One last game before the snow flies. City kids take skelly and double-dutch right up to winter's door
New York — In Brooklyn, these are the last, bittersweet days of hopscotch, double-dutch, box-ball, steal-the-bacon, and skelly. For in a few weeks the sidewalks that have been crowded all summer with kids playing games will be empty - victims of cooler weather, shorter days, and homework.
Every summer brings its own rages - skateboarding's in one summer, a bore the next - but this year on Parkside Avenue, a busy thoroughfare off Prospect Park, it's been nonstop skelly for the boys, double-dutch for the girls.
``I started skelly here,'' says 10-year-old Chris Noel, proudly. ``I had the chalk. I drew the first skelly court.''
Maybe. In any case, the two courts in front of the block's longest apartment building have been flying with skelly tops - milk bottle caps filled with clay - and boys shooting them into chalked-in, numbered boxes.
The idea is to shoot your top into all 13 boxes, hitting your opponents' tops whenever you can. Then reverse the order, going from 13 back to one. Next, you try to hit everybody's top three times. If you do, you're a ``killer,'' a winner.
Sounds easy? It's not, for the action is lightning quick - the average game of five kids takes 15 minutes - and the shots require skill and considerable energy.
``You can hike it,'' Chris explains, which means shoot the top from a standing position; ``shove it,'' which means drag it forward on the court with your fingers; ``or pluck it,'' meaning you send it forth by snapping a finger against your thumb.
Passions can run high. And even with a referee, there are disagreements - well, fights. But they remain jocular. Skelly caps may be thrown, players lifted off the court or chased down the street - but the game always continues.
There's more than a bit of fashion on the court: Although jeans make the most sense, since players are often on their knees, wild-patterned ``knickers'' and shorts, with bright-colored T-shirts, are the norm. And of course, sneakers are on everyone's feet.
``The boys like to think the girls can't play,'' says Steffie Rendon, who's 10.
But the reality, explains Chris, is that the girls often win ``even against boys bigger than them, especially Steffie, because she `pots' a lot.'' (In skelly talk that means she's a sure shot.)
And why don't the boys play double-dutch, the age-old game of jumping two ropes that are being turned in opposite directions?
Answers Davey Simms, who's 14, ``Because we can't jump into the rope like the girls can.''
Even the girls aren't taught how to jump into the rope until they're about 7.
``Because when you're younger, you're scared of the rope,'' says Chiriga Alves, 12, referring to the high speeds at which the turners whip the ropes. She continues, ``So the first time you go in, you do a `cigarette.'''
That means standing close to a friend's chest as she's turning the ropes - until she bumps you, pushing you right into the middle. And then you have to jump.
Soon you're learning jumps like sleeping beauty, around-the-world, and pop-up, which involve miming sleep, doing 360-degree turns and soaring straight up. And there are dozens of other jumps, all done to songs and chants.
Although there are girls who can do balletic splits above the ropes, and girls who can jump 200 times until the ropes collapse around them, they are surprisingly modest about their athletic abilities. And they refuse to answer who's the best.
``Nobody,'' insists Jackie Rendon, Steffie's twin sister.
``Everybody's the same.'' ``We're a group,'' puts in Yanira Velardo, who's 13.
Needless to say, they're a fashionable group. ``I have no play clothes,'' explains Steffie, looking down at her tropical-colored, short skirt and blouse set. And it's true that their clothing is never ``knock-around,'' and always coordinated with bangles, belts, and barrettes. Hair is long: ponytails and braids. Colors are hot: pink, parrot-green, and turquoise.
Is there life after skelly and double-dutch? What can a Brooklyn kid look forward to in the dark days of December and January?
``Snowball fights,'' quickly answers Chris. ``Building snowmen,'' answers Steffie.
Aaron Goodwin, a 36-year-old resident of Parkside Avenue, is one of the youngsters' biggest fans, yet he scoffs at their answers.
``When we were kids,'' he remembers, ``if it rained, snowed, we'd play skelly in the apartment halls. We just never stopped.
``Sometimes, I play now when the kids are done,'' he says, glancing at the courts, which are emptying.
It's dinner time and the light is rapidly fading. Aaron will get his chance - for on a chilly October evening the kids won't be back.