Lessons from the Front Stoop: On bearing anything just to play

I wake up today from a dreamemory. A story within my story. One that points me at a seed that has taken root and been watered throughout the years by unfortunate circumstance. And I, an unkind sun.

It’s a summer night a half century ago. The day’s sun has fully set but the city streetlights watch over us like giant sentinels. This breezy, balmy evening, the stage is set on the front stoop of 600 West 178th Street. It’s not our usual spot. The 15 of us are normally tucked into the center of our block, using 604 or 610 as the epicenter of our Tag and Ringolevio showdowns. On lazier nights, we sit elbow to elbow, getting on each other’s cases or memorizing lyrics from whatever’s playing on someone’s boombox. On this night, though, it’s 600 and a game of 7 Up, a production that requires space. The steps up to 600 feel as wide as a Greek amphitheater.

The Players are on two teams: the Choosers and the Hopeful Chosen.  I am on the latter. We sit on different levels of the steps, keeping ample space around each of us so that a couple of Choosers can quietly, anonymously dance around us. As a Hopeful, my head and eyes are buried into the crook of my left arm, eyes shut tight against all evidence of my Chooser, be it bare ankle, Pro-Ked, or bell-bottom. My right fist floats somewhere over my head, one thumb up in the air, waiting for the Chooser’s touch.

The touch need not be more than just a gentle nudge, a placing of the thumb back into the Hopeful’s fist. The gesture itself, the temperature and pressure of the Chooser’s fingers, along with any other hints my nose, ears, and intuition might provide, are what I use to guess their identity. On this night, it’s the Devil Incarnate. Just for shits and giggles, It grabs my thumb, holds it in a vice grip and twists it until the flesh burns. It hurts like hell, but I bite down hard and bear it. It pisses me off, but I want to play. So I do what I do. I smother the words and let it pass.

And I wake up, understanding that it has not passed.

As my eyes adjust to daylight, I find that I don’t need to remember who the Chooser was. It doesn’t matter. And really, fuck that guy and all his repressed fury.

What does matter is that by the time this play is performed – about nine or ten years into my existence – I am method acting my role. In the game and out of it, I am waiting to be chosen, and I quietly bear whatever it takes just to play.

Until today.

Today, I am a kinder sun. And so I choose, bear nothing that’s not mine to bear, and walk away from the games I don’t want to play.

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