Like Harriet M. Welsch, I love sneaking into places. For instance, when they started building a new baseball stadium for the New York Mets in 2007 I just knew I'd have to find a hole in the fence (this is my philosophy of life: every fence has a hole in it somewhere) and explore. I took my daughter Abby early one Sunday morning, and we scored big-time. We even got to stand on the rudimentary pitchers mound and take pictures.
Maybe this was my way of marking my space. I've been going to Shea Stadium since I was a little kid, and if they're building a new stadium in the Shea parking lot and turning Shea into a parking lot itself -- well, hell, I have trespassing rights. Anyway, the spot looked a whole lot different when we went to see the New York Mets play the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night. It was a fun game, though I don't like the new CitiField quite as much as Shea. Shea Stadium was a perfect simple circle, and everybody faced towards the middle. CitiField has more angles, more distractions, more exhibits and shops and restaurants. Anyway, it was strange to be there with 30,000 people and think about how different the spot looked two summers before when we snuck through the fence.
Anyway, the Mets won, and it was a rollicking happy crowd like every time I've seen the Mets at home. The best part of the game was after the game when we walked out to the parking lot where Shea used to be and found the old third base. Marking our space again, I guess.
Let's Go Mets! The Home Run Apple still works, so Queens will be okay.
And now, a parting poem from Frank Messina, talented poet laureate of the New York Mets, author of Full Count: the Book of Mets Poetry, and a fine spoken word poet too.
It Was I, Mrs. Wiley
It was I, Mrs. Wiley
your garbage pail lids
and turned them into first, second and third,
It was I who lifted
the welcome mat from your front stoop
-unbeknownst to you-
It was I who proudly placed it down
and crowned it "pitcher's mound"
It was I, Mrs. Wiley
who laughed out loud
as balls ricocheted
off the side of your house
and into your pruned rosebushes
and it was I, Mrs. Wiley who
cracked a home run
through your second-story window
It was I, Mrs. Wiley
who hid behind the Apple tree
as you hollered through the broken panes
It was I, Mrs. Wiley
who had the chance to confess
when I saw you in Church
but instead, looked away
and it was I, Mrs. Wiley
who your dog chased
through the pickets
without looking both ways
and it was I who watch
you repair the window
with putty and tape,
stifling my giggles
as you balanced the ladder
It was I, Mrs. Wiley,
who broke your window
and caused you such despair
yes, Mrs. Wiley, it was I
Toure reviews Colson Whitehead's Sag Harbor on the cover of this weekend's New York Times Book Review, and most of the article has to do with racial identity. I'm a little disappointed in this tepid and tired subject. I read and liked Whitehead's Apex Hides the Hurt and I once had a nice chat with him at some Litblog Co-op or Soft Skull party, but it never even occurred to me to register what race he was. I'm not sure if it's Toure or Colson Whitehead, but somebody needs to get over being African-American here. (Meanwhile, I'm trying to get over being Jewish-American).
Ethnic obsessions aside, Toure does come up with one nice line about Whitehead's main character:
Benji lives in a world not unlike Charlie Brown’s, where adults are mostly offstage.
Bruce Handy reviews two books about the New York Mets, The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball, Pitching, and Life on the Mound by Ron Darling with Daniel Paisner and Straw: Finding My Way by Darryl Strawberry with John Strausbaugh. Handy claims to be a Mets fan, and his work looks good at first when he goes off on a rant about Alex Rodriguez's steroid abuse and the New York Mets's new stadium:
[Baseball] breaks your heart in crass, grubby, depressing ways. As when the star third baseman of your 10-year-old son's favorite team grudgingly confesses to having used steroids. Or when your own favorite team knocks down its stadium and puts up a pretty taxpayer-supported park named for a taxpayer-financed bank and with 15,000 fewer seats than the old pile, so that when you try to buy tickets to individual games for your family, the only seats available to the general public start at $270 a pop. True, you can find cheaper seats for resale on StubHub, but why, in depression or boom, does such a thing as a $270 baseball ticket even exist? Too often, the taste baseball leaves behind is less bittersweet than just plain bitter.
