Spirit of place rise from these ashes
—William Carlos Williams
We had watched with anticipation for the past couple of years, Yankee Stadium “3.0” (to borrow from the jargon of computer programming) rising across the street from the increasingly outmoded “2.0” version.
Considering how badly “they” had botched that 1976 attempt to modernize “The House That Ruth Built” (i.e. “1.0”), we wondered if “they” would again capitulate to the gods of soulless design. Those gods that demand minimalism and the absence of even the smallest wrinkle, in what passes for contemporary artistic expression—especially in the places that we work…play…pray.
Of course the most glaring offense of 2.0, was the elimination of the famed façade that had adorned the upper deck from end to end. A gaucherie that would be akin to “repairing” the crack in the Liberty Bell. And so we were there on opening day, wary as to what they might have this time wrought. But this time, thank God, they got it right.
Not only is the façade back, but the entire design— inside and out— in all its elegance, befits this classic franchise of such legendary success. And while the term “cathedral of baseball” has been applied to Yankee Stadium in the past, the 2.0 version still standing across the street, now looks like a battered fort in comparison.
But the reason for “the being there” on this day, goes far beyond the bricks and mortar and indeed the game itself. It has to do with the power of place, and the emotional impact and personal associations it can generate in our lives. In the opening stanzas of a poem we wrote some fifteen ago, A Return to Yankee Stadium, this is how we had described our first encounter with the stadium at age seven in 1952:
The first time I came hurtling through
that ovarian tunnel on the sparks of friction
and the scream of wheels—I clung to breath;
a child to face the head-on crash
of dark into day at the end of the ride.
Below the subway station loomed
a wedge of concrete birthday cake
And as father and son had enjoined on that day, so too would father and son (the latter having driven down from Syracuse University for the occasion) share this day: April 16, 2009.
And despite having to suffer a dreadful 10-2 loss, not to mention “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”— the fortune it cost to buy these tickets…a father and son… new Yankee Stadium…opening day? “Priceless!”
During our trip to New York City last month, we noticed that every taxi now had a built-in TV for passenger viewing. Why? “To enhance customer service,” according to Matthew Daus, Commisioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commision.
Once upon a time, the very ride itself was all the “enhancement” one needed. Upfront, sat the stereotypical New York cab driver, dispensing with philosophy and wisdom on matters large and small, as he took you to your destination. “Wehjewanna go? Toity-toid ohn Toid?” (Translation: Where did you want to go? Thirty-third Street on Third Avenue?). And perhaps he'd reach back while driving to show you some snapshots of his kids.
The New York cab ride has always been a study in sociology, starting with the deterioration of civil order on the scale of Lord of the Flies, in pursuit of that one taxi available on a rainy day. But the first real sense of great social change began with the arrival of Plexiglas partitions between driver and passenger. These had begun to appear in the late '60s and early '70s, as crime in general, and attacks on cabbies in particular, were in escalation. Though it would be as late as 1994 until such partitions actually became mandatory.
Then as the old order retired or died off, a myriad of accents replaced their New Yawkese. And it seemed as if overnight, we were hearing languages from lands we had never heard of. This put a further crimp in communications among the various races, ethnicities and social strata. Many of the newly arrived immigrants who took jobs as hacks, hardly knew the city, much less the English language—fractured though it had been by the “Deez, Demz and Doze” generations. A situation by no means confined to New York as those living in other major urban areas can attest.
In time, cabs got smaller; ecology and safety becoming the concerns of the day. Celebrity pre-recordings by the likes of a Joan Rivers or a Jackie Mason, actually reminded us to buckle up as we entered a taxi. (And how annoying was that?) And one day in August of '99, the last Checker Cab (#1N11) drove off to that great yellow burial ground in the sky.
Enter now… closed circuit TV.
One with a 15 minute loop of commercial, entertainment and news clips. Some of these clips, (“Regis and Kelly”) can go on for months; cruel and unusual punishment that could drive any cabbie batty (pun intended). The on/off switch is in the passenger's hands.
“Sometimes when I'm in bed, I hear the TV in my sleep,” said Paramjit Singh, a driver from Queens.
Do we really need TV in cabs? A place so enclosed? And with most rides being of relatively short duration anyway? Can we no longer live without a constant flow of video stimulation? Even for ten minutes?
