I'd never make a big thing of it, but I don't really get anybody who doesn't like Coney Island.
Yeah, it's dirty and seedy and you know the games are rigged and when you're being hurtled through the air by some ancient ride your mind inevitably goes to maintenance and whether or not it's been deferred. But it's got a ragamuffin charm I find impossible to resist, from the falling-down bars to the crappity photo stalls to the gruff but still careful way the kids' restraints are checked and the fact that so many people crammed into a fairly small place in hot weather pretty much completely behave themselves. (Come to think of it, that's not a bad description of New York itself.) And then there are things that need no qualifier, such as the wooden rattle of the Cyclone and the view from atop the Wonder Wheel (in the sliding car, of course) and knowing Keyspan Park is waiting just down the boardwalk.
Today we were heading out to meet friends for a Cyclones game against the Staten Island Yankees. I'm proud to say that the Cyclones won, beating the Potential Minions of the Vertical Swastika by a 7-4 score, with Brooklyn hurler Jenry Mejia definitely opening some eyes by fanning nine in five innings of one-hit ball. But the real victory, of course, came earlier.
We heard Ramon Castro put the Mets ahead while on our way to Williamsburg to retrieve stuffed animals Joshua had left at his babysitter's apartment. We heard Mike Pelfrey unravel — with Marlon Anderson and Castro and Carlos Beltran plucking at the threads — about halfway down Ocean Parkway, Brooklynites sitting on the benches on either side, extremely still in the heat. I heard the Reds and Mets grind away at each other futilely while looking for gas after dropping Emily and Joshua at Astroland. (Gas, man. It's expensive these days. Maybe you've heard.) And I heard more blows exchanged without much purpose over my handheld radio as Joshua traded in an enormous handful of green tickets he'd won by shooting clowns. (There were 230 of them — it looked like the kid had pulled up an entire stalk of corn from a farmer's field, or plucked a reed from a waterway. He was very pleased with himself.)
I listened intently to the doings in Cincinnati, but at the critical moment I had a problem: I was taking Joshua on the Scrambler. The Scrambler, for the uninitiated, is one of Astroland's better kiddie rides, in delivering relatively adult levels of speed and excitement while accommodating those under four feet tall. It's a bunch of cars attached to booms that are whirled around the center, whipping you in and out and back and forth as you go round and round. (And round and round and round.) You're flung to the very edge of the underside of the boardwalk, to eye level with the stairs coming down from said boardwalk, to just short of the chain-link fence dividing the ride from the midway, and so on. I couldn't help calculating my chances if our Scrambler cab were to become detached at various points of apogee — that maintenance thing gets in your head. I decided Joshua was low enough to be protected by the cab's housing, but I felt horribly exposed. Getting flung through the underpinnings of the boardwalk? Not only obviously fatal but it would also involve splinters. A close encounter with the steps would at least be a quick decapitation. Going through the chain-link fence, I decided, might offer me a puncher's chance.
(You should see how much fun I am at parties.)
When we boarded the Scrambler, the Phillies had lost, Robinson Cancel was on second base and I was hopeful. (And kicking myself for being in San Diego for the second and third games of the suddenly epochal Phillies series.) But the ride was loud, I only had one earpiece in, and I was hanging on to my kid. First the radio was whipping around from its moorings around my neck, so it had to be stuffed into my shirt, something gravity wasn't inclined to make easier. Then the volume was too low, but the controls had been stuffed down a neckhole. Then the headphones popped out of their jack. And the machine was grinding and everybody was yelling.
Luckily, if you've heard enough baseball, you can pick up a fair amount from the pitch of the announcers' voices and the pace of their rhythms. I got that Reyes (Jose) was on first. I then got that Reyes (Argenis) had done something significant, or had something significant done to him, or at least been an eyewitness to something significant. But that was it — this is more or less what I could hear:
NOISE NOISE NOISE NOISE NOISE SOMETHING IS HAPPENING REYES REYES REYES IT'S PROBABLY SOMETHING GOOD NOISE NOISE SOMETHING SOMETHING AND THE METS REYES NOISE REYES
(It sure helped that there were two Reyeses involved.)
Billy Wagner struck out the side to end things as we were exiting Astroland, so I heard that quite clearly and reported it eagerly to anyone who cared within 10 or 20 feet. And then the three of us were off along the boardwalk to Keyspan, with our strides perhaps betraying a slight strut appropriate to fans whose team have just reclaimed first place, and perhaps also a slight hesitation appropriate to fans whose team possesses only a share of that magical status, and will soon have to defend it.