M-E-S-S mess mess mess!

In light of recent events, I want to talk about my Mets fandom yesterday after seeing a guy at a restaurant wearing a "I'm Calling It Shea" t-shirt.

I started considering the psyche of this guy, so attached to a big concrete donut in Flushing that he refuses to honor its quarter of a billion dollar replacement by calling it Citi Field. I admit I was one of those people at one point, secretly hoping the new ballpark would be called Citi Field At Shea Stadium, but I realized I was clinging to the name of a completely crass, downright ugly monument to losing.

Shea Stadium was never Yankee Stadium, or Ebbetts Field, or Fenway Pahhhk or anything of the sort. It was a testament to the time it was built: remember, its ballpark contemporaries were RFK in Washington, Three Rivers Stadium, Veterans Stadium, etc - all destroyed within the last few years with nary a tear shed. Its charm stemmed from the fact that it was so utterly charmless, like a drunk guy at a bar telling dirty jokes and stinking of stale beer and body odor. Shea Stadium, you were a drunk guy that everyone liked for a few hours and was incredibly glad once you left. Sorry.

Any Shea Stadium apologists were basically ascribing a false history to a team that has constantly been the ugly stepsister and nothing more. People love things that are old and classic, or fresh and new. We love vintage cars and brand new sports cars - no one is clamoring for a 1995 Ford Fiesta. Shea was a crappy stadium for a bastard team that sprang from the graves of the old Brooklyn Dodgers and New York (baseball) Giants.

And basically, that's Met fans in a nutshell. We refused to root for the Yankees, we adopted a team out of necessity, and it has proceeded to jam its thumbs into our eye sockets every September for the last 25 years. We don't root for the Pirates, a team that has 112 consecutive losing seasons, or the Cubs, who are so historically bad that it's at least a LITTLE cute, or the Rays, who were a punchline because they were new and crappy and now are newish and good. We fall into that category with Astros fans and Padres fans and Mariners fans of liking teams that are 40-50 years old and are aggressively mediocre.

Sometimes, we win a World Series, sure. But more often than not we are cellar dwellers. Sometimes we go on a run, and the NY Post back page is something like "THE WRIGHT STUFF" or "REYES THE ROOF" or "BATS IN THE PELFRY" (copyright My Father 2011). Sometimes there are articles about how the Mets are replacing the Yankees as the hot team, and then it's right back to this.

So the Mets are hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, probably destined to fall into the hands of a somewhat crazy hedge fund billionaire. Could it get any worse? Not unless every time David Wright strikes out he slams his bat into a lucky fan's crotch. That would be a little worse.


Hot town, summer in the city

New York is NOT alive.

There is no more hackneyed, cliche writing trope than the personification of a city. It is not 'alive,' there is no 'pulse,' there is no 'rhythm' or any other word that implies movement. It is a slab of concrete, with other big slabs of concrete jutting out of it interspersed with green areas and glass and metal and that's about it. No matter how hard I write, how long I stretch a metaphor or force an analogy, New York will not come alive.

But dammit, it sure feels alive, doesn't it?

This was my first day being home where I felt the pulse and the rhythm and all that crap. My weather widget portended rain but mother nature had other ideas. Clear skies and a warm sun heated pavement and stripped off layers and caused beads of sweat to roll down faces. The subway station felt like a sauna and the bus had no working A/C and the streets were packed and it felt like the beginning of summer in the city.

If you were to plot New York seasons on a bar graph, with the Y-axis being "Level of Magic," summer ranks fairly low. It's hot as hell, it smells like garbage everywhere and being outside is simply unbearable. The streets get choked with tourists like a fat, white version of Calcutta and roaches rule the streets like a gang from The Warriors. Every damn Sunday is another damn parade (a subject for another day) and it's too expensive to see a Mets game and all the Broadway shows are impossible to get into and every movie theater has sticky floors and is packed with kids and the movies suck anyway.

The money season is autumn, of course, because New York is rarely as pretty or tolerable as it is around Columbus Day. But fate worked out that my big return to New York would be in hot-garbage-roach season, so here we are.

And honestly, for a first day loop down to Rockefeller Center and up the West Side, it wasn't that bad. Living in DC makes you forget how batshit crazy most people are, because 'Washingtonians' are devoid of personality. No one actually lives in the Federal part of Washington so it has no (ugh) pulse or life. But New York is always jammed full of crazies who give it that dread literary 'character.'

Seriously, walking home I saw: a woman wearing a surgical mask and gloves pulling a wheelie suitcase, a muscled-up young Jew with 'Israel' tattooed in Hebrew on his biceps, three different homeless people with increasingly sadder dogs and an old black woman with a canary yellow dress laughing hysterically to herself in the middle of the street. This was all within about three blocks on Broadway. The craziest thing you'd find in Washington is a tourist NOT wearing Merrell sneakers and ill-fitting capri pants.