In addition to the possibility of some communication through that partition (all language barriers and Plexiglas thickness aside), whatever happened to just looking out the window? You know…at the world going by? Or spending ten minutes alone with one's thoughts? And if all this fails, we do still have the cell phones to keep us busy, no?
The distance between a virtual world and the real world grows greater every day. So great, that the cost of a cab ride to cover that distance, we believe, is our soul. Not counting tolls and tip.
Tinkering with a faulty tube, a frayed wire, a loosened screw—
that perhpas had caused this mess inside—
his assessment was always an outside guess.
“But I'll have to take it back to the shop.”
What happened back there was never clear.
But the TV returned with picture restored;
the horizontal lines contained.
How he did it no one knew.
Such are the mysteries of man and machine;
questions with incomprehensible answers.
It was said he'd invite in a boy or two
to that room cordoned off from public view.
We suppose that to keep his irons in the fire,
this man of latent and unbranded desires,
who under the guise of catching a few innings—
on his Philco Bakelite twelve-inch set—
schooled some kids in ways not cricket
on the finer points of the game of ball.
One can imagine the laying on of hands
the day that Bobby Thomson hit
“The shot heard 'round the world.”
But when the law descended the steps of his shop
on a future day, on a drug trade rap
the nuns up above scurried to vouch for his soul.
Hadn't he always fixed for free
their Bell & Howell so that they could screen
The Song of Bernadette for the prepubescent?
With its theme of how innocence could convert men of doubt?
Should allowances therefore be made, or not,
for Lincoln's better angels that dwell in a man
who could deal with this devilish technology
if not the sins inside.
BIG THEATER/Little Theater
“Big Theater” is a play called God of Carnage on Broadway—the hottest ticket in town! “Little Theater” is a play called Exit Cuckoo—a good seat in the house available five minutes before curtain.
Big Theater is $116, the listed price for an orchestra seat, costing at least double that on Stub Hub… if you're lucky. Little Theater is $18 for the same seat. ($25 with a wine and cheese reception at a special fund raising preview, to which we were invited).
Big Theater is an all-star cast: James Gandolfini (of Tony Soprano fame); Marcia Gay Harden (Academy Award winning actress for Pollack); Jeff Daniels (who has appeared inmore than 50 films including The Squid and the Whale and The Purple Rose of Cairo). Little Theater is a one woman show, written by and starring Lisa Ramirez, who to sustain her acting career, has worked as a nanny.
Big Theater deals with a familiar premise, as Broadway cannot afford to take chances. In this case, two seemingly civilized couples get together, and before the night is over, all hell breaks loose. (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? anyone?). Little Theater tackles something you haven't quite seen before: a sobering look (as opposed to a sit-com look) at motherhood among the privileged classes, from the perspective of the underclass nannies they employ. This line from the play best sums up that dynamic:
One has the money… one needs it, and there is a child between them that needs to be taken care of.
And then there's this line which turns a cliché on its ear:
Quantity time is what children need, not quality!
In this case, Big Theater too, indirectly leaves one wondering at those pathetic people who can't manage their own lives, yet decide to become parents. Woe unto their children.
God of Carnage is very good. Though not good enough to warrant scalper prices.
Exit Cuckoo—the title derived from the cuckoo being the only bird that will lay its eggs in the nest and the care of other species— is better. And at prices even a nanny can afford.
Celebrity Citing in LA
This is one from the world of baseball, and not really known by the masses. Call it a “Tier Four” sighting. While shopping in Gelson's (supermarket extraordinaire), we spotted him in the fresh produce section. As we approached we exclaimed whimsically: “Is that you?”
“Yeah, it's me,” replied Frank Robinson Hall-of-Famer, ranked Number 22 on The Sporting News list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball history.
We were then about to ask him if he remembered making one of the greatest catches we had ever seen. It happened in old Yankee Stadium, where he had literally leaped into the right field stands with two out in the ninth, to rob the Yankees of a home run and the game. As he emerged from the crowd some 15 seconds later, slightly dazed, holding the ball aloft, the umpire finally signaled “Out!” How he hung on to that ball under those circumstances we'll never know.
But now at 75, he was dropping a couple of pieces of fruit and in the process of slowly bending down to pick them up. We decided to move on.