Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pennsylvania Avenue: SVU

We join today’s episode of Pennsylvania Avenue: SVU as Inspector Obama is called to the scene of another hostage crisis:

Inspector Obama: (pointing to the domed building) What’s the situation in there, Officer?

Officer Biden: (reading from his notes) Some nut cases that call themselves the “Elephant Bandits” have taken a woman named Amari Cah hostage, and they are threatening to throw her off the roof. They have the poor woman trapped and confused right now. They have a gun to her head, and they seem ready to pull the trigger and dump her over the side. I’ve been talking to these perps for weeks now, and every time I make a concession to defuse the situation, they change their demands. I don’t think this is going to end well.

Inspector Obama: Did you say ‘Amari Cah’? I would do anything to save her!

Officer Biden: I think those creeps know that, and that’s why they are holding her hostage. They’re an unpredictable group – they claim you don’t care about Amari Cah in one breath, then try to extort ransom from you because you love her too much. I had just about given up understanding their twisted logic when you got here.

Inspector Obama: Who are all these people on the street?

Officer Biden: Word got out about the drama, so folks from Wall St. have gathered, hoping to catch Amari Cah if the Bandits follow through with their threats. Some of the other people just want to see what would happen if they pushed her over the ledge. I actually heard someone say that they thought she’d bounce right back up after the fall. Idiots.

Inspector Obama: What concessions did you offer them that they rejected, Joe?

Officer Biden: Frankly, Barry, I caved on everything. I would do anything to save Amari Cah from these crazy zealots. They asked for a phone, I gave them a phone. They asked for some food, and I sent in a full buffet. They asked for a trillion dollars, I gave it to them. They asked for medical assistance, and I gave them access, even though one of the creeps had a pre-existing condition. There’s only one request they’ve made that I didn’t grant.

Inspector Obama: What’s that, Joe?

Officer Biden: (pause) They want you, Barry.

Cue the music. Cut to scene inside the domed building. Shot of Inspector Obama’s arch-nemesis, Cry Baby Bainer, holding gun to Amari Cah’s head, and a talking Cantor cockatoo sitting on his shoulder.

Cry Baby: I don’t know why I listened to you, you stupid bird. We could have escaped this mess with everything we wanted. We could have walked out of this drama with all of our demands met. Biden gave us the money. We could have walked out of here like heroes, and convinced the public that we actually saved Amari Cah. It was the perfect plan!

Cantor Cockatoo: Yawk! It’s not about the money, it’s not about the money. We want Inspector Obama to be humiliated, discredited, run out of town.

Cry Baby: So how does taking Amari Cah as a hostage get us to that goal?

Cantor Cockatoo: Yawk! He loves her, he loves her. He’ll give us his badge if he thinks it will save her. Besides, haven’t you noticed? The longer we keep her here, the more she starts appreciating us. Yawk! Stockholm Syndrome is one European idea we can get behind, right CB? Amari Cah is starting to see Inspector Obama as the villain that is trying to kidnap her away from us. Yawk! Be patient. Be patient.

(Suddenly, Cry baby’s cell phone rings)

Cantor Cockatoo: Yawk! Don’t answer it! It’s a trap!

Cry Baby: I have to answer the phone, dummy. We’re the ones who started this hostage crisis. Now we have to see what else we can get for sparing Amari Cah’ life.

Cantor Cockatoo: Yawk! You’re the dummy. We didn’t start this hostage crisis. Inspector Obama forced us to kidnap Amari Cah, and if she accidently falls off the roof, then he will be his fault for not stopping us.

Cry Baby: That’s smart, Cantor. Maybe I should be sitting on YOUR shoulder.

Amari Cah: If you don’t mind me saying so, you guys are the dumbest hostage taker I’ve ever seen. They gave you everything you asked for, and you still won’t let me go. You are asking for trouble. Inspector Obama won’t let me sit in here with you Elephant Bandits for long.

Cry Baby: Shut up! I listened to you, Amari, so you are in on this caper up to your eyeballs. If I go down, you and this crazy bird are going down with me!

Amari Cah: I didn’t agree to this. My crazy uncle with the lazy eye mentioned the plan in an op-ed. I was misinformed.

(Meanwhile, back outside the domed building, the authorities plot their next move to foil the Elephant Bandits)

Officer Biden: We could take Low Road, and sneak into the building that way. We’ve done it before. We could save Amari Cah that way.

Inspector Obama: Joe, I have a better idea.

(Cue music. New scene inside the domed building. Inspector Obama appears above the kidnappers from the ceiling)

Cry Baby: Inspector! How did you get in here?

Inspector Obama: While you were arguing with that bird on your shoulder, I unilaterally raised the ceiling and snuck in from High Road. Amari Cah, you are safe now. Joe, read them their rights – first the 14th Amendment, then Miranda.

Cantor Cockatoo: Yawk! Foiled by the power of the 14th Amendment! Curse you, Inspector!

Amari Cah: Can you guys hurry up? I’d love to listen to this drama all day, but Dancing with the Stars is starting a new season soon. I won’t be able to pay attention much longer.

Cry Baby: Our evil plan defeated by our own philosophy – the rule of law. (As Cry Baby is led away in handcuffs, sobbing softly) This isn’t over, Inspector! You can’t protect Amari Cah forever. We’ll be Bach, mann, in 6 months to do this again!

Inspector Obama: And I’ll be here when you are Bach, mann. (turning to Officer Biden) Remember, Joe, this is why we don’t negotiate with terrorists.

Officer Biden: True that, Barry.

Inspector Obama: I’ve asked you not to do that, Joe.

Officer Biden:  Word.

(They fist-bump.  Cue musicFade to in the black.)

Friday, July 29, 2011


Hideki Irabu died yesterday.  His death is rumored to have been a suicide.  He was one of the first Japanese stars to come to the States seeking to replicate the success he had as a pitcher in his home country.  In his first major league start, he struck out 4 of the first 6 batters he faced.  He was dubbed the Japanese Nolan Ryan, and on that night in the Bronx, he dazzled.  That debut ended up being the best performance of his short Yankee tenure.  His MLB career was promise unfulfilled.

In each obituary for Irabu that I read, one incident in his career is consistently mentioned, and it was an incident not of his making.  During an exhibition game in spring training, Irabu was slow to cover first base on a ground ball, a transgression so severe, that Yankee owner told the press that Irabu was a “fat…toad”.  Irabu would from that day forward be part-time Yankee pitcher and full-time Fat Toad.  This must have done wonders for the self-image of a man transplanted from his native country into the hell fires of the NYC media.

I do not blame George Steinbrenner’s emotional rantings for Irabu’s decision to take his own life.  Such a final decision involves the work of many inner demons that thankfully most of us will never have to face.  I do not, however, condone Steinbrenner’s bullying tactics against this man, or minimizes its’ contribution to Irabu’s self-doubts.  The Boss’s school yard taunts at his players are legendary (who could forget “Mr. May”, and his verbal jousts with Reggie Jackson?), and you may believe that for the millions his high profile players are paid, he was entitled to insult and demean them publicly.  Now that Steinbrenner is gone, we view his verbal assaults as evidence of a man passionate about winning, not as evidence of a small man who hurt others to get what he wanted.  When all is said and done, Steinbrenner was a bully to Hideki Irabu, and that’s wrong.

