The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Games in the street

There’s a real big-heartedness to Spike Lee’s answer here to a question from Vulture writer Will Leitch. They’re talking about gentrified Brooklyn, and:

Will Leitch: I cannot imagine what it must be like for you to walk around Cobble Hill now and see wheat-germ places and Pilates.

Spike Lee: That does not bother me. What bothers me is that these kids do not know the street games we grew up with. Stoop ball, stickball, cocolevio, crack the top, down the sewer, Johnny on the pony, red light green light one-two-three. These are New York City street games.

We didn’t play stickball out in the second-ring suburbs of Detroit, but we did play with sticks. We ran in the street until dark and we built forts in the mud down by the creek. Most importantly, we made up new games on the spot.

That’s just about my favorite thing about kids: their willingness to transform anything, instantly, at any time, into a game. And I do mean a game: a system with rules. It can be as simple as I slap your knee, you slap mine but it’s a game.

I was lucky to fall in with a neotenous crew in college, and we spent long afternoons inventing games at Michigan State, too: coming up with new configurations of ground and body and frisbee out on the big quad around the clock tower.

Anyway, Spike Lee shouldn’t lament cocolevio (?!) because it’s in the nature of kids’ culture to change, eventually beyond recognition, but I’m with him when it comes to games in the street. I’m sure there are still some kids playing this way in Cobble Hill, but definitely not as many as before. I mean, there’s just no way, right? There are so many other games already invented for them now—all these other games waiting indoors on bright screens big and small.

Stickball never looked like much fun to me, but you can carry a stick into a sword battle, too. Those were more our style. And at a certain time of day, with the sun low in the sky, a neat lawn could truly become a battlefield. You got tired after just a few tussles, really desperately tired, and maybe your knuckles got a little bloody too, but you had to keep going, had to keep fighting—at least until your mom called you home for dinner.

Snarkmatrix, you know me: I am not a Luddite (no way) and not a techno-triumphalist, either. So I hope you’ll take it not as a nostalgic yawlp but rather a considered statement about the nature of the mind and the body when I say: Raw unselfconscious imagination is the best graphics engine that has ever existed, and the street will forever be the arena in which all the best games are played.

The whole interview with Spike Lee is great and worth a read.


I loved this interview. In particular, in cities, there is, or ought to be, a universal church of summer and of childhood. You can overcome so many differences — race, class, religion, gender, and generation — if you’ve been initiated into this Holy Communion.

That is was gentrification takes away. Childhood games. Sitting on stoops. Simple acts of common understanding.

Actually, for all of its real and ritualized conflict, and all-too-real culmination in fatal violence, Do the Right Thing is in no small part an ode to those summertime rituals, and their ability to forge a community, even a conflicted one.

Also, there’s a great moment in Ken Burns’ Baseball where an immigrant Russian-Jewish parent is concerned about the street games his son plays. He writes to his local Jewish newspaper, where a rabbi has an advice column. The rabbi tells the father to let his child play ball. I don’t remember the whole thing, but there’s a phrase in there that goes something like, “so that he might not be a stranger in his own country.”

It’s unrelated to street games (I think?), but I really liked this bit in the interview, too:

There is a lot of talk these days about the parallels between gay marriage and civil rights. Do you think that’s valid?

All I can say is, I support gay marriage. They want to marry each other, I support it. That is their choice. And they are going to write a book about the vice-president.

He sort of made that happen.

It is funny, my wife and I, we had an argument. I said, “You know what? I do not think he was supposed to do that.” I said, “I think he came out of pocket on that.” She said, “No, no, they set it up.” I said, “Uhn-uhn. Crazy Joe.”

Because now I totally want to read that hypothetical book about Joe Biden!

There’s a memory that I have from childhood – after my parents moved from big, urban Philadelphia to tiny, rural Steamboat Springs. I don’t know whose box it was, or where it came from, but there it was, a big box, like a refrigerator box, and it was better than anything you could imagine. It was a box you could GO INSIDE, all the way, and it had been discarded by some grownups. I remember playing in that box all day, for hours, with friends. I remember a few of my toys, a couple of dolls and that one hand-me-down bike with the handlebar that if you turned it, made a really cool VROOM noise, but I really vividly remember hanging out with that crazy giant box, making a house and a fort and an office and then kicking it across the yard over and over until it finally collapsed and so did we.

I remember too my older brother, who had lived in Philadelphia longer than I. While I’d sat on plenty of stoops and had waited on the corner for Donna Eisenhower to maybe go get Tasty Kakes with me, he surely had played street games I’d never heard of. But there was my brother, and his friends, running through the neighborhood in the fading twilight, dressed in salvaged gear and pilfered articles of clothing, the rag-taggiest, dumbest looking, happiest band of ninjas you’ve ever seen.

Without the streets, were we more free? Less free? Who knows. We’ll never know. Maybe it wasn’t more or less but different free. Maybe we didn’t play the street games but a set of games that made sense for a town of 5000 people far away from everything that seemed cool and important. Whichever way, imagination was still there.

So I guess the thing is that we can blame it on gentrification or we can say urban streets are where the games are played but you know what? Imagination can make magic anywhere, whether in the most gentrified neighborhood or in gritty streets or in a rural small ski town. Robin’s right. No matter where you are, you gotta give magic the chance to work its stuff.

I’m happy to report that many kids still play with sticks (Enzo left a collection in the yard for the next inhabitants of the house we just moved out of) and invent their own games (“Anything You Want” being my favorite).

As far as “the street will forever be the arena in which all the best games are played”: I’ve seen some pretty amazing games invented and played on the streets of Minecraft (and other online sandboxes). Raw materials remixed, repurposed, imagined to be all sorts of things just like sticks, rocks, and leaves in the “real world.”

The out of doors have not been lost either. Recently observed: (a) a ball made of the aluminum foil that wrapped a sandwich used for at least six different games invented at a swim meet, and (b) canyon play with Minecraft mechanics and vocabulary.

“[C]anyon play with Minecraft mechanics and vocabulary.” That I like. It’s a flip-flop!

A friend of mine who comes from very big family recently posted some hilarious photos of a giant real life angry birds session. So many of them were moving around they has approximately 50 boxes on hand. So instead of throwing them away they set them all up in various piles and walls, complete with plush Angry Birds in cages, and then freed them with various balled up wads of papers launched from slingshots and the like. It looked like way, way more fun than the computer game.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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