King’s in Queens
The noise never bothered me. I could always filter it out. The buses came through every twenty minutes; every five or maybe two during peak hours. In a way it was soothing, rhythmic, predictable. Every apartment we ever had was on a main bus route. I never knew any different and so it was.
We didn’t ever have a backyard to play in. Our family always rented and the few times my folks managed for us to live in a two family home the landlords would look at us like we had the plague. Banned for all eternity from the yard and forbidden to enter their prized Shangri-La. “Kids! gasp! Don’t let them in- they might have fun…they might DO something.” They were right. My sister and I would inadvertently torture them- a penance for their selfishness. We would play ball in the small, one inch tile vestibule, the acoustics bouncing the ball more than we did and pick and peel at the bubbles in the shellac on the front door. We didn’t mean it, we were just kids. We had nowhere to play, really, and that was all we wanted to do.
The sidewalk was my playground. I knew every stretch of concrete that was perfectly smooth… so I could hit it at full speed on my skates. Likewise, I knew the good seams for boxball….the ones that could angle the ball just so. I knew the quiet streets where you could play kick the can, saluge, running bases and stickball. And the streets you didn’t walk down- ever. Then there was the schoolyard. We lived around the corner, that was lucky. It never mattered that I was the only girl- sure, I was always picked last- but I was always in. Softball, handball, punchball. Grand, I would say, a huge spans of concrete encircled by tall silver fencing with holes cut out to sit on the pipes right at home plate. My throne. Queen of street games, I ruled them all.
The best part about that place was that we lived about a mile from King’s Candy Store. King’s had it all. Every Sunday my great grandmother would give my sister and I one dollar. We would march right on down to King’s, anxious to get our loot. The man who worked there was nice to us, wearing the same faded blue shirt, quick with a smile. It was dark inside except for the light pouring in from the storefront windows and the video game glow. There were always a couple of boys at them: Ms. Pac Man, Mario Brothers, Galaga.
The place smelled like Bazooka, newspapers and vanilla pipe tobacco. I wish they would make an air freshener like that. They could call it childhood. He would watch us happily count our candy piece by piece (I liked swedish fish and caramels) and we would leave with a small brown paper bag filled with 100 pieces of sugary goodness. Ralph’s Deli was right next door- he had the hots for my mom so we always got a free coke, and caddy corner across the street was the bar my dad frequented. It, however, smelled like BO and scotch when we walked by.
That air freshener could be called loneliness.
We always walked home real slow. Those days seemed to last forever walking with my sister up the shady lined streets, talking about whatever little girls talk about, or maybe not talking at all. Our small hands reaching in over and over again, crossing the streets and chewing until we finally arrived back home. Bags empty.