Zoraida Ortíz

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EAST 138th STREET –

We are excited to be given permission to go outside and play. But I no longer join in on the usual games of “kick the can,” “break the chain,” or “tag.” I have discovered a whole new world in books, and carrying the latest novel, I go downstairs to sit on the front stoop to watch my baby brother running down the sidewalk screaming “Batman!” at the top of his lungs. My sister, who is two years younger than me, joins up with the neighborhood kids to start a game. Apparently it’s “kick the can.”

As I sit on the stoop trying to concentrate on my reading, a plane flies overhead. It makes a loud shrieking sound and feels like it might land on top of us. But it won’t. It’s headed for La Guardia Airport. I see my baby brother jumping up and down the steps of the adjoining building. It’s one of three buildings that make up our neighborhood. They are joined together by alleys, which lead into the bomb shelters in the basements. Each building has a shelter of its own which has been stocked with canned foods and other items. I saw one once when my father was helping the superintendent move and stack the supplies to make space for a pool table.

From where I sit, I can see the two corners where Willow Avenue begins. Across the avenue is the greeting card factory, which is

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where on rare occasions, we are allowed to ride our bikes in the parking lot. Sometimes these bike rides are interrupted when we find boxes filled with greeting cards that were left out for the garbage trucks. Then, our interest is such that bikes are left leaning against the factory wall or strewn on the sidewalk forgotten for the moment, while our small hands frisk through cards. “What will it be this time?” I wonder, “Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day?” I like the Christmas cards best, images of houses with shingled rooftops, puffing clouds of smoke through their chimneys, surrounded by a pine forest almost buried in snow. I only walk away with those scenes I find most serene. These treasures find their way into my books as bookmarks.

Directly across from the greeting card factory is the auto tire repair shop owned by one of the neighbors. There is a fire hydrant

right in front, which the older neighborhood boys open on real hot summer evenings. All the kids enjoy playing “tag” or just running up and down through the shower of water. It is a lovely curtain of water that is formed when the sprinkle cap provided by the fire department is removed and replaced by two worn tires from the tire shop that are set directly around the fire hydrant. Then a wooden board about one inch thick, ten inches wide, and four feet long is carefully placed inside the tires, directly in front of the gaping opening. As the pressure of water meets with the resistance of the wooden board it forms a domed wall of water, its center dry. We all rush to meet in the center, where we do not get wet, but can view our world outside in a blurry haze.

At the very end of Willow Avenue is a large brick building. On it, big black capital letters read “EVERLAST.” This is the sign I see every day when I look out my parents’ bedroom window, or step outside my building. It is a factory which makes and distributes boxing and other sports type gear. It marks the fact that we live in a commercial area and so it does not surprise me when I see my brother come jumping up the steps to show me a hot dog bun that one of the bigger kids has just given him. It is obvious they have been paid with a bag of hot dog loaves. The buns are fresh. I can smell the warm yeasty dough. My little brother offers me a piece, but I am not hungry, so I thank him anyway, and watch him go running down the sidewalk again.

I can hear a can being kicked and sent banging down the sidewalk. The game is still on and I hear a faint voice yelling, “I see you!” obviously someone just caught. On my farthest right is the Bruckner Boulevard Highway. It is a four-lane road, which leads out of New York City and to any state in the country. It is also an extremely dangerous thoroughfare that has claimed quite a few lives. I have never been allowed to see any of the horrible automobile accidents that have occurred there. But I have listened to the adults talk of how terrible they were, which was enough to frighten me. One story that sticks in my mind was of the young boys who were speeding. They lost control and hit one of the columns, which elevate and support the highway. Their bodies flew through the windshield and hit the column with full force. Someone said that when the emergency units arrived they had to scoop their brains off the wall. So it is clear why we have been warned to never cross this highway.

Confined to this one strip of sidewalk that runs in front of my house called 138th Street, is where practically every girl and boy comes from a Puerto Rican background. From here we appear to be disconnected from the rest of the Bronx area. We never mingle with the kids up the block, the highway taking care of keeping a great divide, making our world this one small place. But I know I will get my opportunity someday to traverse this gigantic monster.

The Mr. Softy Ice Cream truck jingles its tune, as it crosses over the highway and comes down to park right in front of the second building. All the kids have come out of their hiding places and are running to meet the truck. My little brother comes running towards me “Ice Cream! Ice Cream!” he says. It must be five o’ clock and Dad should be home soon. I step out onto the sidewalk and call for Mom to look out the window. After a while she looks out and throws money wrapped inside aluminum foil. I wait in line with my little brother and sister standing close by. My brother’s choice is a chocolate ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles. My sister wants vanilla with rainbow sprinkles, and I choose the strawberry shake.

We still have about two hours left of playtime before we will be told to come upstairs. I make a mental note to notice the sunset tonight since I have let a week go by without observing it. It will start setting slowly over the highway and sink right into it. I like the fact that I can count on it always being there, of it always setting just so. There is comfort in knowing this. Tonight there is comfort in knowing that tomorrow will hopefully be just the same.

 

 

Yuban Warehouse, Brooklyn, 1936 by Bernice Abbott, Courtesy of Ludo Rubben

1 Comment

  1. Very enjoyable, great story.

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