Monday, June 25, 2012

A Night to Remember

Thirty-nine years ago on this very night—June 25, 1973—I attended my first Mets' game at “beautiful Shea Stadium.” That’s how announcer Curt Gowdy described the place a mere four years earlier in a World Series highlight film. Anyway, it was more than beautiful to me as a ten-year-old boy. From the vantage point of my wide-eyes, it was awe-inspiring—Shea Stadium was the quintessential Wonder of the World. While I had been to Yankee Stadium on multiple occasions, I had only seen the "Big Shea" through the screen of my family’s black-and-white television set. So, to experience Shea Stadium live and in living color with its totally unique ballpark din—in close proximity to LaGuardia Airport runways—made it a night to remember.

An older neighbor of mine chauffeured a bunch of us to the game in a fire truck red Rebel, a classic AMC car from early 1970s. We had acquired the tickets by cutting coupons from the backs of Dairylea brand milk cartons, which wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Looking back, the actual ticket values were $1.30 a pop—grandstand seating in the stadium’s uber-high altitude upper deck. (They cost a $1.50 a couple of years later.) The Mets just weren’t doling out box seats to the area’s milk carton cutters. But it was a simpler time when free tickets of any kind mattered.

While I remembered this very special day in history—hence this blog—I didn’t recall the starting pitcher or the lineup. I knew for certain my boyhood idol, Tom Seaver, wasn’t on the mound, and I pretty sure the legendary Willie Mays didn't get into the game, either. Yogi Berra was the team’s manager—I knew that—and a not especially memorable Met named Jim Gosger was one of the outfielders that night. I don’t know why I remembered Gosger being in the game, but I did. I recalled, too, the tragic outcome. Entering the ninth inning, my team led two to nothing. The opposition Chicago Cubs, however, scored three runs and won the game. I was cruelly razzed by a couple of older males who accompanied me to the ballpark—fans, of course, of my home borough's team in that other league and the Mets' cross-town rivals. Crestfallen, my older sister, who also was along for the ride, bought me a Mets' helmet as we exited paradise—so all was not lost. And life went on—almost four decades and counting as a matter of fact.

Postscript: Due to the magic of the Internet and the unfathomable depths of the information superhighway, I resurrected that evening’s box score. I was right about Jim Gosger. Tug McGraw blew a save opportunity and Jon Matlack took the loss that night. The attendance was 31,984 and the game time temperature was seventy degrees, close to where it is as I write these words.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Cool Friendly" Versus "Fool Friendly": a Public Service Announcement

What I intended to write about last night—before I was touched by a rat in an excessively humid and urine-stinking New York City subway station—dealt with the critical matter of “cool friendly” versus “fool friendly” behaviors. For merely an hour or so before my close encounter with a long-tailed rodent, I witnessed a textbook example of fool-friendly conduct in action. It occurred in a small diner in lower Manhattan, one of the fast disappearing, gritty and greasy eateries with both an old-style menu and reasonable prices. In other words, not a place for the area’s increasingly foodie-minded and superficial set to patronize, and who will—eventually—cast asunder even this culinary throwback to simpler times and pleasures.

This diner, nevertheless, still attracts vestiges of those living in rent-stabilized apartments and owned by landlords who pine for the day when their tenants meet their makers. This is the cold hard reality of life in today's Manhattan, and why, I fear, New York City is fast losing its charm and uniqueness.

I nonetheless witnessed a couple of diner regulars stop by for take-out orders—men who behaved in what they quite honestly believed was cool friendly, but, alas, came across as fool friendly to the wider world. This is actually a public service announcement blog. Having worked in retail for many years, fool friendly is not in the least respected. In fact, just as soon as these fellows exited the premises, the diner staff gleefully mocked them—and deservedly so. Yes, I’ve witnessed countless fool-friendly behaviors along the way—in where I worked for many years and where I shopped and dined, too.

