by Mike Fiorito
“You’re in for playing Ring-O-Lario?” Teddy Guzy asks me and my brother, Frank. Teddy is twelve like my brother. I am ten years old.
I look at Frank and he nods in agreement.
We’re in front of our building. Other kids from the block are present, Ronnie & Todd Green, Louie, Phil and Eric Vazquez, Annie Vecchione, Lan Buchell, Kevin Murphy, and my sister, Camille. Besides them there are fifteen in all.
We divide into two teams.
There are simple rules for Ring-O-Lario. There are two teams, each with the same number of players. There are no time limits, no intermissions, no substitutes, and no weapons allowed. I’ve heard other people call it Ring-O-Levio. But not us. We said Ring-O-Lario.
“You have sixty seconds,” shouts Teddy. Our team runs off and hides – the perimeter is one block, which consists of about ten project buildings. You can hide anywhere on the block. On the roof. On a stairwell. Behind the bushes. In a basement. No one goes home until everyone is found. Best place to hide is inside a trash can. The worst place to hide is inside a trash can.
Our playground is one whole square block of buildings. No air-conditioning, no rush to go home.
Out of breath, while counting to myself, I’ve decided to hide on the roof of the six-floor building where I live. Running as fast as I can, I think I’ve lost count. This roof that I am referring to is on one building in the Ravenswood Projects, a city housing project in Long Island City, Queens, just across from midtown Manhattan.
The air is dead and sticky. I’ve been here for about an hour now. Looking up at the dark blue sky, the idea that the night will end doesn’t cross my mind. I’m sitting tucked behind the iron cast stairwell that leads to another entrance to the building – it’s easy to miss me even if you scour the roof. This entrance is elevated a few feet above the rooftop, as if it’s an astronomer’s observatory, a captain’s perch. On the street below, an eighteen-wheeler roars past, shaking the building, its chatter sounds like a thousand steel engines scraping the ground. Cars whoosh by, some quietly, some with their engines roaring. A police siren now screams, its sound bending as it moves away, it’s red and blue lights blinking like an unhinged disco ball. My eyes are fixed on the skyline buildings. They breathe and flicker like bejeweled crystal mountains. The moon casts a puddle of silver light on the entire borough of Queens. Suddenly, as if to remind me where I am, the sour stench of garbage from the Department of Sanitation wafts across the street engulfing me. It must be 1 a.m. I wonder – has everyone forgotten about me?