Over the five or so years I’ve written Deep In the Red, I’ve been given the privilege of writing about baseball — most especially the Yankees, of course — from a unique if not wholly singular perspective.
YESNetwork.com has given a virtual free hand that enables me to switch from wearing my well-worn Yankee cap to my press box sport jacket, if not at will, then mostly so, and often at short notice. As a fan I’ve tried to bare my honest thoughts and emotions to the bone in hopes of capturing the passion shared by countless other fans. In the role of journalist and analyst, I’ve tried to write with an unsensationalistic objectivity, respect for players, and balance I often find lacking in the work of far too many sportswriters who view the game with jaundiced eyes — and, in some cases nowadays, keep those eyes firmly on their Twitter pages rather than the games they’re supposed to be watching and reporting on.
This forum is something for which I am beyond grateful. I consider it a blessing.
When I’m functioning as a member of the working press, I’m given the professional courtesies all media people are afforded. And when I’m in my seat at the games wearing my Yankee cap there are no special benefits. I’m just one of 50,000 or so other paying customers there for a night out at the ballpark.
Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, at a game my wife and I had highly anticipated, the obduracy and thoughtlessness of one security staffer took some of the luster off the thrill we should have taken from an epic postseason win.
I should mention that my wife’s a stickler for preparation. The preparation part is useful when you’re going to a game during which you’ll be sitting out in the left field bleachers on a night when temperatures are in the 40’s, a nor’easter is supposed to be blasting in and rain delays are expected throughout the game.
I can’t tell you how much insulation Suzanne wore under her long winter coat, scarf and hat. All I know is that it was a lot. And that as we prepared to leave our apartment for the game, she wondered if people would think she was a little crazy in all those clothes. Walking to the subway station, we laughed because she could hardly bend her knees. It was the double tights, Under Armour and what-not she’d layered on. She was also carrying a rolled up blanket in some kind of tote. Oh, and an umbrella. She’s on the slight side and needs to bundle up in bad weather.
We were fortunate in that the rain held up till late in the game — I think it was around eleven o’clock. It was chilly for most of the night, though. And when it got wet and windy it felt downright cold out in the bleachers.
When I looked over at Suzanne at some point around the ninth or 10th inning, I noticed she was shivering under her umbrella. And that the umbrella wasn’t doing much good in the slanting rain anyway.
I asked if she was okay, and she said she was. But when you see your wife trembling, and her knees knocking, and her lips getting white, even if you haven’t been married forever like I have, you know she’s only saying that because she doesn’t want to ruin your time and make you feel as if you’d better leave early.
I told her that maybe we ought to go home. But she’s as averse to leaving a Yankees game in progress as I’ve always been, especially a playoff game, and insisted she just needed to get out of the cold and rain for a little while, and would find someplace to stand in the concourse, maybe have a coffee to warm her up.
“You stay here,” she said. “I’ll call you on the cell and let you know where I am.”
I told her not to be ridiculous and went with her.
At this point — I’m guessing it was the eleventh inning — the crowd had thinned significantly out around the left field bleachers. Some were people with kids, others were people with long drives home, and I guess still others were just tired and cold and soaked. Whatever their reasons, they were heading for the aisles in bunches.
There was a section back there that had been designated as Standing Room Only for the playoffs. It has a kind of overhang that blocks the rain, and a wall behind it that cuts down the wind stream. The last two holdouts in that section were a guy with no shirt on and a beer sloshing in his hand, and another guy who was kind of prowling around looking shady. Everybody else had departed.
Suzanne had warmed a bit in the concourse. She had gotten some color back in her face and her teeth weren’t chattering. She wanted to try and hang in and root the team on for the rest of the game, just not in the bleachers where the wind was still ripping over and through her coat. So we figured we’d give the SRO section a shot.
Now, I understand about moving into different seats than the ones you’ve bought. It’s one thing moving down to better, more expensive ones nowadays, even if they’re empty. Back in the old days that was okay, but now it isn’t, and I accept it. But you wouldn’t figure somebody would mind your moving to a worse, cheaper section with no place to sit down, let alone one that was now completely deserted except for the two stragglers I mentioned.
