Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Coming of Age on Lamont Blvd



Coming of Age on Lamont Blvd



I'm not sure if her name was Ginger. Well, OK, to be honest, I know for a fact that her name wasn't Ginger. The problem is that I like the name. It's spicy. It smacks of cookies with a Snap! And when I was a young boy with an unbridled curiosity, that's exactly the kind of girl I wanted to be around, a girl with curly, ginger hair, freckles, and long legs that disappeared somewhere beneath her wrinkled, flousie-pink shorts. I wanted to be around a girl who threw caution to the wind, who would try most everything once, maybe even twice, and who didn't know too much about anything.

In a time when a young boy's room wasn't a fortress of solitude, complete with a computer, an XBOX, PSII, and a sound system without equal, my life was spent living on the street. I don't mean that I spent my youth as a homeless street kid, at least not the way we think of homeless kids today, but the kids of my generation were homeless in another way. As long as there wasn't a rainstorm rolling over the neighbourhood, most every kid I knew was banished from the house through most of the day and told to "Play outside."

Outside was the front sidewalk where we gathered on wobbly bikes of various shapes and sizes. Some of the older kids snuck away to the riverbank and smoked cigarettes that they had stolen from their mother's pack of du Maurier. Others rode a few blocks over to Tamblyn's Drugstore where they bought thick, green glass bottles of Coke for a nickel and a couple of five-sided chunks of chocolate that melted in dark creases along their palms. Most of us just wasted our summer years in perpetual idleness, like we were waiting for something that never came.

On even the best days, there was always some kind of tension in the air. I can't say we were miserable, despite the fact that it wasn't uncommon for a couple of kids to square off in a fight once in awhile. These disputes were generated more by boredom than by a difference of opinion. We didn't really have opinions at all, since in those days, we were taught to be seen but not heard, and I don't remember having an opinion about anything until I had to decide between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. At any rate, these little outbreaks were short-lived and normally ended with one kid bawling all the way home and slamming the gate to the backyard to pout alone on a rusty swing set for the rest of the day. Few kids would actually go back inside the house. By midday, you never knew what might be happening inside, especially when you were expected to be and remain outside.

Some years, a fad would rush along the street and hold everyone's attention for a short time. Yo-Yo's would be all the rage for a while, and then, after becoming twisted into knots even Houdini couldn't untangle, everyone's little spinning wooden disk would disappear into the trash. Other times, marbles would roll into our lives, and we'd treasure them like pieces of eight in a Seagram's deep purple cloth sack, which seemed all the more regal because it had the words Crown Royale embroidered in gold thread across the front. Our collections of plasters, crystals, and agates would teach us a kind of supply and demand economics for a semester of street life, as we risked our best alleys and cat's eyes in a game of keepsies. Then, when marbles went out of fashion, there would always be baseball and hockey cards, which we would win or lose by playing closies, flipsies, or topsies outside the back of the Safeway where you could smell the sweet rot of discarded vegetables in a line of open bins.

Sometimes, we would engage in the card ritual of "got 'im, got 'im, need 'im," and kids would trade a Mickey Mantle for a Richie Ashburn or a Gordie Howe for a Wally Clune. Unknowingly, fortunes would be lost and won. I suspect all this play nurtured the demanding life of capitalism that awaited us in the future. Certainly, no one I knew expressed any evil communist thoughts of sitting down and dividing our wealth of marbles or sports cards equally.

Of all the fads that came and went and then came and went again, none captivated my imagination more than the hip-spinning Hula Hoop. On my block, it was the girl we're calling Ginger who introduced me to this explosively popular novelty that swept the nation in the late 50's.

I remember the day almost as clearly as I remember yesterday. It was early evening when I saw her standing on her front lawn swinging and twisting her hips in an effort to keep a bright red plastic hoop from falling around her ankles. The moment was electric, sending a current of energy through my body, and the sight left me with an odd sensation of delight like I had never experienced before. There, in the lengthening shadows of the Steinberg's big house, streams of orange light from the setting sun would catch the wave of her arms floating above the hoop, the spiralling delirium of her young hips moving back and forth in an undulating rhythm, and the cool white pastel flutter of her long legs. This was a toy like no other toy I had ever seen, and if marbles and baseball cards were practice for our futures as relentless capitalists, the Hula Hoop was practice for something just as intoxicating.

Ginger spun a constantly evolving web of ever-changing circles that ran up and down and all around her gyrating body, and for me, that hoop created an enchanted, almost mystical, swirling red boundary that forbid trespassers, but one which I longed to trespass.
 





 








 
 


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