I know that none of this is news to anyone who lives in New York, but try being away for the better part of three years in a polite-ass deserted transient town and then taking a jaunt up Broadway in the middle of the afternoon. It's a bit of a culture shock, to say the least.

So maybe New York isn't alive, per se, but the people who live here and work here and walk around here give it a sense of movement. Cram the three million or so people who live in Manhattan into DC and you'd get three million people standing in the street yelling that all the bagels suck and there's no where to park. Send the 50 people who actually live in the white part of DC to Manhattan and you'd have 50 cases of whiplash from acute staring-at-crazy-people.

It's gonna take a few weeks to get readjusted. And just wait till I go downtown.


The Email to end all other Emails.

There is a pathetic hopelessness that goes along with looking for a job. It's all searching, second guessing, begging and - of course - waiting. Oh, the waiting.

The last week has consisted of me staring at my Blackberry waiting for the email that begins the rest of my life. Every other buzz has been a brutal tease. Every text, BBM, Facebook alert and email from god damn Borders Rewards has lead to a minor heart attack. WHY does Borders still INSIST on emailing me despite the fact that they are OUT OF BUSINESS?

Basically, the issue with looking for a job in the age of cyber applications and Monster.com is that the waiting is compounded. We expect instant gratification in all aspects of life and any delay feels like an eternity. When I email someone, I expect a response within a day. When I order chinese food online, I expect it within a half hour. When I send a Gchat I expect a response within seconds, and so on and so forth.

Which leads me to the point that I am coming up on a week's worth of waiting for a certain company to contact me and have become more discouraged with every passing hour. Did they hate my cover letter? Did they hate my writing samples? Did I - god forbid- misspell something? Am I just not good enough?

Every morning for the last seven mornings begins with me shaking awake violently, taking a second to collect my bearings and then a frantic dive for my phone to see if THIS is the day. Every morning for the last seven mornings, I have been disappointed.

WAIT - my phone just buzzed! Maybe this is it, maybe THIS is the email that changes my life and launches me on the trail towards literary stardom and luxury apartments and Italian cars and French restaurants and Swedish au pairs!

Fucking Borders.


Upon graduation

I am not a gambler by nature, but I bet on 3-1 odds last night and lost.

I was supposed to spend today on the National Mall with 20,000 plus of my classmates, their families, teachers, administrators and other assorted chazerai of this reasonably venerable institution.

Instead, I read a weather report that said there was a 75% chance of rain this morning, and decided to skip it. I believe I punctuated my point at dinner last night with my family by stating that "no matter what shoes I wear tomorrow, they will be ruined." My family seemed to agree, and we collectively decided to bag it.

But the sun beams that blazed through my window this morning made me squint just a little harder than usual. I had been bested by a stupid Blackberry weather app and the collective willpower of a thousand other graduates who clearly wanted a once-in-a-lifetime moment more than I wanted to sleep late.

So in lieu of sitting on the hazy quagmire that must be the Mall, I spent my morning engaging in the most beneficial of college activities - Jeopardy.

Jeopardy is really the ultimate quiz show: the questions are rigorous, the competition fierce, and the element of luck is completely removed. This is not Deal or No Deal, or even Wheel of Fortune. There is nothing to spin, or randomly pick, or reveal - it is just pure, unadulterated trivia. For a person who is borderline-Rain Man when it comes to trivia, Jeopardy is tailor-made to the eclectic collection of names, dates, terms and koans that comprise my brain.

I have spent a great deal of my college experience killing time with episodes of Jeopardy and reruns of Cash Cab and thousands of Sporcle quizzes and half finished crossword puzzles because I absolutely love trivia. I love historical minutiae and three-letter words and especially sports trivia. I would venture that if I devoted even half of the time I spent with Jeopardy to studying, I would have been Cum Laude.

This is a roundabout way to say something about graduation. One of the answers on Jeopardy this week quoted Khalil Gibran: "The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind."

It is a beautiful image. For so long, I was engendered to fight teachers, to hate them, to struggle against them as they tried to pin me down and teach me. But professors in college are more interested in leading you towards knowledge at a slow trot, drawing you down a path and stimulating your interest in a subject until you abandon the trot in favor of a dead sprint. A good professor shares his or her wisdom while pushing you to the brink of your own wisdom. Of course, they can only lead you so far before graduation.

I tuned out so much of the alleged words of wisdom I heard this weekend from people behind podiums because I found them mostly empty. Instead, I crafted my own image. Bear with me while I demolish this simile.

