|Artie Peters & me on #6 train in 1969|
The following story was published in The New York Times and partially gives you insight into what Mrs. Peters had to deal with managing her two lovable knucklehead sons and their knucklehead friends (me included) - Thank God, Mrs. Peters also had a charming smart daughter as a counter balance. She loved us all.
When The Fire Hydrant Was The End Zone
Steve Murphy’s living room was a harsh turf. There was no rug, only a slice of cold linoleum glued to a concrete floor — hard as Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers’ tundra, on an icy afternoon. We wore elbow pads and kneepads and kept the windows wide open to minimize the chances of breaking one. When the football sailed through one after a bad throw, it was a beautiful thing to watch — the spiraling ball taking a sweet, long ride. We’d hang from the second story windowsill and slip down to the street to get the ball. It was just another play.
We got away with it because Mr. and Mrs. Murphy never got home before 6. Besides, where else could we go? We had no backyards, and it was the 1960s in New York City — we were barely allowed to ride the subways by ourselves, and grass fields were scarce. But I loved the sport. I carried my football everywhere, just in case anyone wanted to play catch. I slept with it to prevent fumbling. And even more important, I loved the New York Giants. The “ny” on their helmets was tattooed on my heart. It’s no wonder that — 35 years after the team moved to the Meadowlands in New Jersey — they’re still called the New York Giants.
Back then; in an attempt to boost ticket sales, local TV stations didn’t carry their home games. My dad usually went to Connecticut with a gang of friends and watched the game in a motel room. I had to follow it on the radio. Sometimes he scammed a ticket, and I would beg him to get me one, and he promised he would, someday, when I was older. I used to dream — literally — that an angel would blow through my window and fly me to Yankee Stadium, where they played then. But it never happened.
Instead I spent afternoons turning my knees black and blue on Mrs. Murphy’s linoleum, until the afternoon Mr. Peters — Artie and Jamie’s dad — overheard us talking about a game. “You play tackle in the Murphys’ living room?” Mr. Peters asked. “Does the old man know?”
Jamie laughed so hard, soda came out his nose.
“Are you kidding?” Artie said.
“Do you want to play here? Wall- to-wall carpeting?” Mr. Peters said, waggling his thick eyebrows up and down.
I couldn’t believe it. “Absolutely,” I said.
Artie shot me a look and asked “What about Mom?”
“Mmmm … The Missus? The Missus? The Missus will be a problem.” He drummed a finger across the cleft of his chin. “She hits the stores on Saturday — hairdresser, Woolworth’s, Schaller & Weber, the A&P and the Chinese laundry. She’s gone at least three hours, sometimes four. I guarantee three hours. I’ll referee. We’ll put the entertainment center face down on my bed. We’ll move the couches to the kitchen. Everyone wears socks with no shoes, no sneakers. You’ll all wear gloves on your hands to minimize scuffing the walls.”
“Dad, you’re getting carried away, we don’t need gloves,” Artie said.
“She’ll catch the marks on the wall before she steps through the door. We’ll be dead,” Mr. Peters said.
Artie pointed out that with gloves, no one would be able to catch the ball. “We’ll hang bedsheets over the walls with masking tape,” he said.
Mr. Peters smiled proudly. “That’s my boy!”
I was in the Twilight Zone. My dad tried to outwit my mother every day, but that was on his own behalf. I’d never seen an inside job, where one parent helped the kids gang up on the other. I understood the gravity and prayed for Mr. Peters’ soul.
For two months, all went well. Then, one Saturday, we were in the middle of a goal line stance. As the play started, the front door burst open. Mrs. Peters was back early. Jamie picked up the needed yards on a right end sweep and dove over two defenders, passing within inches of his mother’s head. She screamed at Mr. Peters until his arms hung slack at his sides. The beating was brutal and a double loss because big mouth Steve had told his parents about our game after we moved it to the Peterses’.
Everything on the sidewalk was in bounds: fire hydrants, trees, phone booths. We did our best to accommodate pedestrians, but if the game was tight, we’d use a lady carrying a few brown bags as a blocker.