We went into the SRO section and had been there about three minutes when the security guard came over and asked if we had tickets.
“We’ve got bleacher seats,” I said, showing my ticket to him. “But my wife’s soaked, and couldn’t take the cold anymore. It okay if we stay here?”
“Unless you have tickets for this area, you have to leave,” he said. “You have bleacher seats. This is Standing Room Only.”
“But there’s nobody left standing here,” I said.
The security guy just shook his head. Meanwhile, the bare-chested guy came running over. He’s completely toasted but, I realize, trying to help.
“This is the shirtless section now,” he tells the security guard. “And me being the only guy here, I say they can stay, man. They can even keep their shirts on!”
The security guard ignored him.
“You have to leave,” he told me again.
“Look,” I said. “My wife and I aren’t causing problems. We’re into extra innings on a miserable night, and she’s freezing, and it’s a playoff game. We just want to see the end.”
Robotman couldn’t have cared less: “You have to leave. I’m just doing my job.”
“But if I went to a customer service desk, and told them my wife was uncomfortable , they’d probably put us somewhere else right now anyway. Since there are all kinds of seats available.”
I don’t know whether or not the part about the moving’s true. I think it might be. But when you’re in extra innings, and it’s one o’clock in the morning, five hours into a game that can end in a heartbeat with an error or a home run, the last thing you want to do is have to seek out customer service at an enormous Stadium and miss that last play.
Meanwhile, for maybe the fifth time, the security guard is repeating his mantra. “You have to leave, I’m just doing my job.”
Behind him, the shirtless guy’s signaling for us to walk away and circle back from the other direction. And behind me, the guy who’s been roaming aro
und looking shifty tries to grab my wife’s tote bag, which she’s set down against the wall. She yanks it out of his hand at the last minute and he takes off running. I don’t find out about this till later. My back is to him, and the security guard, who is facing in his direction, is too busy telling me he’s doing his job to notice.
“Jerome, let’s just go,” my wife says. “It’s not worth it.”
I’m looking at the guard. I’m pretending not to think he’s the world’s biggest jerk as I oh-so-politely ask one final time to give us a break and am again told to move on. I’m also pretending not to think that maybe he ought to stop repeating that he’s just doing his job and instead try using his head.
And I’m thinking one other thing under that cap of mine that I’ll get around to in a second.
First, though, to make a long story short, we moved. We found a bench in the last row bleachers that was entirely vacated, and had a little coverage, and my wife wrapped herself in her blanket, and we watched the end of the game. The security guards there weren’t hassling anyone. Give them credit.
Finally we cheered and clapped when Hairston ran home on that error, and waited for the pie, and then headed out of the Stadium with the crowd.
We were both a little subdued as we left, though. I wasn’t grinning from ear to ear the way I ordinarily would have. I wasn’t high-fiving anyone, or thinking about what a classic game I’d seen. I was glad the Yanks won and glad, too, that I was going home. It had been a great night for the Yanks but not such a great night for me or my wife.
And as for the final thing I thought under my Yanks cap about the uniform in the SRO section:
What I was thinking was that I would write about him today in this column. Write how he showed no discretionary judgment, no human kindness, no wisdom, no common consideration or decency. Write that I hope he reads this, and I hope even more that somebody takes him to task for it. He stunk at his job and frankly doesn’t deserve to have it.
This morning, I mentioned a little of what happened last night to a pal and fellow journalist — one of the guys who actually watches the games he writes about in the newspaper. He replied that he hoped my wife and I enjoyed the end of the game anyway. I told him we did, but that our enjoyment was a little diminished by our experience.
My memory of Game 2 of the 2009 ALCS will never be an entirely happy one.
Kind of stinks.
Figure things probably won’t be as easy the rest of the way. It’s hard to believe the LA Angels of Anaheim will continue to bumble and stumble around the field like Ringling Brothers clowns flopping out of a circus train down at the Garden. And most of all, the Yanks won’t have CC Sabathia on the mound every night for the rest of the LCS.