However, Handy blows the outing here on two inexplicable bad moves. First, it's a flat-out lie that all or even most tickets at CitiField cost $270. I just bought tickets for $23 each for a Friday night game in June against the Devil Rays. Anybody can go to NYMets.com or MLB.com and do the same.
The only way Handy's statement makes sense is if you define "seats" to mean "great seats". Which shows him to be a seating snob as well as an irresponsible journalist. Considering that the New York Mets organization is made up of human beings, isn't it seriously wrong for the New York Times to publish an insulting fact about the Mets' new stadium in a widely read publication when the insulting fact is patently false?
And shouldn't a fact-checker have caught this?
Anyway ... Handy should relax about where he sits, and just sneak up to the good seats after the sixth inning like I and my kids do.
Also finally, what the hell is a Met fan's son doing with a Yankee third-baseman as his hero? The fact that Handy wasn't dressing his kid in orange and blue and properly training him from day one (as I did with all of mine) proves what I suspected about Bruce Handy from the beginning: he is not a Mets fan.
Okay, enough about this, though Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt should check this case out. Back at the Book Review, I'll give John Pipkin's Woodsburner, a fictionalization of the life of Thoreau, a chance based on Brenda Wineapple's measured praise.
I've had enough of all William F. Buckley's damn relatives in the New York Times Book Review to last two lifetimes.
And Clive James's review of John Updike's final book of poetry Endpoint is beautifully done, though rather obviously a gift (I bet even in the future, John Updike will never be remembered for poetry).
Here are some links I've been saving up ...
1. How would Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, vote today? His daughter Erica Heller tells us her guess, charmingly.
2. Sean Quinn of FiveThirtyEight.com sneaks in a neat On The Road reference.
3. A new device, the Pony E-Reader, via Ed.
4. Dancing, dancing with Mr. K.
5. Keyboardist Merl Saunders, who distinguished himself as a member of the Jerry Garcia Band, has died.
6. Speaking of keyboardists, did you think the recent death of Pink Floyd's sublime Rick Wright got lost in the shuffle? Here's a well-deserved appreciation by Sean Murphy.
7. Eminem has written a book.
8. They didn't win the World Series, but Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Fernando Perez can enjoy the best consolation: literature.
9. Carolyn Kellogg catches a grammar error in the New York Times. They're probably short on copy editors lately.
10. Don't forget, November 4 is Cooping Day!
Shea Stadium, a futuristic perfect circle ballpark cast in concrete over the ash piles of Flushing Meadows, Queens, has now gone dark forever. It will be replaced by CitiField, right next door. As a lifelong Mets fan and neighbor of Shea Stadium, I am upset to see the great building go and I don't like the corporate label on the new ballpark. But at the same time, I'm grateful the Mets will remain in Flushing Meadows Park, and I like it that CitiField is architecturally based upon Ebbets Field, historic home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Needless to say, I loved Shea Stadium. I even wrote a book about it (I still say The Summer of the Mets was a damn great book, but nobody loves a self-published novel). I've probably seen at least sixty Mets games there, including the intense 2006 Mets, the doomed 2000 Mets, the boring 1995 Mets, the legendary 1986 Mets, the hapless 1973 "You Gotta Believe" Tug McGraw Mets, and, yes, my friends, when I was seven years old I saw Tom Seaver pitch against the Chicago Cubs with the "Impossible Dream" 1969 Mets. I also drove past the stadium about four billion times, saw the Police with Joan Jett and R.E.M. there in 1983 ... me and that big concrete bowl go back a long way.
2. Okay, so. My entire life I've been going to Mets games, and all these years I've watched foul balls go to the right of me, to the left of me, below me, above me. When I was a kid I brought my mitt to Shea Stadium; now I don't carry a mitt but I'm always ready. Even though I never thought it would happen.
