For the first ten years of my life I had the good fortune of living on California Avenue in Baldwin Park. The street itself was nothing more than a narrow, quarter mile stretch of asphalt, lined with homes on both sides, that abruptly dead ended. I remember it looking as though someone had cut off the street by simply placing a chain link fence across it then covering it with reflective signs. There was no spacious cul-de-sac and very little room to turn a car around. California Ave had no sidewalks, curbs, gutters or street lights. Both sides of the paved street were covered with an eight foot gravel parkway. This made our street the perfect playground for all the neighborhood kids and believe me there were plenty. There were six boy who were my age or within a year that always played together. Yeah it was the perfect place for a kid to grow up, at least this kid.
We were out on the street all the time. We raced our bikes, played baseball, three flies up, over the line football, keep away, freeze tag, dodge ball and hide and seek and other games. Occasionally especially on summer afternoons and evenings the girls and younger kids would join us and there would be more than a dozen of us out there playing until dark, sometimes later. The guys were always building things out of scrap materials and discarded cardboard boxes. We built forts, carts, wagons and one summer we even built a spaceship. It was incredible! We built it in my friend Bobby’s back yard. the main body of the craft were a large cardboard Kenmore washer box and a refrigerator box. We had two kitchen chairs laid on their back as our seats and directly above us was a large cut out section so we could see the sky. It was so cool that Bobby and I spent the night in it. It was very comfortable, but it was awesome!
As if our wide play area wasn’t enough, behind the homes on the north side of the street was a gigantic vacant lot a block long! It was heaven! We built our own ladder out of scrap lumber in my backyard so we could get over the wall to and from the lot. The area was ideal for playing army, building forts, shooting our BB guns and having rock fights. Yeah we had all a kid could ever want growing up on California Ave. It was really the best. I wish we would have never had to move. I wonder how different my life would have been if we hadn’t.
We had several favorite games. One of the most popular we called ‘best death.’ One of my friends dad was a WWII buff. He had an awesome collection of US Army war gear. You name it, he had it, helmets, bayonets, canteens, packs, field jackets,a variety of weapons including a machine gun mounted on a small tripod. Of course the barrel was leaded but it was still awesome! One guy would be the shooter and sit behind the machine gun while we attacked and pretended to be shot. The one that died the best was the winner. It was great! we dove and rolled, flipped and spun. A bit exaggerated at times but what fun! Thye only thing that would have made it better is if we could have played ‘best death’ in the field behind my house, that would have been great, but Mike’s dad didn’t let his army gear leave the yard which was okay, We still had a blast.
Another one of our favorite pastimes was playing cowboy and Indians. The cowboys of course were the good guys and the Indians the bad guys. Everyone wanted to be one of the good guys. When we played army it was the same, nobody wanted to be the Japanese or Germans, we all wanted to be the Americans, and when it came to cops and robbers we all wanted to be the cops, we wanted to be the good guys.
Now here we are all these years later and we’re still trying to be one of the good guys. Nearly every man strives to be a good guy. I say nearly because there are some men out there who just don’t give a shit. They live by the Popeye philosophy, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” Take it or leave it. What a terrible philosophy. But most men aren’t that way, most men are a perpetual work in progress. We may never get there, but damn if we don’t give it our best.
I’d love to say I’m one of the good guys, but I can’t. I’m one of those ‘works in progress.’ pretty sad at my age huh? Oh I have my moments but that’s not enough. I’m striving for a succession of those moments. Once that happens then I can truly say that I’m one of the good guys. Until that day comes I’ll just continue to plug along and do the best I can.There is no such thing as the perfect man but we can all benefit from working towards that goal. That being the case I’ll continue my pursuit of one day becoming the ever elusive good guy, a truly good man.