Thousands of Long Island's boomers and seniors grew up in New York City, where they left a childhood full of memories and sewers full of "Spaldeens."
The pink rubber ball - its real name is the "Spalding High-Bounce Ball," but generations of postwar kids called it a Spaldeen - was the center of the universe around which numerous kids' games revolved. It's fitting that the ball is also the center of the cover of a new documentary DVD, "New York Street Games."
"The one thread that runs through all New Yorkers is the games we played," says filmmaker Matt Levy, who directed and coproduced the film. The movie looks back at long-lost Spaldeen games such as stickball, stoopball and punchball. And there is the unnamed alphabet singsong game played almost exclusively by girls that is remembered as " 'A,' My name Is Alice." There is also a segment on how city kids used wire hangers to fish the valuable ball out of a sewer.
In the movie, several native New Yorkers, including celebrities Ray Romano, Regis Philbin and Hector Elizondo, Long Island entrepreneur Bert Brodsky and former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, recall their childhoods. Brodsky talks about his Bronx upbringing and marvels that the entire population of Port Washington, where he now lives on five acres, "could live on my own property if they lived in the same density I lived on in the Bronx."
Levy, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, grew up in the Bronx and lived for a short time in Roslyn. At 43, Levy believes the generations of kids who came after him were more interested in joysticks than stickball. "I'm pretty much the last generation who played street games," he says. The DVD sells for $29.95 at Amazon.com or newyorkstreetgames.com. It includes a spiral-bound mini-notebook with rules for 13 street games.
In addition to the games played with a ball, the film looks at other activities, such as skully (played with bottle caps), hopscotch and kick the can. And there is a discussion of Johnny on a pony, where kids would hurl themselves onto a human structure of other kids, trying to cause everyone to collapse to the sidewalk.
"Johnny on a pony was a lot of fun unless you got hurt," the Queens-born Romano remembers on the documentary. "All those games were fun until you got hurt."