“Don’t worry Misses T, he’s ok.”
Those were the words that were uttered to my mother a long, long time ago by a friend of mine. Naturally, when you’re greeted with something like that, it’s likely to arouse your suspicions that he is, in fact, not ok. Not by a long shot…
I musta been about 16 or so when it happened. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, it’s really a trivial matter but then again, aren’t most things?
We used to play a lot of football in the streets in Brooklyn. Oh, we had parks to go to but they were usually full with leagues and stuff and there wasn’t enough room for us to play our little pick up games of two hand touch. Besides, there were usually only six or so of us that were of the same age group and lived close enough together and we’d play three to a side.
The offense consisted of a quarterback and two receivers. The defense was comprised of one lineman who counted the old “One Mississippi, Two Mississippi” up to ten and the other two played man on man defense against the receiving corps.
Our “field” was the side streets and depending on how many cars were parked on the there, was maybe 10 to 15 yards wide. The length of the field was what we called “sewer to sewer” for in NYC, in the middle of most streets there are manhole covers that are about 40 to 50 yards apart. These manholes covers were the end zones. You had four downs and out to score or you turned the ball over. Usually the first one to seven wins…
The part of Brooklyn I grew up in can probably best be described as “territorial”, especially for the age groups between 14-16. You might have a shitload of friends during the school hours but when the bell rang and you made your way home, you usually hung with the guys that lived three or four blocks away. Even then, only a select few of them made up your inner circle. (Hey, there were cliques back then too.). It seemed like some unwritten rule, if you lived here, you hung here. What the hell was the point of walking 10 or 15 blocks to do the same thing you could be doing in front of your own house?
This little set-up or arrangement or whatever you want to call it had its advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages was that you knew just who your buddies were and who you could count on. One of the disadvantages was that there were some pretty hot girls that existed beyond your three block radius and should you start hanging with another group you were deemed a “traitor” in yours. A pretty tight spot to be sure…
Another thing this type of situation fostered was rivalries, especially in sports. There were always challenges being made and gauntlets being thrown down. The guys from 74th Street versus the guys from 67th Street in whatever sport was in season. Bragging rights go to the winner.
I was one of the 74th Street guys but man, I’m here to tell ya, the girls that hung around the 67th Street guys were something from another world. Besides being pretty, rumor had it that most of them “put out” and with the raging hormones of a 16 year old, well, it doesn’t take a genius.
So there it was. The day had come to pass when the titans were to face off in combat on a cold, wintery afternoon. The terms were haggled over and finally agreed upon. A couple cases of beer and the aforementioned bragging rights would go to the winner. The loser would have to hold their head in shame.
I think we were up something like 5-3 and I kept flirting with one of the girls from the 67th Street crowd. I’d catch a pass or two and run by her with a wink and a nod or maybe a comment about how good she looked. I guess it caught more than her attention.
I remember going over the middle and the ball being thrown my way. I remember going up for it and it actually hitting my hands but then something went wrong. All of a sudden I was upside down in the air and I landed smack on my head in the middle of the street. Apparently, one of the guys covering me had “inadvertently” clipped my legs out from under me. When I landed, I was out cold.
I remember waking up on a gurney in an ambulance. A jersey of some sort was stuck in my mouth in an attempt to quell the flow of blood. Apparently when I landed, the force of the back of my head crashing into the street had caused me to bite through the left side of my upper lip. I was, in a word, a freakin’ mess.
My friends had run home and told my parents what had happened and they met me at the hospital. The doctor on duty wanted to wait for a plastic surgeon to come and assess the damage done to my face. That’s when my dad uttered his immortal line that rings in my head to this day.
“Stitch him up, he ain’t no movie star.”
So out comes a needle about a foot long filled with Novocain. Twenty seven stitches later and I was on my way home. For all I know, I probably had a concussion to boot.
Never, not even in my wildest imagination did I think that a lip could swell up so big. I swear to God, I thought I was gonna trip over it. It was some kinda color purple that I don’t think had been invented yet and with 27 black stitches that held it together sticking out of your upper lip, well, lets just say it was gonna be awhile before I was kissing anybody again.
Christ, that little episode happened over 30 years ago. I don’t think I ever talked to the girl I was flirting with again. The guy that clipped my legs out from under me swears it was an accident. He grew up and became a New York City cop. I still have my doubts.
I’ve still got a pretty visible scar that graces the left side of my face. Whenever I run my tongue along the inside, there’s some kind of noticeable lump where there shouldn’t be. Some of my friends say the scar adds character. I think they’re just trying to be nice.
I haven’t been back to Brooklyn or those streets that I was so fond of for going on ten years now. The blood that was spilled on them so long ago has long since been washed away.
I wish I could say the same about what my father said…