Well, I took Daniel to Monday night's game against the Atlanta Braves, and Yunel Escobar hit a tall foul ball off Oliver Perez's pitch that went way above our heads and bounced off the mezzanine wall. The ball then baubled down the loge level, hopping from one set of clutching fingers to another, till it fell again to our level, the field boxes, and rolled under a row of seats where Daniel dove for it, elbowed a few people out of the way, and grabbed the ball, as he tells it, from between the shoes of a guy who was trying to grip it with his feet. So, yeah. We got the ball. And the Mets won, 3-2.
3. It's the Brooklyn Book Festival! I had a nice time last year and I expect I will again this Sunday, September 18.
4. Sarah Weinman, longtime half of my favorite dynamic duo over at Galley Cat, has written a poignant farewell. But somehow I think we'll be reading more of her, not less, in years to come.
5. Matthew Bruccoli's analysis of the errors in Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby is fascinating (via Newton). But I am disturbed by the idea that editors might doubt even for a moment that, when Fitzgerald creates a character named Biloxi who is from "Biloxi, Tennessee", that geographic absurdity is a joke and not a mistake. How could anyone possibly imagine otherwise? Fitzgerald's sweet tones should not hide his natural acerbic irony. This is the writer who told us with a straight face about a diamond the size of the Ritz, after all.
6. Chad Post and Mark Binelli are in the middle of a lively chat about George Simenon's The Engagement at Words Without Borders.
7. I like Ed Champion's writing best when he gets philosophical.
8. This is really cute.
9. Scott Esposito asks: Kanye or 50? Mr. Esposito, the answer is Kanye. And I say this as a person who admired the hell out of 50 Cent's first album, Get Rich or Die Tryin'. That CD was a novel. Listen to it cover to cover and see what I mean. But his new and third CD Curtis Jackson is even worse than his second. The beats on "Straight to the Bank" and "I Get Money" are terrible, and the lyrics are even worse. Yeah, 50, you got a Ferrari, it's not that exciting anymore.
Kanye West, on the other hand, has never served up a stale dish of anything. He's a satirist, a wordsmith, and his new CD Graduation is as fresh as tomorrow's newspaper. Here's your sample Kanye West lyric of the day:
don't ever fix your lips like collagen
then say something where you gonna end up apolog'ing
I remember when 50 Cent's rhymes made me laugh like that.
2. Big congrats to litblogger Jeff Bryant and his Stubby Clappers for winning the championship round in a hotly contested 2006 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball League. Numerous bloggers participated, and C. Max Magee of The Millions's Ravenswood Ravens came in second.
Elsewhere in the league, the unofficial award for most literary team name goes to the Ruppert Mundys, and some of the worse names included the Boston Knee Sox (and the Stubby Clappers). But, by far the worst part of the season -- and the message gets serious here -- was when a very talented baseball fan and blogger named Mike Simanoff killed himself in mid-season. I didn't know Mike at all, but his Chicago Windbags sure kicked my Ashpile Mets' ass, and I enjoyed looking at his eclectic blog, Little Toy Robot (it's still up, and there's also a memorial site here).
I heard third-hand that Mike suffered from longtime emotional difficulties, and that's all I know. A look at his blog shows a smart guy who could write, and who doesn't seem visibly more troubled than any of the rest of us sad fools. He was an expert fantasy baseball player, and even though he died six weeks before the end of the season his team ended the season in third place without him (mine landed eight places below, though I remain obliviously still alive).
I'm psyched to hear from Borough President Marty Markowitz that the festival will be a two-day affair next year. But I also feel ambivalent about the increasing use of Brooklyn as a catch-all literary symbol of some kind of "character" or mystique. I live in Queens, but my family's roots in Brooklyn go back at least 150 years, so I feel I have some right to complain just a little bit when writers show up in Brooklyn and immediately start jumping the shark.
For instance, Paul Auster is truly a great modern author, but his two best works (New York Trilogy and Moon Palace) are set in Upper West Manhattan. Then Auster (a New Jerseyite) moves to Brooklyn and suddenly he goes all mushy and starts turning out awful stuff like the screenplays for Smoke and Blue in the Face, two films which in my opinion capture the meaning of the phrase "cute overload" better than all the kitten photos on the internet put together. These films were so bad, they made Harvey Keitel look lame, and that's not easy to do. I'm deeply embarrassed that Brooklyn takes the blame for this kind of stuff, and I just want to point out again that the guy is from Jersey.
