Those Glory Days
New York baseball is in crisis. Attendance is down. An owner tells fans to stay away from the ballpark because the neighborhood is unsafe. Another owner says he will move his team unless the city forks over a huge check to make him stay. Beloved ball players are regularly traded away for high-priced, out-of-town stars.
No, this isn’t a fable about the state of baseball circa 2000, although you would be forgiven for thinking so. These stories come from the Glory Days of Baseball and, despite what you’ve been hearing, all was not well in Flatbush, Harlem and the Bronx, where the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees traversed the fields of our youth.
Back in those glory days, a racist Yankee scout passed on Willie Mays, saying in his report that Mays “couldn’t hit the curve ball.” In 1960, after winning eight World Series titles in nine attempts over 13 years, Casey Stengell, 70, was shown the door because he was considered too old.
Giants owner Horace Stoneham refused to bring up black and Latin stars. When the Giants played their last game in New York, a reporter asked Stoneham, who regularly hosted gambler Arnold Rothstein in his private box, how he felt about abandoning the kids of New York. “Well, I feel bad for the kids,” Stoneham replied. “But I haven’t seen many of their parents at the ballpark lately.” And talk about loyalty, the Duke of Flatbush, Duke Snider–an idol to Dodger fans because he lived in Bay Ridge with Pee Wee Reese and Oisk–called the Brooklyn fans “the worst fans in the league.”
You think crowds are down now, Mr. Steinbrenner? Fewer than 35,000 fans, in a park that held 55,000, watched Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard Round the World in 1951. Then, a year later, Mr. Thomson was traded. Beloved Dodger Jackie Robinson was traded away in 1956, to the hated Giants. One of baseball’s greatest managers, Leo Durocher, was dismissed by the Giants one year after his team swept the Indians in four World Series games. The year they won the 1955 World Series, the Dodgers drew only an average of 14,000 per game in a park that held 35,000.
It’s times like these when you yearn for the sensibilities of Abe Stark, the Brooklyn haberdasher turned City Council president, who had that famous “Hit Sign Win Suit” sign promoting his store at Ebbets Field. During a 1957 debate over whether taxpayers should pony up for a new Dodgers stadium, Mr. Stark–never known for his eloquence but always direct–said, “What Brooklyn needs more than a stadium is a world-class opera house and a couple of legitimate theaters.”
What about those glory days of New York politics ?
Billy and Tristessa
Billy Patrick, 19, and Tristessa Nelson, 18, had enough of living in Boulder, Colo. They were sick of their fast-food jobs. Sick of their abusive parents and sick of their no-good friends. One day Billy said to Tristessa, “You wanna go to New York?” Tristessa said, “Sure.” So they got their life savings of $1,600 together and boarded a train for New York.
Now it’s three weeks later. Billy and Tristessa were sitting outside Dime Bank on 52nd Street and Seventh Avenue with a sign that read “Spare Some Change For Good Karma.” The $1,600 was down to a dollar in change in a can. Billy was strumming an acoustic guitar. Tristessa was petting their pet rat, Soma.
I asked them if they wanted some dinner and they said yes. We went to the nearest place, the JUdson Grill.
The maître d’ at the JUdson Grill gave the couple a look-over and sat us in a corner on the second floor. Billy wore a black Nirvana T-shirt. Tristessa had short, blond, punky hair. They had matching bottom-lip rings.
“Going to the theater tonight?” Patrick the waiter asked. “O.K., so no rush? We can do eight, 10 courses like civilized people?”
Tristessa ordered a lemonade.
“Uhhh, next choice?” Patrick said.
“Uhhh, next choice?”
New York hasn’t been kind to the two lovers. The first two nights they stayed on the street. Then a guy from Hillary Clinton’s bomb squad let them crash in his Sheraton hotel room for four nights. After that, they tried to sleep outside the hotel, but a bellman told them to scram. They went to Central Park, by the sailboat pond. During the day, they blew through the $1,600 at the Empire State Building, at McDonald’s and buying Billy a new guitar. They got scammed looking for lodging in Harlem and started panhandling. At night, they made love beneath a flagpole near Wollman rink. They laid their duffel bags out as pillows. Billy’s trench coat was the bed.