Friday night, though, the first night of the series, that baby belonged to CC. Somewhere over the Yankee Stadium frieze, and the lights, and the hard, cold wind blowing in from left field, and the wet snow early in the game, and the sheet of gray October clouds spitting that snow down our hooded heads, somewhere high above it all in the New York City sky, the stars and moon and planets were aligned over CC, were shining down on him as he stood there throwing lightning for strikes in the middle of the infield diamond. Even the flags out in left were pointing stiffly at him as if to say, “This night belongs to you.”
Big stage. Big night. Big man, that CC.
And the crowd let him know it once he got to mowing through that Angels lineup. See ya later Figgins, it’s hard to run wild on the bases when you can’t get on. Fuggedabout it Abreu, you can’t draw a walk when the Big Man’s pounding you with strike after strike. Props to Torii for getting the first of those four Angels hits, but a single won’t hurt CC when he’s firing 95 mph heat to get Guerrero to line out, especially when he then spun him and his humongous lumber in a helpless circle after Vlad touched him for that one mistake in the fourth.
Tough to remember exactly when the chanting started. With the wind ripping into us up in the frozen stands, we were still getting loose those first few innings, still trying to get our blood circulating under layers of clothing that made us feel like kids dressed for a snow day — our coats and hoodies and thermals and Under Armour, our gloves and double socks. Those first few innings, couples were still snuggling under their blankets while trying to stay warm. We’d clap and yell but our brains were too frozen and numb to come up with something special. Something to fit the occasion.
And then we heard it. Maybe from somewhere in the right field grandstand, though you know those Bleacher Creatures will want to take the credit. But it really doesn’t matter where it started, or who got it going, because the one who counted Friday night was the guy that got everybody on their feet and out from under the snuggle blankets, the guy that growing, rhythmic chant was all for, the big man on the mound, big man in a big game in the Bronx, where some of the biggest in the history of baseball have been played:
“CC! CC! CC!”
Straight on, no frills, and nothing could have felt more right, because that’s CC in a nutshell. He doesn’t showboat and rarely flashes his emotions. He just plants his foot on the rubber and mops that wide brow of his and deals. Seven, eight innings. 100, 115, 120 pitches. It was like that all summer, and here we are in the fall, and now he’s showing the Yanks, who will tell you over and over he’s their horse, that he wants them to ride him into November’s baseball dreamland.
“CC! CC! CC!”
115 pitches last night. 76 strikes, four hits, one run, eight innings. And then the ball to Mo. Figure it won’t be as easy the entire series. But it was Friday night.
Must-see CC hurls the Yanks toward a big postseason win.
Big as big can be.
“Anybody know who won?” the guy asks.
I’m on the 4 train minutes after last night’s game, and if you’re reading this I don’t have to tell you what game. Whether you were there among 50,000 or so of us who aged about 30 years and melted off 15 pounds or so at Yankee Stadium — not the new Stadium for me anymore, but finally the Stadium — whether you were there with us or watching at home on television or in a car somewhere on some dark highway listening with the dash radio on, you know what game I’m talking about.
And here the guy comes aboard the jammed train afterward, pushes in just over to my right, and asks who won.
We turn our wiped out faces his way. He’s maybe in his late 50s with neatly trimmed gray hair, and though he’s all casual in a tee shirt and jeans tonight, you get the sense that away from the ballpark he’s an exec at some mega-corporation or a heavy-hitter courtroom lawyer, some kind of big shot anyway.
Anybody know? It’s a sucker’s gag. But we’ve all spent the past four and a half hours getting our souls squeezed out of us into that wild, crackling, exhilarating, enervating storm of emotional energy that surrounded the Stadium. We are juiced oranges there in that packed subway car. We fall for it.
“Just kidding ,” he says with a chuckle after getting our attention.
And everybody laughs or gives him one of those you-got-me-buddy grins.
“You’ve got my permission to kill him,” says the guy on my opposite side, who I think might be his friend.
I shake my head to let him know I’m too tired for murder. “I’ll have to do it another time,” I say. “Just don’t have enough strength for it right now.”
The guy nods. “I know what you mean,” he says. “Geez, what a game.”
What a game, is right. I’ve been at some great ones, but don’t remember being at a better one.
