A couple weekends ago, a bunch of my close friends got together in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to do some of the things we’ve been doing together for more than 20 years: BBQ, argue, play whiffle ball, make fun of each other, argue, throw the baseball around, argue, complain, make fun of each other, BBQ. Essentially, we revert to our 10-year-old selves.
Keep in mind, days like these – where work takes a back seat for a few hours, where the wives/fiances/girlfriends get some peace of mind as their husbands/fiances/boyfriends hurl insults and curveballs at each other – are few and far between. And this week’s turnout was meager; only 6 of us. It’s a rare event (typically a wedding or new kid thing) that pulls everyone out of the woodworks.
We all grew up together in suburban New Jersey playing sports, cards, manhunt. When we all left New Jersey for college (well, everyone but me – I went to school in NJ), email was just taking off and we took advantage of it to stay in touch and coordinate when everyone came home for holidays/summer/winter break.
After college, maybe not so surprisingly, most headed back to NYC. Ten years after graduating college, we have become NYers and the typical suburban transplant who migrates back to the boroughs decades after their parents fled to the ‘burbs to raise their kids in a better environment. It’s the circle of life.
So several of us were able to get together this weekend in the park for some food, whiffle ball and discussion. While we waited for our gentrified sausage to grill – I mean, seriously, who buys duck sausage, bison sausage, chorizo, chocolate sausage, and other types of sausage to be pared with beer? – we start playing whiffleball.
Up the hill comes some new friends, James aged 10, Jacquelle (I think that’s how it’s spelled) aged 11 and a girl of the same age, though I didn’t catch her name, wanting to play with us, unabashedly confident we won’t say no.
James walks right up to me and asks, “What’s your name?”
I tell him, “Josh.”
“Ok, Josh. Can I pitch?”
We play for a bit and then take a break to eat the most recent round of sausage. Sitting at a table near us is a group of girls – probably aged 7-10 – wearing pink tutus; their mothers walk towards us with a large, half-eaten strawberry shortcake. I still think that was weird, but who am I to question free strawberry shortcake?
As the most recent batch of sausage was being cooked, we figured we may as well dig in. We asked James and Jacquelle if they wanted some cake. (Just for the record, I questioned giving strange kids cake; what happens if one of them is allergic to something or has diabetes or chokes). The kids ate their cake, and when a second group of strangers gave us a couple pies of pizza, we grilled up some pizza for the J&J boys – who promptly fought over the pizza and then decided it wasn’t worth the argument, so they left it on the table, two bites in.
After the kids ran off, we started discussing parenting techniques. It should be noted that no one in this group at the park that day has kids, but many of our friends do and a few of us were surprised at how these kids had zero adult supervision. We started throwing out hypotheticals: would we drop our 10-year-olds off at the park and let them run up to strange men? Would we let our kids take food from shaggy looking guys, the way we offered our new compadres?
A few of us found it sad how these kids, so full of life, so full of energy had no parents within site – their aunt was a few tables away from us, but she couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18. But then a friend who is a district attorney put things into perspective: he sees James and Jacquelle and is hopeful.
He said, “Compared to the 15-year-olds I see on a daily basis, these kids give me hope. They didn’t curse at you – or at all – they didn’t appear to steal anything.” In fact, he continued, they smiled and trusted us. More importantly, we realized, they got to be kids.