“We did what we came here to do,” Billy said. “We’ve had sex countless times. In the hotel in the shower, every night, multiple times. That was like 24-hours-a-day sex. Sex over and over and over. Now she’s, like, using it as a bargaining tool.”
Billy got a $150-a-week job distributing fliers for a tattoo outfit downtown. Recently a young married couple in Brooklyn agreed to put them up. Then they had second thoughts. When Billy and Tristessa got back to Brooklyn the night before, their hosts didn’t answer the door.
It was rough growing up in Colorado. Billy’s mother was 15 when he was born. Tristessa’s was 17. She said her parents were into drugs and there wasn’t much to eat. She was home-schooled until she was 13. Then she ran away.
Billy’s parents fought a custody battle over him. By the time he was 14, he was living with his father, doing L.S.D. and heroin. “I love my dad,” Billy said. “He’s a good guy. And he kept me in line. He’s like, ‘Yeah, I smacked you around a little bit. There was a reason for that.’ And I see that. I hated him at the time, but there’s a fine line between disciplining your kid and smacking the shit out of him. I was told by therapists that I have a really hard time feeling, like, emotions. That’s why it … threw me for such a loop; I meet her, it’s like, ‘Oh, God, what’s this weird feeling? Oh my God, it’s love.’”
When they met a year ago, Tristessa was working at McDonald’s. He was at Pizza Hut. “We just started talking and happily fell in love,” she said. At the time, Billy was playing in a heavy-metal band called Social Mayhem. He wants to be a rock star.
“I’m doing all this right now. I’ve met someone I want to spend the rest of my life with,” he said. ” But I’m gonna die . Everything that I’ve ever worked for, ever–I’m going to die. It’s gonna go away and in the end, what was your purpose? What were you supposed to do? Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to carve my name on the side of the moon. I want to leave something about me just blazing on the side of the earth, and it’s most likely not going to happen! I’m gonna die like an auto mechanic in Tucson, Ariz. And no one’s going to know who I am! I’m gonna live in a trailer park and have three kids. She’s gonna be fat . It’s gonna suck!”
“Thanks!” Tristessa said.
“You’re putting on the pounds already! You’re what, 104 now? I mean, like, life is gonna end and there is nothing you can do to stop it. I mean, I don’t even know how to explain it. I’ve never been a firm believer in religion. But I was thinking maybe God is faith. Maybe that’s all it is … maybe faith in yourself.
“I’ve had a fucking pretty bad streak,” he continued. “I think I’m due for a good streak. You know, I think this is my good streak coming up right here. This is my time. I’ve had 19 years of, like, bullshit. I think I got a pretty good long good streak coming up. Fucking life owes me.”
Recently the couple got engaged.
“To me, like, she’s like the most pretty girl,” Billy said. “She’s just beautiful and she does, like, little things. Like she just does everything for me, she babies me, she takes care of me.”
The sex is great, too.
“I’m 19 years old; she’s a hottie, she’s 18,” he said. “She’s gorgeous and has a hell of an ass. Like, an angelic ass.”
“Now you’re just sucking up so you’ll get some tonight,” Tristessa said.
“I am getting some tonight–shut up.”
They moved their lip rings over to the sides of their mouths and kissed intensely.
The couple is trying to get to California and they may not make it.
“We don’t know where we’ll be, that’s the beauty of it all,” Billy said. “We don’t know where we’ll be tomorrow. We could take a train to Jersey and start living in Newark, maybe end up getting jobs and start up a family right there. Or a month from now, we might go to Seattle. And then somehow we’ll find our way into Canada . Maybe Alaska, maybe Russia. We don’t know where we’re gonna go. One year from now, we could be living in fucking Mongolia; we don’t know what’s gonna happen.”