If you were there, you felt it from the first ninety-plus-mile-an-hour strike Burnett threw. And you heard it in the cheers and the smacking of hands around you. I’m talking about the hunger. This crowd was hungry in a way they haven’t been for years, believes in this team in a way they haven’t believed for years, just like this hungry Yankees team believes in itself.
I remember that hunger before 1996. But sometime during the dynasty years, we started taking things a little too much for granted. By 2001, we’d been so well fed with winning, were so stuffed with it, that we figured even what happened there in Arizona was a tough luck fluke.
And then in 2002, with Tino and O’Neal gone, and Bernie getting older, and the pitching getting iffier, and the parade of stars coming in, and finally the Angels knocking the Yanks out of the postseason just like that, we were reminded good things don’t last forever, and got to wondering somewhere in our minds if the Yankees team we were watching wasn’t the Yankees team we believed in anymore. Still, though we’d dined well on success for a while — four world championships in five years — we told ourselves another good portion would have to come soon.
We were kidding ourselves.
The team had changed, and something else had changed too. I remember being at the World Series in 2003 days after the great Game 7, the Aaron Boone homer Game 7. All around me, everywhere in the stands, there were people you never saw at the Stadium during the regular season. People sitting around in their seats like they were at a Broadway play or the opera or something. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know why those people who didn’t seem to know or care anything about the game were getting tickets to it. I didn’t know why the faces I saw around me all throughout the regular season mostly weren’t there, and I still don’t. But too many of them didn’t get in. And too many bodies in the seats seemed like they were there because it was the place to be rather than because it was somewhere they wanted to be. Seemed like they would have rather spent the night at a restaurant dining lobster claws than feasting on a win.
The Marlins noticed it when they came in. After the first game, some of their players chattered how playing at Yankee Stadium wasn’t a big deal. The crowd wasn’t so loud, nothing about it was too intimidating. They couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about. Yankee Stadium didn’t have any edge.
The Marlins won that World Series. And then in 2004 the Red Sox came in and won the bad Game 7 in the second round of the playoffs. And after that — even though somebody in the Yanks organization must have wised up and started getting tickets back into the hands of real fans again — after that, there were all those early exits from October baseball, all those Yankees teams that never really felt altogether like teams, those teams we wanted to love but just couldn’t. Postseason games didn’t seem the same as they’d used to be. Or they didn’t to me, anyway. Something was missing. A spark, maybe. A swagger. Something.
And then last season October didn’t even happen. All we had at the end was Derek Jeter’s graceful goodbye to a dear old friend, which was something, at least. But it didn’t make the Yanks’ melancholy September exit any easier to take.
The fans were hungry again. We’d been hungry for a while. We’d learned our lesson, been reminded winning wasn’t so easy after all. But we had an uneasy feeling maybe the team wasn’t as starved for the big, oven-stuffing World Series prize as we were.
And then we were given this 2009 team. And slowly, almost reluctantly, we started to believe they wanted it. That they were going after it. We still kept our expectations in check. You get burned enough, you don’t extend your faith that easily.
Last night at Yankee Stadium, in that up and down, tilt-a-whirl nailbiter of an 11-inning thrill ride, the Yanks took us on with the help of a Minnesota Twins team that wouldn’t quit, just like the home team wouldn’t quit; they earned our belief .
I look for pivotal moments, and I have to go back to that ninth inning. Yanks down 3-1. Joe Nathan, one of the best closers in the game on the mound. He’s got to face Teixeira, Rodriguez and Matsui. Three guys you’d want him to be facing in that spot. Except Tex hasn’t had a hit in the series, he’s looked a little tight, and it is the ninth inning. There aren’t many outs left.
We’re all standing and cheering up there in the stands. We have fallen for this team and poured everything we’ve got into rooting for them all night. But we are withholding just a little bit of our hearts so they won’t be broken.
When Teixeira hits the single, some big lunk is standing in the aisle next to my seat, bumping into me every couple of seconds and getting on my nerves. I’m like 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, and he’s like, 6’3 and 450 pounds, and I’m way, way too tense to put up with his big fat elbow in my side. Why won’t he just go back wherever he belongs?
