The New Season

by

06/22/2006

161st Street and River Avenue Bronx, NY 10451

Neighborhood: Bronx, Outer Boroughs

The Mets are out of town. My childhood friend Jim wants to see a ballgame before he’s tied up remodeling his Long Island house, which he estimates will take all of his free time May through October. He can’t wait until the Amazins, his favorite team and mine, return from a trip to the West Coast and Atlanta, so it’s the Yanks or nothing.

I meet Jim and my younger brother Chris, a Yankee fan, at Penn Station and we head to the Bronx on the D train, cautiously optimistic that the game will be played. It’s a cold, nasty, October-like day in April without the benefit of Bronx playoff buzz. It’s a new season, but something feels wrong about the day. Like all that is happening isn’t supposed to be happening. The Yanks are playing Baltimore. Chacon is pitching. And we don’t have tickets.

On the way uptown, among the grown men dressed in Jeter and Bernie Williams jerseys, Jim tells us about the work ahead. He’s doing all the plumbing and woodwork himself. He’s a plumber, a furniture refinisher, and a potter. I like to think of him of an artisan, in the classic sense. His meticulous nature makes him an anachronism, as does his eschewing of all technological innovations since 1995. Hates cell phones and computers, no email; he lives happily in an earlier time.

He tells us his wife and daughter are moving to his mother-in-law’s house for the summer, or for as long as it takes him to finish the job. He plans to sleep on a cot in the kitchen. It’s a huge job. The entire house, a former summer bungalow, will be torn up and a second floor added. He plans to be exhausted. He plans to live a Spartan life. He’s going into exile and, for the moment, this is his last hurrah.

We scalp tickets because it’s a buyer’s market and because we want to get good seats under an overhang in case it rains, which by the looks of it might happen at any minute. Jim does the talking with the scalper, a man in his 50s, turning him down at first. The scalper leaves and then returns to sell us three of his four ducats. Apparently we’re supposed to follow him to the seats and pay him there. I’m not sure why. On the way, he tells us he’s from Westchester. Jim and Chris live on Long Island. I live in Brooklyn. Jim tells him this. I never find out why our scalper’s at the game alone. I don’t ask.

Once at our seats, we start drinking like sailors on shore leave. After awhile our scalper from Westchester says he sees friends in another section, and bids us adieu. I get the feeling he’s not telling the truth. We wish him luck and he’s on his way.

Miraculously the rain holds off, the game starts on time, and the entirety is played without delay. Again, however, I have an uneasy feeling—guilt—we’re getting away with something, we’re stealing.

In the sixth inning, I win five bucks from Jim when I bet him that Hideki Matsui will come through in the clutch and drive in at least two runs. Matsui hits a double off the left-centerfield wall with the bases loaded. We have no way of knowing that in two weeks he’ll break his wrist, sliding for a ball against the Red Sox, all but ending his season.

In the seventh we start talking about where we’re going next. A few bars in Manhattan and then back to Brooklyn, where Jim and Chris will be able to catch a train home at the LIRR-Flatbush Avenue Station.

By the time we get to Brooklyn the portentous weather has at last arrived, a torrent of rain and ankle-high puddles on 5th and Flatbush. I pull out an umbrella, and I’m lightly ridiculed. It’s my wife’s influence, I’m told. But I just don’t want to get wet.

In a bar on 5th, we continue our drinking. We’re in our mid-thirties now, too old to drink all day and into the night. We’re not supposed to be doing this. I feel foolish. And here is where I recognize the feeling I’ve had all day: I’ve been unconsciously reliving earlier days and nights I’ve spent with my dear friend and brother; days long gone now. I’m stealing time just like Julio Franco, the 47-year-old New York Met—bench player, pinch hitter, oldest player in Major League Baseball.

Chris decides it’s time to go. He’s got an infant daughter at home now. It’s so late in the evening that I don’t see the point, but he leaves anyway. Jim stays on. We drunkenly plug a small fortune into the jukebox, an ad hoc soundtrack from days when we were better-suited and age-appropriate for these antics. The crowd in the bar is, thankfully, not too young. Even they seem a little old to be carrying on the way they are. Jim and I are not the only ones in our thirties.

How tragically hip (not the band) and soaking in self-important irony Brooklyn can seem at times. A pose one outgrows, I once thought, but now I look around and I see poseurs my age still living the dream and it causes me to wonder what’s amiss.

When I told my father people were moving back to Bed-Stuy, where he grew up poor, and that they were young, educated, white people too, he looked at me like I was from Mercury. Move back there?

Sometimes I think Brooklyn is utterly and completely gentrified, and then something happens to make me think Brooklyn today is closer to his Brooklyn than it is to mine, and how that might not necessarily be a bad thing. And it’s not just Brooklyn–this is true of all of New York City.

People from Michigan and Long Island and New Jersey and Canada and Nebraska are moving to the LES. It looks harmless, like a playground, to them. But the next thing you know, last night’s bouncer is dumping a corpse on the side of the Belt Parkway.

Our hipster scene can be amusing however, and I try not to judge—not outwardly anyway—for fear of appearing a curmudgeon. I need to be increasingly careful of that these days, even though I felt the same way at 23.

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