‘When We Were Bullies’ director returns to the playground
With his aunt and uncle, Simmy and Arnie Greenberg (graduates of Tilden High School and married for 66 years), sitting in conversation, Mr. Rosenblatt reflected on his childhood in Brooklyn and how his past shaped his present . The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you describe your childhood in Brooklyn?
I wouldn’t necessarily want to live where I grew up now, but I can’t think of a better place to grow up at the time. I had so many friends. The neighborhood was filled with children. We played all those street games – stickball, punchball, slapball – all those aggressive-sounding games that were so fun. We played ringolevio which was great because you didn’t need anything – all you did was run.
And your adolescence?
When I was 12 we moved to Mill Basin just off Kings Plaza. I went to Marine Park Junior High and then to Madison High School. On weekends, we would go to the Village and hang out. We were starting to explore, get high and go to concerts, which helped us through high school. High school was tough, even though I had a bunch of friends and we relied on each other.
Was there a lot of bullying and fighting?
We were mostly with good kids at school, but in the neighborhood there were bullies. There was a kid named Richie, and he did things that just humiliated me. I was sitting on a bench outside and he was sitting right next to me and started hitting my arm with all his might. I can’t believe I took this, but I was afraid that if I couldn’t stand it, he’d do something worse. He terrorized a lot of kids, and we tried to appease him hoping he would go away. We never played with him.
Neighborhoods were segregated, although Richard Silberg grew up on the projects, so he had a more diverse experience. Where I lived was very white, mostly Jewish, Italian and Irish. There was camaraderie with the Italian children culturally, but we were afraid of the Irish children and avoided the blocks where the Catholic schools were. There have been incidents of bullying with them. One time I was shooting hoops and wearing those aviator goggles my grandpa gave me that I loved. These Irish kids surrounded me and wanted the glasses. Rather than give the glasses away, I broke them and threw them on the ground, then jumped on my bike and rode home against the current.
The fights were usually more wrestling than beatings. Whenever I had to fight, I wasn’t necessarily trying to win, I was trying to take the person down and end it.
How has it shaped you?
Growing up in New York, you learn street smarts early on. When I’m in a little shady situations, I trust that I can get out of it. My peripheral vision is good.