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Lenny Schneir in the P.S. 99 schoolyard
some time in the mid-1950's
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Click on images to enlarge
The three pictures above show the P.S. 99 schoolyard c. 1957. The schoolyard wall appears in the background of the first photograph.

Elegist in a Kew Gardens

(With apologies to Thomas Gray.)

(Lenny Schneir grew up in the Hampton Apartments, but his second home was the P.S. 99 schoolyard. He graduated in 1954 and went on to make his living as a poker player and dealer in collectibles.)

The 99 Wall
by Leonard Schneir

Something there is about a mathematical wall
Divided in the center, two halves slim and tall
Separating punch, hand, stick and softball
Quadrants in the yard, winter spring summer and fall

Adding friends, teammates, relationships for life
Bacharach, skelly, marbles, territory with a knife
Tar art, mystery catches, shade from the heat
Laughter and tears, lose and take a seat
Something there is about a mathematical wall

Minus school killings, drugs, crime and rape
Except for the boy wearing a cape
The sky seemed bluer, the air was clearer
The days got shorter and the wall moved nearer
Something there is about a mathematical wall

Multiplying ages, six times ten
Check it out with a pencil or pen
The wall adds, divides, multiplies and subtracts
The truth always hurts but so does the facts
Something there is about a mathematical wall

Small boxes, steel plate, holes in the fence
Where would we pitch many years hence
The walls gone forever, returned from where it came
Kids back then and kids we remain
Something there is about a mathematical wall

Schoolyard 99
by Leonard Schneir

I went back to the schoolyard where we ran our races
Fifty years later there were no traces
Faces I had seen and laughter I had heard
From the second grade or was it the third?

Friends I had I can see them today
We came to the schoolyard only to play
Stickball, basketball, handball, to name a few
Nick, mike, jo-jo and a girl named sue

My second home public schoolyard 99
We shared our lives,our money,our time
Travelled together until we grew old
At seventeen departed for a life untold

Looking back it had to end
Marriage, jobs, and a whole new trend
Days and nights that schoolyard was home
Kookie, kookie lend me your comb.

Stuck in the 50's
by Leonard Schneir

I'm stuck in the 50s i'm happy to say
Living without an information highway
A penny was money and the dollar was sound
And if you were lost you always got found

I'm stuck in the 50s I want you to know
And with each year I continued to grow
Hamburgers for a quarter and paperbacks too
And prices unchanging except for a few

I'm stuck in the 50s and that's what I like
Living upstairs was old Mamie and Ike
The rock was the champ and the yanks always won
And nothing was happening but it all got done

I'm stuck in the 50s it's still very tame
The language is different but the words are the same
I travelled the world behind a bright yo-yo string
And only the birds had a left and right wing

I'm stuck in the 50s if you know what I mean
The food it was healthy the air seemed so clean
Rock and roll birthday tv here to stay
The war it was over all the bombs put away

I'm stuck in the 50s where else would I be
Learned all the letters from a up to z
All of the numbers fit into a square
And even the clothing was new wash and wear

I'm stuck in the 50s it's still pretty cool
The song we are humming is please don't be cruel
All of the children they had a great dream
But for the moment it's good humor ice cream

I'm stuck in the 50s i'm not leaving yet
I heard in the 90s life's not a safe bet
Too close to 2000 science fiction come true
But if I must go there i'll go there with you

Best Friends
by Leonard Schneir with Allen Ginsberg

       We met at dawn in the shadow of the old school your face never needed a shave and your hair was magnificent and I the infant hebrew thought you were the King of Greece as I bowed down at your temple home and saluted your brothers. We spent our youth between Texas and West Virginia in the dim light of the railroad station inventing games without any fear of the known or unknown, hardly noticing the passing trains and faces in the windows,the tears were far in the future and time passed very slowly between birthdays. Back in school where we scribbled page after page of profound nothingness every bell rang on time, an owl with glasses allowed to copy, we never called it cheating we called it friendship, training to be adopted by an unexplainable civilization. I passed every test with the knowledge you and I are buddies, so I always return mostly at night with my eyes wide open to the dawn, the shadow, the school and the smell of leather, there was no terror from the world afar.
       We stood together at the crossroads no sorrow in the magic of youth the world was as we saw it and nothing larger or smaller. male and female hearing the sounds of church bells and buses along with countless collisions of balls where gentlemen meet, a sweet song indeed, is there anyone alive who still remembers and if there is have they forgotten or changed their mind.
       Someday passing thru the thin veil of next door consciousness I shall be with you again and this time I will not forget to tell you that I will love you for eternity and we shall dwell in the same hotel as before. I am still the same kid waiting for you at the school bus stop very tired of being alone.

