Author Archives: Jack Heerink



The informant grew up in Chicago in the 1960s. There was an abandoned elevator for trash called a “dumbwaiter.” It was used by residents to send their trash down to the basement before the informant lived there. It went out of use when residents began carrying their own trash down themselves. The informant’s older brother would scare her with stories of a crazed man, named Ozok, who lived in the abandoned dumbwaiter and carried an axe through the halls of the building at night.


This piece was related to me over a Zoom call with the informant, discussing her childhood in Chicago.

Main Piece:

E: No one used the dumbwaiter when I was living there. It used to be used to send trash down apparently, but eventually people just learned it was easier to their own damn trash out themselves (laughs). But the trash room was in the basement, and the dumbwaiter and the basement were mostly abandoned. There was a legend that a spirit used to live in the abandoned dumbwaiter. The story was that there was some sort of crazy man named Ozop… no Ozok, I think it was. But the story was that Ozok lived in the dumbwaiter and the basement, and he used to carry an axe when he walked the halls of the apartment building at night.

Me: All the kids in the apartment building believed this?

E: I don’t know about all of the kids, but my siblings and I certainly did. Our oldest brother told us that Ozok lived in the dumbwaiter and the basement and haunted the building. He took me down to the basement one time during the day and showed me an axe leaned up against the wall as proof. I don’t think I slept for a week after that! My parents allowed us to believe it and even told us when we were being too rambunctious at night that we better get to sleep before Ozok came down our hall. I had these wild visions of what he looked like. My younger siblings and I would talk about it. We thought he looked like something out of that movie, the old vampire one…

Me: Nosferatu?

E: Yes! I conjured up some image of the vampire from Nosferatu in my head. That movie was the scariest thing I had ever seen as a little kid, and I thought there was a crazed vampire living in my own apartment building!


The tale of some deformed creature haunting a residency is a legend as old as time. It is a theme well known to all, and it naturally takes on its own variations as people author their own variations of ghost stories and hauntings. In this case, the informant’s older brother authored a variation of a crazed man, Ozok, who haunted the halls of the informant’s apartment building. Children, as my informant was at the time, are particularly susceptible to the tales intent on scaring. The informant’s older brother applied much of a classic ghost tale’s motifs to Ozok and their environment. He pointed to the axe as evidence of Ozok’s existence, and claimed that Ozok inhabited the abandoned dumbwaiter and basement, just as a ghost or creature of the night might live in the attic of a haunted house. Folk beliefs regarding ghosts have existed for centuries. The legend of Ozok living in an abandoned dumbwaiter and basement was simply a new variation of an age-old legend.



Stickball was a popular game in mid-20th century New York City. The game was played by children in the streets, using whatever resources they could find. The informant, who spent most of his childhood in the New York City in the 1970’s would play the game with the neighborhood kids.


This piece was related to me over a Zoom call

Main Piece:

MK: Stickball was my least favorite. I had terrible hand-eye coordination and could never get contact with the ball.”

Me: It’s akin to baseball, right?

MK: Yea, it’s a poor man’s baseball. You’ve probably seen it played in those movies about the mob and the mafia – like the Bronx tale. The church they used in that movie was the church my family went to. We played stickball outside. There was a batter and a pitcher and a bunch of kids playing in the street. We used trashcans or whatever we could find as bases, and a little pink rubber ball. They made stick ball bats, but most kids just used a broom handle – a skinny broom handle. 

Me: It had all the same rules as baseball?

MK: It was supposed to, pretty much. Sometimes we only had two bases. We would use boxes, trashcans, manhole covers. There was one kid named Davie who was miniscule – underdeveloped. No one liked him because he talked funny and we’d only let him play if he agreed to be a base. Kids would hit and run and as they ran by him they’d slap him across the gut real hard. But it was our version of baseball. When we’d get home from school everyone would drop their books off, say hello to their mother, and run down into the street to play. There was a pitcher and an outfield of a few guys. We had two team captains and they’d take the bat and one would put their hand around the bottom. Then the other captain put their hand on top of the other captain’s hand and they’d alternate up until the top of the bat. Whoever had the last hand on top of the bat got to pick their team first.

Me: Were there cars bustling down the streets you played on?

MK: Oh yea. We had lookouts and whenever a car was headed toward us, the lookout would scream, ‘Car! Car!” and everyone would grab the bases and run out of the way. As soon as the car had passed we’d bring everything back and get right back into the game.

Me: How long did you play for?

MK: We usually played five or six innings in a game because a lot of kids wanted to play, so we couldn’t play a full game of nine like baseball. But we’d play game after game, until enough of our mothers called us home and there weren’t enough kids left to play. We’d sometimes lose too many balls also and wouldn’t have one to play with. That was always devastating. Like the end of the world devastating.


Stickball is a game that I’ve seen only in cinema or read about in literature. The game was probably a weekly or daily tradition where many friendships and bonds were formed and cemented. It was probably a proving ground for many kids, as most of the time, the kids who are dominant in athletics get the respect and admiration of the other kids. Although it was just a game in the street, the kids probably played with a grave seriousness and competitive nature. One thing I found interesting was the guerilla-style that stickball was played in. The informant remarked that they used whatever they could find as bases, sometimes not even having four bases to play with. It was a tradition that was sacred amongst kids, and it must be played at all costs.



The informant is my friend’s mother who grew up in the Bronx in the 1960s. Ringolevio is a game that they’d play in the streets outside their houses, or in the abandoned lots throughout the neighborhood. The informant told me that Ringolevio was her favorite game growing up as a kid.


