Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Hula Hoop Queen of Vyse Avenue

When I was a girl I was an absolute sports wiz. A total jock. Practically an Olympian. I could bounce a ball longer than any other kid on the block and balance perfectly on my left leg while I turned my right leg over: A-my-name-is-Alice-and-my-husband’s-name-is-Al-we-come-from-Alaska-and-we-sell-apples all the way to Z-my-name-is-Zara-and-my-husband’s-name-is-Zeke-we-come-from-Zanzibar-and-we-sell-zebras. I  never missed a beat, never stumbled, never faltered.
And then there was jump rope. I could turn fast and hard and I could jump even faster and harder: singles, doubles, double-dutch — count me in. The rope would whip around and I’d jump so fast my feet hardly lifted off the ground. People would stand on the sidelines, grown-ups even, and stare at me in amazement. I could hear them whispering to each other, asking “Doesn’t she ever get tired?” No, I never got tired. Jumping was like breathing for me. My reputation spread around the block like a siren, bouncing off the buildings and careening through the entire neighborhood. I was the kid who could bounce, turn, balance, jump — I was a natural wonder.
And then when hula hoops came around, there was absolutely no one who could match me. Oh, how I hulaed. I had a red-hot hoop and a baby blue one, a yellow one with black racing stripes and a glow-in-the-dark one. I had clear hulas with plastic balls inside them, so when I’d hula there was a racket of clanging objects hula-ing along with me. I practiced on the street corner. I drew such a crowd I could have put a box out on the sidewalk and made a fortune in nickels and dimes. But I was above that. I was no hula beggar.
Okay, I bet you’re feeling pretty jealous now. You’re thinking back on your own childhood and feeling just a tad inadequate in the athletics department, aren’t you? You’ve just been introduced to the Wonder Woman of the Bronx and you are impressed. You’ve got no reason to doubt me, right? Why would I lie to you? 
Why? Who knows why. I just felt like it. 
Come on, did you really think that ever in my life I had a flair for the physical? Did you really fall for that? Shame on you. Have some sense. Look, this is how it really happened:
I practiced bouncing a ball for hours at a time, only I didn’t use a ball.  I stood with my right hand cupped, bouncing an imaginary sphere of pink rubber, down & up endlessly, while my left hand gripped the cool red bricks of the apartment building. Yes, even with no ball I had to hold myself up so I wouldn’t lose my balance. And turning my leg over — oh, please. I’d lift my leg over that imaginary ball and I’d practically fall on my face.
But I was diligent. I worked at it every day. I had the words down perfectly: A-my-name-is —  Let no one ever say I didn’t appreciate the poetry of the street. But the eye/hand/leg coordination? Coordination has never been my middle name. 

A neutral observer might have thought “Hey-you” was my middle name, as in “Hey-you-c’mere-we-need-somebody-to-turn-for-us.” And I went and stood where I was told and turned that rope like my life depended on it, and sometimes I even got the rhythm right. But as for jumping — at jumping, I stunk.
So that brings us back to the hula hoop. And by now, you don’t know what you should believe and what you should wrap up in yesterday’s newspaper. But I’m going to tell it to you straight. I really, truly, kiss my pinky up to heaven and hope to die, was good with the hula hoop. 

No, I was better than that. I was superb-o. 

I owe my success to my hips. I’d wiggle so fast those hoops had no choice but to whirl and spin in a wild merry-go-round of color. I could keep a dozen hoops going at once, and never drop a single one. I could. Okay, three.

But still, that shows some talent doesn’t it? I got a trophy from this. Okay, it’s not a trophy, it’s just a photograph. And it’s not actually of me, it’s of some other girl, but it could have been me, if my father had put film in the camera that day. 

Not everything has to be documented, right? Some things you just know. And this you should know: for one brief summer of innocent obsession, I was the Hula Hoop Queen of Vyse Avenue.