Thursday, July 24, 2008

In the Good Ol’ Summertime

Reminiscing about summers long ago. How did we ever stand the heat in those days of no air conditioners? For two years, at age 10 and 11, I spent the summer at Rockaway Beach, where my great aunt Kiki had a bungalow. This summer treat whisked us away from the hot sidewalks of Brooklyn, where we would wait for the shade to come to our side of the street so it would be safe to go out and play.

Our Rockaway bungalow was shared with my grandmother, grandfather and aunt plus my sister, my Aunt Alice, Uncle Ed and cousins. Even old Uncle Val came to visit. The bungalow was a few short blocks from the boardwalk and the Atlantic surf. I remember going to the beach every day – no sun screen in those days either! – playing in the sand and the waves. On Tuesday nights they had fireworks, set off from a barge out on the waves.

On other nights we would go to Playland, where we played skee ball and “poker” and saved up coupons to buy Christmas presents at the end of the summer. And there were the rides! From my bedroom window, I could see the roller coaster and watched the cars go up and down, imagining the screams of the riders.

Speaking of bedrooms, with all those summer tenants, we were sometimes 4 or 5 to a bed. And remember no air conditioning! Needless to say, it was hot and difficult to sleep. Sometimes my sister and I would spy on “pajama boy” jumping up and down on his bed in the next bungalow. I guess we didn’t have shades either.

There were lots and lots of kids in the bungalow colony. We played any games that involved running around the colony and making the owner yell and chase us. Only one boy had a TV; sometimes he let us watch Captain Video episodes. We also had an all summer Monopoly game going. And I had my first crush on a 12 year old boy from the Bronx. It seems like yesterday. And so long ago….

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Memories of Yankee Stadium

A few weeks ago I visited Yankee Stadium with my son and his family – to say goodbye. I remember my first visit – more than 55 years ago – when my Dad took me all the way up to the Bronx for my first major league ball game. I had been learning all about baseball and the Yankees from watching games on our little television set. But the experience of stepping into that gigantic stadium and gazing out on to the dazzling field was overwhelming. A sense of hugeness and grandeur that is hard to describe. It reminds me of how I felt visiting the cathedrals of France and Germany. There was a real felt presence lingering in the cathedrals – knowing that kings, saints, and peasants, had worshipped there over the centuries in the very spot where I stood. That is what I’ve felt at Yankee Stadium over the years – a presence. The great legends of the game: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio – all played in this great ballpark. All made baseball history. Those were the players who defined baseball and made it the American pastime.

Over the years, I would return to Yankee Stadium, taking the subway from my home in Brooklyn. Yes, I was a Yankee fan in enemy territory, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I saw Mantle play and felt bad when fans booed him. My friends and I trailed the Mick, Andy Carey and Whitey Ford the way other teens followed rock stars. I still have photos and autographs from those days.

So it is a little sad to say good bye. We had fun at the game the other night but I realized the feeling wasn't the same. Maybe the magic is already evaporating; maybe the spirits are floating over to the new stadium to take up residence. After the game, I saw the façade of the new Yankee Stadium for the first time. I think façade says it for me. It doesn’t look real. It’s like the Mc Mansions – too clean, too neat, like a Hollywood set. I call it Mc Stadium. But I know that for the new generations of baseball fans, this stadium will be the place of memories and presence. Let’s hope so.