Come on, folks, do you really want to be ridiculed in absentia by people whom you don’t really know? The retail experience is by and large a grueling one, and folks on the frontlines desperately need to vent their frustrations. I saw that at the diner yesterday, and I was guilty of engaging in more than a little of that many moons ago while on the job. It’s actually what kept us sane, I suspect, because there’s a considerable share of both incredibly needy and rather pathetic loony tunes out there—and I say that with all due respect. So, if you can, please remember there is a very fine line between being thought of as “cool” versus a “fool.” Generally speaking, less throwaway banter in the public square is better and silence is often golden.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Touched by a Rat

Angels touch some people, or so I hear. No such luck for me today, who was however touched by a rat at the 14th Street subway station in lower Manhattan. I’ve spotted these creatures there before, running along not only the tracks but the narrow platform as well. Suffice it to say this is not a good place to shriek “eek” and panic.

I suppose it doesn't help that I always seek out the last car of the subway train, which usually gets me a seat for the trip home, but also happens to be near a considerable garbage dumpster of some kind. While resting my weary body against this thing several hours ago, a rodent with a very long tail scurried by me and then returned for an encore over my foot simultaneous with a northbound Number 1 train pulling into the station. I genuinely feared my new friend might join me for the ride. Happily, though, it had other plans. While I’m not a superstitious sort, this kind of close encounter in an excessively humid, urine-smelling underground subway lair did not bode well for the future.

Subway rides can turn on a dime into a ride from hell. All it takes is one passenger or multiple passengers to make this nightmare a reality. Foremost, you don’t want to ride with a deranged soul who could conceivably kill you on the train. That didn’t happen today. You also don’t want a malodorous individual, who hasn’t bathed since the Clinton administration, to sit nearby. That didn’t happen, either. No, this group from hell was a couple of boorish families who never missed a beat in their ill-mannered, shrill, and stupid ways. The subway car was their playground. If I printed out a transcript of what I heard on the train from 96th Street in Manhattan until when I exited in the Bronx several miles later, there would be no periods in it. One woman even painted her nails on the journey while standing only inches away from me. I still have a headache.

I could decipher the disgust on the faces of the rest of the subway car’s passengers—a New York City melting pot if ever there was one—even though most of them were, on the surface, stone faced. Generally speaking,  people, including me, prefer not to confront boors, who live by their perverse boorish codes. In other words, they’ll scratch your eyes out for telling them to tone down their boorishness.

As the train inched closer and closer to where I called home, and this unsavory brood didn’t exit, I grew increasingly anxious. I dreaded the thought they might actually live near me and that I might actually see them again. When I heard one of them inquire as to where they were getting off, the reply sounded a little too much like my station. I was prepared to stay on the train. Turns out, I was mistaken and exited where I intended to exit. Walking ever so gingerly down this elevated subway station’s steps, I was greeted by a woman I know from my neighborhood who regularly asks passersby for quarters, even though she insists on at least a dollar’s worth of them. I said rather testily, “Can you at least wait until I get down?” She said she wanted to get something to eat from a local fast-food joint called Popeye’s. I gave her multiple quarters and she promptly hopped on a bus that pulled alongside her. She didn’t use the change to pay the fare, I detected, and the bus was poised to take her a long way from Popeye’s. Damn that rat. Evidently, angels don’t ride the subways. And I don’t blame them.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Words...

My father died just about four years ago. The family delivered Father’s Day cards to his hospital room—he had five kids—but he wasn’t in the least bit interested in Hallmark sentiment. He was too sick and his conscious mind was slowly but surely ebbing away.

A few days ago, I picked up a book I had purchased upon its publication in 1982. It was Norman Mailer by Hilary Mills, a biography of the prolific novelist and mercurial man about town. For reasons unknown, I just never got around to reading it over the past quarter of a century. However, I did lend it to my father—as I did hundreds of my books through the years—and he both read and enjoyed it. In fact, he read it twice because I would occasionally repeat lend some of my books to him. He he often read books faster than I could add new titles to my personal library.