My friend’s mother told me about Ringolevio over a phone call. We were discussing much of her early life growing up in mid 20th century New York City, and she spoke with particular fondness as she reminisced about Ringolevio.

Main Piece:

KB: Ringolevio was my favorite game. We’d play for hours with all the kids on my street. One house was torn down and there was a big, abandoned lot that we would play it in.

Me: So what were the rules?

KB: Well, there was a chasing team and a running team, like cops and robbers. One area would be marked off up against the fence and that would be the jail. The runners would run around the lot while the chasers would chase after them, trying to catch them. If you caught a runner – you had to try and grab them, usually their arm – you would hold on and yell “Ringolevio, coca-cola, 1-2-3, 1-2-3.” If you could say that while holding on to the runner – the runner would try and break free from your grasp – the runner would have to go to the jail area and be locked up. When someone was in jail, one of their teammates could free them by running into the jail area and tagging their jailed teammate without getting caught.

Me: And the girls played with the boys?

KB: Oh of course, everyone played everything together. We all played for hours, and it was quite rough a lot of the time. The boys were really quite rough with the girls and especially each other. A loooot of bruises and scrapes.

Me: How many kids were on one team?

KB: However many we had as long as there was even numbers.

Me: Were there ever any fights?

KB: No, not a lot of fist fights. The boys would get into arguments and things could get out of hand, but really never any fist fights that I can remember. We mostly played ringolevio at the age before boys started getting into scraps and things like that.


Although we were speaking on the phone, I could deduce that the informant was thoroughly enjoying the flood of memories that was rushing back to her as she described her favorite childhood game. What stands out to me is the lack of tools or objects needed to play Ringolevio. All that is needed is the kids and some open space – no bats, balls, or nets. The prospect of boredom spurs immense creativity in kids looking to avoid it at all costs. Games like Ringolevio are customs that unify the bonds and relationships between kids. Ringolevio also appeared to offer a chance to young kids to win the praise and admiration of their friends, as whoever was the fastest and the best at the game was sure to gain the respect of the other children.

Jewish One Liners


The informant is my grandfather, who spent most of his teens in 1950’s and 60’s New York City. He is Jewish, and grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, immersing himself deep into the lore and sardonic nature of Jewish, New York humor.


These are some jokes my grandfather has told me to me over and over since I could walk. There’d be many times at family functions and events that we’d be talking and he’d break into a tirade of “Jewish jokes,” flinging out one-liners and jokes from Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar, and jokes he heard on the sidewalks in the city growing up. My grandfather told me that he and his friends would go for hours, cracking joke after joke like rapid fire, imitating the comedians on the radio.

Main Piece:

A doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn’t pay his bill. The doctor gave him another six months.

I broke my leg in two places. The doctor told me to stop going to those places.

My dad was the town drunk. Usually that’s not so bad, but in New York City?


These one-liners were always my favorite jokes growing up. For me, they were my first impression of an era of post-WWII America immortalized by films and television: New York City in the mid-20th century. This was a time where many immigrants were coming to the United States and establishing identities for their communities in this new land. My grandfather moved to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in the city after his family emigrated from Israel. Many of the jokes he heard and told with his friends during his time growing up there formed the backbone of the Jewish identity in New York City. These jokes are quick, witty, and overly masochistic. The Jewish people suffered greatly in Europe in the prior decades, and now they were forced to try and assimilate to a foreign country. These one-liners are almost a coping mechanism for the Jewish people, as they learn to laugh at pain and misfortune. A broken leg is certainly not as severe as the Holocaust, yet it mimics the misfortune and shares the experience with companions when the joke is told to a group of friends hanging out in a schoolyard.

Mexican Sneezing Belief


The informant is my roommate who was is originally from Mexico, having spent the first eight years of his life there. His mother used to tell him and his siblings that whenever you sneezed unexpectedly – not from sickness or contaminants – it meant someone was thinking about you. This is a widespread belief in Mexico, but the informant’s family has added their own additional beliefs regarding the number of sneezes.


My roommate told me this after I sneezed unexpectedly one night at his house. His family had me over for his grandfather’s birthday, and after a lamb dinner we sat around outside talking. I sneezed and my roommate’s mother told said something in Spanish that garnered laughs from the other family members. My friend then explained what she had said.

Main Piece:

ML: My mother would always tell us someone was thinking about us if we sneezed randomly.

Me: Aren’t all sneezes random?

ML: It’s like, if you sneeze when you’re not sick. It’s the cause of the sneeze. If you sneeze when you’re sick, you’re sneezing because you’re sick and your illness is causing you to sneeze. If you sneeze just randomly, someone is thinking about you and those thoughts are intruding into your body almost, causing you to react and sneeze.

Me: And this is a common belief in Mexico?

ML: Yea, everyone… everyone’s mother would tell them this. But my mother told us that if you sneezed more than two times unexpectedly, it was because someone was thinking affectionately about you. Like they have a crush on you.

Me: So if you sneeze once, they’re just thinking about you in general?

ML: Could be. Could be talking bad about you to someone or thinking negatively about you. Or they could just be remembering something you said or that you two did together.


This was the first folk belief or superstition I’d ever heard regarding sneezing. Sneezing is a bit of a perplexing, spontaneous action, the cause of which is not always immediately discernible. Obviously, if one sick, the body malfunctions in a way, causing a sneeze. However, when illness or allergies can’t be pointed to as the cause, it leaves a bit of mystique and uncertainty as to the cause. This folk belief could be an attempt to playfully resolve the trigger of an unexpected sneeze. Sneezing from illness or allergies carries with it the negative association of being sick or deficient in health. This belief spins a sneeze as a potentially positive event, as someone could be thinking of one in an affectionate way.