I blinked. And I blinked again. Maybe I rubbed my eyes. I don’t remember. Whatever I did, it left me seeing a trail of optical detritus. It was just what wasn’t there but briefly appeared to be. I was six, a first-grader. I had no idea how eyesight worked, just that it worked. But I had heard a phrase involving seeing spots. Was that what I was seeing? How would have I known? I was six.
I did like to repeat phrases I’d heard, though, so I told my parents, one night in the first half of October of 1969, “I think I’m seeing spots.” I didn’t say it with alarm, just reporting a recent development. Making conversation. Trying to be interesting in my six-year-old mind. I just saw something that people talk about seeing. Isn’t that something?
It was taken as something, all right. It was taken as a sign that the boy might not be seeing straight. “Chuckie,” the mother of the six-year-old said to the father, who went by Charles to everybody else, “you need to take him to the eye doctor.”
I don’t remember who our family’s eye doctor was, but I know the doctor was situated in Brooklyn. All of our doctors seemed to be situated in Brooklyn, which was a schlep from where we were on Long Island. We hadn’t lived in Brooklyn for seven years. I had never lived in Brooklyn. Born there, but swaddled up and driven east soon thereafter. Someday we’d find doctors closer to us. Not then. We didn’t sever associations easily, apparently.
I don’t know why my father was nominated for the driving west to Brooklyn, especially on a weekday. Maybe my mother was having back problems that week. It was strange that my father would take time from work in the middle of a weekday, a Thursday, to do this, but he did. My eyes weren’t bothering me, so we didn’t talk about that on the ride to Brooklyn for an appointment that precluded my being in school. We talked about what I was looking forward to after the appointment. I wasn’t thinking about glasses. I was thinking about watching TV. I was thinking about watching the Mets. Their game would start at one.
It was Thursday, October 16, 1969. I know that after the fact. Maybe I knew it then. I can attach the date to the event because it was written about a lot in things I’d read, without glasses, in the not so distant future.
We arrived in Brooklyn sometime late that Thursday morning. Maybe early afternoon. Late morning sounds more likely. My father no doubt needed to get this over, drive me home and then hop on a train to get to his office in Manhattan. I wasn’t used to seeing him around on a Thursday in the middle of the week unless it was at dawn or at dinner. My eye doctor, whatever his name, no doubt needed to get this over, too. Other appointments, other patients.
My agenda was twofold: get this over; and avoid eye drops. I don’t think I came into the examining room with an anti-eye drop bias, but I developed one quickly. I’m still against them, by the way, but maturity has allowed me to cope with some items I don’t care for. At six, I was all id. Or all “AAUUGGHH!!” as any number of Peanuts characters might have put it. You’re gonna put what in my eyes? Oh, I don’t think so.
The doctor thought so. He couldn’t get at the heart of my spots if he couldn’t examine my eyes thoroughly, and that involved drops. I didn’t care. I saw fine. The only thing that would hinder my eyesight was this man trying to cloud my vision with this horrible liquid. I shut my eyes tight and screamed a little.
My father rarely played disciplinarian. He was a businessman. His business involved listening and talking, ultimately getting people to strongly consider a proposition he was empowered to offer them. Here, he had leverage, so he got me to consider this:
“If you don’t let the doctor put the eye drops in, you can’t watch the World Series later.”
I opened my eyes and stopped screaming.
There was nothing wrong with my eyesight on October 16, 1969. My “spots” report was misinterpreted. I could have told my mother that. I probably did. Listening wasn’t always my mother’s strongest suit. There were no glasses forthcoming for me for more than a decade. There were no complaints. Eye doctors for years gave me great reports. In recent times, I was told that despite age my eyesight has somehow gotten better. To be certain this is still the case, I should probably go get them checked anew.
On that Thursday, they were checked, they were fine and they and the rest of me were back in the car, headed home to the portable TV in my sister’s room. She was in eighth grade and at school. Where else would a kid be on a Thursday afternoon but school? Yet I wasn’t. This eye doctor appointment was fortuitous timing. The Mets were playing the fifth game of the World Series. If they won this game, they’d win the World Series. I got to turn on that TV and watch however much of the game remained.
I couldn’t tell you about the shoe polish play first hand. I didn’t see it. I didn’t see Donn Clendenon hit the home run that followed Cleon Jones going to first that followed Gil Hodges showing the umpire a ball marked with shoe polish proving Cleon had been hit in the foot by a Dave McNally pitch. I read up on that later, which is how I learned and memorized the date. I couldn’t tell you about Al Weis hitting the home run that tied the game at three, not from experience. I just know that that while I watched, the score was Mets 3 Orioles 3, and that Cleon Jones doubled; and Ron Swoboda doubled; and Cleon scored to put the Mets ahead, 4-3, and that something else happened (an error) and Swoboda crossed the plate to make it 5-3. Decades later, I saw a rebroadcast of this game, saw the eighth inning play out and realized what I remembered from my childhood had really happened exactly as it had sat in my memory. At six, I knew the Mets were ahead by two home runs. I thought every run was a “home run”; I also thought innings were “hittings”. I had a lot to learn.
In the ninth hitting…make that inning, I saw the last out. I saw the crowd run onto the field because with the game over, the Mets were world champions. I saw interviews with the players, all of them either drenched in champagne or drenching others with it. I comprehended exactly what had occurred. The Mets were champions of the world. The Mets had been my team for no more than a couple of months at that point. I followed them in the papers and on TV and radio. My father brought home the Post, then published in the afternoon, that night as he always did. And I grabbed it from his briefcase, as I had gotten in the habit of doing to keep up on the latest Mets news. This time it was to confirm what was televised. Newspapers delivered that service daily, even as soon as later the same day.
I had picked up on the Mets being the “Amazin’ Mets” and the “Miracle Mets” without knowing exactly what made them Amazin’ or this a Miracle, other than every time I turned on the TV in September and October of 1969, people were running onto the field and players were pouring champagne on everybody in sight. That was Amazin’ and Miracle enough.
The next morning, I wasn’t talking about spots. I was talking about the Mets. I asked my two friends who lived down the block, Jeffrey and Scott, if they knew the Mets had won the World Series yesterday. I wasn’t sure if everybody knew. Everybody knew. Everybody still knows.
It happened fifty years ago today, and I’m still watching.