These two, they’re stuck together whether they want to be or not. Make no mistake: they do not. They were sworn enemies in the last life yet nowadays share psychic space that has become all too real to them. In one sense, they are no longer with us. In another, more significant sense, they have never left.
Their names? Let’s call one of them Eb and the other Po. Unusual names (short for something else in both cases) but they were and are singular sorts. That the fates have thrown them together for eternity presents us with a more delightful twist than they will ever appreciate.
Eb and Po don’t have much to do these days. They just kind of exist in their shared space, reliving their glory days, embellishing their well-worn tales and unleashing more than one lifetime’s worth of venom on the other. Though they have all the time in the world, they are oblivious to clocks and calendars. It takes something momentous to snap them out of their tedious bickering and focus their attention on what we might call the fierce urgency of now. Maybe today will be the day they have reason to get their heads out of their clouds.
If it helps you to understand them better, envision them as the quintessential grumpy old men, roommates even, characters from the pen of Neil Simon — somewhere beyond The Odd Couple, more like eternal Sunshine Boys, despite their currently craggy dispositions.
Picture a spacious prewar apartment, rent-controlled. Maybe somewhere between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Maybe somewhere else altogether.
“So,” Eb says to Po, “any plans to cheat today?”
“Oh, not this again,” an exasperated Po answers. “When are you going to give that up?”
“Give up? Give up what? You’re the one who should give it up. Give up the pennant already! You stole it!”
“I stole nothing and I will not have my good name sullied through your ample supply of mud just because you never learned to lose gracefully…not that you didn’t have plenty of opportunity to learn.”
“What? What was that crack supposed to mean?”
“Oh, nothing. Say, Eb, your third base is looking a little worn today. I guess that’s what happens when you have three men standing on it at the same time.”
“Once! It happened once!”
“Like your one world championship?”
“Listen big shot, if I were you, I wouldn’t start trading credentials.”
“Why not? I’ve got plenty of them. I had the world champions in 1904…”
“1904…you wouldn’t even play the other league.”
“1908? You didn’t win anything in 1908!”
“We were robbed. And note my proper use of English in expressing that thought.”
“You wuzn’t robbed of nothin’! Next time tell your players to touch the base in front of them.”
“Boy, you sure do like your ancient history.”
“Oh, and then what? You let those lousy interlopers win in ’23.”
“Not until we had the good sense to evict them.”
“Yeah, and they took that real hard. How many times they beat your brains in after that?”
“…1933 and 1954. World championships all.”
“Geez, Po, it gets a little lonely there at the end, don’t it? Some pretty long gaps between titles. But when you don’t know how to measure nothin’…”
“What are you implying?”
“Uh, gee, I dunno. 257 feet to left, 483 feet to center. Your ma drop you on your head when you were a baby or somethin’?”
“The word is idiosyncratic. If you ever spent a day in your life outside of that charming neighborhood of yours…Pigtown, you might understand what an idiosyncrasy is.”
“Use all the big words ya want, big fella, it don’t mean ya make any sense. And as for charm, I got it by the boatload. Who else had the genius to put up an ad that said ‘Hit Sign, Win Suit’?”
“How very, very droll. Please, be sure to mention that again tomorrow, just as you have every single day for as long we’ve been here.”
“Ah, you’re just jealous.”
“Jealous? Don’t make me guffaw.”
“We had fun in my day. We had the Sym-phony!”
“The cacophony, you mean.”
“You can’t pronounce nothin’ right. We had Hilda Chester and her cowbell, too!”
“What a boon to culture. What a shame we had to settle for actual talent among our fans.”
“Such as Tallulah Bankhead.”
“Tallulah, tashmullah. Now if it’s Dan Bankhead ya want…”
“Pass. The glitterati came to see me. The show people adored me.”
“Too bad no people actually showed to see ya.”
“I don’t think I will. All your highfalutin, hoity-toity fans — where’d they go? Where’d any of your fans go? The only time you sold out after a while wuz when my boys had to schlep all the way up to your godforsaken neck of the woods.”
“You mean New York City? The capital of the world?”
“Don’t be givin’ me that bunk. I’m from America’s Fourth Largest City!”
“I think that claim lost its essential veracity around 1898.”
“I don’t know what kind of city that is, but we had it all. We wuz the borough of churches, too.”
