I never took my eyes off the gun. The man’s hand shook. I was afraid it would go off. Raising my own hands, I prayed that he would not shoot, and said “I’m coming out,” slowly climbing out of the window, placing one foot on the ground and then the other as I exited the ACME supermarket warehouse building two blocks from my home.
Two other teens followed, each hoping the old gray-haired man in the rumpled uniform would not lose his cool and hurt someone. The security guard caught us leaving the building. It was the second time in an hour that six of us — ages 13 to 15 — had meandered through the six-story building and made our way to the roof where we filled shopping bags with “halfies,” parts of round pimple balls that had split and enabled us to play “half ball.” In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, urban kids played a version of baseball using one-half of a round inflated rubber ball that had been damaged and eventually cut in half. The entire ball was called a “whole ball,” which we’d play with until it sprung a leak. We’d trim the “heads” off of brooms and mops, and simply use the handles as bats and played against a backdrop of buildings, sometimes row homes, or in this case, the six-story ACME building.
Hit a half-ball over the roof and it was a home run. Both sides would agree that a ball hit over a certain mark, say the top of a window near the roof, was a triple, and the top of the lower window a double. Anything below was considered to be a single.
That is if it bounced off the wall after being struck and no one caught it. A player was out if the other side caught the ball off the wall. You’d be called out if you’d hit the halfie and it never made it from the pavement where you stood, to the other side of the street and struck the building’s wall (or window!) And of course, three strikes and you’d be out.
No one, I mean no one, had ever gotten to the roof of the ACME building until that day when someone left open a rear window at the 31st and Master streets facility in Brewerytown, Philadelphia.
That includes all of the “old head.” Those fellows — who at that time were in their late teens and early to mid-20s — who came before us and played at the same site. Former “30th Streeters,” members of a gang who shot zip guns at each other for fun in nearby Fairmount Park. Or the “Green Street Counts” who roamed the Fairmount section long before Rocky Balboa ran up the steps of the area’s most famous landmark. Let’s not forget the African American gangs, “2-8,” which stood for the 28th Street Blacks that dominated to the north, or the notorious members of the “Valley,” who won’t tell anyone today, more than 50 years after the fact, where some bodies were placed. No statute of limitations on a homicide.
But, we were good and clean kids who lived near 31st Street and Girard Avenue, a major thoroughfare of North Philadelphia. None of us were members of any gang. We were into sports and athletics. It just so happened we were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the guard got a radio call and drew his gun and arrested the three of us, while the others got away.
I’ll never forget what happened. And, the lesson I learned when our parents were subpoenaed and appeared in juvenile court for our “criminal” behavior. But, that’s a story for another the next post called Brewerytown Part II!