Marcus Bachmann, the husband and official campaign advisor for his wife, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, has been victimized recently on the talk show circuit and the Internet with accusations that he is secretly gay.  His stubborn insistence that homosexuality is a choice that can be “prayed away” is twisted into the psychological conclusion that he “doth protest too much.”  His speech patterns, his shopping habits, and his dance behaviors are dissected as proof that he is a gay man trapped in a heterosexual relationship.  Google the name Marcus ‘Bachmann’, and you’ll see the digital character assassination first hand.

Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and others have ridiculed Mr. Bachmann on air for his hypocrisy on the gay issue, given their assumption that Bachmann himself must be gay.  While I have defended both of these comedians in the past, I cannot defend them here.  They, and all those who mock Mr. Bachmann’s personality in the public square, are bullies.  Worse, they are hypocrites who speak out against the bullying of others for a private choice and yet bully this man because they disagree with his political views (at least they disagree with his wife’s political views, his views by association).

Stewart and Maher would no doubt defend their tactics as fair, given that Mr. Bachmann is a senior advisor to a presidential contender and therefore, fair game.  Mr. Bachmann, they would contend, is the hypocrite, lashing out at homosexuals as “barbarians” when he himself is a closeted gay.  That would be one embarrassing argument made up of questionable conclusions.  A bully is a bully, and in my view, those doing the public insulting demean only themselves.  Comedy is not an immunity idol from hate speech.

Let’s lighten up on the bullying, whether it be shouting down opponents as “pinheads”, dubbing people “The Worst Person in the World”, calling them “fat toads”, or questioning their sexuality under the false protection of satire.  It’s not necessary, and I don’t tolerate that kind of bullying from my kids.  We should not tolerate from public figures towards others, either.

Respecting the lines of common decency is not an infringement on First Amendment rights.  It’s just the right thing to do.

Rest in peace, Typhoon Irabu.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Plant the Bulbs

An Open Letter to the Editors of MSRP:

It is time we shed some darkness on an important issue regarding the long, slow dissolution of freedom in America.  Yes, that’s right, Right.  I said shed some “darkness”.  That is not a slip of the keyboard.  Let me explain.

In 2007, closet Democratic President George W. Bush signed into law a bill that would ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs in this country by the year 2014.  Our free choice to purchase these household staples will be taken from us incrementally, with 100 watt bulbs disappearing from shelves in 2012, 75 watts in 2013, and the rest of the bulb roster in 2014.  Our freedoms are on a dimmer switch headed towards extinction, and we cannot stand idly by any longer.

There is a knee jerk RINO approach to this imaginary crisis gaining momentum in Congress.  A movement is afoot to repeal the ban on these bulbs, but repeal ,while it has appeal, would be a raw deal.  This kind of incremental approach will not make us more free, and it will not get us any closer to energy independence.  Incandescent bulbs are burning fossil fuels, and the terrorists who hate us are laughing at America all the way to the jihad.  Going back to the old bulbs is not enough.  It is time we stop cowering in the light.  It is time we go all the way.

The real solution is the free market based boycott of ALL light bulbs.

This is not as silly as you might think.  In order to save taxpayers the most, and insure that our great country is on an irreversible path to energy freedom and independence, we need to boycott the purchase of all light bulbs.  It is only in darkness that we can be completely free.  Just like stars come out at night and shine brightest in the darkest areas of the country, you too will you see the light when light bulbs are added to the dust heap of history, like the horse-drawn carriage, the Family Hour, and Tang.

The Obama administration opposes repeal of the bulb ban because it would roll back standards that are already driving U.S. innovation, creating new manufacturing jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The White House “said” the bulbs will “save” American households nearly $6 billion in 2015 “alone”.  What this administration has forgotten to tell you is that this ‘savings’ is compared to what Americans spend today on bulbs and electricity.  The real question is how much more could we save by avoiding the light bulb completely?  How many more Yankee Candle jobs could be created in the new Non-Bulb economy?  And greenhouse gases, which are a radical leftist forgery anyhow, would be eliminated without millions of light bulbs heating up the atmosphere.  (Did you ever stop to think that these “green” gases are conveniently ‘invisible’?  They’re not even green!  Wake up!)

We didn’t ask for rural electrification from the government, and now the very existence of the light serves as a tax on working people.  The Feds are fooling no one.  Paying sales taxes on light bulb purchases supports the subsidized high tension wires that litter our landscape.  If you Leftie tree huggers weren’t such hypocrites, you’d join us.  The bulb symbolizes dependence, and believe me when I say this – no one needs me, and that makes me proud.

The liberal hypocrisy on this issue is stunning.  The light bulb, since Ben Franklin invented it during the Big Storm, has been attracting defenseless moths with its’ halo of light and heat to a fiery demise.  Where are you, PETA?  I can’t hear you!  The libs are willing to sacrifice one species, the moth, to save another, us.  How does that jive with your lofty philosophies and principles of fairness and equality?  Until I see PETA throwing paint onto a GE executive, they’re all hypocrites!

The argument that has been advanced in favor of this centralized planning approach of light bulb choice has dubious merit.  If we pay more for the curly elitist light bulbs today, we are told, we as a nation will save billions in energy costs tomorrow.   The government neglects to mention that you and I might not be around to enjoy the energy savings tomorrow.  That represents a hidden, yet massive redistribution of savings to future generations, and they haven’t paid any taxes yet.  These future freeloaders should not get to benefit from our hard-earned energy savings anymore than we can benefit today from their futuristic jet packs and hovercrafts.

We can no longer be fooled by deceptive statistics and confusing facts, like the numbers that energy-saving improvements in refrigerators carried out since the 1970s now save Americans $20 billion a year, or $150 a family.  The Energy Department is pedaling these numbers when the real comparison would be refrigerators versus ice wells dug in the back yard.  Live in the dark, and see how much money you save on the ol’ electric bill.

Think this through, America.  Living in the dark has gotten a bad reputation from, who else – liberals.  Liberal professors with their idol worship of “knowledge” have taught for years about the perils and tribulations of the so-called Dark Ages.  What these self-proclaimed ‘thinkers’ conveniently leave out is that during the Dark Ages, there was light outside more than half of every day.  It wasn’t dark all the time, and God’s sun shone brightly on their castles.  Conversely, it is scientific fact that half of every day during the Enlightenment Period was dark.  Seems once you peel back the bias, there were some dark times even during the Enlightened years.  These statistics are conveniently omitted from school textbooks by the well-heeled elite in their squeaky-clean Ivory Soap towers. 
And while we’re at it, what ever happened to our choice of leaded fuel and our personal responsibility to check the quality of our own food before buying it?  I’ll tell you what happened.  FDR and the nanny state mentality that killed rugged individualism and self-reliance in America.  If we don’t stand up to this light bulb fiasco now, the slope will continue to slide in its slippery way, Comrade.  It is what slopes do.

Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said that under Obama "we bought a bureaucracy that now tells us which light bulbs to buy."  Wrong, Congressman.  It was RINO George W. Bush who signed the law, but that goes to show how insipid the reach of the socialist planners can be.  They even got to our man George with their overreaching agenda.  Next, the government could mandate job-destroying sprinkler systems for buildings, or employment-discouraging food handling standards, or unemployment-promoting controls of mercury levels.  Where does it end?  One day it’s the light bulb, and the next day, they are taking all of our guns.  Connect the dots, America.

In speaking about these fancy bulbs shaped like a boa constrictor-shaped preparing to squeeze the liberty out of every American, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J, said, "Yes, this costs a few dimes more. But let me tell you, you start saving dimes the moment you screw these into the socket."  One thing is true – someone is making dimes when something’s screwed, but I am afraid you and I are the screw-ees. 

Join our crusade by keeping your family in the dark and staying there…unless you want to be one of the screw-ees.

