- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Belated Best Wishes

Well, partner, happy birthday several hours after the fact. I think I've remembered it once in the last decade, which is odd since May 8 is one of my favorite anniversary dates.

May 8, 1970: Knicks win championship. At that moment, I was at least as big a Knicks fan as Mets fan. At least. It was a helluva way to be introduced to professional sports, my two favorite teams winning remarkable championships inside of seven months. They were so remarkable that each has gone on to win exactly one more championship in the ensuing 35+ years. My interest in each team set off on divergent paths. The Mets remained The Mets for me forever, while the Knicks eventually became what teams become for normal people. I followed them when they were good, I followed them less when they were less good, and I never quite recovered the fervor I had for them when I was a child. Since right about the time you and I found each other (the Knicks were en route to the NBA finals against Houston), my interest in them and basketball has declined precipitously; no coincidence, I'm thinking. You were a good influence on my priorities, clearing my head of extraneous nonsense, a.k.a. anything that wasn't baseball. Nevertheless, I still remember fondly that Friday night in first grade when Marv Albert told the listening audience — can you believe the NBA blacked out the seventh-game telecast in New York because it was a home game? — that Willis Reed had limped his way onto the court. We knew, in my kitchen, that everything was going to be all right. I do recall fretting prior to that moment that after such a great year it would be wrong for the Lakers to beat the Knicks. My mother told me that if it happens, then the Lakers deserve to win. Believe it or not, it made sense to me. That wisdom has helped me deal with all kinds of non-Mets championship losses over the years, especially the Game Seven that the Knicks lost in '94. As Sunday was also Mother's Day, it's nice to suddenly pluck that out of the air.

May 8, 1971: My dad bought me a replica Mets batting helmet at Nathan's in Oceanside. The availability of such a treasured item at a local outlet had obsessed me. Other than a crappy cap that fell apart in day camp a year earlier, it was probably my first legitimate piece of Metsiana (not counting cards). It was billed as the very same one you could buy at Shea Stadium, something I had to take on faith since I was still two years from my first Mets game. My parents were basketball fans, not baseball fans. I loved that helmet. I would've worn it that summer in Pee-Wee League had it been regulation. Some years later, when tomfoolery finally did it in, I committed to buying a new one on my next trip to Shea, which came August 10, 1977. I gave the fellow at the concession stand on the third-base side of field level a twenty and he gave me back change for a ten. You have to understand that I was giddy to be at this particular game because it was the first one I ever went to without adult supervision (midweek afternoon against the Cardinals, ticket paid for with proceeds from my Newsday route which I outsourced for the day), so I wasn't necessarily keeping good track of my money. I wasn't but a few steps away when the vendor called me over and gave me back the rest of my change. I've still got the replacement helmet. Not only that, but the vendor who was honest enough not to take advantage of a starry-eyed 14-year-old (starry-eyed for the 1977 Mets, yet) is now my brother-in-law. In one of the top five Small World events of my life, my sister brought home her new boyfriend from NYU the following winter. He had been talked up to me as a Shea Stadium employee, me to him as a big Mets fan. And damned if we didn't recognize each other in an instant. Mark claims that he must've liked me because most of the time he kept the change.

May 8, 1972: I'm in the East School library with Jon Hymes, one of the first Yankee fans I ever knew. He was arrogant, argumentative and generally didn't know what he was talking about. Jon Hymes was the first of many to come. Anyway, like your average third-graders, we were indulging our Jones for politics and history by poring over the World Book Encyclopedia entry for Presidents. As we scanned the list of all of them, Washington to Nixon, I noticed that here on 5/8/1972, it was the birthday of Harry Truman, born on 5/8/1884. Well, I said, we should write him a letter to wish him a happy 88th birthday. We got competitive and each wrote our own letters, making a federal case over whose idea it was first. (It was mine, I swear.) One month later, I came home from school to find an envelope from Independence, Mo. It didn't have a stamp on it. The man on whose behalf it was sent didn't need to use a stamp because that man had lifetime franking privileges. Inside was a stiff card thanking me for being “kind and generous” enough to “remember me on my birthday,” the one that would turn out to be the man's last. It was signed, mechanically, Harry Truman*. Like the batting helmet, I still have it around here somewhere. Something else I have from that May 8 is the complete list of presidents engraved upon my memory. I picked it up from the World Book that afternoon and it's stuck with me, forwards and backwards 1 through 37 and on to 43 since. Next rain delay, I'll entertain you with it. (Or not.) Oh, one other thing happened that week: The Mets got Willie Mays. Harry Truman and Willie Mays…it's like I didn't even have to live through 1951 to experience it.

As for May 8, 2005, I didn't see the annoying game against the annoying Brewers. We did see Glengarry Glen Ross, which was an absolutely electric production with talent (Alan Alda, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Tambor) that apparently exceeded Willie's starting lineup. Caught enough of the radiocast before curtain, during intermission and waiting for the train home to have been just disgusted enough to decide that it wasn't the 1970 Lakers or the 1994 Rockets providing the opposition. Hence, the other team didn't deserve to win. How Milwaukee gets a gift call like the one for Spivey on your and Harry Truman's birthday is surely not in the spirit of the date.

*Proving that I've matured a bit since I was nine, I almost forgot to mention that Jon Hymes did not get a reply from the 33rd president. The fact that I didn't completely forget to mention it proves that I've matured only a bit.