the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Meeting Barry at Canter’s


Barry is one of my oldest friends from New York.  We’ve known each other since elementary school.  Recently, he took on a  job which requires him to travel a lot.  This week brought him to Los Angeles.  I decided to meet him at Canter’s Deli, one of the oldest restaurants in town.   I thought it would remind him of our days hanging out in coffee shops back in Queens.   Sophia adores Barry, too, so she braved the rain to come along.

On the way there, Sophia and I got stuck in traffic.  Barry called from the deli:

"What’s going on here?  There’s a line around the corner like at a movie opening." 

"Are you sure you’re at the right place?"  I asked.   "Canter’s Deli?"

"I’m right in front.  The line’s enormous.  And half of the people on line look like they’re homeless."

"Homeless? At Canter’s?" asked Sophia.   "He must be jet-lagged."

"You have to see this place.  Are you sure Canter’s hasn’t been turned into a soup kitchen?"

Barry made no sense.  But when we got to Canter’s, and we saw what he was talking about.  There was a indeed a huge line for take-out and the local news was filming the crowd.

What the hell was going on?

It turns out that Canter’s was celebrating their 75th Anniversary with old-school prices:  a hot corned beef sandwich, pickle, potato salad, and chocolate rugala for 75 cents!

I’m not sure why everyone was waiting for take-out, because we got the same deal sitting in the restaurant — without the wait.  What a deal!

Sophia, Barry, and I chatted for a couple of hours about all sort of topics.  It was sort of like blogging without the computer… and with better coffee.

Barry and I told Sophia stories about our school days together.  Sophia asked if we ever have been back to any of our old schools.

Barry and I laughed.  A few years ago, during a trip to New York, I met with Barry.   We were in a sentimental mood and decided to drive by all our old schools — Jamaica High School, Parsons Junior High School, and P.S. 154.    The school looked pretty much the same — except much smaller.  What seemed like a massive structure back then, just looked tiny now.   We talked about how life seemed so much easier back then, with nothing to worry about except doing your homework.  We found a hole in the fence surrounding the school playground and crawled inside.  We sat on one of the benches (with the same initials still cut in!) and remembered the exciting games of Ringolevio that we used to play during lunchtime.

How did we learn how to play Ringolevio?  Who remembers.  Does anyone play it anymore?  It was actually a very complicated game, with all sorts of teamwork and strategy required.  According to Wikipedia:

Ringolevio (also known as Ringolario) is a game which may be played anywhere but which originates in the teeming streets of Depression era New York City. It one of the many variations of tag. It requires close team work and near-military strategy. In some quarters this game is known as Manhunt which is really another game with different rules.

Two sides are drawn up, roughly of even number. One side goes out. The other counts to some number like 300 and then goes looking for them.

Anyone on the pursuing side can catch anyone on the pursued side by grabbing hold of them and chanting "Ring-O-Levio 1-2-3" three times in a row. If the person pursued breaks free at any point during this brief recitation, the person is not caught. If caught, the pursuer takes the pursued to an area called the jail (the area was called the base in some variations).

Jail is any confined area, typically between two parked cars or bushes where members of the pursued team are accumulated. Any free member of the team that is out can at any time free all team members in jail by barging into the jail without being caught and shouting "Free all!" This means that all members of the team in jail are now free and have to be recaught.

As we sat there, we wondered how many of the guys we used to play it with are now REALLY in jail?

We were also glad to see that kids never really change, because near the "monkey-bars" were two Asian girls playing "catch" with a big ball.  It was great to see the old playground still being used.  We got all sentimental and watched the girls play, big smiles on our faces.

Then, Barry turned to me and said:

"You know, I’m looking at you grinning and I’m thinking – if anyone passes by and sees us sitting here, it’s going to look like we’re two pedophiles."

"Boy, I think you’re right.  Let’s get out of here, before the police pass by."

As our Ringolevio days quickly faded in our minds, we hurriedly left the school grounds, never to return to our old elementary school.

I guess it was time to grow up.


  1. Kerry

    Wow … when I was a kid growing up in Far North Queensland (really truly ‘the outback’ down here) we played this game only we didn’t call it either of those names. Straining my brain but I can’t remember what we called it ~ I’ll be waking my big brother up first thing in the morning to ask him what we called it!!!