Marvin Disgruntled
Reluctant Reader
Your Town, USA

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Distinction Without a Difference

I must confess here in the public forum that from time to time, my mind drifts during the weekly sermon at church.  I challenge any of you who are not guilty of the same transgression to cast the first stone.  During this particular homily, my mind drifted towards politics, if you can imagine that.   The July 17th Sunday sermon recounted the parable of the mustard seed, and the priest read us the following passage from Matthew:

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches."

The priest began his sermon by explaining that Jesus taught through parables, and these parables included exaggerations to illustrate the major point.  He referred to this passage, and the priest asked rhetorically, “Is the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds?”  No, he answered his own question.  He added that Jesus’ audience at the time would have included farmers, and they would have known this fact.  There is no historical record of any of the farmers in His audience attempting to correct Jesus’ agricultural exaggeration.

The priest continued.  “Could birds flock to the mustard tree?”  No, he again answered his own question.  He told us that mustard bushes grow low to the ground, and were far from large trees or even large bushes.  Again, there is no record of those in attendance questioning Jesus’ estimating skills.  So was Jesus a liar, the priest asked us?

Of course not.  Here’s where I drifted momentarily to current events.

During the 2008 campaign for President, Barack Obama often retold the story of his dying grandmother, fighting with insurance companies to cover her health care expenses.  His moving personal account took center stage in his battle for comprehensive health care reform. 
A new book has been written by Janny Scott, a New York Times writer and author of the book A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother, that disputes part of his story.  It turns out the health insurance company did not deny Obama’s grandmother health coverage; it was her disability carrier that did not cover her out-of-pocket unreimbursed medical expenses.

"I will never forget my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final months, having to worry about whether her insurance would refuse to pay for her treatment," Obama told the nation during the campaign.  This has been presented as proof that Obama lied in order to move the urgency of health care reform with the American people.

Really?  His mother was fighting with an insurance company to help pay her medical bills that the carrier would not reimburse.  This caused the woman financial hardship at the most vulnerable time of her life.  These facts are undisputed.  The crux of the “shocking revelation” is that Obama’s mother had not been denied coverage.  She had coverage from the health provider.  She just couldn’t pay her out-of-pocket expenses because the insurance company fought reimbursement.

As Kathleen Parker wrote two Sundays ago in an editorial on the issue, “It is too much to say that Obama told an intentionally tall tale to mislead the public. But it is also incorrect to say that he told a true story.”   According to the Sunday’s sermon at my church, the name Jesus could be substituted for Obama in the previous sentence, and that would also be accurate.

Now before my Far Right readership (if there is any left) begins excommunication procedures (or exorcism procedures) on me, I am not comparing Obama to Jesus.  Only one of them walks on water, although both give a good speech.  I am comparing intent.   Jesus wasn’t a liar when He said that the mustard seed was the smallest seed; Obama wasn’t lying when he said that his mother fought with the insurance company over health care.  I am illustrating how silly the arguments are that are being put forward that Obama is some kind of pathological liar.  When you go after these silly arguments, it demeans any potentially powerful examples of Obama not telling the truth that could advance your point.  Is he a politician?  Yes, without a doubt.  Is this story an example of willful deceit?  Not even close. 
Those on the right are quick to point out that disability insurance coverage was not part of the health care plan that was passed, so Obama was disingenuous when he pedaled his mother’s heart-wrenching story.  If disability coverage was the problem, why wasn’t it part of the ACA?  Guess what?  A lot of things, including the public option, were not part of the health care reform law that passed.  Obama didn’t get the perfect health care solution for this country.  He got what could get enacted into law, because the issue could wait no longer.  If anything, it can be argued that Obama outsourced the health care reform debate to Congress, and remained above the fray.  If anything, he did not provide enough guidance on what the new law should look like.  Talk to Pelosi and Reid.  They both thought Obama was too hands off on the creation of the law that the Right has named after him.

Kathleen Parker wrote in that Sunday editorial, “The president likely will be forgiven this exaggeration in the service of a greater truth. But it was never, in fact, quite true.”  It is reassuring to know that Jesus has been forgiven for His exaggerations and lies about the mustard seed in the service of a greater truth.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take 2,000 year to clear this nonsense up in the public discourse.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Politics of Professor Wagstaff

I had the pleasure of surfing across a TNT Classic presentation of The Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers, the other night.  I grew up in a home that worshipped their fraternal comic genius, and the jokes and bits from this movie were regularly revisited around our dinner table.  The movie features a few songs, as most Marx Brothers movie do, since all of the brothers were immensely gifted musicians.  This particular number caught my attention: 

From the Marx Bros. film “Horse Feathers” (1932)
(Harry Ruby / Bert Kalmar)

I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
No matter what it is
Or who commenced it
I’m against it!

Your proposition may be good
But let’s have one thing understood
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
And even when you’ve changed it
Or condensed it
I’m against it!

I’m opposed to it
On general principles
I’m opposed to it!
(He’s opposed to it)
(In fact, he says he’s opposed to it!)

For months before my son was born
I used to yell from night to morn
“Whatever it is, I’m against it!”
And I’ve kept yelling
Since I first commenced it
“I’m against it!”

Almost 80 years later, the ‘modern’ GOP has taken the music and lyrics to this little comedic ditty and created a governing philosophy.  If it weren’t so true, I’d be laughing.

Cap and trade was a market based Republican solution to the problem of pollution and global climate change.  Cap and trade was part of the 2008 GOP platform.  When President Obama indicated that he was for it, the GOP turned against it.

The individual mandate was a concept championed by the GOP as an alternative to solve our nation’s health care cost crisis.  It reflected their stated values of personal responsibility.  When Obama agreed, and said he was for the mandate, the GOP turned against it.

The Republicans recommended the formation of a bipartisan commission to address long term deficits.  Obama agreed and establish the Bowles-Simpson Commission to make recommendations.  Suddenly, the GOP was against the idea of a commission.
When the Republican Study Committee in March of this year recommend a budget deficit solution that was a mix of 85% spending cuts and 15% revenue increases, both Mitch McConnell and John Boehner supported it.  When President Obama countered with 83% spending cuts and 17% revenue increases, the GOP balked and demanded that 100% spending cuts was the only reasonable way forward.  They were for it before they were against it.

In 2006, Dick Cheney famously crowed that "deficits don't matter."  The GOP passed tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, financed 2 wars and enacted a prescription drug benefit without any mechanism to pay for any of it.  Spending went up and revenue went down under Republican leadership, and they raised the deficit ceiling 7 times in 8 years without preconditions.  Now that Obama is President, deficits are a threat to liberty and a example of government run amok.  On debt and the deficit, the GOP changed their minds I guess.

The President and the Speaker of the House had agreed in principal on $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.  When the rank and file in the House learned that Obama was for it, they were vehemently against it.
As Matt Yglesias wrote the other day, “If members of Congress think like partisans who want to capture the White House, then the smart strategy for them is to refuse to do whatever it is the president wants. The content of the president’s desire is irrelevant. But the more ambitious his desire is, the more important it is to turn him down.”  The Republicans view politics as a zero sum game - I will, you lose.  There is no win-win scenario in their playbook.

I think another factor may be in play that explains the GOP refusal to compromise and work forward on ideas that they once embraced.  Their view of politics is skewed by the religious right.  Fareed Zakaria once wrote, "Religion is about moral absolutes; politics is all about compromise.  The mixture of religious fundamentalism with politics encourages a winner-take-all attitude towards political life."  This has poisoned the thinking of the Grand Old Party, maybe irrepairably.  The result is not just a damaged brand for Republicans, but a damaged country.