“And I was America’s first sporting cathedral.”
“Always with the past tense. They’re still calling me The Greatest Ballpark Ever. Ever.”
“No accounting for taste. Besides, I’m known as The Echoing Green. How poetic.”
“Ya mean pathetic. Echoing with the sign-stealing.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you when you’re not making any sense.”
“Ya lost to the Yankees!”
“You did nothing but lose to the Yankees!”
“We had Zack Wheat!”
“We had Christy Mathewson!”
“We had Pete Reiser!”
“We had Mel Ott!”
“Durocher — when he won!”
“We won last!”
“You won once!”
“You had 20,000 empty seats for the biggest game ever played!”
“WHICH WE WON!”
“BECAUSE YOU CHEATED!”
“BECAUSE YOU BROUGHT IN ERSKINE INSTEAD OF BRANCA!”
“OISK BOUNCED THE COIVE IN THE PEN!”
“BRANCA GAVE UP A HOMER TO THOMSON IN THE FIRST GAME! WHAT KIND OF IDIOT BRINGS THE SAME PITCHER IN TO FACE THE SAME BATTER HE COULDN’T GET OUT TWO GAMES BEFORE? WITH THE PENNANT ON THE LINE! WHICH WE WON!”
Eb and Po paused to regain their bearings and then resumed their dialogue.
It pretty much went on like this all the time, Eb and Po in their ebb and flow, selectively reminding one another of failures and slights and shortcomings. Nothing ever got solved. They would stew and then they would growl and then they would rest before starting all over again. This went on for as long as either of them could remember. Today, however, their carefully hewn routine was interrupted by the sound of shuffling papers.”
“What’s that sound?” Po asked Eb.
“Somethin’ under the door, I think. I’ll go take a look. It’ll give me somethin’ to do to get away from you for a few seconds.”
“Do be sure not to stop on third if there are already two other men there.”
“You’re a riot, Po. A regular riot.”
Eb headed to the door and found a piece of stray mail had been slipped under by a considerate neighbor.
“That putz Shibe musta got our mail again,” Eb reported.
“Ya mean like another book about how everybody loves me and nobody remembers you?”
“Sorry, I wasn’t listening to a word you babbled. I was just re-reading Underworld. Oh look, I’m an entire novella!”
“Probably some junk mail. The postmark says Flushing.”
“Flushing? Never heard of it.”
“You dope. That’s in Queens. You know, where they were going to move…”
“Oh, right. Guess I’d put all that out of my mind.”
“You’re tellin’ me. What wuz that bit O’Malley came up with? ‘If they move to Queens, they won’t be the Brooklyn Dodgers.’ Guess he had the last laugh.”
“At least they offered your team a new spot relatively nearby. Mine was headed to Minneapolis in all likelihood.”
It didn’t happen often, but once in a while Eb and Po would curb their snapping and reflect on the actions that brought them to this current state of theirs. They didn’t like to think about it, didn’t like to contemplate the concept of progress that made them, like their neighbors Shibe and Forbes and Crosley, obsolete. None of them wanted to be where they wound up, holding forth only in the mind’s eye. They wanted to be back where they used to be, back where people remembered them, doing what made them famous. It was tough to talk about, especially for Eb and Po, the best of enemies, so they masked their pain by going at it, hammer and tong, day and night, over and over.
“So,” Po asked, “what is it anyway, the mail from Flushing?”
“Looks like a brochure. Tickets.”
“Tickets? Baseball tickets?”
“Are there any other kind? You were dropped on your head!”
“Lemme see that, you knothole.”
Po grabbed the brochure and stared at its cover. He was dumbfounded.
“Eb! Did you see this?”
“Not before you grabbed it out of my hands I didn’t.”
“Go ahead! Read it!”
“‘Shea Stadium…’ Shea…that’s the new kid, ain’t it?”
“Was the new kid.”
“‘Shea Stadium, 1964-2008…’ Hey, what year is this?”
“Who notices up here?”
“‘Shea Stadium, 1964-2008, Final Season.’”
Eb was speechless. So was Po. It took them what felt like an eternity to compose themselves and look at the brochure again.
“What’s this all about?” Eb asked.
“I guess the kid is done for,” Po reasoned.
“Aw come on! No frigging way! They just put that up like…how long ago?”
