February 2, 2011

The wild adventures of some of the Levittown guys has been an eye opener for Beth Cummings who led a sheltered youth

By Frank Barning

Over the course of the life of this blog, about seven months and more than 200 posts, there have been a variety of stories about some of early Levittown's bad boys. Included was a series of posts about the infamous Levittown "rocks", among others who treaded on the dark side of life in the 1950s and early 1960s.

My articulate classmate, Beth Cummings, found stories about these characters to have been mostly out of her frame of experience. Most of the early Levittown girls were sheltered, or so it seems.

"Your blog continues to be such an eye-opener," she emailed. "I had no idea of all the things that were going on. Aside from having been present for that rumble I wrote about for your blog, it's clear that I led a very sheltered life, even by early Levittown standards. Of course, I was much younger than most of the class of 1960. I didn't turn 17 until a month and a half before the end of my senior year, so it was probably just as well.

"Also, I did live very far from all the action -- over by the West Green where, as far as I know, there were none of the high jinks people report from the 'popular side' of Levittown.

"Quite a number of these stories involve kids who were roaming around, driving around, swimming in the Village Green pools, sitting atop the water tower drinking beer, etc. -- in the middle of the night" Beth's email continued. "Thanks to the grapevine and a few vigilant neighborhood parents, reports of my own (comparatively minor) misbehaviors almost invariably reached my parents, and there were always appropriate consequences. How in the world did these kids manage to have all these adventures without being reported by neighbors or getting in trouble with their parents?

"Also, I used to hear that there were people who could cut out of school in the middle of the day, and I always wondered how did they do it (and where did they go) without getting caught?"

Your blogger was party to cutting school. Senior year I was a hall monitor and my post was a ground level area near a door facing the Mays shopping center on Hempstead Turnpike. Somehow, a homeroom friend Rosemarie "Ro" Bellistri talked me into letting her and her friend Carol Klass out of the building during last period a couple of days each week. They bribed me with candy, chewing gum and smiles. Man, was I living dangerously.

Beth Cummings' email mentioned a blog story by Ken Taylor about boxing matches in Doug Duffy's Levittown backyard where guys violently slugged it out. "About Ken's boxing match story, I had no idea Levittown was such a jungle for regular kids, and I have to wonder -- how prevalent was this bullying and violence in non-gang circles? Also, back to what I was saying before, how can it be that none of the neighbors raised any objections or called the police? And how did guys explain injuries like those to their parents?

"Of course, you've gotta love the the "Guy-ness" of Ken's story. It was like a page straight out of Dave Barry's Guide to Guys (possibly the most authoritative -- and funniest -- book ever written on the motivations and behavior of guys). Ken knew these were scary people and he still felt compelled to accept the invitation to go to that house, then he ignored warning signals and went to the backyard, then he chose to stay and fight in the ring, and he even set himself up for even more serious injuries by not stopping the fight or just staying down."

Beth, guys did stuff like this. It is in our primitive nature. High school football is not a lot different than boxing matches in the Duffy backyard, except that there are coaches and some medical supervision. Some young men enjoy mayhem and do not consider the consequences.

According to Beth, "During my school years I really had no personal exposure to 'guy' stuff. I was the oldest of five girls (actually, six, counting a little girl who lived with us for many years). There were no boys. My father was a great Dad and a wonderful man who was liked and respected by everyone he met. He was an assistant vice president with a bank in Manhattan. He didn't know much about fixing cars or making home repairs, and his idea of sports was golf. In other words, he was definitely not what Dave Barry would describe as a guy. Plus, I was always painfully shy with everyone, but with guys I was shy to the point of asphyxia. No doubt all these were contributing factors to my complete ignorance of guy mentality and, in particular, the 'adventures' now being reported in the blog."

I witnessed a lot of the darker side of Levittown, mostly as an observer. Well, not always as an observer, but those stories are for another day. That my parents are both deceased gives me the freedom to rat on myself.

I observed a classmate, on a dark night on Hyacinth Road, syphoning gas from a someone else's car. I asked him why he was doing this and his reply was a straight forward, "I need gas."

Several kids, boys and girls, were shoplifters at the nearby Hempstead Turnpike stores during junior high. Two girls, not the ones I let out of school early, would have purses full of candy that they handed out to friends in the auditorium after lunch. Girls swiped makeup, and Mays was a target for pilfered clothing and other items.

There was a great deal of under-age beer drinking in high school, thanks to Sid's Deli on Hempstead Turnpike. If you could see over the counter and had some money, you were in business. Mostly, we (I admit to this one) would take our brown-bagged treasures to the nearby North Village Green and party on.

A real dark side of the drinking was that a few of the guys, after a couple of cold ones, would sneak up behind someone and urinate on the back of his pants. This was particularly interesting, or disgusting, on cold nights as the steam rose from the soaked slacks. Even I thought that this was gross, but it was funny as hell.

There were joy rides with "borrowed cars", kids drag racing through backyards and pranks, mostly involving fire, that were perpetrated on Halloween. Volkswagens were always in jeopardy on Halloween. There were very few garages in Levittown during my high school years. It was easy for four guys to pick up a VW and deposit it on or near its owner's front step.

So dear Beth, there was a lot more going on than you have read about in the blog stories. At least we did not have guns and no one was under the influence of drugs. We thought we were guys being guys. When you have very little money in your wallet, some creativity is needed to have what we thought was a good time. And most of the guys had moved to Levittown from the boroughs of New York City, so our backgrounds were not exactly going to hoe downs at the Future Farmers of America or tipping cows.

So while the guys were out doing their thing, I wonder how Beth and the other sheltered Levittown young ladies passed their time?


susan weldon said...

like beth, i was younger than most of my classmates (turned 17 the april before graduation), but unlike beth, i was aware of (and occasionally participated in) fairly innocent hi-jinx.

i was present and encouraging when warren climbed the water tower at the north village green and was sometimes a passenger in a 'borrowed' vehicle. i, along with chris, diane, anna marie and i'm sure many others, stayed out all night by telling our parents that we were sleeping at each others' homes.

i don't think i skipped school, but did have one detention (i believe it was due to mouthing off to mr. keating). detention was held in a ground floor room and i was in the company of a small group of people who were clearly regulars. the teacher on duty left the room for some reason and the detainees began leaving via a window. not wanting to be the lone 'good girl', i followed suit. it was thrilling!! somehow i've completely forgotten what the consequences were.

Anonymous said...

From Len Sandok

We need to tell Beth Cummings the people who lived near the West Village Green had fun, too. I lived on Bobolink Lane and while I had a license I did not have a car. Most Friday nights my parents went to Temple with the Herman’s who lived... behind us. My dad was a traveling salesman and kept close track of his mileage and gas usage. Friday night my friends and I would disconnect the odometer and use the car all evening. I think that my father had an idea of my pranks when he said he “could not figure out why he always got fewer miles per gallon on Fridays”. We never had enough money to put a few gallons in the car, even at 30 cents per gallon.

In any case, one Friday night it started to rain and we tried to dry off the car in the garage before the parents got home. We took care of the car but the tracks were a dead giveaway on the floor of the garage. Luckily the parents did not go into the garage until Saturday. After that I always checked the weather report before borrowing the car. Beth, I was in the class of ’63.