ON the Harlem street on which I was raised, we did everything under the watchful eyes of the Ladies in the Windows. Their job was to put a pillow on the windowsill, put their elbows on the pillows, and watch us so they could tell our parents if we did anything out of line. So when our minister mentioned, during Sunday services, that he had found orange peels strewn around the church steps, the Ladies in the Windows decided to make it their business to correct the problem.
Now, those church steps were an important part of our lives. Those were the same church steps on which Batman moved past Captain Marvel in our personal comic-book ratings and Red Ryder, despite the presence of Little Beaver, slipped below the Lone Ranger. Not only that, but most of us went to Bible school in that church, so we thought we had a right to sit on those steps.
The old Italian fruit and vegetable man used to hawk his wares in our streets and give us free oranges at least twice a week. What were we going to do with the peels? Of course, a certain amount of peels went to the manufacture of ``loadies.'' Loadies were the bottle caps we shot into squares in a game that some kids called ``scully.'' For us it was ``loadies,'' and orange peels made the best lining for the bottle caps. Clay was too heavy, wax would melt, but orange peels were just right. That still left the bulk of the peels to be dealt with.
I was the first one to eat the complete orange, peel, seeds, and all. This made me the hero of the block for an entire week despite Richie Aisles's attempt to dilute my success by saying that the printing on the orange was poisonous and that I would probably die.
Things got worse when Clyde Johnson was caught spitting an orange seed into the gutter. Not even a peel, mind you, but a seed. Our section of Harlem was going to remain spotless, or else. Clyde was grounded for the week. Much to the delight of the Ladies in the Windows.
I decided, being almost 11 and quite brave, to approach our minister directly. This had to be done gingerly, as Rev. Robinson was known to resort to direct spankings.
Carefully, I explained that we had intended to pick up the seeds. But we forgot.
He asked me when the incident had taken place and I told him. Wasn't that the same day a funeral had been disturbed by someone playing Chinese handball against the wall? I didn't remember playing Chinese handball that day, although I did admit that maybe Johnny, Randolph, and Kenny Lee might have been.
Needless to say, I lost my hero status. We were not only banned from eating oranges on the church steps, we were also forbidden to play Chinese handball against the church wall for the rest of the summer. I didn't really care, though. By that time it was ring-a-lievio season.