Then there's Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, an alleged mystery that tries to glide by on smooth Brooklyn mystique just as Paul Auster's two bad screenplays tried to glide by on cozy Brooklyn charm. These works fail to realize that a good work of art can't get by on just Brooklyn. It's got to have something else, like a plot, or memorable characters, or good jokes. At least that's what I think -- the world is full of Lethem fans, and some people even liked Smoke, so what the hell do I know, right?
Just as I hate mediocre works that take the borough in vain, I love the breakthrough works that get it right, like Spike Lee's brilliant and beautiful She's Gotta Have It (just think of that scene where Fort Greene Park bursts into color) or his Do The Right Thing, or Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners. Neil Diamond, Jay-Z, The Cosby Show, Barbra Streisand, Welcome Back Kotter. Did you know that Bugs Bunny was born in Brooklyn? (Just watch the episode where he tells his life story).
In the end, what is Brooklyn? Like Queens and the Bronx and Staten Island, the outer boroughs are where the service industry lived, and still lives. Plumbers, cab drivers, teachers, factory workers, receptionists, tailors, fry cooks, executive assistants -- it's this economic sector that makes Brooklyn Brooklyn. If you come out to visit Brooklyn, here's what you're going to find: a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot of apartment buildings. That's really what Brooklyn amounts to, in the end. It's residential through and through. Brooklyn doesn't have "character" -- it has a few million characters. Some of these characters don't even live near a Starbucks.
Enough of my noise about this. Congrats to Marty Markowitz, Johnny Temple and everybody else who worked to make the Brooklyn Book Festival such a promising start. I have a feeling next year will be even better.
Here's something everybody in Brooklyn (and Queens) can agree on: the New York Mets clinched at Shea Stadium tonight, for only the fifth time in the team's history (there was 1969, 1973, 1986 and 1988; they rode a wild card to the World Series in 2000), and it's a very happy night for all of 718. Yankers, bring it on.
So, I'm now too exhausted to post anything literary, but here are a couple of cellphone photos. I have no idea why Abby is eating the bag of Cracker Jacks instead of the contents. And that's the Cowbell Man, a local legend, in the last photo.
Don DeLillo has written a movie about baseball, Game Six, which is strange for several reasons.
First, DeLillo is a novelist, not a screenwriter, and he's not a particularly accessible novelist at that. He's known for taut, bone-clean postmodern prose about helpless, well-meaning adults facing the fear and anxiety of modern life. He sometimes brings in real-life characters like Lee Harvey Oswald or Chairman Mao, and he sometimes tilts the story towards the surreal, a la Harold Pinter, just to keep us guessing. His stories always maintain a hard, cold surface, never fully allowing the reader inside, and rarely delivering climactic moments. How this was going to translate into a baseball flick seemed not at all clear.
Game Six stars Michael Keaton as a nervous but brash playwright who loves the Boston Red Sox. He's feeling a bit nervous because his new play is opening on Broadway the same night the Red Sox face the New York Mets in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series. Keaton's character seems to enjoy life, though he's struggling to juggle a vivacious girlfriend (Bebe Neuwirth), a moody teenage daughter and a bitter soon-to-be ex-wife. He takes solace in his hopes for a Red Sox World Series victory (not knowing, of course, that the Red Sox are about to lose badly in one of the most suspenseful baseball games of all time) and he frets over the possibility that a hip new drama critic played by Robert Downey Jr. will savage his new play.
The finals will take place February 1st at Madison Square Garden where you can join the Knicks' Stephon Marbury and watch the top 12 poets vie for a spot on the NY Knicks Slam Team. All events are free and open to the public. You can find more information on the Urban Word calendar. I'm not generally a Knicks fan, but I have to applaud any organization that throws support behind a great youth in poetry project such as this one.