rock in the coolness provided by a gentle breeze off the East River.
When my father was on vacation from ConEd he would drive the family, my mother, my brother Michael and myself, (as all the other siblings were married) to Steeplechase Park in Coney Island.
I can still get goosebumps when I see the Parachute Jump Ride.
The rides were great as was the Penny Arcade which actually had games that you could play for one or two pennies.
A big lollipop and some saltwater taffy went nicely with a Nathan’s Famous.
When we weren’t going to Steeplechase, my father drove us up to Aunt Catherine and Uncle Al’s house up in Rosendale, New York, which was just outside New Paltz.
The only thing bad about these trips to Rosendale is that there was no TV. It was also hotter there than in The Bronx, or at least it felt hotter.
Nevertheless, my father always made it a fun trip as a new toy or two was purchased, and card games took the place of summer replacements.
They were grand days. You could sleep late, and you never had homework.
I was always forced/encouraged to read. But one week it became a pleasure.
My friend PJ and I were just throwing a ball near his house when one of our friends came up to us. He explained that his family was moving and he had a lot of stuff he had to get rid of.
“Do you know anyone who would like a bunch of comics?”
Well, it was all we could do not to beat him to his own room. It was a treasure trove.
Superman, Action, Adventure, Jimmy Olsen, Annual Issues. Then there was Batman and Aquaman. There were even a few Archies. It was heaven.
There had been other Best Days Of Summer, but that one stands above the rest.
Of course, it wasn’t just fun and games and comics. There was business, and we were entrepreneurs at a young age.
Our first enterprise was a bicycle repair service. For fifty cents we would repair a flat for you.
Our first customer, I will call him. Sorry, had a twenty-four inch Schwinn that needed a front tire to be repaired. PJ and I got right on it, and soon we had the wheel off the fork and began to disengage the tire from the rim.
This is where my memory gets a little fuzzy.
For some reason, we deduced that a spoke wrench was required to complete the job. So, off to Frank’s Bike Shop, we went.
For a mere seventy-five cent investment, we had our spoke wrench. Now, I know what you’re are thinking. We were only getting fifty-cents from Sorry, but we trusted that we would recoup our investment and more in volume.
We put the spoke wrench to work and began loosening the spokes from the rim. As I indicated, I am not quite sure why we felt compelled to do so.
In practically no time nearly every spoke was not only loosened from the confines of the rim, but they flared out from the hub akimbo. It was a frightening sight which was very soon replaced by another.
Our friend, Sorry’s shadow, loomed over us as we struggled to make some sense of our flat fixing ordeal. Before we saw his shadow, we felt it. Then we heard it. No need to repeat the actual words used to inform us that our services were no longer required and that we needn’t expect compensation for our efforts.
Ok, a lesson learned. On to our next adventure.
Hoch’s Candy Store and others sold packets of a candy-like powder that you could turn into a delicious fruity drink. Lik-M-Aid had five packets ranging from lime to cherry.
We had the idea that making a concoction of all the flavors, we called it Tooty Fruity, would help us make up for our bike repair losses.
So, with a little water and sugar and some paper cups, we were off to the races.
We estimated this venture required eleven cents in start-up capital.
Our investment paid off, and we were due to make a profit after selling only half our Tooty Fruity. We now had enough to re-invest and make another batch.
However, it was hot, and the Tooty Fruity was delicious and very refreshing.
In short, we drank up our profits.
Our play dates were never arranged, never structured, but they always resulted in a good time.
I hope your lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer offered you as much joy as it did to the kids on Leland Avenue. I hope my memory has had the effect of inspiring you to remember yours.