And into the batter’s box steps the great Rodriguez and hoists one into the energy field over the park, out to deep, deep center where it will finally return to earth in a place of no return, and the score is tied, and the night is roaring. And I look at the lunk, and he looks at me, and then we’re hugging each other, jumping up and down in the aisle and slapping each others’ backs like we’ve been best friends our entire lives and one or the other or both of us just became a daddy. I see hands up everywhere, above me, below me, everywhere, waiting to be high-fived.
That wasn’t the end of course. We all saw or heard the game from somewhere and know it wasn’t the end of it. We thought it was won in the 10th after Gardner made his crazy steal of third with one out, but had the air taken out of us when Damon hit into that hard luck double play. We thought it was lost in the 11th after Damaso Marte gave up consecutive hits to the only two batters he was supposed to get out, and then David Robertson, the 24-year old rookie who just a few weeks ago looked like he might be done for the year, comes in and gives up a single to load the bases with no outs.
And the kid gets out of it without surrendering a run.
Think about it. Postseason, extra innings bases loaded. Game on the line.
The kid came through. And then so did Mark Teixeira, four pitches into the bottom of the inning, with the walkoff homer that made the Stadium explode.
Hungry fans, hungry team. It was a hungry man’s feast.
“That was their baptism,” somebody said to me on the train home. He was talking about Teixeira and Rodriguez in the ninth, but might as well have been talking about this 2009 team.
What happened Friday night in Game 2 of the Division series doesn’t mean the Yanks can’t be beaten. Anybody can. But it means that win or lose, they are going to give the winning everything they have, play any kind of game they need to, do whatever it takes to feed the appetite for a championship shared by Yankees fans and players alike. If this team goes down in October or November, they are going to go down hard.
Man, though, it must be getting tough to bet against them.
PRESS BOX SNOB
“I don’t know about you any more,” the Fellow Author said. “All that stuff you write from the press box. Geez.”
I looked at him. We were at Yankee Stadium before one of the games in last week’s Yanks-Toronto series, waiting on line at one of those “Beers of the World” stands. where he buys his schmaltzy expensive brews.
“‘Geez’?” I said. “Whaddya mean geez?”
“I thought you were supposed to be a fan. One of us. Not some hack with a press pass. That’s what made your column different from the rest.”
“You telling me it isn’t different anymore?”
“I’m tellin’ you any clown can write that kinda junk.” He gave me a reproachful look, nodding in the box’s general direction. “Like I said, I dunno. Lately with you everything’s pressbox, this pressbox that … I’ve got a feeling you’ve turned into a press box snob.”
I frowned. “You’re kidding, right?”
“A press box snob,” he repeated, shaking his head.
I looked at him, feeling guilty. Never mind that this was all coming from a guy who’d made us walk halfway around the Stadium because a domestic beer wasn’t good enough for his very special taste buds.
“You’ve got the wrong idea,” I said. “I’m just trying to give some perspective from the clubhouse and…”
“Blah, blah, blah.” He paid for his beer. “Just wait and see. Pretty soon, you won’t even want to hang around with paying customers like me. What am I gonna tell my son? He used to respect you.”
“You mean he doesn’t any more?”
“All I’m sayin’ is he might not in the near future if this keeps up,” The Fellow Author said. “And by the way, you gave us lousy directions to the Garlic Fries place last time we were here.”
I blinked. “Look … how about I buy you an Italian sausage?
“Maybe later — and you’re gonna want to make sure it’s got everything on it.” He paid for his beer, started toward the Carvel stand, noticed I was lagging behind. “Thought you wanted that vanilla helmet cup.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
I’d stopped dead, looking at the menu above the Carvel stand. “It’s, like, six bucks.”
“So in the press box we have an ice-cream machine. With chocolate, vanilla and black-and-white swirl … and a stack of cups on the side…”
The Fellow Author shook his head in disgust.
“Press box snob,” he muttered, tossing back some beer.
