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2005-09-14 - 3:18 p.m.

A Yankee in Big Pappi's Court

As I lit up another cigarette, standing idle on a Cambridge corner, I watched a girl emerge from a MIT fraternity; a girl that Carrie Fisher’s character in When Harry Met Sally would have described as “your average nightmare. Blond hair, big tits." As she re-adjusted herself in her skirt, she rambled into her cell.

“I don’t know, Paula. It’s just…I am so bad at math!”

******************

Let me just say, my faith in college culture is waning terribly. I’ve been gone for four years, and you guys have let things slip. Three hours wandering. Not one Internet café. All the other staples were there: twenty four hour liquor stores, coffee shops with their creatively cute colloquialisms for cup sizes, vintage stores full your parents old tour t-shirts, a high priced ritzy dinette entitled, “The Eatin’ Place,” and dry cleaners, dry cleaners, dry cleaners, littering the landscape like lemmings leaping on a patch of nightshade. Not one Internet café.

A few places did offer, should you be ready with a wireless card. Hotspots abounded over the streets, but an actual terminal had apparently been deemed passé. I begin to wonder if the Harvard Brats are offered WiFi in their orientation packet.

“Here’s your class schedule, your school map, and your Dell Inspiron laptop with Centrino technology. If you don’t like the color, please return it, and I’ll have several day wagers varnish it to the hue of your liking.”

My desperation to simply check my e-mail conjured dreams of seducing a strange girl skirting the fringes of normality, rejected by her peers, but possessing a certain classic beauty that could easily be brought out if accentuated. I would then lavish her artistic tendencies and nurture her inner beauty, until she began to trust herself and my affections for her, until finally, after a series of missed connections and awkward situations, she accepted me into the bosom of her dorm room where we will consummate our burgeoning love, and I could use her university subsidized connection to finally check my God-Damned, Mother-Fucking E-Mail!

Amidst a square of tweens fighting over red hoodies, I finally gave in, sinking onto a bench to read a copy of the New York Post I’d found tucked away in a Newsstand that garishly displayed their neigh on pornographic German photography magazines, and Russian financial newsletters.

As my hands unfurled the technologically inferior newsprint, a townie blinked in my direction. Something struck his brain coarsely, and he turned to look again, staring at the front page.

“New York Post, huh?”
“Yeah.”

His eyes narrowed.

“You like the Red Sox or the Yankees?”

His friends turned to look on, prepping the inevitable verbal lashing that awaits any New Yorker when he bumbles into Beantown.

”Well…”

I flashed back to my days in Europe, when I told everyone I was Canadian.

“I like the Mets.”

*************************

“I’m going to move to Boston.”
“What?”
“Boston. I’m moving to Boston.”
“You’re going to move to Boston, and…what?”
“I have no idea.”

I had about five Grad school applications in my hand; a mixed bag of Education and Creative Writing programs. I even took the GRE. I expected it to be a lot like the SAT, and it was, with one notable exception. The SAT’s allow you to rub out the last of your lead pencil, leave, grab a forty-ounce, a good hooker and a Cuban, and then wait a couple months for your destiny to come in two three-digit numbers. The GRE’s, thanks to the modern miracle of computers, are tabulated immediately, and you’re landed with the news as you leave the testing room.

I think it’s so they can record the screams of horror.

As I weighted the bulky envelopes in my hand, something felt off. I just wasn’t sure. I threw them in the trash, instead of the mailbox.

As a granite bookend dropped on the tail of my academic years, I slapped together a fine piece of haberdashery and bullshit that I claimed as a life plan. Remembering my days in New England’s Capital, staying over a few days to take a glimpse at Emerson as a High School senior, I pulled back images of artists lounging over detailed charcoal renderings of the sun catching the Charles, young sirs in matching leather jackets exchanging ideas on a new stage play, and Ultimate Frisbee played by the night lights of Boston Common. Without rhyme, reason, or means, I muttered to all that would hear,

“I’m going to move to Boston.”

*************************

Everyday the maids in my hotel folded the clothes in my room, despite being lumped in slovenly laundry pile. No matter what was down there, when I came back to the room, my Yankee jersey sat perfectly folded on top. I pictured two of them, rifling through my squalor, each trying to ignore the pinstripes, afraid to touch it, lest they be infected.

