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Do the Math

The first time I learned the word “decade” was just a tick over fifty years ago, December 31, 1969. It was my seventh birthday, which was cause enough for me to obsess on numbers; I decided I liked being 7 a bunch more than I liked being 6. It was also New Year’s Eve, which meant we’d get a whole new year the next day…and, my sister explained, a whole new decade.

A decade? What’s that?

Suzan, who was then Susan, told me it’s a ten-year period, specifically the one that holds the years we’re in. We’re not just moving from 1969 to 1970, she elaborated, but we’re going from the 1960s to the 1970s.

WHOA! This was a revelation. I had been living in the 1960s my entire seven-year-and-a-day life and just found out about it. Our local drug store issued its receipts on pre-printed forms that had space for “MONTH” and “DAY,” but the year portion explicitly read, “196_” allowing the pharmacist or cashier to simply fill in one number. It was easy to assume, if you were six or under, that there was some permanence to the “196_” part, as if it was always going to be Nineteen Sixty-Something.

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Whichever decade you find yourself in, may it be permanently nice for you.

Nothing was permanent, I learned as 1969 became 1970, and, except for Shore Park Pharmacy’s inventory of unused receipt notepads, that was OK. It was great for me, actually. I was getting in on the ground floor of this new thing, the 1970s. I went around all of my seventh birthday prattling on about this “decade” development, maintaining my excitement into New Year’s Day, then carrying it all the way back to school once Christmas vacation was over. When the teacher reminded our first grade class that we’re now in a new year, I piped up, “It’s also a new decade!”

Then I stopped thinking about decades until probably December 1979; focused like a laser on the “decade” concept for the next few weeks, until the existence of January 1980 no longer seemed terribly novel; and repeated the process roughly every ten years thereafter to the present.

In that spirit, welcome, fellow Mets fans, to 2020 and the 2020s, because it is also, once again, a new decade. In a few days it will still be this decade but we won’t much notice. Then we won’t notice at all. If we got completely hung up on such demarcations, we’d have never gotten out of the 1970s.

Part of me never did. The Seventies are “my” decade, perhaps because it’s the first one that I knew was a decade, more likely because most of my tastes and impressions were formed in the years when I was 7 to 17, which jibes nicely with my fondness for the ’70s and, for that matter, the number 7. I drew my first breath in the ’60s, encountered bits and pieces of the world around me with eyes of wonder in the ’60s and, most crucially, became a Mets fan in 1969. But I began engaging the Mets and life surrounding them in earnest starting in 1970.

Which is now fifty years ago. And that’s a mind-blower to me. It probably won’t entirely be in a few weeks or months, but it also probably will be a little forever.

When I turned 50 on the final day of 2012, I waited to feel different. I didn’t, and I went about my business as if nothing of substance had changed. Clicking up from 49 to 50 (or 56 to 57) isn’t nearly the shock to the system that the transition from 6 to 7 is. The inherent chronology of aging stops being a revelation as one gets older and you tend to roll your eyes every time somebody far younger than you remarks, “wow, that makes me feel old.” But the one thing about “50 years” that truly jolted me in 2012 was that the Mets — the expansion Mets; the “New Breed” Mets; the “Youth of America” Mets; the born the same year I was Mets — now had 50th anniversaries as a matter of course.

It was one thing for the organization to do the math, acknowledge the milestone and sew a 50th-anniversary patch on its uniform sleeves in 2012. That was conscientious commemoration of which I heartily approved. It was a whole other sensation for the stream of “This Date In…” features you’d hear on the pregame show or see on social media to routinely include items that happened to the Mets “fifty years ago today”. Stranger, as 2012 became 2013 and so on, those innocent notes would refer to “fifty-one” or however many years ago today. I first noticed how bizarre it landed on my ears when Johan Santana pitched his no-hitter and most every summation included a note that “in the 51-season history of the New York Mets,” this was the first one.

A no-hitter thrown by a Met seemed less out of left field to me than that there was a daily history of the Mets that involved a span of time greater than half of a century. The patch came and went. The everyday math only intensified. “Fifty-three years ago today, in 1964…” I might have heard in 2017, and I required a two-step process to absorb the information. Random Mets games didn’t happen 53 years ago, I’d think, before quickly correcting myself. Yeah, I guess they did.

Fast-forward, as time inevitably does, to today, January 1, 2020, and everything from the 1960s is more than fifty years ago, just as everything from my home decade of the 1970s is more than forty years ago…and the 1970s’ very first hours are a shade over fifty years old. This stuff is happening all over calendar and calculator apps everywhere. It stopped being the 1980s more than thirty years ago and started being the 1980s more than forty years ago. The 1990s have shed all pretense of recency. The concept of 2000 as the future grows ever more quaint. And 2010? You mean the year/season that was ten years/seasons ago?

In one sense, wow. In a larger sense, whatever. But for today and a few more days, wow.