Dejected and out of a playing field again, we sat on parked cars on the street.
“What’s the difference between linoleum and sidewalk concrete?” Steve finally asked.
“Let me cut a sample from each and smack you in the head,” Artie said.
“Really, if we load up on sweatshirts, put a few pair of shorts over our dungarees and wear pads, do you think it’s any worse than the linoleum?”
And that was how York Avenue from 81st to 82nd Street became our new football field. Everything on the sidewalk was in bounds: fire hydrants, trees, phone booths, mailboxes, light poles, signs and meters. We did our best to accommodate pedestrians, but if the game was tight, we’d use a lady carrying a few brown bags as a blocker.
In 1967, the neighborhood’s church parishes formed a tackle football league for boys 13 and up. Our sidewalk game faded away. My new team’s home field was the dustbowl just inside Central Park at 97th Street and Fifth Avenue. Dad never missed a game. Walking home one day, I popped the question.
“Dad, will I ever get to a Giants home game?”
He took a while to answer, but when he did, he told me about five regulars at Loftus Tavern. I knew Loftus. I could have entered it blindfolded, walked to the back of the bar and put a dime in the jukebox without bumping into a stool.
“Well,” he said, “these regulars kept their tickets under the bar’s register, and sometimes one of those guys don’t feel too well on Sunday morning, and Jack gets a call. Then somebody else gets a call, and that person gets to go to the game.”
He told me to go down to the bar around 11 on Sunday, tap on the back door’s window and see what happened.
The next Sunday, the Giants were playing the Dallas Cowboys at Yankee Stadium. At 11 sharp, I tapped on the window. Jack, the Irish owner, took his reading glasses off, saw me and came to the door.
“Good morning, Tommy, how are you?”
“Fine, Jack, just great.”
“What can I do for you?”
“Could I come in?”
“Well, the cops will have my license if I serve you a drink before 12, but a Coke won’t harm anybody.”
I hopped on a stool. Jack dropped two maraschino cherries in my glass.
“Jack, were all the guys here last night?”
“The guys who go to the game with you?”
“Yes, everyone made an appearance. Chris and Orson were the last two out the door.”
“Did either of them look sick or anything?”
“Well, neither one looks that good to start with, but Orson, he made a couple of passes at the coat rack on his way out.”
I wiped my face with my hand and opened the newspaper. The phone rang. I nearly fell backward off the stool. I crossed my fingers under the bar.
“Hello Mikey, how are you?”
I unclenched. It was Jack’s brother. He had season tickets, too. He owned a bar in Sunnyside.
Jack hung up, saw my face and said, “Cheer up, lad. It’s only 11:30. Game starts at 12:35. There’s still plenty of time.”
He knew why I was there. Dad and Jack were in cahoots.
At 5 to 12, the phone rang again. I held my breath.
“Oh, Orson, I’m sorry to hear that. You seemed a wee down last night. Probably the flu. Tommy Pryor’s here, do you mind if I give him your ticket?”
My heart was ripping a hole through my chest. Jack hung the phone up and slid his gigantic hand under the register, pulled out five red tickets and held them up like a winning hand of cards.
“Do you want to wait for the other guys and we’ll pile into a Checker together?”
I told him no thanks. I wanted to get up there and sit in the crowd as the place filled up. Twenty-five minutes later, I was looking down on the field, watching my favorite players warm up — Joe Morrison, Tucker Frederickson, Ernie Koy and Spider Lockhart. I memorized the ticket stub. Mezzanine, Section 18, Box 56B, Seat 5.
Come hear Dr. Kurt Gertsmann tell a good one in Dean Dacian's short film, part of next Tuesday's show, "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts ~ a tribute to Kurt Gertsmann" April 8th at Cornelia Street Cafe with guests artists, Robin Gelfenbien, David Gandhi Noven, Angelo Verga & Robin Hirsch.
Thomas Pryor's weekly column in Ask a New Yorker