The Bronx Bombers were in town that weekend for a four game tilt, the Yanks just behind the Sox in the AL East race. Without cable, I’d been listening to the games in my apartment over the radio, staring line drives and cut fastballs into my ceiling. If there was anything positive to be said of hotel living on the road, it’s easy access to ESPN. For some reason the only two shows playing everlasting in hotel rooms across the nation are Sportcenter and Antique Roadshow. If you can’t find either playing in your hotel room, open the drawer in your nightstand, pick up the Gideon Bible, and brush up on Revelations. Some serious shit is coming down the pike.

However, somehow the latest installment of Baseball Armageddon managed to slip through the fingers of ESPN that night, and, apparently, every local station had decided Boston surely wouldn’t care too much about a measly ball game played with some piddly little rival just to the south. Nah.

There was a sports bar downstairs, so I made my way down, being sure not to wear anything blue, pinstriped or whitewashed with Derek Jeter’s face. (Granted he’s only on my jammies, but they’re just so dang comfortable, you want to wear them everywhere.)

I’d been preparing myself for Sox fans for weeks before coming north. At my defense I readied weapons of a in-depth knowledge of the lineups and statistics of the last ten years of the Rivalry, a rapier wit ready to retort the ringing rants over the Yanks tumble out of the ALCS last year, and a willingness to run squealing into the night while wetting myself. I was ready.

I glanced the score, seeing seven to one in favor of the sox, and quickly swore up a storm…inside my head. I smiled serenely while thinking, “Goddamn fucking starting pitching, can’t get a damn hurler to save our lives, not even with enough cash to buy out fucking Luxemburg. Fuck why don’t we just move the Yankees to Luxemburg. The fucking bums. The Luxemburg Yankees, that’ll fucking do. Goddamn fucking pussy shit fuck…”

“You need to get up to the bar?”

I blinked, looking into the bicuspids of a gentleman, very pleased to offer a spot on the pine.

“Yeah. Yeah.”
“We definitely have room for you.”
“Allright, thanks man.”
“Mmmm…”

I ordered up a drink and found a seat. Ten to one, Sox.

“Hello.”
“Hi.”
“Sox doing the business, huh?”
“Yer not kidding.”

I nodded slowly to the man on my left, and kept my eyes on the screen. I wasn’t going to go so far as to cheer the Sox, but I certainly wasn’t going to announce my allegiance against them.

The bar was full of guys. Barely a single girl wiggled in the mix. I thought it surprising considering most of the guys were fairly well built and not in any way afraid to show it off. The Muscle shirts ran like wine over the whole place.

“’Don’t get up. You stay right there.”

An old man in suspenders and scooted behind me, placing a hand on my shoulders. He gave it a squeeze and a smile as he walked away.

Thirteen to one, Sox.

“God fucking damn, Ortiz, mother…”

It was about this time, I stepped outside for a cigarette. I sat on the park bench they’d installed out back. My mind wandered as I ran through the line-up trying to think of anything the Yanks might be able to do to stop the tides rushing them into an embarrassing rout. I saw disabled lists appear before my eyes as I stared forward, unfocused, on the three motorcycles with rainbow flags on the back…”Sturtze already proved ineffective, and it might just be better to give Gordon and Rivera a rest, especially with…wait…”

Seventeen to one, Sox.

“Oh, God. I’m in a gay bar.”

I don’t particularly feel weird about being in a gay bar. It’s not that big of a deal. But then there’s being in a gay sports bar in Boston.

I was the one straight Yankee fan, in a gay Sawx bar.

I did my best to maintain my composure, but it was difficult when I started seeing “Fuck the Yankees” T-shirt’s in an entirely different light.

Boston won that night, and as the final out was counted the bar broke out into “Yank-ee’s Suck! Yank-ee’s Suck!” I ducked out before they formalized the request.