Unlike the Groucho Marx song, this Party of No approach is no joke.  It makes a mockery of last Presidential election’s GOP slogan, “Country First.”  It’s shameful.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Inside the Park Homer

Oh no! Extra Innings!

We woke up early in the tent, not because we were fully rested and rejuvenated.  We woke up because of Those Damn Birds.  If you have ever camped, you know what I am talking about.   They have loud, piercing whistles, nothing like those cartoon birds singing in the Disney movies.  These birds were sadists, and I was too tired to throw rocks at them.  As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I did imagine shooting all of the birds, but that would probably be frowned upon at Camp Beaver Creek.  In my sleepy stupor, the birds were Heckle and Jeckle, and after faking their own deaths by my gunshots, rose to laugh at me.  Then they dropped an Acme brand anvil on my head, causing more birds to fly around my head.  A sleep interrupted is a sleep unfulfilled.

First order of business on this final day of the trip was church.  We had to go to church to meet our religious obligation, and we were both pretty sure that Cherie would be quizzing us on the themes of the sermon and requesting a certificate of authenticity that we had attended a valid service (usually a weekly bulletin would suffice as proof).  Packing up the campsite was easy since all we did was roll everything into a large ball of cotton and nylon and throw it in the back of the car.  The bottom of the tent was still quite damp from the rain the previous night, and we couldn’t pack it into its bag in that condition.  Tonight, we would be home, and we, along with the tent, could then dry out.

We were too tired, too lazy, too unmotivated to clean ourselves up much for church in a tourist town, praying among strangers.  We did brush our teeth, but otherwise, we looked like two vagabonds having just been released from 2 weeks in solitary confinement.  Never mind how we probably smelled - my bed head was particularly offensive after the night outdoors.  For those of you who have seen my hair style after a fitful night of sleep, I apologize for bringing back that haunting image in your memories.  My hair was feral, and certainly not acceptable for a House of Worship.  My hair wasn’t even acceptable in the House of Blues.  Alas, I had no choice.  The Cooperstown faithful were going to see my bed head in its full glory.  Lord have mercy on them.

Thomas and I grabbed McDonalds for breakfast, and got to the church a few minutes early.  I insisted on waiting in the car until the last possible second before going inside.  This would give my hat a few extra minutes to flatten out the stray hairs standing straight up.  Hair akimbo, you might say.  I figured that waiting out the late comers would mean that fewer churchgoers would see me in this wretched condition, and shout out, “The Beast!!!” as I walked down the aisle.

This waiting game strategy paid off.  We sneaked in the back as the priest processed to the altar, and found a spiral wooden staircase to the balcony.  We sat up there out of sight of the congregation, except for the kindly organist and her faithful singing companion.  Sitting with Thomas and me that morning was their penance, without a doubt.

After church, there were only two duties left before going home.  We were committed to watching some baseball at Doubleday Field, and Thomas wanted to try out the batting cage.  Both activities sounded good to me, and the batting cage was next door to the field.

We sat and watched some baseball, again not speaking.  There were more players than fans, but that did not stop these middle aged warriors from trying their best.  The quality of play this morning was less than stellar.  When one player tried to steal second, the catcher jumped out of his crouch, came up throwing, and drilled a 75 mile per hour fastball into the thigh of his pitcher.  The catcher was embarrassed, and the pitcher was angry, with justification.  In the same inning, with one out and a man on first, the batter popped up weakly to the pitcher.  This did not slow the runner on first, who either forgot there was only one out or did not know the rules of baseball.  He headed to second.  It was an easy double play, 1-3 if you are scoring at home.

I was glad that Thomas saw adult ballplayers make dumb mistakes.  He played Little League for the first time ever this season, and he saw plenty of mistakes during the season.  It was good for him to see that baseball is a humbling game, even for big people, and especially for big people.  Catch, throw, hit – sounds simple, but it never is.

Now it was time for us to be humbled.  The batting cages next to Doubleday Field featured 3 pitch options.  There was the 55 mph curveball, the 50 mph knuckleball, or the 50 mph slider.  We watched a few hitters take their hacks, and decided that the 50 mph slider would be our only hope of making contact.  We had gone back to the car because Thomas insisted that he use his own bat and his own helmet.  I liked the attitude.  His one Little League hit, a sharply hit single that went 6 feet up the third base line before rolling to a halt, must have inspired his confidence.  He was going to master that machine.

He did crack one nice hit off the slider, and that was enough.  In a way, it’s like golf.  One good drive off the tee can keep you coming back for more every time.  There is an effortless feeling when you hit it just right, and he did hit one just right.  He’ll stick with baseball just to relive that sensation.

The slider machine embarrassed me more than once, but I did get a couple solid blasts in between the flailing misses.  Sounds simple, but it never is.  Baseball is like life, isn’t it?  A few solid hits surrounded by embarrassing misses.  The only real difference is that baseball, as I have mentioned, has no clock, and life is ruled by the clock.  Our time had run out.

It was lunch time, and we had a 6 hour ride ahead of us.  It was time to bid farewell to Cooperstown and the entire baseball trip.  I did not recount all of our adventures in this blog.  I left out a few details, but it’s a blog, not a novel.  I hope you enjoyed the brief story as much as we enjoyed living it. 
I began this blog with the following:  …nothing cements the bond of father and son like the banality of baseball.  So I vowed to someday force the glue of baseball into the crevices of my relationship with my son, thereby giving us both something to talk about when I was old and bitter.  A common passion for baseball and all of its history and rules would keep us together, and fill the countless hours avoiding our feelings with idle conversation at future family events.

One father, one son, 4 days, 2 games, one Hall of Fame, 500 miles.  Mission accomplished.  We’ll always have Cooperstown.  The question now is, how do I talk Cherie into letting us go see Fenway and Wrigley next?
 The author with Tom Seaver.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Memories for Sale

If you have lost track, there are 8 posts before this to read if you want the story of the whole trip from the beginning.  Start at "Round Tripper and work forward...

We had a few more things to accomplish.  First, we needed souvenirs for the family.  We couldn’t go home empty handed, and gifts would help minimize what little feelings of guilt we might have.  Second, I needed to buy some memorabilia that I had seen in the shops already that I could not resist.  Daddy needed his own souvenirs since relying on my memories of the trip will become more problematic with each passing year.  Third, we needed to eat.  It was 7:30 PM, the tent was up and ready, we were rain soaked, so it was back in the car for the 5 minute ride to Cooperstown.

We had a cheap dinner of pizza and soda downtown and watched baseball on the big screens while we ate.  Many of the other patrons in the restaurant were in full uniforms, wearing baseball cleats, covered in dirt and grass stains from diving or sliding, and talking baseball.  Here in Cooperstown, baseball wasn’t some distant historical academic study.  Baseball and the playing of baseball was a living, breathing part of everyday life.  The town didn’t just exist to honor memories of past baseball greatness; it was active in creating new memories for regular visitors every day (except maybe on Christmas – I think it’s closed on Christmas, but you get my point).

There were 3 major pieces of personal memorabilia that I had seen during the day that I was committed to getting.  The only reason that I had not purchased them sooner was that the longer I waited, the more I could justify that I had made a dispassionate decision, and not an emotional one.  This was a game that I was playing in my mind, however, and I knew that even if Thomas didn’t.  I was buying. 

