Don’t believe anyone who tells you, ``Hey, it’s a schoolyard. You won’t be home when the kids are in school, so it won’t bother you.’’
There were several problems with that statement when we bought our condo loft. First, schoolyards are in use well after the school day ends, in part because of after-class activities and functions (think Fall Festival, Spring Auction and End-of-Year Picnic), and in part because schools often rent out the gym and yard space to bring in extra income. Second, my work hours and those of my husband were not 9–to-5.
The third issue involved the ``it’’ that wasn’t supposed to bother us. We thought ``it’’ referred to the joyous sounds of children at play. We didn’t realize that ``it’’ included the nerve-wracking reality of kids surrendering to temptation and throwing a ball against the wall and windows of our apartment. Again, and again, and again.
My initial response was calm and rational: a visit to the head of the school explaining the rules of civility, in addition to the cost of replacing a broken window. My husband reported a brief interlude of peace, if not quiet, which ended with a loud thwack, followed by another, and another, and another.
A second chat with the principal yielded a second respite, far shorter than the first. By now our cat was afraid to prowl, our roving hermit crab insisted on clinging to the curtains, our litter of hamsters clustered around mom refusing to venture forth, and the fish in our tanks—near the windows, naturally—were traumatized.
That was the day I worked from home, the morning I shouted out the window explaining to the elementary and middle-school kids in the yard that while they might be very nice people, their behavior was appalling and had to stop. I heard the sniggers before the window was fully closed.
Throwing open the window again, I invited them to come near. Now, you must know that at the time, I had long hair, eyebrows that I could raise and lower independently (I had practiced for hours in my youth, along with wiggling my ears, which I never did as well as my dad) and a talent for drop-dead voice imitations of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West and Snow White’s stepmother. I was also desperate and unembarrassed, a powerful combination.
What I did next, I am told, has gone down in lower Manhattan schoolyard lore: I announced that I was a witch. A real witch complete with caldron (I produced a large, blackened cooking pot), books of spells (a huge leather-bound tome on Italian art) , twig broomstick (yes, a twig broomstick) and a cat. Heedless of heinous stereotypes, I tossed my hair, did my eyebrow thing and made my threat clear: Throw the ball against my wall, and I’ll entrap you in a curse you will never escape.
The schoolyard was a bit quieter after that; dodge ball was still a favorite pastime, but waist-high was as air-borne as the ball ever got—especially when the witch walked by.