*******************************

I visit a local bar, with local drafts and local artists. I come an hour early, whittling away a day in beer and whatever reading materials I can get my hands on. Within a half hour half the place was turned over; turned stage. With liquors coursing in my veins, listening to acoustic guitars matched with caustic libretto, I fell into the kind of over-importance and smug security that I can only muster while staring through beer goggles. My mind awash with ego, I ripped a page off the newspaper I’d been reading and committed the most narcissistic of all sins. I scrawled out poetry.

“Staring into existence.
And the uncomfortable glances that trespass in,
Watching the parade of equipment,
A complicated stew of appliances,
Rigged and drawn into emotive order,
In a bar sitting beside myself.”

It’s not my form, but with a well lubricated mood, and the availability of a few trite lyrics of broken hearts, anyone who claims, for some god awful reason, to be a wordsmith, will become convinced he’s got the chops to throw together some striking stanzas.

“Amongst friends of the band,
Not listening to the lyrics for the lilt,
I’m smiling to spite the seat beside me,
Occupied in lives left along legos and Lincoln logs.”

I sat writing down all my smirks between cheering sections for each of the bands. Apparently the only one in the bar who didn’t know everyone, I sat flanked by two huddles throwing praise with the speed and consistency of the Rocket.

“Some old haunting artifacts that seem
Permeable, transient.
Seem like words.”

By the third round, I called for a shot of whiskey to close the night, my eyes starting to drip off my face from the late day and the late hour. Electric replaced acoustic, and I began to tap my foot in earnest, trying my best to conceal my uncontrollable yawns in the rhythm.

“I can remember the song,
The arrangement of the notes
And the calculated lyrics.”

The last Irish dew off the ice cubes, I folded up the cover page of the newspaper I’d sullied, stuffing it into my breast pocket, full of the pride that comes with a ludicrous job ludicrously done.

“I’m somewhere else now,
But for now I’m here,
So bless the day, the dregs, the strum,
Beating like composite hearts.”

No one looked as I lit another smoke on my way out the door.

“Night will set and this will be another seat I’ve occupied. “

***************************************

“Congratulations.”
“Thank you.”
“We got you a little gift.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“Of course we didn’t, but we did, so…”
“Wow.”
“Best guide to Boston we could find. Brand new. Full of maps.”
“Great.”
“I’ll come visit you once you get settled.”
“Umm…”
“What?”
“I’m not moving to Boston.”
“What?!”
“Well, New York has all the publishing houses,” I’ve never applied for one publishing job. “…and the rent prices are down with 9/11.” No they weren’t. “…and, I don’t know, it’s New York.” It is.
“Oh.”
“Yeah.”
“You’re going to need another guide book.”
“Probably.”

***************************************

“Ohmygawd! I almost forgot.”

The high school girl ahead of me in line rustled into her purse. Done up in black tank and tattered skirt, she’d pulled her hair up in anticipation of the mosh pit. She wiped a stray lock behind her ear revealing an innocent face behind all the darkness and safety pins. Her lip curled a little in frustration. She looked so simple.

“There it is.”

She popped her birth control pill.

“Now I’m ready for the concert.”

I’d been looking to find a concert to hit during my week in Boston. My first plan was to see Tegan and Sara. I’d made a friend with this particular band, comparing music with a girl in a local bar back in New York.

“You like Tegan and Sara?” she said, eyes lighting up.
“Yeah.”
“You don’t meet too many guys into lesbo-folk!”

Work conspired against me on that one, so I moved on to the reunion of an early eighties punk rock band, going under the moniker “The Subhumans.” The local paper I’d been scribbling poetry on had an interview with the lead singer, who spoke intelligently about the inequities his songs had been screaming about twenty years ago, and their steadfast continuation in the business friendly Bush Administration.

“It’d be nice if they didn’t apply anymore.”

The mood caught me, and I fancied a taste of disgruntled politico, so I went by the club and picked up my ten-dollar ticket.

When I came back at showtime, I quickly realized I was the only one there that had considered Tegan and Sara a couple days previous.

I thought, considering the band in question hadn’t performed in this millennium before, the old school punks would wiggle their way out of the woodwork, ditching their office jobs and significant others for an evening spent with their rebellious youth. Instead, the front of the club was mobbed with, well…rebellious youths.