    Small world huh?

  2. Rabbit

    I always preferred games where I got to tie someone up.

  3. JustRun

    Funny you mention the guys in jail. I just found out that my junior high crush was arrested for armed robbery last week. Ironically, the cop that arrested him was my high school crush. I have such varrying tastes, apparently.

  4. Kevin

    Sounds almost like Capture the Flag without the flag. Exactly how that is “like Capture the Flag” is something I’m not quite sure about right now. It’s early and I just got into work.

  5. mr_g

    Canters is classic. ONe evening, about “after midnight”, our 80 year old, 4′ 10″ waitress comes to us and says, “I’m going on break honey. If you need anything, bother her”…pointing to another waitress. Where else in LA do you get that?

    Loved the school story too!

  6. amanda

    aw, this story only makes me lament the disappearance of the second avenue deli. i am going to go cry in my corned beef. thanks, neil.

  7. Wendy

    It’s nice to have old friends. Sharing memories can be so excellent!

    I never heard of that game & grew up only about 210 miles south of you… maybe it was a boy thing?

    I’ve never been to Cantor’s – but now have a terrific craving for pastrami.

  8. AWE

    There is 6 of us still stuck in jail between the cars. Is this what you have been doing all of these years instead of coming back and freeing us? We thought you were still running.

  9. Danny

    Oh damn, I heard about Canter’s anniversary but forgot to get over there for my 75-cent sandwich. And free rugula? Kill me now.

    Did you know that the current Canter’s building (they used to be down the street on Fairfax) was a movie theatre in the 1930s? It still has the marquee.

    Junior’s and Factor’s may have better food, but the surly career waitresses at Canter’s are the real deal. And thank God you and Sophia are out of Jerry’s Deli.

  10. schuey

    “Sophia, Barry, and I chatted for a couple of hours about all sort of topics. It was sort of like blogging without the computer… and with better coffee.”

    I had to change my pants. 😀

  11. cruisin-mom

    The last time I was at Canter’s (about 25 years ago…I’m a valley girl, you know) we watched a couple of cockroaches doing a conga-line (well, I guess in this case it was the Hora).

  12. Bre

    Isn’t it so odd to go back? I went to visit my elementary school with a friend of mine to see his sister’s science fair and everything had suddenly shrunk! I remember having contests to see who could jump high enough to touch the top row of tiles on the wall, and now that tile hits my shoulder!

  13. Tanya

    Only vaguely related to your post: goodness gracious, I want latkes. Mmm…latkes.

  14. Sandra

    In metro Detroit, we just beat each other up. I’m only half-kidding.

  15. bettyonthebeach

    I was thinking about 2nd Ave. deli too! What happened to it? All of a sudden it was just closed! And this past weekend there were prayer candles and flowers outside on the sidewalk.

  16. ACG

    ooohhh… that sounds sooooo yummy… *drool*…
    you mind picking-up some for take out and dropping it off in philly?

  17. ms. sizzle

    the schools DO seem so much smaller. sigh.

  18. Scarlet

    1. I don’t like salty meat
    2. what is chocolate rugula?

    Closest I know of an old friend going to jail is one was on house arrest. I thought that was pretty cool. I’d love house arrest if it got me out of work.

  19. Heather B.

    I’m still friends with my best friend from kindergarten and we have the same memories. Thankfully no one mistakes us for pedophiles thought.

  20. Tanya

    Sadly, the 2nd Ave. deli did close. Rents, as always, are skyrocketing.

  21. Dan

    Best coffee in LA, which tastes exponentially better if you sit at the counter.

  22. LisaBinDaCity

    Yum Canter’s. That was my home away from home when I worked at CBS Fairfax.

    Carnegie is my deli fix now 🙂

  23. erin

    We had a game similar to that… where you saved your friends that had been tagged by yelling, “olly-olly-oxen-free…”

    I have no idea where that came from though.

  24. erin

    answered my own question…

  25. New York Moments

    Growing up sucks. Well, not all of it. I enjoy the drinking and the sex. But the whole responsibility thing is just a buzzkill.