“Here, lemme see that postmark. I’ll be damned. It’s 2008 right now.”
“And when did Shea go up?”
“You saw, 1964.”
“Forty-five seasons, counting this one.”
“Geez! I thought it had only been a coupla years. Shea’s the same age I wuz, for crissake.”
“Almost the same age I was, too. Well, except for those last couple of years.”
“That’s right. You had them for a while, didn’tcha?
“When they were born!”
“What were their names again?”
“Amazin’ something…Amazin’…Amazin’…Amazin’ Mets, that’s it. It’s in the brochure. Funny, I’d kind of forgotten that.”
“They wuzn’t much good, wuz they?”
“For once, Eb, you’re dealing in understatement. Those Amazin’ Mets were terrible. Dreadful. The worst.”
“Like I said, the worst. But they were fun to have around. A ball, actually.”
“Musta been nice. There wuz already a housing project where I’d been by then.”
“Yeah, I suppose so. That was ’62, ’63. Just before my housing project.”
A little more silence passed between the two old enemies who’d kind of forgotten they hated each other.
“So what gives already? What’s goin’ on with the Amazin’ Mets? They beatin’ it outta town, too?”
“I don’t think so, Eb. If I’m reading this thing correctly — and I’m from Manhattan, so I probably am…”
“Anyway, it seems the Amazin’ Mets will still be in New York next year.”
“They will? Moses give them that plot of land O’Malley wanted?”
“It doesn’t say, but it appears they’ll be staying in Queens.”
“That’s a relief. I’d hate to see the National League fans go through what our fans went through. That must be, what, fifty years ago by now?”
“Exactly, Eb. Exactly fifty years ago. Yes, that was rough. That was way worse than losing any ballgame.”
“You said it, brother. But what I don’t get is what wuz wrong with Shea. Wuzn’t it supposed to be all new and shiny and everything they said we’d never be?”
“That was a long time ago, my friend. A long time ago. They said the same things about us a century ago, give or take. We were the latest in ballpark technology and so on and so forth. And what did we last?”
“Not fifty years.”
“Not fifty years.”
Eb took the brochure from Po and noticed something that struck him strange.
“This thing they sent in the mail, Po.”
“What about it?”
“Well, most of it’s boring. I don’t even know what ‘state of the art’ means, but in the pictures, it looks like they’ve got tons of people in the stands at Shea.”
“You’re right, Eb. Says something about record attendance in 2007, which would be last year. ‘Get your tickets early’ and all that.”
“But if they’re breakin’ attendance records, what gives? What’s wrong with Shea? Why they gonna pull him down?”
“Like I said. progress. Whoever owns the Amazin’ Mets must want to make more money.”
“Just like O’Malley and Stoneham.”
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s not like they’re leaving for California. It says here the Amazin’ Mets are gonna have a new park in 2009 right next door. That doesn’t sound so bad, all things considered.”
“No, I guess not. Beats the team leaving.”
“On that we can agree.”
“Plus it’ll be nice to have some company, don’tcha think? Shea’ll probably be comin’ here, right?”
“Why, I guess he would be. Gives us something to look forward to, Eb. Maybe we can stop arguing all the time.”
“That’ll be the day.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
Nevertheless, the roomies sat for a moment, feeling not nearly as hostile as they were used to. Maybe the impending visit of their spiritual offspring from Flushing at the end of 2008 would be good for both of them. Maybe they could, after nearly one hundred years of antagonism, finally get along.
Eb thought of a question for Po:
“Say, anything in that brochure about what the Amazin’ Mets are building to take Shea’s place? Gosh, Po, you had them when they were infants, maybe it’s gonna look like you. Even I’d have to admit that would make a little bit of sense.”
Po turned the pages and found a drawing of the ballpark that was going to take Shea Stadium’s place. Quite suddenly, his face echoed a very dark green. He hadn’t smoked in decades, but out of instinct, he quickly lit a match under the brochure.
“Oh gosh, Eb,” Po said. “I was just lighting up a Chesterfield and I burned the damn thing to a crisp. Sorry ’bout that. Don’t worry, though. I’m sure the new ballpark doesn’t look like anything special. Probably one of those crazy domes. They’re all the rage, I hear.”
“Yeah. They’ll never build a real ballpark like one of us again, Po.”
“Not really, Eb. Not really.”