Teens littered the lobby, covered entirely in black, except for the wild colors of the mohawks they sported on their heads. Left and right were boys in pants so tight one could have confused them for a ballet company were it not for the Misfits patches. Each of them lamenting the current quagmire their chosen art form seems stymied in – thank you Blink 182. Each of them happy to return once more to the nostalgic music they remember as zygotes.

Not only did I suddenly feel like the elder statesman of the group, but my decision to wear my bright yellow t-shirt and blue jeans seemed suddenly, terribly emo.

Inside, the predictably dank and dusky hall gave every face the look of looming anticipation. Those of us without steel-toed boots were provided a small vestibule to the side of the mosh pit floor where we could congregate without bashings. But the majority of the rambunctious crowd horded down right before the stage, and began the process of beating each other into a pulp, seconds after the first opening band shrieked out the first opening power cord.

Lead singers screamed as if in the process of losing an arm, and the chittlin’s responded by throwing themselves about the room with the frenzy of someone about to lose an arm. One flopped into the next with all the decorum of a flier caught in a gale force. They circled, one scrap after the next, spiraling like a tornado of spiky haired fleshlings. Every now and again two particles would ebb out of the flow and scream into each other in the middle, sometimes simply acting out a feather-weight sumo contest, and other times throwing punches and kicks eight inches from each other. Those that fell were lifted amidst laughter, all with the air of benevolent sadism.

As the sets wore on, the mass grew tired, but they continued their march. With unerring devotion, the circle continued to churn, but the fighters that sparred in the middle began to wear. After one particularly good thumping, one gent stopped, catching his breath in the nexus of the storm. He crossed his arms and stared ahead at the singer screeching at high octaves, while the mass churned around him. They kept up thrusting angrily at nothing, while he stood serenely, almost meditating on the rhythms.

I had some company up in the wuss seats. Two boys around thirteen stood awkwardly by, while their father tried to make sense of the scene before them. The brothers did their best to enjoy the music despite being entrenched in their father’s sphere of influence, but could do little more than tap their feet, and try not to stare too openly at the punk rock chicas flailing about in butch haircuts.

Beside me, not too surprisingly, were the ladies in lace. Somehow, no matter what the gathering, there always seems to be a few women in attendance who make it their business to be the prettiest ones in the room. These four kept the status quo, wearing white lace baby-doll shirts and blue jeans that accentuated every one of their assets. While the display was well structured, it was out of place in this gallery. The girls sweating in tanks and tattoos turned the heads of the cute punk boys, and the ladies in lace left before the Subhumans hit the stage. I found them outside after the show, on their cell phones.

“Don’t let your dreams…heh…heh…Don’t let your dreams become [utterly inaudible under guitar riff.]”

The night went on, and the brotherhood in the pit continued as they all went sore, sometimes even getting comical. Two boys enacted a bullfight in the moist pit during one song. The Matador, having run the bull into the stacked bodies, then turned, drew the hand of a dashing damsel, and waltzed her across the floor, all to the slamming beats of the snare.

The Subhumans, despite advancing age, delivered song after song that drove the crowd into friendly violence. The crowd got their money’s worth, pumping their fists in defiance of big business, big government, just about anything big. But still, back in my corner, sat nine people huddled up quietly and tightly. We in no way ignored the show, but we were distracted fairly regularly. Even in a punk rock show, even in the storm of music down in that basement, people were still cheering the Red Sox.

Between songs one of the moshers came to my side.

“Whadda we got?”
“Sox are up a couple runs, seventh inning.”
“Sweet.”

The bartender handed him a glass of water. He drank half of it, poured the rest over his head, and went back out on the floor.

********************************

“You’ve got to do it. It’s like a rite of passage.”
“I’m going to lose an appendage.”
“No you’re not. The worst I got was a beer dumped on me and a hot dog thrown at my head.”
“Yeah, but, you’re a girl. They won’t beat you up.”
“They might of, if my dad wasn’t there.”
“Your dad was there? He’s, like, a two hundred and fifty pound bruiser.”
“Yeah, so?”
“I’m a buck fifty, and a nerd. They’ll throw me around like a beach ball.”
“It’ll be, like, a red badge of courage. Tell you what, I’ll beat you up if you don’t do it.”
“Beautiful.”

