20 January 2010

4th Grade Boy in NYC 1971

... I live at 25 W 68th Street. It's an old apartment building. But it's got one of the best elevators in NYC. ...Our apartment is on the 12th floor...

... We live near Central Park. On nice days I like to play there after school. I'm allowed to walk over by myself as long as I'm going to be with friends. My mother doesn't want me hanging around the park alone.

For one thing, Jimmy Fargo has been mugged three times - twice for his bicycle and once for his money. Only he didn't have any to give the muggers.

I've never been mugged. But sooner or later I probably will be. My father's told me what to do. Give the muggers whatever they want and try not to get hit on the head.

Sometimes after you're mugged, you get to go to police headquarters. You look at a bunch of pictures of crooks to see if you can recognise the guys that mugged you.

I think it would be neat to look at all those pictures. It's not that I want to get mugged, because that could be really scary. It's just that Jimmy Fargo's always talking about his visit to police headquarters.

My father got mugged once in a subway by two girls and a guy. They took his wallet and his briefcase. He still travels around by subways but my mother doesn't. She sticks to buses and taxis.

Both my mother and father are always warning me not to talk to strangers in the park. Because a lot of dope-pushers hang around there. But taking dope is even dumber than smoking, so nobody's gong to hook me!

We live on the west side of the park. If I want to get to the zoo and the pony carts I have to walk all the way through to the east side. ....

On Sundays the park is closed to traffic and you can ride your bicycle all over without worrying about being run down by some crazy driver...

Me and Jimmy have this special group of rocks where we like to play when we're in the park. We play secret agent up there....

-Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume 1971

I wondered about her description of the family's life in New York, and was surprised to see this quote from her on her website:

Though I still lived in suburban New Jersey, I set the book in New York City, in the building where my best friend, Mary Weaver, lived with her family. I changed the address but the elevator I describe in the book with its mirrored wall and upholstered bench is exactly as it was, and still is, in Mary’s building.


Anonymous said...

In the early 1970s, I lived in Queens and went to high school in Mahattan. The elevators in our 1960s-era (much newer than the building in the book) 14-story building were rather sparten, but yes, there were a lot of muggings, car thefts and other robberies back then. My family's car got stolen twice; my uncle's furniture store was robbed and he and my aunt were left tied to their chairs.

I've always assumed this was related to that being the era in which NYC almost defaulted on its bonds. The government was broke (just like state and local governments are now). Things were falling apart. There were big potholes everywhere, it wasn't unusual for the subway to breakdown and stall for an hour. Anyway, that's what I noticed. Lots more probably escaped my teenaged attention.

My family's rule was that starting in 6th grade, you could take the 20-minute bus ride to our area's central business district if you had at least one friend with you. Starting in 7th grade, you could take that same bus to the subway and go into Manhattan, as long as you had at least one friend with you. Obviously, my friends' parents had the same rule. So, yes, this excerpt rings true to me.

Blue Ash Mom

CityKin said...

This is my first Judy Blume book and I can see why kids of a certain age are attracted to her stories. As my kids approach the age of more independence, I read passages like this more closely. Even though 1970 Manhattan sounds more dangerous than 2010 Cincinnati, I cannot think of too many parents who let there nine year olds play unattended in a place like Central Park.

Anonymous said...

Well, low-SES kids all over probably still leave the house by themselves, but being hovered over has evolved into a middle-class marker.

Even out here in the suburbs, I rarely see kids out by themselves -- most of the bike riders I see are in family groups! The one exception is sometimes in the summer, I see small groups of kids walking to and from the pool, but I think many more moms drop their kids off at the pool if they're old enough to swim by themselves. The impression is that people move to the suburbs to "be safe," but clearly they aren't convinced of that once they get here.

My kid, though, is not at all ready for any level of independence, so this is a loop I feel out of.

Blue Ash Mom