- Deborah Degraffenreid
In the Queens neighborhood where I grew up, the game universally known across the city as ringolevio was called ringolario. Perhaps it was a translation problem when the game entered our enclave. In the Discovery Channel reenactment of my childhood that runs in my mind, I picture two tribes of children rubbing up against one another at the boundary of the enclaves in which we played. One of the older kids crosses Corporal Kennedy Boulevard and spends the afternoon immersed in the foreign customs of the other tribe, just a couple blocks away. They never play Kick the Can, but they love Spud. When they harass neighbors by depressing their doorbells and hightailing it to the nearest shrubbery to snigger at the annoyed homeowner, they don't call it Ring and Run but Ding Dong Ditch It. When the alpha child returns, we gather around to hear tales of the exotic other.
That was how ringolario was brought to us, like Moses bearing the Ten Commandments. Maybe it was an honest mistake, and he misheard what the game was called, or perhaps he willfully twisted it to put a personal stamp on it, knowing the rest of us wouldn't know different. The migratory paths of urban games are anecdotal and mysterious. They pass from child to child like ghost stories.
The game was simple: There were two teams, each with the same number of players—five or seven or nine, it didn't matter. There were two jails. There were no time limits. One team would hide, the other would count to 60 and then proceed to hunt for the first group. The game was over when all the members of one team ended up in jail. This sometimes could take hours, and games would collapse due to maternal calls to dinner. For within the boundaries—usually a block or so—you were free to hide anywhere: up a tree, in the trunk of a car, underneath the shed in mean Widow Prendergast's backyard.
If you had a good hiding spot, you could remain sequestered for hours, entering a fugue state of summer somnolence. If you could hold out, you might emerge half a day later to find the rest of the kids had organized themselves into another activity entirely, assuming you had gone home. Then they would pester you to reveal your hiding place, simultaneously accusing you of cheating—of going "off the block" and playing endless games of Tempest at the arcade rather than uncomfortably wedged between Mr. Santoni's pool and Old Man Gonzaki's garage. The urge to take pride and reveal your choice hideout was equaled by the desire to save it for another game. Hardly anyone ever held out, or was allowed to keep mum before more coercive forms of interrogation than simple questioning were employed.
In August, just as summer seemed to be stretching out further than we could have imagined—four entire Wiffle ball World Series behind us, a dozen tennis balls lost in the sewer, at least two epic sunburns, and a dozen bee stings amongst our crew—the season of block parties began. Like ringolevio, block parties are an old custom in New York, dating back to the First World War, when neighbors would gather on roped-off streets to sing patriotic songs in honor of the troops overseas. For us kids in Queens, block parties meant staying up late playing Ghost in the Graveyard while the adults barbecued and caroused and caught up on the latest gossip or traded woes about real estate or homeownership. By nightfall, strings of lights would be hanging from streetlight to telephone pole, the street would be teeming with people, music would be playing out of a dozen parked cars, and the summer felt like it would never end.
We're hoping to capture some of the summertime magic on August 17 with our Block Party. (For more details on the event, see the infographic on page 21 designed by Jason Cring, or visit Chronogramblockparty.com.) It was David Perry, Chronogram's creative director, who suggested hosting our 20th anniversary shindig in front of our office on Wall Street. When David said we should shut down the street and have an old-fashioned block party, it was one of those ideas that emerged indisputably righteous. Where else could we have thought to throw ourselves a bash but on Wall Street, this fine old street in historic Uptown Kingston?
And while Wall Street is our block, for one day, it'll be your block too. Extending that vision, we view the entire Hudson Valley as our block, a big community of brilliant and fascinating neighbors to encounter. We invite you to join us out in the street as we celebrate 20 years of chronicling this amazing life we are privileged to live in the Hudson Valley—with music, dancing, food and drink, and community. If we're lucky, the night will feel like it might never end.