The biggest point of contention for my Boston trip was that well folded Yankee jersey. I’d been sitting on a ticket for a game at Fenway with the Yanks in town for almost two months, so there’d been a good amount of time to consider the bludgeoning I might receive for such a sin.

“Don’t even say you’re from New York. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Mets fan, a Giants fan, whatever. They’ll kill you.”

In the end, I put on my cup, buttoned up the jersey, and walked the mile to get to the ballpark through the heart of Boston.

The strangest thing about wearing the rival garment was that I didn’t get much hatred before the game. The standard reaction was one of stunned confusion. They’d see the blue of the warm-up jersey, look for a second, glance at the NY in the corner, and then greet my eyes with surprise, as if pondering, “How can this be? How could this occur? Why? Just…Why?”

The only abuse I received before the game came via the duck tours that wash over Boston’s Bays. The Ducks are amphibious craft with wheels hanging out the bottom of the boat. They can hit the historic streets and then rumble into the waters. Waiting on a corner for the light to change, one pulled up, the guide in mid-story.

“…in Copley Square. The Prudencial Center is right to your left, along with some truly historic churches and…”

The conDUCKtor, as they’re called on the website, turned and noticed me.

“…churches and…Hey, does anyone know what we call people wearing New York jerseys here in Boston?”

I never heard the answer, as the duck pulled round the corner. All I heard was a little kid answer the question, and the collective on the tour titter in reply.

Fenway truly lives up to the name ‘park’. Before even getting a glimpse of the diamond, I wandered the promenade of Fenway, one covered in small food stands, picnic tables, and happy families enjoying a full day at the park. I was assured there’d be a small but palpable Yankee contingent in attendance, so I immediately went about counting my fellows in the cause. By the end of the day, I counted eleven. Fenway Park’s capacity: thirty-three thousand, eight hundred and seventy one.

I scouted out the seats as quickly as possible to see what I was in for. A collection of poles hold up the roof over the grandstand, many of them blocking the view of the field. Luckily, my seat was just far enough to the left of the pole to provide a view of home plate. To my left, a family of Sox fans, including two women straining to contain four children, bristled slightly as I sat, but seemed to calm as I smiled warmly at them, and made calm chatter. To my right, two empty seats, and then three businessmen in non-partisan attire; a rarity. I wasn’t overly pleased with the gent sitting behind me who listed opinions on every single ball-player that touched turf that day, but all in all I couldn’t think of a better crew to enjoy the game with. The most fervent fan was Chris, a three-year-old boy, and I thought I could take him.

Tim Wakefield, a pitcher I respect more than just about almost any other, took the mound for Boston, looked into Miribelli and threw the first pitch. The game was on.

For an inning, it was beautiful. No troubles, the Yanks were getting hits, to the surprise of everyone Al Leiter was throwing strikes…a lot. And I was still getting along with the family to my right.

“Hey, Chris.”
“Yeah, Mommy?”
“You’re going to need to stand up for a little bit.”
“Why?”
“Cause your boney ass is digging into Mommy’s lap.”

Then, suddenly, I felt a brush on my right. Two guys, full Red Sox attire framing their bouncer’s builds, shuffled into the seats beside me. As they sat down, they gave me the look I’d gotten all day. Blue jersey, New York logo, Why? I stopped to stare at their ball caps. They had what looked like the Yankee’s logo, but the N in the NY was an H.

It read “Yankee Hater.” Wonderful.

Making matters worse, my seat was in perfect position to see home plate. His, was just behind the pole. I stared at the back of that hat for a good portion of the game, as he leaned in front of me, grinning.

Having been to Yankee stadium, Shea, Busch Stadium and Ameriquest Field, I couldn’t help but notice a distinct difference in Fenway. New York is so split over their baseball teams, not just the Mets and the Yanks, but the Sox, the Cubs, the Braves, and the A’s, that most games you go to have strong away factions. So many people have immigrated into the city, carrying their hometown pride that any bar you mosey up to the Big Apple will have at least four teams represented. In Fenway, need I remind you, I was part of an eleven-person contingent representing the Empire State. While chants tend to compete to grab the whole crowd in Yankee stadium, at Fenway, it seems as if the entire crowd is reading out of a hymnal. The entire park congeals into one force, chanting together, cheering together, groaning together. The Red Sox Nation has one voice; one very loud voice. Even when their players fail, they cheer them, offering the kind of support you expect to hear at a little league game.