The paradox here is that my father was not remotely known as a lover of books or a reader of anything but the local dailies, which he devoured each day. The man labored for thirty years in the General Post Office located on 34th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. He took the Number 1 subway line to and from this sprawling edifice every single weekday, working the four to midnight shift—inhospitable times to be a straphanger. (This, by the way, is the post office with these famous words engraved on its facade: "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from swift completion of their appointed rounds.")

Nevertheless, he read oodles of books, most especially in his retirement years, on a wide range of subject matter (like his namesake son). He rarely talked about what he read, except to me on occasion—and usually only when prodded—and certainly never tried to impress others with any knowledge gained or insight gleaned, which often is a byproduct of reading about others’ lives, different times, or well-crafted works of fiction that strike a chord. I’ll never forget his pithy comment upon reading Descent from Glory: Four Generations of the John Adams Family by Paul C. Nagel, a favorite of both of ours. “That was some family,” he said.

(Picture from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thrice Bitten

Sadly, Pedro Borbon died a couple of weeks ago at the not-so-old age of sixty-five. He was a pretty good relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds—the Big Red Machine—during the 1970s. What I remember most about him, though, occurred during the National League playoffs in 1973 against my beloved Mets. That’s when Pedro took a hearty bite or two out of a Mets' baseball cap.

It occurred during a famous bench-clearing brawl initiated by a Bud Harrelson-Pete Rose dust-up at second base. After order was restored, Borbon, who had his own cap knocked off in a brouhaha with Mets' pitcher “Buzz” Capra, reached down to the ground and placed what he thought was his own cap on his head, except that it wasn’t. It belonged to outfielder Cleon Jones of the Mets. When Borbon realized his faux pas, he either bit a fair-sized hole in it or shred it to pieces, depending on which accounts you want to believe, and tossed it to the ground in utter disgust. Capra claims he still has the cap as a memento of that wild and wooly occurrence in an amazing comeback season.

Via a Google search, I couldn’t help but take a stroll down memory lane into the life and times of Pedro Bordon. And, you know what, I never knew he was a serial biter. I thought the Mets' cap was the long and short of his Dracula-esque antics. A year later, it seems, during another bench-clearing brawl, Borbon took a considerable bite out of the side of a Pittsburgh Pirates player named Daryl Patterson, who was actually given a post-game tetanus shot. Fast forward a few years and Borbon, in a Cincinnati disco, took another considerable bite out of someone's hide—well, actually, out of a bouncer's chest. When the exasperated Reds' management traded him away in 1979, urban legend has it that Borbon put a voodoo hex on the organization. He later denied the allegation. Evidently, the big shots either forgave him or believed him, because he was elected to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2010. All’s well that ends well. RIP Pedro Borbon, a true original.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Why Donut Holes Matter

The Hubble Space Telescope did not take the image accompanying this blog. It is not a snapshot from the mystifying ether in some light-years away locale in our unfathomable universe. Rather, it’s an ordinary donut—plain as plain can be—that I placed directly on my scanner glass and one that’ll probably eat for breakfast tomorrow morning.

I purchased a six-pack of these donuts from one of my least favorite retailers and one that I patronize all the time—Rite Aid, a pharmacy chain that theoretically should be providing its customers with economies of scale bargains. They are not. Nonetheless, I was peculiarly struck by this dollar pack of six donuts and couldn’t resist. As far as I was concerned, the holes in each one of them set a new and incredibly low standard. What must today's onion rings look like? The donuts seemed, in fact, to embody the times we live in—a less for more society with little hope for a turnaround anytime soon.

Alas, our toilet papers’ widths have been considerably shaved while the circumferences of their cardboard nuclei have noticeably expanded. The bars of soap in our showers are smaller and less dense than ever before. In other words, they self-destruct in very short order after only a few full-body cleanings. And when half-gallons of our favorite orange juices morph into 59-ounce cartons and cost more, too, one cannot help but envision even bigger and bigger donut holes in the offing.