moorland avenue

Seven Blocks Of Freedom: Walking To School

City Games, Part 2

“Do you have your lunch?”

“Yes.”

“Watch out for your brother.”

“I will.”

“Call me at work when you guys get home.”

“O.K.”

James and I say goodbye to our mother and race out the back door. In the movie of our childhood (still to be made), the bridge from Aretha Franklin’s “Think” fills the autumn air: “Freedom, freedom, freedom, FREEDOM!”

We love walking to school. No parents, no teachers – just seven authority-free city blocks between home and Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School.

Is my best friend Chris coming up the street to meet us? (Yes.) Will the sometimes-untethered German shepherd down on Moorland Avenue – we call him Killer – attack us? (Not this morning, thankfully.) Is my grandfather’s car in his driveway as we walk by? (Yes, as always.) Do we have pennies for the bubble gum machine at Haskins Pharmacy? (James does.) Will Mr. Siravo’s one-eyed dog, Charlie, successfully navigate the tricky intersection of Smith Street and River Avenue? (Yup, always does.) Will we? (Yes.)

One block from school, we stop at the playground for a game of kamikaze on the swings. We swoop and soar until we can go no higher and then tug on one chain to dive-bomb each other. Last one sitting wins.

Riiinnngg! The first bell. We run from the playground to the school yard. There’s still time for a couple of races. Down to the chain link fence and back – go!

Riiinnngg! The final bell. Teachers appear, lines form, shoulders slump. Chris and James fall in with their classmates, I with mine. In the movie of our childhood (still to be made), some kids hear strains from Chopin’s “Funeral March”. For others, including me, it’s the Looney Tunes jingle: “That’s all, folks!”

When I get to Miss MacDonald’s classroom, I see the day’s schedule written on the blackboard. One word stands out like a gold star on a homework sheet: Recess.

Playing Football When You Can’t Find Grass

City Games, Part 1

On Sunday afternoons during football season, I’d go to my best friend Chris Riccio’s house to watch the Giants game on TV, though we rarely made it past the first quarter. Sure, the Giants lost more than they won in the early ’70s, but that’s not what drove us from the television. Watching football made us want to play football. Question was, where?

We lived in the Elmhurst section of Providence, where the typical house sits on a small lot – not much room for running to daylight. There was an empty lot at the corner of Rankin and Moorland, but when we tried to play there, the owners shooed us away faster than you can say “Pete Rozelle.” Sometimes we’d head up to La Salle, but the Brothers usually sent us packing, too. Forgive us our trespasses? Forget it.

So we always ended up back on Rankin Avenue for touch football in the street, telephone pole to telephone pole, Billy and George against Chris and me. Rankin was perfect for street football – no tree obstructions, only the occasional car, and streetlights that let us play through dusk. The macadam roadbed tore up your hands and knees when you fell, but we didn’t care. Just rub the loose gravel out and get back to the two-man huddle… Chris is Fran Tarkenton and I’m Ron Johnson. “Go out to the manhole cover and turn,” Tark tells me. “I’ll pump fake, and then you go long for the bomb.”

Basketball is known as “The City Game” and rightfully so: it’s more suited to the urban hardscape than football or baseball. As I grew older, basketball would indeed consume most of my athletic energies. But back in the fall of 1970, as I sped past the telephone pole and looked back for Chris’s pass, playing touch football on Rankin Avenue was the best game in town.

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