"Central park was my back yard," I often tell my suburban-raised friends. It wasn't, technically, but I spent so much of my youth there, that I looked at it as if it was my own property. This is a story of the "forts" and "dirt-bomb" fights that were waged at the Adventure Playground, just inside the wall at Central Park West and 69th street. The playground was on the "high ground," with the land sloping downward from it's fence to the black wall that was the park's boundary with the city. The vegetation was mostly forsythia, which blossomed yellow for a few weeks every spring, and some small trees.
We used to squeeze through one particular spot in the playground fence (or just walk around, for the bigger kids), and build forts in the ground. With the slope of the land, we could put up a couple of pieces of wood, and make a shelter. There was occasionally a NYC park worker on duty at the playground, who would chase off dope-sniffers and the like, that might be hanging out in our fort. Sometimes, we chased them out on our own (what screwball wouldn't run from a bunch of kids taunting him?).
Our favorite game was throwing "dirt bombs" at each other, with one group inside the playground fence, and the other in the "fort." The kids at the fence had different dirt than we had on the slope. They had topsoil, with sand tracked into it from the playground, which didn't make good dirt bombs. We had the clay layer exposed, and we just made our fort bigger as we dug into the clay to make bombs. For a time, the playground kids started throwing clumps of grass, with big "dirt bomb" bottoms, but there wasn't enough grass around the edge of the playground for that to last long.
This was an interesting tactical challenge we had set up. The kids in the playground had the higher ground, but had no protection other than the widely-spaced iron bars of the playground. Because we were throwing uphill, they had time to dodge our "bombs." They also were limited to making wet "sandballs," if the fountain was working. Most of the dry "topsoil" dirt bombs used to break up well before reaching us through the vegetation. I fought from the playground side a few times, but I was usually in the fort. Everyone wanted to be in the fort. I used to dream about camping out there overnight, but then I remembered the aforementioned "screwballs" would outnumber me, not vice versa. This was in the mid 1970's.
I suppose that it was inevitable, but one of the kids in the playground decided that he didn't want to bother making a dirt bomb. He just picked up a big rock, and hurled it towards the fort. I chose that moment to stand up, ready to throw a good, sturdy dirt bomb, and saw it coming, just before it smashed me in the eyebrow. I went down, and started screaming "he threw a f**king rock!"
It took a minute or two, but the other kids stopped the "fight," and came over to help me. We climbed over the black stone wall, to Central Park West, and hailed a cab, who took me to Roosevelt Hospital, free of charge. I was bleeding profusely, but with the support of a group of friends, everything turned out fine (I don't remember any adults, other than the cab driver, being involved). The fact is that I was a "frequent flyer" at Roosevelt Hospital, when it came to head wounds. I think that the doctor remembered me, and calmed me down by saying it was "routine" for me.
Eventually, I outgrew playing in "the fort," and I'm sure that the NYC Parks Department has erased any trace of it, but Adventure Playground is still there, just North of the Tavern on the Green restaurant. Did I ever mention that I broke into their attic, and used to steal the "night lights" from their premises, and used them as "heat lamps" in my bedroom? Well, that's another story! Stay tuned for more "Tales From the Vendome."