From the minute I saw the framed Cleon Jones black and white photo of him about to catch the final fly ball to end the 1969 World Series odyssey of the Miracle Mets (in a twist of fate, the final out was hit by none other than Davey Johnson, new manager of the Washington Nationals and former manager of the 1986 World Champion Mets), signed by Cleon with the Certificate of Authenticity included, I knew that this would be mine.  That it was on sale was a bonus.  Certificate of Authenticity for the signature was a nice touch, although I do not know of any international body that issues Certificates of Authenticity, and I would not know a homemade certificate from an official one, but this did not matter.  I was in love with this image, and whole idea of it.  This was my youth in a frame, for $80.
The second purchase was half impulse, half premeditated.  The large framed and autographed photo of the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, taken from a centerfield camera as Bobby Thompson crossed the plate and Jackie Robinson looked on in the foreground in defeat is one I have coveted for many years (see blog post Paradoxical Unity, Nov. 1, 2010 for details).  This particular one was larger than I thought I could afford, and I was sure that the autographs of both Bobby Thompson and Ralph Branca would put this one out of reach.  Out of pure curiosity, I asked the lonely teenager working the register how much it was, since it was unmarked.  She called someone on her cell phone, described the picture, and named the price.  I hesitated for 1 or 2 seconds before I said, “Wrap it up.”  Now I was in a hurry to beat any return phone call she might receive.  I had seen this picture with signatures at a quarter of the size in other stores in town for $100.  My price was $64.

I did not buy the 3rd picture that I looked at in several stores.  The shot of Willie Mays making the over the shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series would have to wait for another day.  This was my idea of self-control on this shopping spree.  I would have to settle for looking at the Xerox copy of the catch that is pinned to the bulletin board in my office.  Maybe one of my readers will add this to my Christmas list…

Buying t-shirts as souvenirs for the girls should have been easy, especially since every store had t-shirts.  Thomas and I were committed to buying quality t-shirts that they would wear on occasion, and not just when they were painting or gardening.  The problem was that there were too many choices and too many stores.  Everything in Cooperstown had ALL SALES FINAL clearly marked, so we operated under the theory that we couldn’t buy any t-shirt until we had seen every t-shirt in town.  We put so much thought into these t-shirts that the stress started to erode the joy of giving that we should have been feeling.

It could also be that we were 2 men who have no idea how to shop for clothing.  It’s possible.

Purchases made, it was back to camp to settle in for the evening.  We brushed teeth (with our own tooth brushes), washed up, and climbed into our sleeping bags.  It was only 9:30, and we had a little energy left.  Thomas decided to use that time to organize his newly purchased baseball cards (he bought 3 packs at the Hall of Fame gift shop).  He had brought his entire collection of cards along on our trip.  He housed them in a 3” thick binder, filled with plastic page protectors that had pockets for each card.  Every team was in alphabetical order, and every player within the team was in alphabetical order.  It was a highly organized system, and Thomas took great pride in it.

He laid out the newly purchased cards, and together we were excited when good players appeared and disappointed when the no name players appeared.  I helped Thomas to group them by team, and then he was ready to add the cards to his library.  That’s when the fun began.

If the card was “Adrian Beltre”, my little OCD boy would move every card forward in sequence by one space to create room for the Beltre card in the correct alpha location.  For teams like the Nationals, where he had 5 sheets of 12 cards each, that could mean moving approximately 50 cards one at a time to make room for a Roger Bernadina card.  I let Thomas know that this was insane in kind fatherly terms (I think I said, “Thomas, that’s insane.”  I was careful not to say HE was insane.), and I availed myself to conduct a deep psychological analysis of my boy to discover what it is we did to him to create such a compulsion.  We were in the woods in a tent alone, and none one would hear us.  Tell me what is wrong, my son.

Thomas was undeterred by my negativity.  He told me that he liked keeping the cards organized, and that he did not mind moving the cards one by one to meet that goal.  He enjoyed it, he said, and he told me that I didn’t need to help, so what should I care?  He was having fun. 
This logic was hard to argue.  I was certain that during my youth, I did similar things that seemed a bit compulsive to adults, but completely normal to me.  I particular, I saved the newspaper box scores from every baseball game played in the 1973 season in a 3” 3-hole binder.  I still have the binder.  In that context, moving the baseball cards forward one by one didn’t seem any less insane than saving box scores for 38 years.  In a sort of compromise to ease my mind, he did agree that it might make sense to start saving the cards by team by player in separate binders by year.  That would at least help avoid situations where he had to move 80 cards back one space each to file a Rick Ankiel card.  I could now sleep.

We laughed about passing gas for a few minutes, and then called it a night.

Next: Oh No! Extra Innings!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Steroids? What Steroids?

We stopped for an overpriced outdoor lunch, and then made a leisurely walk the 4 blocks back to the Hall of Fame.  We heeded the siren song of the memorabilia shops along the way, but more on that later.  It was time to hit the museum.

It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday, and there was no line.  The Hall was quiet, more like a church than a museum.  My instinct once inside was to run around and see everything right away, then double back and take the slow tour.  I was a kid in a candy store.  I had to see the bloody sock.  I had to see the pine tar bat.  I had to see all of the plaques in the Great Hall.  I had to see everything right now.

Fortunately, my son is the patient one, and his world is governed by rules and protocol.  The sign said “Start Here”, and no amount of pressure from his impatient father would get him to stray from that recommended course.  Besides, if it was written on the sign, it was no longer recommended – it was commanded.  We were going to see everything, and we were going to see it in the order that the National Baseball Museum told us we were going to see it.  He was going to tour this museum in a leisurely, methodical fashion.  First stop, the Birth of the Game, and we were going to read about each artifact.

I should have been happy and proud of my son for this approach, and I was.  He was the ideal kid to take to a museum.  Other kids in the museum were clearly overwhelmed by the lack of televisions and video games to entertain them.  Not Thomas.  He was reading the information about the game, asking questions, telling me to slow down.  One of the charms of baseball is that there is no clock.  This afternoon, I needed to settle down and embrace the “No Clock” mentality like Thomas did.  The museum closed at 9 PM, and it was only 2:30 PM.  We had nowhere else to be.  We had time.

I cannot and will not recount every exhibit we saw.  You’re welcome.  Google “Exhibits Baseball Hall of Fame” and see them all yourself.  I will share some general commentary, however:
·         The Hank Aaron exhibit could have been renamed the “Barry Bonds? Never Heard of Him” exhibit.  While I remember the monumental achievement of Aaron hitting home run #715, eclipsing the greatest number in sports (714), last time I looked, he had the second most home runs in the history of the game.  It seemed like the Hall wanted to rub Aaron in Barry Bond’s face, and celebrate Aaron as the one who holds the record for the most clean home runs in history.

·         Thomas had never heard of Stan Musial, and that is a shame.  Stan the Man could be the greatest, most overlooked player in baseball history.

·         The Washington Nationals team locker, with historical memorabilia stacked inside, included the dirty jersey of Alfonso Soriano, the jersey he was wearing when he became the 4th member of the 40-40 Club (40 homers, 40 steals, single season) in history.  Thomas and I had gone to dozens of games, particularly the team’s first 4 years back in DC (3 at RFK and 1 at Nats Park), and we cheered Soriano when he was our only star.  Thomas had trouble remembering Soriano as a National.  That bummed me out.

·         I know Pete Rose isn’t in the Hall officially, but except for the lack of a plaque in the Great Hall, you’d never know it.  He is mentioned and pictured frequently, and Rose memorabilia was everywhere.

·         Seeing Gary Carter’s plaque in the Hall made me sad.  Get well soon, Gary.

