Some kids climb into tree houses when they want to be alone. Some kids lock themselves in their bedrooms and listen to loud music (or nowadays, they throw on a pair of headphones). There were also a few kids in my neighborhood that would run away from home when they wanted to escape all the bullshit that was going on in their lives. I tried that once but it lasted about two hours. Let me tell you, it sucked.
One summer night, when I was about 15 I got into an argument with my mother. I ran out of the house and hung out with my friends. Instead of going home at a decent hour, I walked around the neighborhood hanging out with different people until a little past midnight. I tried really hard not to go home. After there was no one left outside, I walked over to Prospect Park and sat down on a bench until a few kids tried to jump me. I argued with them and sprinted out of the park.
When things got hectic around my apartment I cut out for the boys schoolyard at Holy Name grammar school. “The yard” like everyone called it is located on Howard Place and Prospect Avenue; it was my second home and the place I liked to go when I needed to get away.
We lived across the street from Holy Name in a five-room railroad apartment over Bob’s Hardware Store on the corner of Windsor Place and Ninth Avenue. There was me, my mom, my older brother and younger sister. My father left us when I was five.
My mother and sister had their own bedrooms, I shared a small room with my brother.
I always wished we lived in a house; Just like my friends Jimmy Cullen and Glenn Thomas. If you lived in a house you had a stoop out front where you could sit on all day and night and talk with your friends. With a house you had a basement where you played records and hung out with your friends. If were lucky enough to have lived in a house you also had an upstairs where the bedrooms were located. I knew all this because I spent a lot of time in Jimmy and Glenn’s homes.
Best thing of all is if you owned a house you had a backyard with either a pool or a basketball court. The Cullen’s had a really cool basketball court where we spent countless hours perfecting our game.
Crossing ninth avenue and walking down Windsor Place dribbling my basketball out in front of me, I always kept my head up. We did so many dribbling drills while playing on the basketball team at Holy Name. Our coaches were the best. One of the first things they taught you was to always look up so you could see the court. The ball was like a yo-yo on string when I dribbled it.
Before hanging a right at Howard Place, every few feet I would cross my dribble over from left hand to the right hand and then back from right to left. I’d imagine the people walking towards me were defenders so I would make a sharp, quick move right past them. Bill Raftery calls it a “blow-by.”
“D-up lady,” I said to Mrs. Corrigan as she was walking towards me. The poor lady had no clue what I had said as I made my move past her with my quick, low, dribble.
My goal was to avoid the cracks in the sidewalks too; if the ball hit a crack, it would get away from you and roll into the street. The concentration helped my dribbling skills and my hand-eye coordination.
Once inside the yard I found paradise. I was surrounded by a silver chain linked fence, and I felt like no one could get at me. I felt like I was in the octagon they use for MMA. The one good thing about basketball is that you didn’t anyone else to play. On this early evening, I was shocked that no one was here. But it didn’t matter to me, it only meant that I had the whole place to myself. And sometimes I liked it better that way.
I didn’t mind being alone in the yard; it was just me, my basketball and six baskets. I had every one to myself. I’d dribble at every single basket and try to make a lay-up. The rims in the schoolyard had white, half-moon shaped backboards connected to a long silver, steel pole coming out of the ground. This made shooting a bank shot very difficult. The banker wasn’t one of my favorite shots so I never used it in a game; I always liked to swish everything even though we didn’t have any nets on the rim. The pole was planted in the ground right smack in the middle of the lane. Dribbling around the pole to escape your defender was a strategy many players used to score. It was used as a “pick.”
The boys schoolyard at Holy Name; it was my paved paradise. It was where I went when I wanted to get away from all the bullshit.