Thursday, May 28, 2009

Johnny on the Pony

















I lost both my hips. Their decline was due to poor genetic lotto and a thousand games played on concrete and asphalt. One stood out ~ Johnny on the Pony ~ a game of immense endurance and stupidity.

Game’s strategy involved one team (the pony) forming a long bent over row like a Chinese New Year’s dragon, while the other team lined up to jump on, as hard as possible, trying to collapse the pony. The pony started with one guy against a fence facing everyone else. He was the anchor. Next fellow would bend over gripping the anchor’s sides with his butt in the air. All others would follow suit till the line resembled Hannibal’s’ elephants stumbling over the Alps. Once the line formed, the Johnnies would begin to strategize….game usually included at least ten to a side, so ten Johnnies got ready to put their weight and flaring elbows on top of the prone ponies. Game ended when the pony collapsed or all Johnnies rode without falling off for a count of ten one thousands.
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For my hips, this game had the same allure as open battlefield surgery without anesthesia. Matthew Brady was seen setting up his equipment taking photographic stills of our events. The Johnnies usually sent their smallest first and they shimmied up the pony towards the anchor, then they sent their largest and aimed for the weakest links. Best area to land was no man’s land between the thoracic and lumbar regions. Hopefully, catching no soft tissue and driving yourself straight into bone. Attention was spent on developing jumping technique. Since the teams had ten or more, the weakest link might be bent over way up front. Therefore you wanted to attain maximum height and distance. You would study television cartoons trying to learn the secret of freezing in the air for a few seconds at the top of your arc….this is critical to allow gravity to pull your body back to the earth maximizing impact into your opponent’s neck and back. Once landed, you'd make grapes with your hienie ~ making big rocks into little rocks, grinding away at the millstone pushing your butt into the fellow beneath you, as if the chance of a single remaining air bubble between you and him would bring life as we know it to an end.
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As the pile grew the moans and groans of the pony filled the air like a children’s orchestra at their first ever practice. From the top of the mountain, the sounds below played in your head like a beautiful siren song. If it was a particular strong pony the Johnnies went to the Tower of Babel strategy. With less than three jumpers in the shoot, all the Johnnies would begin to gather at one location in the chain, usually over he who could use the most relief. Once the spot was chosen, the Johnnies would gravitate to that point assuming classic Greco-Roman moves to cling together. The tower would rise at the perceived weak spot. Unintelligible orders and exclamations, flying out of the ball of human, braying and swaying like a deranged fire hose, while underneath the ponies began acting like a band of rogue elephants readying a stampede of the defenseless village.
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Non participants played a recurring game ~ try and grab a sound fragment out of the pile and convince others it was English… “I understood that one, it was Freddy, and he said, ‘Christ, get off my foot and stop grabbing my balls.’”
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The tug of war would roll on until the pony broke, or the Johnnies rode the pony for the required time. It was hard to watch and not play, but if you did, you were rewarded with a show that combined all the best elements of a tragic ballet with a terrific car accident. A collapse was a beautiful kaleidoscope for your five senses, rich complex detail. I imagine Sam Peckinpah would not have developed his keen eye for transfixing violence into a sumptuous slow motion dance unless he witnessed a bunch of Johnny on the Pony game-ending collapses.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.
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All our Johnny on The Pony games between 1962 & 1975 were played in the Hockey Field in Carl Schurz Park, or down John Jay Park. Photos above are Carl Schurz, John Jay, and the east side of York Avenue between 84th Street & 83rd Street.
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4 comments:

Victoria said...

Good god Tommy! Looks like a nightmare. And then there is this part of me that says ooo! lots of fun, yes stupid crazy fun!

Victoria said...

! I know what this reminds me of. Rugby! I've always wanted to play rugby but I guess it'll have to be in my next life with better knees and hips. No wonder it sort of appeals in a crazy way.

Thanks for the story, I liked this one especially.

Tommy Pryor said...

thanks, v., tp

Tootie said...

I swear Tommy, everytime I come here, even if it is just for a quick look, I end up reading and reading and laughing at your stories and enjoying your photos. I guess it just proves, you can't read just one. :-)