Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bottlecaps and Skully

Alongside comics we collected bottle caps. These were carefully, no expertly, pried from the tops of glass soda-pop bottles that we mainly got from vending machines. A bottle cost from a dime to 15 cents in the late 50s to 60s. My father remembered the price was a nickel during the second quarter of the century. We saved our nickels and dimes, both for the purpose of buying soda and for collecting the prized caps. And yes, for ice cream too, bought from the local vendors who came around to the playgrounds in their trucks, Bungalow Bar, Uncle Johns, Mr. Softy and Good Humor, each with their distinctive song or bell to alert us.

The vending machines did not come to us. We sought them out in building basements, candy stores, boat houses, and other places of liesure. Some times the sodas came in packs bought from the local grocery store. Pepsi, Canada Dry Gingerale, and Coke were the most popular. One of my favorite soft drinks was Root beer, so I had quite a few of those.I can't clearly recall the brand as there were several like Frosties, Hires, Draft. There were also Orange and Grape sodas and caps.

These were to be used competively in the game of ‘Skully’, a city street game, played on the concrete pavements of playgrounds where game boards were often chalked temporarily onto the surface in an open area between slides and swings. There was one painted permanently over by the sandbox in our 'Big' Playground.

The 'board' was square, about 3 feet by 3 feet, with 13 smaller square areas marked by numbers spaced around it. Four in the corners, two paired together in the middle of each side and with the number 13 in the center.

Starting at box 1, you 'shot' your cap with the flick of your thumb and index or middle finger, aiming to land within the numbered boxes.

If you landed on the lines you could later just tap your cap in. If you were unlucky you got knocked off course, sometimes way a-ways, by other players. If you landed in the box you got to go again and try for the next number.

The number 13 was surrounded by 4 areas of 'space' . This was 'No-man's Land'. Depending on the rules of the day, if you landed there you either were 'out' , stuck until another player knocked you out, or penalized and had to start over again from 1. Once you made it to 13, you worked your way backwards to 1, and then could move around the 'No Man's Land' in clockwise fashion to become a 'Killer'.The sooner the better.

Once you were a Killer you went after the others to knock them out of the game. It was then that all hell broke loose as players would scatter wide around the playground to escape the aim of a Killer. Tap 3 times and they were out. Besides hitting other caps, sometimes one would bounce off and hit other players.

The game was most fun with 3 or more players, with 6 being a good number to manage. Sometimes we played in teams where part of of the strategy included protecting teammates' caps or going on offense against the others to knock them far off course.. Skill seemed not to depend much on gender. It was more an eye/hand coordination thing, although the aggressive nature of a 'Killer' might have been associated with sex-type or age.

Sometimes we were lucky to have an indoor site, with more slick wooden floors and painted skully boards. Play , rain or shine.

No bloody scrapes from grazing one's fingers against the gravel.

The best caps were 'Smoothies'. These prized possesions were smooth on the top, which became the bottom when turned over and used in play. Hence, the need of 'expert' skill required to obtain these. If the cap was too tight, or stuck on a bottle, it invariably came off bent. Bent ones wobbled along the ground of game courts and were harder to aim straight and shoot. The ones that had padding in them, mostly cork, were heavier and valued for their steadier and more stable trajectories. To enhance our caps we could melt crayon into them to provide both weight and identifying colors. Although you only needed a few for a game, we collected and stored our stashes in shoeboxes wrapped tight with rubber bands. We also would trade, trying to up our count of Smoothies, or balance our brands.

I remember having boxes of 50-100 or more, spending summer-time counting, organizing, and ordering caps by preference, and comparing them to those of my friends. The clinging sound of a box of caps is certainly nostalgic to groups of city kids of the 50 's and 60's generations.

Skully days ended when we went on to middle and high school. Although I read on the internet that the game continued 'round the city well into the 70s. As we aged, we moved off of our knees, and some of us, out of the playground, except for those who played basketball, paddle ball, or did drugs. The girls often landed up on the sidelines, on the benches, watching and rooting for games, smoking, flirting, and learning more adult and somtimes dangerous play.

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