·         There was a whole room devoted to the game of cricket.  Really?  Can’t they get their own museum?  A miniature display case in a corner would have been sufficient.

·         The displays and statistics were surprisingly up to date.  There was even a nice display about the near perfect game last season that was lost because of a disputed call at first base.  That kind of stuff kept the museum relevant to newer and younger fans.

There was one item that made me laugh out loud.  As sports fans are aware, the past 20 years in baseball have been dubbed the “Steroids Era” in baseball, filled with giant personalities with equally giant muscles and accomplishments – Sosa, McGuire, Bonds, Canseco, Clemens.  The debate rages on sports talk radio as to what should be done about recognizing this era and either celebrating or ignoring its’ records and stars.  This sign at the end of the tour is all that the Hall of Fame has come up with so far:

It was embarrassing that I had to explain to Thomas why I thought this sign funny.  Twenty years of records and accomplishments all wrapped up neatly in one 2’ by 2’ sign.

Our tickets to the Hall were good all day, so after 3 hours of baseball history, we headed out to check in at our campsite for the night.  We could come back later if we wanted.  We had decided to have the complete man-cation experience and camp the last night in Cooperstown at a little site 5 minutes from downtown.  It was also the cheap thing to do.

The campground offered much more than two low-maintenance, weary travelers required.  There was a pool that we would never use, a pony ride that we would never take, a game room that we would never enjoy, and a baseball field that we would not play on.  It did have a nice site at the edge of the woods near the pond for us to pitch the tent, and we did – in the only rain storm since the Mets game Thursday.  It rained from the minute we began to unroll the tent until we drove the final stake into the ground.  Then the rain stopped.  We hoped that this was not a sign that our luck had run out.

We drove back to town for dinner and shopping.  It was the last night of freedom for the baseball warriors, and Daddy needed some souvenirs. 
Next Up:  Memories for Sale

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Slow Road to Brigadoon

 Don't forget to read the last 6 blog entries to see what happened so far on our journey...

DAY FOUR:  The Slow Road to Brigadoon

The wake up call came at 9 AM, and thankfully, my legs were not bleeding from little bug bites.  Just in case, however, I took an especially hot shower, hoping to at least boil any bedbug eggs that might be implanted.  You can’t be too careful.  Thomas moved slowly, clearly exhausted from the previous day’s trek through NYC and Yankee Stadium.  I pushed him pretty hard yesterday, but today should be a more leisurely pace.  The goal was Cooperstown by lunch.

While Thomas showered, I went to grab some muffins and coffee from the complimentary continental breakfast, except there wasn’t one.  There was a semi-retired front desk clerk with yesterday’s newspaper and a flat screen TV tuned to the local morning news.  According to the weather report, it was predicted to be a beautiful, sunny day everywhere in the viewing area, except for the rain that would hit exactly where we were planning to travel.  Of course.  Cloudy with a chance of rain was our constant travel companion.  Why would today be any different?

By 10:15 AM, we were settled into our assigned seats in the minivan, with a full tank of gas and some McDonalds breakfast.  Our destination was approximately 2 hours away, barring any detours.  The trip from Saugerties to Cooperstown on the best of days, however, must feel like you are taking detours exclusively.  Off one little 2 lane highway, onto another 2 lane street, left onto a winding road, right onto what seemed to be a gravel driveway on someone’s farmland.  Jill, our trusty British navigator, and Thomas’ interpretation of the MapQuest directions, were in lock step.  That was good, because I had yet to see any signs for Cooperstown, although the GPS kept insisting that we were getting closer.

About 45 minutes from our destination, we encountered the last type of sign that you want to see on a road trip far from home in unfamiliar territory: BRIDGE OUT.  Jill kept emphatically repeating that we needed to take a left turn onto the missing bridge.  She was trying to kill us.  “Turn NOW.”  The road signs and barricades insisted that we do otherwise.  Left with no choice, we followed the road signs, trusting that the NYDOT knew more than the disembodied Mary Poppins on our dashboard.

We were in uncharted territory.  Every few minutes, Jill would break the growing tension in the car with a declarative, “Turn left now”, followed shortly thereafter by a disappointed, “Recalculating.”  The detour signs were pulling us further and further away from Cooperstown, and Jill was becoming agitated.  If we followed her instructions, she might bring us back to the bridge that was missing, and plunge us to a fiery death.  If we followed the detour signs, we might end up in Wisconsin.  I was being indecisive and blaming Thomas, my wing man, for not telling me what to do.  This was not rational since Thomas was only 12 years old and was probably counting on me to be the adult in the situation.  After 3 miles driving off our plotted course, I was willing to accept that Jill might be trying to kill us, but that was an acceptable risk.  I made the next possible left.  I turned onto a small country road, and we put our fate in the hands of our impatient English tour guide.  Did Mommy pack the rosary beads by chance?

Jill avoided the missing bridge, which was good, but she steered us onto some streets in rural upstate New York that had no business being public thoroughfares.  Over Jill’s constant nagging, I could be heard muttering, “Where the ‘H-E-double hockey sticks’ is she taking us?  And where are the signs for Cooperstown?”  According to the mileage tracking on the GPS, we were getting closer, but the scenery was getting more remote and rustic, and still no signs.  We were going to the National Museum for our National Pastime, and no signs, no roadside Hall of Fame vegetable stands, no “Last Gas before Hall of Fame” signs, no Babe Ruth Memorial Highway.  If this is Jill’s idea of a joke, we did not appreciate her British humor. 
The GPS said we were 5 minutes from destination.  Really?  We drove alongside a large lake on our right, and there was a lake on the maps of Cooperstown.  It must be here somewhere, but still no signage announcing the town.  Suddenly, we emerged from beneath the trees covering our route like a tunnel, and there it was.  Not only were we now in Cooperstown, NY, home of the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame, we were apparently in 1951.  The town appeared like Brigadoon out of nothing, and I felt like we were no longer in a Honda minivan, but in a refurbished DeLorean, hitting the breaks after achieving 88 mph and 200 gigawatts of power.  We were back to the future.

The town was as advertised.  It probably looked exactly the same as the day the Hall of Fame originally opened 80 years ago with its original induction class of 5.  You half expected old time ballplayers to appear on the sidewalks, strolling out of the surrounding trees like Shoeless Joe from the cornfield in Field of Dreams, desperately seeking a game of pepper or catch.  This was a stereotypical mid-century American town, existing solely to honor the stereotypical American game – baseball. 
Cooperstown proper was about 6 blocks long, lined with baseball memorabilia shops and quaint eateries.  The first building to our left when the town appeared was the Hall of Fame, by far the most modern structure in town.  The rest was Mayberry, RFD.  We had to park the car quickly and breathe in the nostalgia.  We had 24 hours to live the dream, and then Brigadoon would disappear for us into the mist.  We had to get started.

We parked 5 blocks away from the Hall, right in front of Doubleday Field, a miniature baseball stadium for those players not invited into Cooperstown after major league (or Little League) careers.  At this midday hour, it was open to the public, so Thomas and I walked in, sat on the bleachers with the other 20 fans, and watched 2 teams battle on the diamond.  This was baseball at its purest.  There were young adults in full uniforms, playing for fun on a professional style diamond, enjoying heated competition in the summer air.  We sat among the sounds of the bat hitting the ball, the ball hitting leather, the chatter of the infielders, and the authoritative bellows of the home plate umpire.  We were enveloped by a cloud of dust kicked high after a stolen base, and hypnotized by the sweet smell of freshly cut grass.  We could have sat there all day.  We watched the game unfold, and spoke very little.  Speaking would have ruined it.
It started to sprinkle.  The rain was coming, but today, we didn’t really care.  We’re going to the Baseball Hall of Fame in a few minutes.  Eat your heart out, Pete Rose.