I hate to say it, but I’ve soured on Disco Stu. Those of you who can get down to the Stadium know this is the white-haired guy with the shades who dances in the aisle between innings. Usually he’s wearing something flamboyant — a jacket or T-shirt, depending on the weather. Sometimes he gets the people around him to dance too.
I was a big fan of the guy once upon a time. This was back when he was still an anonymous dancer. The camera would land on him, and he’d be in a groove, and everybody watching on the big video board would get a kick out of it.
I guess it was maybe a year ago when he got his tag — there he was dancing with his moniker right up on the bottom of the screen. Disco Stu. Now all of a sudden, he’s a celebrity. I actually heard some German-speaking tourists talking about him on a night when he hadn’t even made an appearance, like they were waiting to see him. Like he’s suddenly an official Yankee Stadium attraction. Trouble.
The thing about Stu is that he used to be spontaneous. He’d dress for himself. If the Yanks were losing, he’d dance less enthusiastically than when they were winning. Sometimes he wouldn’t be dancing at all when the camera found him.
Now he’s waiting for his face time. His garish tees have often given way to shirts with designer logos on them . . . Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, and so on. The homer spirit has been leached out of his moves, which have frankly gotten stale. And he seems equally dance crazy during wins and losses, which bugs me the most. You have to wonder if fame has gotten to his head.
I didn’t want to be the first to say it. I know it’s going to be controversial. But the truth is the truth.
Disco Stu is mailing it in.
It’s time the Bleacher Creatures stopped hogging all the glory at the Stadium. They’re still great fans, and they do a mean roll call. However, the reality is that they, like Stu, aren’t quite what they used to be. They are living largely on reputation, on the stats on the back of their cards. But they are no longer producing the way they used to.
A few weeks ago, for example, I was at the ballpark and somebody sitting on the third base line started the Wave. It spread up to the terrace from the lower level seats and back toward the left field bleachers and then came around to the right field bleachers, where I figured the reliable Section 39ers, as we called them across the street, would be the human breakwater that put a merciful halt to it.
Instead, they joined in. They Waved. I couldn’t believe my eyes. What was happening to the world?
And then I realized it was okay. Like the old Yankee Stadium, the Bleacher Creatures’ light has dimmed. Their day is fading into dusk. But in the gloaming, something unexpected has happened. The people in Section 200 have risen to take their place.
And not by coincidence. These are the people who would have been one level closer to the field back in the old Stadium — many of them partial season ticket holders with seats in the once and former Main Box section. When the action moved over to the new place, what used to be Main Box seats turned into pricier Field Level seats that weren’t offered in the smaller partial plans. And the people who used to have those partial plans got relocated one level up onto the first deck’s Main Level seats. Which are more comparable to the old Loge seats, though you will hear they have better sightlines.
I won’t debate that now. What’s for sure is that you can always count on the Section 200 fans to get the place rocking. When Toronto manager Cito Gaston contested a Jorge Posada homer last week, it was Section 200 that started the “Home run!” chant. When the big board showed an announcement that it was Melky Cabrera’s twenty-fifth birthday, Melky could thank Section 200 for starting up the Happy Birthday song. Whenever the noise level ramps up, it’s Section 200 that’s making the biggest racket.
The rightfield Bleacher Creatures did a stalwart job back when they had their own entrance and couldn’t drink beer or leave their area. But now they’re behind those fancy planters and can go where they please, and have to live with being what they are rather than what they were.
Props to Section 200. It’s got the new best fans at Yankee Stadium.
My wife and I see the guy a lot on our block in Manhattan. He has thick, curly hair, a heavy beard, always wears a suit and is homeless.
I figure the suit must get uncomfortable on hot summer days, but he never even takes off the jacket and somehow keeps the getup in decent condition. Maybe he wears the suit to preserve a measure of dignity for himself, to help him feel he isn’t some kind of living eyesore to the people who rush by him heading toward the subway station every morning. All the businessmen heading to work wearing suits. You wear a suit, I wear a suit, we’re pretty much in the same social sphere. The only difference is I’ve got no job to head off to, no bed to sleep in at night, no money, no food, nothing but nothing besides this nice suit I wear on my back here, just like you.
