The Commack Road School
I grew up on Long Island in Islip Township. When my family arrived in the late fifties the town was still developing, which meant a great deal of building to support the influx of new residents.
One such project was the Commack Road Elementary School, which became a hangout for me and my friends during the mid-to-late-sixties. I recently took a walk through the old school and it touched off a few memories.
Everything Reminds me of Something Else
We used to play a lot of games at the school, all organized by us kids and without adult supervision. Aside from the pick-up baseball and handball, we played a few unique games that probably trace back to NY City. I really liked Johnny on the Pony. One team would form a line, with each member bending forward and grasping the person ahead of them around the waist. The guy at the head of the line would be pinned against a tree or a piece of playground equipment, usually the horizontal ladder, a.k.a. Monkey Bars.
Thusly arranged, each member of the opposing team would take a turn running as fast as they could toward the rear of the formation. As they drew closer, they’d leap as high as they could and slam down onto their opponents’ backs. The guy facing backwards was allowed to push the leapers off the pile. If they were rebuffed, they couldn’t get back on, so that element of the game could get pretty rough. As each player was added to the pile, the idea was to concentrate as much load as possible to the weakest section of the line and ultimately cause its collapse — which meant victory.
Then there was The Whip, which was more an activity than a game. Participants formed a line and held hands with the people on each side. The group would then start running across the field and through some dynamic I still don’t get, parts of the line would stop and reverse direction, which created a human whip with enough snap to send the kids at the end of it flying head over heels. Still not sure of its point, but it was a lot of fun, damn it — as long as you weren’t the guy at the end.
Another team sport was Ring-a-levio. One side would hide and the other team had to find them and escort them back to Home Base, which for us was a Jungle Gym that looked like the frame of a space capsule. The seekers would win by finding everyone, but if an uncaptured hider was able to run back to the base and tag it before any of the other team members tagged him, all the captives could escape and go back into hiding.
This game is particularly embedded in my memory because of what happened one night when I was making a move to free my captured teammates. I was able to get to Base unfettered and made the tag. With the other team coming from behind, I ran away as fast as I could but unwisely kept checking over my shoulder to see where my pursuers were coming from.
Just as I turned to see where I was going, my forehead struck a very sturdy steel pole that belonged to the aforementioned vertical ladder, a.k.a. Monkey Bars. I was momentarily knocked out, but for some reason didn’t fall. As the cobwebs cleared, I was aware of people standing around me. As soon as they saw that I was probably not going to die, I heard some laughter, which I wasn’t in the mood for.
“Who’s laughing,” I demanded angrily, which judging by their reaction was the funniest thing I ever said. Someone gleefully declared that my head striking the pole sounded like a church bell, which they found impressive and hilarious. Another observed that the bump on my forehead looked like a stack of about two dollars worth of quarters slipped just below the skin on my forehead. God, it hurt, and for years afterward, I could feel a little bump there. It’s finally gone — I think.
Tip for the day, friends: Watch where you’re going.
‘Till next time.