Next:  Steroids?  What Steroids?     

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Escape from New York

This is inning #6 of our father-son baseball escapades.  You can review the last 5 posts to get up to speed.

DAY FOUR:  Escape from New York 
As we exited the stadium, I insisted that Thomas stop with me to use the restroom.  We were headed directly from the game to Saugerties, NY, approximately 90 minutes without traffic to the north.  Of course, he said that he didn’t need to go, but I knew that a 90 minute post-game ride could turn into a 3 hour horn honking gridlock nightmare, and finding a clean, safe restroom in the Bronx would be like winning the lottery – twice.  I made the correct call.

The misty cloud that had been our home for 9 innings had descended to field level, but it had not developed into an outright downpour, for which I was thankful.  We walked to the car, and found it still in the lot, still with all of our belongings inside, and still completely trapped by the dozens of cars that had arrived for the game after us.  The parking attendant would need to move 3 others cars before we could move, so the idea of the paying the extra $10 to be across the street and exiting onto the freeway more quickly was looking pretty good.  Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for, and we were forced to wait in exchange for our $10 savings.

Contrary to popular myth, not everyone takes the subway to Yankee games on a Friday night.  Traffic was at a near standstill when we were finally freed.  We inched along and passed the time listening to the Mets game on local radio.  Two days of baseball, and we needed more.  The slow pace of departure gave us ample time to debate our next move – to take the next exit or not to take the next exit.

Let me take a moment to praise Thomas for his excellent navigating skills throughout the entire trip.  He had the unenviable task of keeping us headed in the right direction in unfamiliar territory, and for that I am grateful.  He had to multitask inputs from the printed directions from MapQuest against the sometimes contradictory advice of our British GPS, ambiguous road signage, and my own crazy instincts to turn for the sake of turning.  On this night, I would put his judgment skills to the test.

Jill, our British GPS voice, and the written MapQuest directions wanted us to take an exit towards New Jersey.  That particular exit was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see.  If we did not take the exit, and instead continued straight, we would be following signs towards the NY Thruway (I-87 North).  There was NO traffic headed straight towards the Thruway, and both Jill (the GPS) and MapQuest had us eventually hooking up with I-87.  In fact, our hotel reservation in Saugerties was just off I-87 North.  So it was decision time.  Go straight towards I-87 North, with no traffic but against the wishes of all our directions, or follow our directions and crawl at 2 mph for God knows how long.

Go fast – no idea what might happen.
Go slow – with certainty, but could take twice as long.

I wanted to be bold.  I wanted to put pedal to the metal and head north as fast as possible.  I was done sitting in the Bronx at 11 PM.  Sure, my gut might be longer in miles, but it would surely be faster in time elapsed.  This was a man-cation.  We spend our lives playing it safe once we have families.  Live a little.  Follow your dreams and the signs to the NY Thruway.  Prove your manhood to the boy.  Directions are for sissies.  You have a full tank of gas and an empty bladder.  Jill, in her proper English accent, would correct any egregious mistakes.  We would eventually make it to Saugerties.  Man up.

We took the exit and sat.  I blame the decision on my instinct to protect my son from my childish impulses, but in point of fact, we will never know if I made the correct choice.  Following the NY Thruway sign from that point could have led to roadblocks, bridge construction, or detours into Connecticut.  I will never know, and not to kill the ending, we did ultimately make it to Saugerties the slow way.

Over the bridge and into NJ we rode, and speeds picked up after 15 minutes or so.  By the time we got to the entrance to the NY Thruway, the clouds had finally given up, and the rain fell freely.  Now that I was able to travel at 65 mph, it was raining, Thomas was asleep, it was dark and the windshield wipers had a distracting gap in effectiveness, directly in my field of vision.  Saugerties was 60 miles away, and I could not see anything except the occasional roadside sign warning of rocks and deer.  At least I could see the signs.  If the rocks and deer didn’t have reflective tape, I would surely crush them with this minivan.

While Thomas dozed, I listen to a Mets postgame show with the world’s most pompous commentator, not on Fox News channel.  My readers from NY must know this clown.  I can’t recall his name, but he called the Mets by their formal name every time he mentioned the team, the “Metropolitans”, in the same way a parent would use a child’s full name when scolding him.  He tried to sound like a modern Howard Cosell, throwing in big words and trite analogies to inflate his own ego, since I was certain that I was the only listener.  This guy was so bad, I was thinking to heading to Canton instead of Cooperstown.

Around 1 AM, I pulled into the Howard Johnson in Saugerties.  The rain had stopped.  It was mostly dark at the entrance, and I was struck with momentary panic.  What if no one was there to let us in?  We were in the kind of area where if one employee calls out sick, the hotel probably doesn’t open, or Norman Bates covers the shift.  Thomas lifted his head, and I told him to wait in the car while I checked in.

I pulled on the door to the lobby.  Locked.  I peered inside.  Dark.  Two hours from NYC, 2 hours yet until Cooperstown, and we were going to sleep in the van.  Profanity couldn’t begin to express how I felt at this moment.  HoJo’s has lost my business, that’s for sure.

Then I saw the handwritten sign.  “Hotel Lobby – Around the Corner.”  I was pulling on the door to the restaurant.  I felt like an idiot, but at 1 AM, we are all idiots, so I was at least in good company.  Around the corner, the innkeeper was standing at the door enjoying the night air and a Camel.  This was not the Ritz.  “Please Lord, no bedbugs,” I prayed.

I checked in, deposited Thomas into bed after he brushed his teeth, and eased myself under the blankets.  The room was musty and the carpet was worn, but none of that mattered.  We were tired.  What mattered to me was my fear of bedbugs.  I imagined tiny bugs biting me, using my legs as a host, following me home and infecting my life.  I felt tingly sensations on my legs like biting insects until I finally fell asleep and slept tight.  Under the covers at the Howard Johnson’s in Saugerties, NY, there were probably worse things on those sheets, but I only feared the bugs.  After all, Saugerties hosted Woodstock II.
Cooperstown next stop.

Next:  The Slow Road to Brigadoon

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Evil Empire

The 5th inning of our father-son epic journey.  If you are just starting, go back to 'Round Tripper post, and work your way forward to follow the storyline.

DAY THREE (Part 2): The Evil Empire

I grew up in a highly partisan environment.  If you loved the Mets, you had to hate the Yankees.  If you loved the Yankees, you hated the Mets.  Before interleague play and the 2000 Subway Series, the Mets and Yankees only played once a year – the Mayor’s Trophy game, an exhibition contest held each May.  It was a big fundraising event, and the team’s regulars usually played a few innings before giving way to benchwarmers and Triple AAA prospects (usually meant the likes of Jim Beauchamp or Ron Hodges batting cleanup for 9 innings).  The game was meaningless, except to us boys between the ages of 8 and 18.  The Mayor’s Trophy game winner provided kids one year of bragging rights, and would serve as a indisputable comeback against any reasonable argument about one team’s superiority over the other.  Mets go to the World Series in 1973?  Yankee fans didn’t care, as long as the Yankees won the 1973 Mayor’s Trophy game.  Yankees crush the Dodgers in the 1977 Fall Classic?  No concern for Mets fans, as long as the Mets won the 1977 Mayor’s Trophy game.