“It’s alright Johnny, you’ll get them on the next one!”

I never did get any real trouble from the Yankee Haters. When a commotion started in the stands a couple sections to my left, I turned to him.

“What’s going on over there?”
“Some obnoxious Yankee fan, starting shit.”

I blinked.

“Hold on,” He said. “No one’s been giving you any guff, right?”
“No, not really.”
“That’s how it goes. You’re respectful. We got no problem with you. You’re an ass. You get booted.”

When the Yankee’s scored, I made with the golf clap.

Behind the shockingly good pitching of Al Leiter, the Yanks carried a five-one lead into the ninth, with Mariano Rivera on the mound. Mo got Trot Nixon to serve up a double play ball right to Cano, but he flubbed it, putting runners on the corners. I threw up my hands to cover the wince on my face, and noticed a guy a row in front of me doing the same. We caught each other’s eye. He, like the businessmen, avoided either of the gang’s colors. I looked at him for a moment before he spoke.

“Up from NYU.”
“Cool,” I said, shaking his hand. He pointed to the jersey.
“You’re a better man than I.”

I smiled.

With some support now, I cheered a little louder. The Sox had closed within two runs. No outs registered. The bases loaded. My feet were tapping, my hands clenched. The Faithful poured affection onto the field, pleading for a hit on each and every pitch. In all the noise, Mariano let loose a cutter. Alex Cora grounded right to A-Rod, who tossed it home to make the out. Posada turned quickly on it, and caught Cora at first completing a controversial double play. Damon grounded out at the next at bat.

In my head I heard Frank.

I high-fived the covert Yankee fan in front of me, and thanked the Hater for not beating my ass.

“Yeah, Yeah…” He slinked off, probably reconsidering.

“Okay, So I wore the jersey.”
“You okay?”
“Yeah, kinda…”
“Whadda ya mean?”
“Well, when I first got here they seem to regard me as if a penguin just walked into the ballpark, but now that the Yanks won…”

On cue, and in perfect Boston accent…

“Ey, why don’t ya take off tha jersey, ya ass-hole!”

“Well, I’m very proud of you, John.”
“Be proud of me once I get out of here alive.”

In the stew of people squirming about, a girl bumped into me. She turned, apologetic.

“Sorry, Sorry…”

Then, she saw the jersey.

“…Oh, and…Boo.”

*****************************

On my last night in Boston, I wandered into a bar not far from the hotel I was staying at. The people seemed nice enough, and Cartoon Network was playing on the TV, albeit without sub-titles. The bartender reminded me of a barkeep back home, minus the blond hair. I talked with a couple who’d just moved into their first apartment together, and we discussed car insurance rates, a subject I know absolutely nothing about. It was homey.

I’m not sure why I changed my mind at the last moment, moving to New York instead of Boston. It might have been my friend’s depiction of her apartment in Southie. A three bedroom they each paid seven hundred for, only to be inundated by rotting pipes and prolific mice. It might have been my grandfather’s love of the Yankees. Hell, it might have been my disappointment that they renamed the Bull and Finch, hanging a big Cheers sign out front.

A few of my friends in college made plans to go to Portland, Oregon after they graduated. Word was Portland was a liberal small-town city; one that offered opportunities like a metropolis should, without feeling sprawled out or confining. A city that somehow felt homey. A lot like our college town. Warm, soft, homogenous, young and spriteful. Crystallized in faith. Boston felt the same. Inviting.

New York is full of jagged corners, rough neighborhoods, and surprising turns; a city that fights you, rather than keep the lights on. Despite the efforts of hipsters, Giuliani, and zoning officials, one turn down one block and you’re in a different world.

A few months after I moved to here, I went to the grocery store to stock my shelves with mac and cheese. Outside a bum babbled off a homily to himself. He glanced up from his own mind and spotted me.

“You know, there are some people that never grow up.”

Maybe I moved here because I thought it would help.

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