Tuesday, October 29, 2013

XYZ: Examine Your Zipper

(Photo: Long Island and NYC Places That Are No More)

Watching the New York Mets, on the family's black-and-white television set in the early and mid-1970s was mesmerizing. It was youthful exuberance, I suppose. In fact, I remember being transfixed by the Serval Zippers factory that one could see in the distance beyond Shea Stadium’s left field fence. During televised night games on WOR-TV, Channel 9. the factory’s sign, attached to an impressive-looking clock tower, could be seen blinking on and blinking off—“Serval” on and "Serval" off followed by “Zippers” on and "Zippers" off. This light show added to the already formidable ambiance of my favorite team and their singular ballpark. For a boy from the Bronx, Flushing, Queens, where the Mets plied their trade, seemed very far away. It was like a foreign country—at once mysterious and exciting—even though it was only a twenty-five minute or so car ride away.

Times have certainly changed in Flushing, Queens, home of the Mets—and everywhere else in New York City for that matter. Shea Stadium has been demolished and Serval Zippers is long gone, too. The former zipper factory is now a U-Haul without any flashing sign on the clock tower, which is, at least, still standing. There were once a lot of factories in that part of the city, including a Tastyee Bread plant, which have also gone by the wayside.

The mystery and the excitement have also vanished. And although I attended a fair share of Mets’ games—most of them post-Serval Zippers—I never quite warmed to the borough of Queens. I worked in Little Neck for a spell in the early 1980s—a nice neighborhood at the time—but it was never home. It seemed that Queens’ folks knew and loved Queens and Bronx folks knew and loved the Bronx.

Once upon a time in the early 1990s, I exited a congested Shea Stadium parking lot by turning right instead of the left turn that I knew would lead me to the Grand Central Parkway, then the Major Deegan Expressway, and eventually home, sweet home. This was a very bad move on my part because I ended up, from my perspective at least, in a Nowhere Land with confusing Queens’ street signs and numbers that didn’t make any sense to me at all in this era before GPS. It didn't help matters that it was late at night and, too, that I loathed driving, most especially when I didn’t know where I was. I might as well have been on a dirt road in Bangladesh.

I nonetheless just kept driving and driving—what else could I do—making periodic turns and praying that I’d hit upon a familiar landmark, or some main thoroughfare, which would lead me back to civilization. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone and worried that some hitchhiker might soon appear in my rear view mirror. But, lo and behold, fate moved its huge hand and I found myself on a service road approaching the Triborough Bridge—now called the RFK Bridge courtesy of politicians with nothing better to do—leading me back to the Bronx on this night to remember. Perhaps all roads do lead home, but feeling like a trapped animal in Queens that night seemed, I must confess, like the plot from a bad TV movie. Serval Zippers, though, will always be a fond memory.

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