  26. Nancy

    I went home recently and realized that the kitchen counters got much lower and the staircase was much less treacherous than I remember…

  27. Hakim

    How different is an L.A corned beef sandwich than a Montreal smoke meat?

    In my town we called that game “kick the can!” or “kick la cacan!”. Someone always seemed to wander off and the game would fizzle out.

  28. MA

    I want to meet a friend at Canter’s. Neil, you and Sophia are awesomely fun. Barry sounds nifty too.

  29. ChickyBabe

    “It was sort of like blogging without the computer” – I love that line. Brilliant!

  30. Student Nurse

    Homemade pickle? That sounds yummy.

  31. Neil

    I found it interesting that everyone had some complicated kids’ game they played, but no one seem to remember how they learned it. I know “Ring around the Rosy” was originally a song about the Black Plague and it just got passed on down as a nursery rhyme. I wonder what “Duck Duck Goose” was all about?

    Hakim — Montreal has (or had — before half of the Jews moved to Toronto) the BEST Jewish delis. I’m not exactly sure why. Jewish corned beef is similar in taste to the Irish corn beef, maybe cut thinner. Montreal corn beef is spicier, more like pastrami. Maybe there is a meat expert out there who knows more than me…

  32. better safe than sorry

    never heard of your deli or your game, but i do love getting together with old school mates. back in the day times.

  33. Alice

    that IS like kick the can though, isn’t it? except like kevin said.. without the can. but! aside from that part. and the name. and what you have to say when you catch someone. ok, fine, it’s NOT like kick the can, dammit.

    i grew up in jersey and have sooo never heard of this crazy game. we played the always-pc “smear the queer” (long before we had any clue what a queer even was)

  34. Me

    Canter’s and my grandma turned 75 — though they’re 7 days apart…how cute 🙂 I actually just went there for my first time two weeks ago…I bought every cookie on the bottom row… 🙂

  35. darlin nikki

    Them’s the days…we loved us some slam ball and all the hitting jargon that went with it – babies, waterfalls, baseballs. I was queen of the baby to baseball combo!

  36. Danny

    The Montreal Jews started moving to Toronto because of the crazy French language laws. Oy, I can’t believe in all my ramblings about L.A. delis I’ve never mentioned the best–LANGER’S–which is right in my neighborhood. It’s now only open till 4 pmeach day because Jews are too afraid of the inner city ‘hood, but it’s the only deli left that still hand cuts pastrami and serves it on double-baked rye bread. Just the best.

  37. Serena

    I’ve often been tempted to visit my old stomping grounds and teachers when I go back home. I end up stopping myself because I’m afraid I want to go back for the wrong reasons.

  38. Kerry

    Bedlam! That’s what we called it.

  39. Neil

    Kerry — does this sound like Bedlam…

    “This game requires four teams of equal size. Each team takes one corner of the room or playing field. The play area can be either square or rectangular. At a signal (whistle, etc.), each team attempts to move as quickly as possible to the corner directly across from them (diagonally), performing an announced activity as they go. The first team to get all its members into its new corner wins that particular round. The first round can be simply running to the opposite corner, but after that you can use any number of possibilities, such as walking backward, wheelbarrow racing (one person is the wheelbarrow), piggyback, rolling somersaults, hopping on one foot, skipping, and crab walking. There will be mass bedlam in the center as all four teams crisscross.”

  40. psychotoddler

    I remember playing ringolevio. Haven’t thought about it in years. Thanks for dredging the memory up.

  41. alonzo trappier

    Hey Barry, That took me back man. I grew up across the street from Parsons Junior High and also went to P.S. 154. Mr. Glickstern was the principal and I can honestly say that I got a good education. Fond memories include being a crossing guard and being able to wear that belt and badge. Also play punch ball and scelly. I am 40 years old now and truly feel that my childhood was so enriching because of that Queens, NY experience. From having a paper route in the neighborhood I really got to appreciate my childhood immensly. Ringolario was a game we really did enjoy and seemed that we would play all day. Although like you I had a real good memory of the days before school at p.s. 154 and the swings and monkey bars. We used to jump over the fence in front of the swings, sitting down or standing up. Oh yes, I wouldn’t trade my childhood for nothing.

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