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Lots Of Lots
By Hal Wickliffe
Copyright 2000 Hal Wickliffe
An essay about using lots as playgrounds for kids in the Bronx, New York.

In the 1930s during The Great Depression, we kids of my old Bronx neighborhood didn't have much money but we did have lots of lots that gave us lots of fun.
And the one vacant lot that managed to remain with us throughout the thirties was located on Morris Avenue between 168th and 169th Streets. It, indeed, our paradise long before discovering the Loew's Paradise on Fordham Road.
So how did we youngsters occupy our wonderful lot? In many delightful ways. For example, we cooked so-called mickies over a blazing campfire. However, I use the word cooked rather loosely ... about as loose as one can get.
Now whether cooking potatoes in this crude fashion was strictly a Bronx events I don't know. We just thought so in our small world. And in that small world, our mickie was far more popular than the Mickey from Walt Disney.
Anyway, for those curious souls and food experts, let me explain about a mickie. It was the name given which was steady -2-
to a potato that was placed at the end of a long stick over an open fire until it became solidly black. At that point, our hot spud officially became a mickie ready for immediate consumption ... minus butter, salt, sour cream or utensils. Yes, call us unsophisticates of the highest order.
And just how were we chaps able to eat this weird culinary concoction without burning our tongue or fingers? To this date, that answer remains a deep, dark mystery. Yet* I don't recall anyone being taken to the emergency room of Morrisania Hospital with a severe case of burns. We did, though, often wind up with the dirtiest--lips and mouths on the block, or maybe even the entire Bronx.
Of course, the cooking of these mickies was strictly an effort by the boys. Girls wouldn't have stooped so low for treating potatoes in such a shabby manner. But boys will be boys. And in those innocent days, we chaps never gave much thought to members of the opposite sex. They just didn't fit into our rough and busy life on that precious lot.
Frankly, I don't remember ever telling of my mickie-making to my dear mother. Still, she must have wondered why her energetic son so often came home at night with clothes smelling of smoke. Maybe she thought I was practicing to become a fireman, which was steady work in those jobless days.
Yet, mother never complained. She just dutifully washed those smelly clothes and then hung them out to dry on our lengthy wash line, perhaps even dreaming of her son someday becoming a fireman.
Also, on our Morris Avenue lot, we played cowboys and Indians. But there was always this one dilemma. Nobody wanted to be an Indian. We simply saw too many western movies in which the cowboys were the good guys and the Indians were all bad. Besides, the Indians in those movies all had such a limited vocabulary. And who wanted to keep saying "ugh".
So, to get any kids to play Indians, they had to be bribed with candy, which was sneaky but it always worked. In addition, we allowed the Indians to widen their vocabulary to "Don't shoot" or "We surrender."
Indeed, the movie cowboy was the biggest hero to we eastern dudes, while the only live horses we ever saw were those that pulled milk wagons and we never dared jump on them for a short ride.
And the big names then among popular movie cow- boys were Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones and Ken Maynard. Years later, there came Hopalong Cassidy. Yet, I had my problems with Hopalong. I never learned how he ever acquired his odd first name. He walked, he strolled, he ran, but he never really hopped. All quite puzzling at that time and even to this day.
While playing cowboys and Indians, I had fond hopes of someday becoming a real cowboy, not so much for riding the range but for saving the life of a rancher's daughter. I liked the whole idea of helping a lovely young lady in distress. And in all those western films, it always turned out that a rancher had a beautiful daughter who had a way of getting in distress. Then came our cowboy on his trusty horse to the rescue. I yearned to be such a hero. No wonder Horace Greeley had said, "Go west, young man"
Thus, for years, I felt so frustrated for never becoming a cowboy and rescuing a rancher's daughter in trouble. Alas, I was destined to remain in the east. I did, though, once rescue a butcher's daughter but she wasn't that lovely. Not only that but she loved steers better than horses. On the other hand, she was real good at cooking meat.
Also, on our vacant lot, we played cops and robbers. But even with that game, we had our share of problems. In our twisted minds, we figured that, if you weren't Irish, you had no right to play a cop. That type of strange thinking was due squarely to the motion pictures of that period In which every policeman we saw was Irish.
Consequently, all of the non-Irish wound up playing robbers and that soon lost all its charm. After all, at that time, most of the youngsters wanted to be on the right side of the law and stamp out crime.
Next, on our lot, we played football, baseball, softball, stickball. and punchball. But baseball was my favorite game. Then one Christmas, to my utmost joy, I received a first baseman's glove for a gift. But the joy diminished somewhat. It seemed that we had two tall chaps in our gang who insisted on playing first base. So, for years, I may have been one of the few in baseball who played the outfield with a first baseman's glove.
Of course, when a baseball wore out, we never thought of buying a new one. This was the Depression and money was scarce. We simply kept retaping the ball until it became too mushy. At that point, we all chipped into buy a new baseball. That is, unless we were lucky enough to have retrieved a ball in the stands at Yankee Stadium.
But amazingly, on our enchanting lot, it was completely free of garbage. For God forbid that anyone had the nerve
to darken or damage our clean lot with debris. They would have been driven out of The Bronx, or at least to the next neighborhood. Nobody messed with our precious lot.
Lastly, with such fond memories of lots, I often wonder why city or town planners don't pass a law that would allow each neighborhood to have at least one empty lot ... just to permit pure unstructured fun for the kids.