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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Photo Wednesday 12/10/08 Fulton road work jogs memories

Rebuilding Fulton St.
Putting in work: It's about what isn't there and searching for it

Regardless of what people say, one of the things that I think makes me a lovable sort of curmudgeon is that I grew up in the 70's and 80's version of New York. A moment full of resilient holdover artifacts of bygone eras which populated my childhood and color the stories I lived and tell and occasionally go on at length about.(which I insist is a reason to love me more, dammit)

Today I noticed the near end of the three year long (not-so) extreme makeover (no new trees, I suspect because of the shallow depth of the A/C subway line) of Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant/Clinton Hill originally budgeted $4.8 million and reported as $8.5 million and 18 month's late by the Brooklyn Paper.
Apparently there's a debate going between store owners who don't want to be part of the Fulton St. B.I.D. that will be built around this construction. For those who don't care to read about a B.I.D...

Here's some Constructo-Porn-Pics for this Photo Wednesday, followed by a story (yay!):

(above and below) was the view back in October. The last photo is as of Mon Dec 8th


Rebuilding Fulton St.
That rectangular outline is for the bus stop, an encouraging sign that the rerouted
Fulton St. bus would be back, and the street would again be a two-way.

Rebuilding Fulton St.
Fulton Street makeover
New layers put down to be covered by new layers put down to be covered by.....
Yesterday's foot falls forever frozen, never to be seen again

Signed sealed delivered

That contraption laying the gravel and belching the steam, always makes me think of Richard Scarry even more than Dr. Suess.

Fulton Street makeover IMG_7991
By sun down this too was paved, meaning the entire stretch of road has now be rebuilt. All that remains is the painting. By rush hour traffic was moving (one way) alone the road freely, although some people decided it was already a two-way.

So yesterday as I watched the road work happening on Fulton Street I thought of one of those Brooklyn artifacts (that was still going strong in the 80's).

The artifact that came to mind was a game called Skelly as seen in the photo below.

If you don't know about this classic game played on Brooklyn streets, sidewalks and parks check the detailed history of this site ( for rules and pictures.

As games go, Skelly was conversely simple and intricate in terms of rules, strategies and techniques. It was basically like combining backgammon, marbles and "Sorry" all in one, which was more than challenging enough to keep kids occupied until about age 13. Using your fingers, you'd tap your game piece (a bottle cap usually) from the starting line and try to successfully navigate to the game board's center and back before everyone else.

All we needed to play was a piece of chalk, a bottle cap, and hopefully some wax. If there were no kids out when you wanted to play, you went to everyone's door and rang apartment bells until you had a group together. Imagine it like a pre-teen call to arms.

The Skelly Cap
The game piece of choice for most kids on my block was the 80's era tops from plastic gallon containers of milk. They basically looked like a cheaper plastic version of a Milton-Bradley checker piece, but hallow and open on one side. Acquiring those caps was step one. Step two was candles and crayons. The wax from either of those sources was like the difference between playing football with and without a helmet.

An example of how the wax mattered is clear in an element of the game called "blasting", at least that's what we called it. "Blasting" was when you used your cap to knock another players cap with as much force as possible so their cap was at least pushed out of your way and if possible sent into another dimension.

To work the wax in, the older kids, generally 10 and up, had a different method than younger kids (me). By nature of their age the older kids were natural pyromaniacs and generally had matches lighters and the like, despite the fact that none of us smoked at that time. They'd use their lighters and matches to melt crayons or burn candle wax into their caps, patting it down as tightly as possible. Being younger I learned to place scavenged crayon shards into my lid, I used a Tropicana lid from the glass bottle (does Tropicana still make a glass bottle?) or a jar lid like from Mott's Apple Sauce then I'd place the metal lid and crayon shards on the stove and turn the burner on, within seconds the die was cast so to speak. Oh and least I get scream'pt on by ol'skool players, most all us kids placed a penny or nickle in the bottom of the cap before the wax, for extra heft. This also helped knock other caps farther and made your cap more immovable.

Making the board was a big deal, there were two configurations on our block, each consisting of a square board with square sections placed at the corners and in the center. Depending on how boxes were placed and divided there could be as many as 13 boxes, or bases, which you had to navigate two from a starting point, and back again.

The games could be over in ten minutes or go on for an hour. In ridiculous acts of game sanctioned cruelty our parents and the elders on the block would look at as like we had three noses and no brains for being all alone half a block from the other kids slowly tapping a wax filled bottle cap back toward the skelly board. Why? because on our block and I assume most others there was the "kicksies" rule. If any cap, was hit and began to role on its side like a wheel, somebody, often everybody would yell "kicksies" and everybody but the cap owner, would charge and try to kick the cap as far from the board as humanly possible, hopefully into another dimension.

Those were the times when you didn't want the giant target that was a tropicana bottle cap as your cap.
I'm gonna cut this short for now because honestly I can go on and on about Skelly, but here's my basic recollection as well as a great post I found from the now defunct supernegro blog that has his personal account of the street game he (and many) knew and loved.

I think it's interesting that this dude was a kid in Vanderveer (a housing development in Flatbush near the Midwood section and Brooklyn College) or the 'Veer' as it was spoken of with awe and menace, and yet he and a commenter to his blog ran the same schedule as kids I grew up with in Prospect Heights, it was on Saturdays mostly, right after cartoons. You'd go out with your cap, good players on our block had one, a favorite, the lil' kids had several for reasons that will soon be clear.

So as I watched yesterday, the new solid smooth as baby bottom asphalt laid on Fulton Street, I immediately began to wonder where I could score some chalk and crayons.

And now I gonna jump on soap box:

Yea native Brooklynites talk a lot of shit about what was and what ain't. Clearly, I'm no different. But I direct these next thoughts to the newly come Brooklyn bitchers and moaners, much like the type who bicker on brownstoner, those who leave snide comments asking why we're so fond of our "old" Brooklyn/New York City. If you don't know now you know, I luvs yous guys and I wrote this answer to you, "here it comes khan";

In my opinion the nostalgia we hold isn't for dodging bullets and scattered crack vials. It's for the richness that existed when we were younger, incredulous yet useful things like the sharpening truck that would ride through the neighborhood well into the 80's providing old fashion services, vacant lots that used to be transformed into carnivals rather than be left fallow, knowing a majority of the people on our block, and speaking with them, dude's walking around with cardboard to drop and start breakdancing at a moment's notice, it's for the rough edged but simple childhood reality of laying on the warm summer sidewalk playing an intricate game of skelly literally made out of our blocks and our imaginations. This is what our reminisces calls to. It just happened unfortunately for us, that both warm and deadly cold things existed together in our Brooklyn lives. How lucky for you that much of those days are past and yet many of you still moan and groan about the place you've put money down to live because you've noticed you're money isn't enough to make eyesores melt and broken lives invisible. Generally I'm happy for the renewal that is sweeping much of Brooklyn.

Personally I've been waiting for it since the 70's when I lived for few years with my mother out near the Utica Av 3/4 station and I first experienced burnt out buildings that were never repaired. Today I imagine the day when I'll walk my kids through Brooklyn streets and I'm happy that their chances of getting gunned down have faded away dramatically from the "Bucktown" days but my still relevant question is while it's great to have the new and be rid of the bad ol', did the good ol days, have to fade away as well? It's a complex question and I think that's also why Brooklynites keep talking about it.

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