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ALICE KAHN

She Once Had a Corner on 'Street' Scene

November 25, 1990|ALICE KAHN

Hey, you, outta my face. I've finally made it. I have what people want. I am "street."

I noticed the word in the profile of a new actress. She's described as "very street." Street is hotter than Streep.

Well, lemme tell ya, honey, I was street when street was nothing to brag about, back when people used less generous words to describe it, words like impertinent, rude, vulgar, crude and loud .

Most of my life has been spent trying to lose my streetness. See, we street types don't want to be street. We want to be boulevard or avenue or deer path. We want to gain access to the world we used to call Uptown.

What is this thing called "street" and how do you get it? When I trace the origins of my own streetness, I place ground zero at that spot where I played as a child.

As far back as I can remember, which is about age 4, my day consisted of walking out the door and not coming back until my ma screamed "Alice" long and loud enough for someone else to say: "You're in trouble."

Once on the street, you could find a pickup game of anything. At any given time on the street where I lived, there were anywhere from two to 20 kids age 4 to 16 looking for action.

You had to be creative to pass time. You had to use your street smarts to amuse yourself.

So we'd invent games, ways to make money and tricks to play. We'd create pretend families, jobs and wars. If you didn't like someone, you'd announce that everyone had to choose sides. If there was a fight and you were on the wrong side, you'd play alone for weeks.

The highlight of my life on the streets was when I got married. I was 6. My big sister and this guy Stevie's big sister planned the whole thing. They made me a dress from crepe paper that someone found in the garbage, and Stevie, my groom, wore a top hat made from a coffee can. They created a wedding canopy out of cardboard boxes. Afterward, we all pooled our money for a Jujubees-and-orange-pop reception. We honeymooned on the stairwell of Stevie's apartment building.

A few years later, my husband moved away. And eventually, my family moved across town to a better neighborhood. I tried to lose my accent, stop slouching, and learn not to rush over and grab cake first at parties. In my new neighborhood, people played in back yards. There were even streets with so little traffic that you could play in them. But nobody did.

One day, when I was walking outside my high school with some hoity-toity popular girls, a nerdy guy in an ROTC uniform started to approach us. It was Stevie, my husband from the old neighborhood. I think I literally placed my nose in the air and walked with the other girls across the street. I wanted to be on the side that seemed to be winning. Oh, I was acting Uptown then.

See, if it happened today--now that being street is out of the cul-de-sac--I'd just smack him and say, "Beat it, soldier boy."

You got a problem with that?

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