Winners Out
by Leonard Schneir

       Today the game is 3 on 3 baskets, no old guys allowed, only 16 years or younger need apply, hey when's your birthday. the temperature is 90 degres on this mid august saturday afternoon in 1956 and the balls and bodies are flying. It's the perennial shirts against skins, but this is no ordinary common place skins game but rather the rights of passage proving ground.
       School is out but the teachers and tutors are giving lessons on the hoops court. Don't be late or you'll wait for winners sitting along the fence or leaning against the school conserving energy.
       Sudden swift and explosive like a sprinter bursting from the starting blocks, a whirling blur of flesh and colors, the ball arcs high and true and silently passes through the iron circle. Day after day, year after year the scene never changes only the players are different

Hotel Waiting Out the Rain
by Leonard Schneir

Identical entrances under TWIN arches
A single stone step below double doors
A hotel the size of a penny pitching court
Cement floors more comfortable then any bed
The red brick wall softer then your pillow
Check in wet check out dry
Junior members reside in a duplicate hotel
Down the road with a different view
A time for boasting of deeds never done
Of scores and scoring in games always won
The sun has returned choose up sides
check out time no luggage no baggage

Childhood Sundown
by Leonard Schneir

Three musketeers were taken for a ride
So far back they could have cried
Scaling fences climbing to new heights
There they found their names in lights
Buried in cement as smooth as glass
where they went to the head of the class
The weather was hot but the day was cool
In the hall of fame behind the school
Ghosts hung around not far from the graves
Land of the three and home of the knaves
The scenery is different but the scenes the same
I know you remember what's his name
Decades passed since you've been in your prime
But visiting the past is certainly no crime
Down the block they pray to the lord
But to us that seemed to strike the wrong chord
You'll find god in the church of your choice
And even if you whisper she'll hear your voice
Searching for the fat lady and fatter man
Touch them and feel them if you can
In the park trying to find the range
Swish after swish some things never change
Watching and waiting be wary of the creep
He's likely to attack you while you sleep
A truck disguised as a time machine
Where is angelo selling ice cream
High top sneakers fashion of the day
Chased by the mob he went thataway
Jet black mercury town cruiser
Was he a winner or a loser
Faked out fooled wheel and deal
Owning a ball beg borrow or steal
Ride the subway for a nickel and dime
Destination times square and the camel sign
Preachers hiding behind the american flag
Maybe they're it in the game of tag
At the circus we saw a trained flea
Then we'd journey home nothing else to see
Trips to coney island drive the bumper cars
We got the proof and the scars
Black and white tv we're not color blind
Cruel as can be and not very kind
Nothing could stop us except mission orange soda
Way ahead of our time without a quota
I guess someday the memories will end
But not as long as you are my friend

Cement Cousins
by Leonard Schneir

Cement cousins separated by a cracked wall that could not divide, couldn't add subtract or multiply, a yard surrounded by gardens without flowers,the center of a teenage universe. Living off the wall inside a baseball card economy, cement city cement long lost cousin. Pitching from four blocks behind the small squares, pitchers searching for lost balls beyond the fence until dark. It looked like threads were hanging from my uniform but I needed my arms and legs to salute my cement cousins, jewels in the yard, on the ground and in the air. Higher education long before high school, there lived a public yard very private, some thought it died of natural causes but the cement was suffocated when it was paved over. Yesterdays war was fought with bats balls gloves sneakers cards and coins weapons to be sure. Choose your weapons, duels begin at dawn, friends disguised as seeds ready to sprout on their way to growing to full height. Say your prayers near the church tonight, the american dream not yet awake, sweet bird of youth without wings not wanting to fly away. Fires burning don't play with matches, can you spell it put a spell on me. Bicycles and lives without chains, basketball rim attached to a pole, drive at your own risk, unsafe at any speed. Ask not for whom the ice cream bells toll, it tolls for we, but save the dixie lids for me. Rocks fell out of the sky like shooting stars, men from mars, driving race cars and eating chocolate bars. Miracle days shoot the moon into the side pocket. Lift your glasses high and order a drink nicknamed hop scotch. Winning was so simple then, nothing was easier, yard sounds that will last forever or until the end of time. It was love at first sight, she had the perfect shape and personality, home is where the heart is, who said cement doesn't have roots? send my mail to the cement yard and my social security too, anything but working papers. I've got 99 good reasons to love you. Playing around in the shadow of the queens palace with plenty of tread left on those converses, been born there and buried there, a slice of life for the bargain price of 15 cents. Your hometown my owntown of roads, boulevards, avenues, streets, places, lanes, lots and alleys connected by the green bus line. Whole lot of ballin' going on, stickball, handball,basketball, softball, boxball to name a few balls. Everybody in the cement yard understands each other and stands with each other. Dozens of cousins, no kingdom lasts forever.

The Dylan/Schneir Dream
by Leonard Schneir

Long ago and far away
Another time another day
Remember me I once lived there
Played & ran & walked on air

Bouncing balls thru heat and cold
I never thought we would grow old
I thought we'd play forever in fun
But our chances were really a million to one

Many years are past and done
Many a gambles been lost and won
And roads travelled by many a friend
Searching for lives without an end

I wish I wish I wish in vain
That I could see each one again
Joking about the world outside
Living in a yard that one day died

Oh goddess give me one more chance
To step with youth and learn the dance
(With apologies to Robert Zimmerman)

  • Photographs courtesy of Leonard Schneir

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