This is the kind of irrational thinking that I had somehow passed on to my son, growing up 200 miles away from New York.  My poor boy played Little League for the Yankees, and his bias shone through before every game.  His team would gather in a circle and cheer, “One, two, three, YANKEES!”, and my loyal offspring would cheer, “One, two, three…” and then fall silent.  He had been programmed such that he could not cheer for the Yankee name, even when he was on their team.  He talked openly about how he could destroy his Yankee cap once the LL season ended.  I had created a monster.  Now was my chance to teach him some balance, some respect for the competition, some maturity about fandom.  We would mingle with the enemy for an entire evening, weather permitting.

The 7 mile drive from Manhattan to the home of the Bronx Bombers took a mere 50 minutes.  At least I knew before we got into the car that it would take that long to traverse such a short distance.  The directions were simple, and we quickly found parking close off the exit.

Covered parking to the left was $35.  Open air lot parking was $25 to our right.  The $10 savings could buy us an extra hot dog.  I turned right, parked where directed, and soon realized that saving $10 might come back to haunt us after the game.  Cars were being stacked like sardines in a can, and we were told to leave our keys in the car.  Hmmm, here was a lesson in trust, and I didn’t want to have a lesson in trust in the Bronx.  Leave the keys and trust.  Lock the car and take the keys, and forget trust.  We had little or no valuables (at least not of value to others), and the car wasn’t going anywhere as car after car filled the lot.  I followed directions, left the keys, and prepared myself for 3 nervous hours of a tenuous trust.

With scorebook in hand, we headed towards the stadium, looming ahead in the misty fog.  It wasn’t raining, but it was about as close to raining as it could be without actual drops coming down.  We followed the gathering crowd through the hallowed ground of the old Yankee Stadium.  I was here once before in 2009 when part of The House That Ruth Built was still in place.  The old stadium was not demolished; it was disassembled piece by piece.  Today, there was nothing left, replaced by a Legends Field for players of lesser talents and even lesser bank accounts.  The sidewalk beneath our feet was speckled with bronze plates marking famous dates in the old Yankee Stadium’s history – Don Larsen’s perfect game, Reggie Jackson’s 3 home runs in the WS, and the return of baseball after September 11th.  You couldn’t really stop to read every marker since the fans were creating a strong current pulling us towards the coliseum that rose in front of us.

Yes, I said coliseum.  If the Mets played on a field, the Yankees played in a stadium.  While Citifield invoked images of a pastoral game, Yankee Stadium invoked images of gladiators fighting to the death.  You could not see into the stadium from the outside, only the eerie glow of the floodlights on top, but the feeling was that inside those concrete walls, there was a 50-50 chance you could be eaten by a lion.  If intimidation was part of the architectural design, then mission accomplished.

Once again, our 8 ½” by 11” Stub Hub print out worked at the gates and we were inside the Jungle.  We were accosted almost immediately by one of the photographers who takes your picture, hoping you will go home and purchase that picture from their website.  This particular photographer must have smelled blood or be compensated by commission, because it felt like we were being sold a timeshare from the woman.  This was our first run in with the stereotypical “pushy” New Yorker, so I had to demonstrate to Thomas how to reciprocate by blowing the person off.  Take notes, Thomas.

We were about 75 minutes from first pitch, and I was committed to walking through Monument Park beyond the centerfield wall.  Monument Park at Yankee Stadium has oversized tombstones of granite that commemorate the greats of Yankee history, and there are many.  The names of Yankee heroes are synonymous with the game of baseball itself – Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle.  The nicknames are equally embedded in American culture: The Babe, The Ironman, Joltin’ Joe, Yogi, The Mick, Mr. October.  You can be a hater all you want, but you cannot deny respect for the accomplishments and contributions of these legends of the game.  You could argue that beyond Tom Seaver, the most famous name associated with the Mets is Bill Buckner, and he played for the other side.  The Yankees are baseball history, and Monument Park would be a good appetizer before we made it to Cooperstown the next day.  This would be my first attempt at rehabilitating my son just a little bit.
The line to enter was long, but moved quickly.  When standing next to the actual monuments, it is hard to imagine that at one time, these colossal pieces of stone were actually on the field of play in the old, old Yankee centerfield.  But they were.  It had to feel like shagging fly balls in a graveyard.

The monuments were neat, and I enjoyed educating Thomas about these heroes of baseball.  The best part for me was the view from over the fence towards home plate.  How could anyone hit a baseball this far?  Thomas could have stood there for hours watching as batting practice was taking place.  This was an interesting vista for a ball game.

Assuming that the impending rain wouldn’t delay the start, we still had time to kill, so Thomas and I headed to the left field corner where Colorado Rockies’ players were tossing up balls caught during outfield practice.  Security must have sensed my loyalty to another team, and would not let me pass into the reserved seating section, but Thomas was allowed to stand right on the wall, begging for a soft toss from one of the outfielders.  No balls were claimed, but he did spend a good 20 minutes right in the middle of the action.  It is in moments like this, when a child is close to the players and the field, that a lifelong love of the sport takes root. 
I spent those 20 minutes at the top of the stairway chatting with the usher and a woman whose family was down close also trying for stray baseballs.  Believe it or not, she and her husband and kids were spending the week visiting Citifield, Yankee Stadium and then heading to Cooperstown.  Great minds think alike.

We ate the traditional sausage and peppers ballpark dinner, and headed to our seats in the clouds.  That is not to say that our seats were high up in the stadium.  That is to say that our seats were in a cloud.  The evening was a dreary one, with visibility of less than a mile.  More than once we would look out across the stadium from our seats along first base and think, “Those people on the other side are in a cloud.”  Of course, those fans on the third base side were probably looking at us and thinking the same thing.  Thankfully, we were underneath the overhang, and any actual rain did not hit us.  We suffered only from the blowing mist.

Thomas kept score the entire game, and took his responsibility very seriously.  If the pitch count at the end of the inning disappeared too quickly from the scoreboard before he could take note, he became agitated.  This was the first part of the trip when we could just sit and talk and watch baseball, without distraction.

Of course, there was the distraction of the people in front of us, who kept getting up from their seats constantly in the middle of innings, bringing back all varieties of food-like products, posing for cell phone pictures of themselves, and surfing Facebook while the game was happening.  These people represented what I hated about Yankee fans.  They were more concerned with saying they were at the game than actually being at the game.  They were there in their Stepford Wives’matching pinstripe uniforms, wanting to tell all their imaginary friends that they went to a Yankee game, when none of them were following the action of the game.  They weren’t fans; they were groupies.

OK, that was unnecessary, but I feel better.

Jeter was on the DL, so we didn’t see the newest member of the 3,000 hit club.  No Bob Shepherd on the PA.  Mariano Rivera was not needed on this night, so we did not get to hear Metallica introduce #42 into the game for the save opportunity.    We did experience the Roll Call, when the right field crazies chant the name of every Yankee player in the field, one at a time, until they acknowledge the crowd with a wave.  We did hear the infamous, “Hip Hip Jorge!” cheer, and we did see a slightly deflated Jason Giambi hit a home run against his former team.  The Yankees lost, but given our pre-game biases, we were not disappointed. 

Thomas kept score to the final out, and we watched the 9th inning from about 20 rows behind the 1st base dugout.  The weather was not perfect, but it was a perfect night of father-son baseball bonding.  By the end of the evening, Thomas might have actually cheered once for the home team, but he might not admit it.

The night was far from over, however; we were headed halfway to Cooperstown before we could go to sleep for the night.  Now it will probably rain.

Next Up:  Escape from New York