BY THE SPECTATOR, JOHN MALONEY
Well, here I am again! By the time this is published, I will have celebrated my 90th birthday. That’s right, on February 19, the Spectator hit that magic 90th! It’s just a number! I don’t feel any older than when I was 89!
I was born in Harlem across the street from Hook and Ladder 40, which by the way is still in the general area. Hancock Place is around the corner from that most famous street, 125th, the street that runs right through the heart of Harlem.
When I was a youngster, a 60-year-old man was ancient and there were not that many to be found. By the time I was 6-years-old, he had moved around the corner to 125th Street.
From my window, I could see the great Apollo Theater, the show place for some of the great black entertainers.
I grew up in the Depression days. Everyone was poor but they didn’t know it.
Let me recall what it was like growing up at that time. We walked to school. There was no bus transportation. We went home for lunch and had to be back within the hour.
After school, we rushed home, changed our clothes and ran off to play with our friends.
There was no television, no electronic games, no computers, no Ipads. There was nothing to distract us. There was so much to do before we had to be home for supper at 6 o’clock.
We played tag, Red Rover, Johnny on a Pony, stickball, box-ball, punch ball, association football, roller hockey, marbles, hide and seek, cops and robbers, soldiers. We spun tops, flew kites, traded baseball cards and Indian cards and War Bird cards. We bought comic books for a dime and traded them with one another.
I remember the first Superman comic when it came out and I had it and traded it…I think an original copy recently sold for almost a $1 million. We played scully, cards, dominos, pick-up sticks. The girls jumped rope and sometime the guys did too!
Of course, we played baseball if you could find a field.You could buy a cheap baseball called a rochet for a dime and when it fell apart you taped it with black tape.
We built wagons and skateboards. We rode bikes and we roller-skated a lot with Union Skates. You wore them until the wheels were almost flat!
We made model planes and flew them. We were never bored. For the more daring youngster, there was always the thrill of hitching a ride on the back of a trolley. The trolley car was the main way to travel. Buses came much later.
The cop on the beat was a familiar figure and he knew everyone in the neighborhood. He carried a nightstick or club and he wasn’t afraid to use it if you gave him any back talk.
Candy was a penny and Mounds, Hershey, Baby Ruth, Nestles, and Mr. Goodbar all could be had for 5 cents or three for a dime!
Pepsi, Coke and Mission soda could be had for 5 cents. On a hot day you could buy a 2-cent seltzer. The best ice cream was a Melo-roll, shaped like a cylinder! What a treat. Good Humor was a dime!
A hot dog off the pushcart with the umbrella was 5 cents and at the time you got free lemonade.
There would be a celebration along 125th street every time Joe Louis won a fight. I saw the great “Sugar” Ray Robinson drive by in his pink Cadillac convertible many times.
We listened to the radio with such programs as Orphan Annie, Bobby Benson, Buck Rogers, Chandu the Magician, the Lone Ranger, Gang Buster and course Uncle Don.
In 1938, I remember listening to the famous broadcast by Orson Welles about Martians landing in Jersey and how we were all terrified because it was so real!
I remember standing in Riverside Park across from the famous Riverside Church, near Grant’s Tomb. It was almost 4 o’clock or so and above us flying towards Lyndhurst, New Jersey was the huge, magnificent, awesome zeppelin the “Hindenberg.” It was flying low as it crossed the Hudson that May afternoon to land.
A few hours later, we heard on the radio that it had exploded on landing!
I remember the West Side Highway being built in the late 30s. It was some sight to see.
I remember looking out my window on 125th Street and watching all the officials heading east for the grand opening of the Triboro Bridge.
Mayor LaGuardia read the Sunday comics to us when the news went on strike.
A big thrill was going to the movies on a Saturday. Would you believe it cost a dime? You saw two main features, a western, three cartoons, a Laurel and Hardy and a chapter movie. It was almost four hours before you got out.
In 1935 or so gas at the pump was 6 gallons for 98 cents. If you drove around it was six for 95 cents. We went to Palisades Amusement Park, taking the ferry from 125th Street on the Hudson across to Jersey. In the summer the more daring kids swam in the Hudson. My cousin Eddie drowned when he was 11-years-old!
The grocer had a pencil behind his ear and added up what you bought on the brown paper bag. It was better than the computer. Credit cards were unheard of!
There were gangs in those days but not the fighting gangs of years later. There were the Hancocks, the La Sulla Street Boys, and the Mohawks. Kids had nicknames like Harpo, Chuckles, Buster, Cowboy, Gussie, Dappo, Jon-Jon, Whitey, Pinky the whale, Skippy, Uncle Benny. Those were the days my friend. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
I thank God for giving me 90 wonderful years. I’m still active, writing, performing in plays (two coming up in April and May).
My advice: Hang in there and take each day as it comes.