I imagine my mind as a long, cylindric, malleable piece of metal. I am set in your ways, but still fundamentally alterable. I am a formidable weapon when swung, able to bludgeon any subject that I bring myself down upon, but I needed a sharpened point. My parents held me against the whetstone, and sparks flew, and I resisted, and they spun me round and round until I finally relented. Once I found the right sharpening tool, my point became angled, and then sharp, and now deadly.

Simply because the whetstone has stopped spinning does not mean that I am done sharpening. Instead, the next step falls to me. My mind is a spear lying stationary on the blacksmith's floor, and I must pick it up myself and thrust it into the world.

Well, that got a little out of hand.

Khalil Gibran said it better and more succinctly, but that is because he was a wordsmith like very few others. My writing is a work in progress, but at least I know I have the raw ability within my mind. Joe Posnanski wrote a typically beautiful piece this week about being a young writer and how Bob Costas was able to inspire him by basically breaking him down. I have spent the last year in particular having my writing broken down and built up again by a very special professor, one who truly believes in my ability and still pushes me to do better. He criticizes me when I am lazy, he lauds me when I produce good work, and in the course of praising me in front of my classmates makes sure to remind me that I am not perfect. Everything I do can be better.

I am excited to find an outlet for my writing, one with an audience and a paycheck and critics and (hopefully) fans. My father likes to tell me that my writing is only limited by my experiences, and I hope that applies to all writers in general. The hard part is collecting those experiences - living life. The even harder part is finding an audience who will read those experiences. The easy part is writing.


Tractor Traylor

In 7th grade, I was cut from the school basketball team not because I wasn't good enough, but because the coach was worried about my 'conditioning.' That was her polite way of telling me I was too fat and too short to make the team, in spite of my silky jump shot and tenacious defense and absolute infatuation with the game. I carried a grudge about that rejection for years to come, and my anger only multiplied when I slimmed down and shot up past six foot tall as a high school sophomore. It was as if that one day of tryouts had completely ruined my potential basketball career, rather than my general lack of athletic ability or acute Judaism.

A fast story about Robert 'Tractor' Traylor, who was found dead earlier this week in his home in Puerto Rico.

Traylor was sort of a fascination for me, especially after the debut of YouTube allowed for easy cataloging of clips like this. I'm not quite sure why, but I have always enjoyed fat NBA players like Traylor and Stanley Roberts and Baron Davis and Charles Barkley. Maybe I saw them as torchbearers for kids like me who were stuck kicking lockers in anger and frustration after repeated athletic failures. Maybe it was because I wished I could elevate like Tractor Traylor and Boom Dizzle, or throw people through glass windows like Sir Charles.

Growing up in New York exposes a child to a lot of strange situations. That is enough background to justify how I found myself courtside at Madison Square Garden one evening, sitting in the seats of a well-known hotel magnate next to Ice-T and Howard Stern. The experience would be surreal to me now, but back then seemed run-of-the-mill for a kid who found himself in strange situations all the time. My grandfather calls me Zelig, after the Woody Allen character who found himself rubbing elbows with famous folks quite by chance.

Woody Allen was in the building that night, as was Spike Lee - more on them in a later post - as we watched the Charlotte Hornets take on the hometown Knicks. The date is a little fuzzy, but I believe the game was November 29th, 2003, a Knicks win against a Hornet team featuring two of those aforementioned fat ballers, Davis and Traylor, plus the somewhat rotund David Wesley. I remember very little from the game except that during a timeout, I quietly rapped out loud to a Nelly song playing over the speakers before noticing Ice-T was rapping along with me.

I also remember eating chicken fingers.

This is important to remember, as these chicken fingers and a container of honey mustard were perched precariously on my 15-year-old legs. Immersed in my food, I did not notice the 300-pound Traylor barreling towards the sideline after a loose ball.

I froze in place, my face contorted in sheer terror. Traylor pulled up as best he could, stutter stepping to slow his considerable momentum. But inertia being how it is, Traylor did not come to a full and complete stop before reaching my tiny body.

He put his immense hand onto my chest, and I felt my ribcage compress. The kinetic energy from his run rushed down his arm, out of his hand and into my torso. His face stopped inches away from mine, and we locked eyes. My chicken fingers crashed to the floor, and honey mustard splattered the legendary wood where Clyde Frazier and Willis Reed and Bernard King once played.

He smiled, and laughed, and apologized for knocking over my chicken. He drew back his hand, picked up the ball and passed it back into play.

On my tshirt was a sweaty outline of a hand the size of a dinosaur footprint.

Rest in peace, Tractor Traylor.