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July 19th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  3 Comments


Nothing like almost taking a child’s life to bring on a bout of nostalgia. I was driving home yesterday from the Pier 6 playground, where I was one of the few dads shameless
brave enough to take off my shirt and shoes and join JP in the “water lab.”

As I may have mentioned earlier, I live in a neighborhood more on the “gentrifying” end of the gentrification spectrum than the “gentrified” end. This means that at times it reminds me of the New York City in which I grew up (for reference, please see, “Bonfire of the Vanities” and “Taxi Driver”). As I was coming up a street of frame houses equally between renovated and crumbling specimens, I noticed that someone had opened a fire hydrant for the kids to play in. I slowed down in case there were children ahead that I couldn’t see. As I got closer, a young boy darted out in front of me chasing a rubber ball. I didn’t really come all that close to hitting him, but for a second I thought I might.

Going by, I could see that there were about four or five pre-teen boys playing in front of their house. I turned to my girlfriend and asked her if she had ever played in a hydrant (she’s from Chicago) and she said no.

“You know,” I said, “I think I grew up in the last NY generation where kids regularly did that kind of thing. I played in fire hydrants, swam in the fountain in Washington Square Park, played stickball.”

What I really meant, of course, was that my generation was one of the last in NYC that was allowed to play alone. One of the pivotal moments of my childhood was the abduction of Etan Patz, a boy who lived not far from where I grew up in Manhattan who disappeared one day on his way to school. I could be wrong about this, but it seems in my memory that the culture of parenting anxiety that we presently live in began with that event. It wasn’t long after Patz’s disappearance that missing children became a regular presence on milk cartons, and although we now live in a much safer society than 1980s America, we seem to spend a greater amount of time spinning out the consequences of what could happen to our children if they leave home unattended.

Either way, playing in a fire hydrant is a fine thing on a hot day. JP will have to experience it, even if that means I will have come with him to do it.


  1. Amy says:

    July 19th, 2010at 1:37 pm(#)

    Come up to Washinton Heights (in the gentrifying section) and you’ll get plenty of hydrant action on a hot day. The streets off St. Nicholas flow like rivers.

    I’ll admit, I worry for the kids jumping and splashing in traffic, wondering why they don’t walk the block to the park where all the sprinklers on on. But I have no nostalgia for playing in hydrants.

  2. JJ Daddy-O says:

    July 19th, 2010at 4:25 pm(#)

    Many’s the time I came home (UWS) on a summer evening with my Converse squishing with every step after playing in an open fire hydrant. After someone opened the hydrant up, it was usually a mad rush to have as much fun as we could before the cops came to close it down.
    I think I am a little older than you, the Etan Patz thing happened when I was a senior in HS (Brooklyn Tech, yo), but I have definitely reflected on the fact that my friends and I were the last generation who would experience certain joys of NYC street life, passed down from my father and grandfather.
    For one thing, unless things have changed, you can’t even get a spaldeen anymore, fahcrissakes. Without a spaldeen, punchball, stoopball and stickball cannot be played.
    Don’t even talk to me about those pink sponge balls, those are for pussies from Queens.
    Now that I have three kids of my own (which I am raising in another state entirely) I have looked back on the freedom to roam Manhattan given to my siblings and I and just boggled.
    Starting in about 6th grade, my friends and I roamed the UWS and soon after that, just about anywhere in Manhattan we cared to go was OK. Times Square, The Village, Central Park, we rode the buses and subways and our bikes all over.
    If I was raising my kids in NYC, would I let them have the same freedom I had? I really don’t know.

  3. Keith Wilcox says:

    July 21st, 2010at 1:52 am(#)

    It’s really a shame that our society has become so distrusting that events like playing in a hydrant have become so rare (or non-existent). You’re right, you’ll go with your kid, and you’ll have fun, but in the back of your mind you’ll reminisce about the old days when it was different. I guess we just have to roll with the times and except that thing have changed. I’d love to put that genie back in the bottle, but I’m afraid parents are so spooked about child abductions that it might not be possible. Even I, aware as I am about the hype, is spooked. Stupid 24 hr news! :-)

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