Playgrounds of New York
In the neighborhood of Ridgewood, a street runs downhill towards Fresh Pond Road, called Madison Street. This is the street on which I live, and right across from the brick project apartment building, lays a kids’ playground, called “Beninger’s Playground.” This playground was known as the “Heroin Capital” during the 1990s, because of all the drug deals taking place at night. A tall black fence runs across the block, which encloses the area, leaving a gate in which you walk through in order to enter. Behind that black fence and gate, stands a pair of open swings, on which you can stand on and swing your life away. Kids wait around it, and fight over who goes next. On this hot and humid July day, the first confrontation over who goes next has finally occurred at noontime.
“Hey fatass I was next.”
“I came here before you.”
“You weren’t even here when I was already waiting for the swings.”
“Yes, I was. I left to get a Popsicle from the ice cream truck, and then came back.”
“That’s your problem fatso. Get off.”
“Fuck you pussy.”
“I’m getting my mom.”
“FINE FINE. OK! HERE YOU GO!”
The fat Yugoslavian child throws the swing towards the loud-mouthed smaller boy, and stands waiting on the sideline once again.
In addition to the fought over swings, there’s a sprinkler in the center of the playground that shoots out water during hot summer days and evenings. The jet streams reach out into the air, and crash down upon you if you go underneath the encircled area.
A shirtless Dominican man walks up to the sprinkler and throws his shirt over its head. The water is back flowing over the turret, soaking the man’s T Shirt. After a few seconds, the man runs his shirt off and walks away. (A heat wave has hit New York City; kids and adults alike find all means necessary to keep cool.) After the Dominican man puts his soaking T Shirt on, a tall, lanky Puerto Rican girl runs up next to the sprinkler and throws a plastic bag over its head. Once again the water has stopped crashing onto the concrete ground, and back flows over the turret. All the other kids that have been running around under the water, wait for the Puerto Rican girl’s disruption of the sprinklers to finish. Finally, she slides the bag off, resuming the sprinklers to shoot back up into the sky. She runs up the stairs of the playground structure, and dumps the water-filled bag down one of the slides. She grabs the overhead bar, and swings herself forward, sliding straight down the slippery ride and bumps her bottom against the rubber floor, sliding all the way across, until she hits the concrete ground. She smiles with satisfaction and runs straight back to the sprinkler. Meanwhile, her mother watches from the set of swings designed for babies that are shaped like diapers, where she’s talking to a friend, and gently swinging her baby infant.
This certain half of Beninger’s playground is filled with stay-at-home Arab, Polish, Latina, Irish, and Italian moms, along with homeless, smelly Polish men, partnered with old Yugoslavian mobsters that endlessly play dominos. The grumpy old Yugoslavians gather around the domino tables, and occupy about 8 benches, which can seat about 32 people. In addition, there are several of them standing, watching dominos being played out from above the others. Some are registered sexual offenders, burglars, and murderers.
A group of young boys are playing soccer, out in front of the fenced in set of open swings, and shoot the ball upwards.
“Now you’ve done it. It’s headed straight towards the old assholes.”
“Relax. Nothing’s gonna happen.”
The ball crashes it way through the trees branches, slams down on top of the Yugoslavians’ domino table, and re-arranges all of their pieces. The old men start yelling, throw their hands up, and create a commotion amongst themselves. The spectator standing nearest to them curses at the boys,
“Get your fucking ball and go play somewhere else!”
“Don’t tell us what to do old man, this is a playground for KIDS!”
The lifelong feud between these particular Mexican boys and retired Yugoslavians has been running from the moment the boys have placed their feet on a ball in the playground.
Across, on the other half of the playground, lays a basketball court, along with two handball courts split by one wall. Usually, you’ll have a gang of teenagers riding their scooters around, adults playing a basketball game, and adults playing handball. Back in early 2000s, kids and adults would use this area to play their Gameboys and trade Pokémon cards. Now, you’ll have teenagers sitting on benches using their phones.
I take my shirt off and wedge it into the fence. Sweat is pouring down my face, and torso. My right hand is throbbing, and slowly becoming numb.
“Alright, how much is it again?”
I drop the small blue ball against the ground, let it bounce back up, and smack it. POP. The characteristic popping sound of the handball hitting the wall spreads out over Madison St. The ball bounces against the wall and hits the floor once, before being smacked back by Lewis, a Puerto Rican that’s joined my solo game. My eyes follow the trail of the blue blob, and I quickly jump to my left. My fingers scrape against the ground, as I throw my left hand to the bottom and try to smack the ball back upwards towards the wall, before it hits the ground for the second time. I feel the ball attack my palm that’s angled upwards. The ball slowly bounces back against the top of the wall, allowing Lewis to run up and spike, shooting it down against the very bottom of the wall. I leap forward trying to catch the impossible bullet, which bounces back towards me twice.
It’s starting to get dark, and a blue luminesce spreads over the playground. Most moms have already taken their kids home, and the ice cream truck parked outside is gone. The sprinkler is still running, with a few boys running back and forth, playing tag, using the turret as the home base. I walk, and look back towards them. Suddenly, I recall with feeling the most memorable childhood moment with that particular sprinkler.
I was perhaps seven years old, and I don’t even remember whether my mother was there. It was a parallel evening with tonight; also with a navy darkening sky that has painted the entire playground blue. There was silence, except for the sound of sprinkler waters hitting the ground. I was sitting on this ground, underneath the water streams. I was looking out into the street, trying to see how far my flood will reach. I placed two plastic bags over the drain, prohibiting the water from escaping, allowing itself to accumulate. I’ve created for myself a pool, a large puddle. The water was reaching up to my hips. I was sitting alone, enjoying the sky and myself. My eyes scanned the horizon of my flood, and saw that it has reached the gate. Marty, a lifelong adult family acquaintance, who works and lives in the brick apartment building right across, shuts down the sprinkler. I’m told to take the bags out, before the water reaches the street, and I head home.