The graduation balloons that soared above porches and front stoops just last week have lost their lift, all those Congratulations! now dipping toward the pavement.
School’s out and it’s officially-unofficially summer in the city. But even more promising, it’s that sweet spot between the end of classes and the beginning of more structured activities, family outings, summer camp. Summer-ugh-school.
A reprieve from the clock. The unmistakable feel of possibility in the air.
And the kids who were out on the streets the last few days, they seemed to sense that small window of real freedom where they could play ball at Maguire Playground for hours to the music that rumbled out of the passing cars, or stop by the window on Palethorp Street to buy a soda and a pastelillo for a couple of bucks, where the gift of time sometimes led to mischief, like throwing a little water at a passing car.
It doesn’t land anywhere near my car, but it gives me an in to talk to the kids hanging near 11th and Wyoming about this feeling that’s come over the city.
OK, so who threw the water? I ask, trying not to give away my amusement.
What water? shrugs Hanif Carter, 12, standing by the pool. His friends, soldier-still, hold their breaths as they wait to see how this is going to go.
It’s OK, I say. But you gonna be chucking water at cars all summer?
No, he says, a slight smile of relief curling his lips.
Without confirming or denying the water prank, he tells me he’s going to be riding his four-wheeler this summer — at least down the street and in the empty lot where his mom says it’s OK. His friends, three siblings, have plans too. Sleep late, watch TV, mess around the baby pool their stepmom fills in front of their house — at least until they get to the water park. Oh, and nearly daily trips to the firehouse nearby.
It’s the youngest, Jeremiah Morales, 8, who’s obsessed with the station, but they all go. The firefighters are nice, they let them check out the equipment. They tried to fix Ania Crawley’s bike, but couldn’t.
“It’s OK,” say Crawley, 9. “I can still ride it.”
A bike is essential where they’re from, a passport to explore. The four friends on Tioga and Randolph know every inch of their neighborhood, but on days like this, the air makes it seem as if every corner holds surprise.
This group of boys, aged 6 to 12, has plans, too. One boy is headed south to spend time with family. Another is going to the Dominican Republic. But for a little while, they have something better: time. All the time in the world, it feels like, to ride around the perimeter of their block, per Mom rules.
At least until their legs get tired, explains the group leader, Kadir Scott, who turned 12 on the last day of school — bonus! When they need a break, they go to the parking lot of St. Veronica School. He promises to show me. There, bikes down, they sit in a circle, for a length of time determined by how hot the pavement is.
In that circle of trust, they talk about everything and nothing.
“Like money, girls … ,” Scott says.
Six-year-old Rene Santiago, called Junior, laughs behind his cupped hands. Scott turns serious. Sometimes they talk about what they are going to do when they get older, what they wish for when they grow up.
“Expensive cars and stuff like that,” Scott says.
“A nice family, a nice house … just a normal life,” said Juan Rodriguez, 12.
Daniel Santiago, 10, isn’t thinking that far ahead right now. He’s headed to fifth grade next year. New school, new pressures.
“I’m worried,” he says.
And then it’s little Rene’s turn, and he shrinks in the spotlight usually held by the older boys.
He mumbles something we can’t hear.
Louder, Scott urges kindly.
Rene, showing off his missing front tooth, declares:
“I want to go to Dave & Buster’s!”