But maybe I’m projecting. Maybe it’s he keeps the jacket on because he just doesn’t like carrying it.
There is a charitable drop-in center on our block where the homeless can go for a meal, or basic medical care, or to get deloused, or clean themselves up. Further up the block there’s a fancy Italian café with a bench outside. These days I see more and more homeless people on the bench very early on the morning, before the place opens and its customers come in for their pastries and lattes. I figure the homeless are waiting there for the center to open so they can get something to eat too. The guy with the suit is sometimes on that bench.
A few weeks back we were heading to our place in Maine after a long stay in New York. It was early in the morning, and I passed the guy a few times while loading up the car. That day he wasn’t on the café bench up the block. He was sitting alone on a low stoop in front of an apartment building two houses down from us.
My wife had been waiting downstairs to keep an eye on the cats and my computer bag, and as I passed the guy for the last time before we took off, I saw that she’d gotten out of the car and was walking toward me on the sidewalk.
“Where you going?” I asked. That’s when I noticed she was carrying one of those clear plastic travel bags with slide zippers.
She showed me the travel bag. She’d gone to the corner fruit stand, bought an apple, orange and banana, and put it inside. She’d also stuffed in a bottle of water, a rain poncho and Yankee cap we kept in the car, the cap being one those Stadium giveaways that winds up in the back forever.
“I made this package for that man,” she said, nodding past me toward the homeless guy. “I can’t stand seeing him there anymore without doing something to help.” Her voice caught. “He’s wearing a suit for God’s sake.”
As if to say he was trying. We couldn’t be exactly sure for what, but trying for something. And maybe he could have used for at least one person to take notice. Never mind needing a little food and water.
I eyed the travel bag a second. I’d always had trouble opening the lousy slide zipper and wouldn’t miss complaining about it. I’d sort of miss the rain poncho, which was a good quality slicker, but figured I could buy another one. As for the freebie Yankee cap, well, I’m compulsive about hanging onto those things, never mind I’ve collected hundreds over the years. But I didn’t gripe about it either.
“Meet you back in the car,” I said.
My wife went over to give him the travel bag, returned to the car, got in the driver’s door. Watching the guy in the rear view mirror, I saw him stand up out of the doorway with the bag, inspect its contents through the clear plastic and start to open it.
“I hope he likes fruit more than I do,” I said, trying to lighten the moment. My wife is always trying to shove healthy food in my direction.
She ignored me and pulled away from the curb.
It was a couple of weeks later and we were back in New York. As usual, I was up in the apartment writing and trying to get the cat’s tail off my computer keyboard when my wife came through the door. She’d been out and about and looked a little upset.
“What’s the matter?” I said.
“Remember the guy I gave the travel bag to?” she asked.
“Well, the fruit man told me he just took out the banana and dumped the rest. Left it on the street, travel bag and all.”
I looked at her. “Is he sure about that?”
“He felt bad even telling me about it, but didn’t want me to give the homeless guy more stuff he’d just throw away,” she said. “You know the hot dog man?”
I nodded. The hot dog man sets up next to the fruit man most days.
“Well, he took the poncho out of the bag and kept it,” my wife said, her face full of disappointment. “Hated for it to go to waste. He told the fruit guy he feels kind of guilty about keeping it, but that he’ll give it back to me if I want.”
I looked at her. “You gonna let the hot dog man hang onto the poncho?”
“Might as well,” she said with a shrug. “He’s always out there on the street. With all the rain we’re getting this summer, at least somebody’ll put it to good use.”
A minute or so passed. She really seemed down about the homeless guy throwing away her package. I wanted to say something to make her feel better, but couldn’t think of anything.
“People are hard to figure,” I said finally
“Yeah,” she said, and was quiet for a long while afterward.
“Hey,” my wife said. “You’ll never guess what happened!”
It was a few days later. I was at the computer fending off the cat’s tail. She’d been out again. This time she’d come home looking cheerful.
I asked her what happened.
“Well, I’m walking past the sandwich joint across the street from the fancy café, and a kid who works there’s hosing down the sidewalk out front, and he sees me and asks if I’ll stop a minute,” she says.
“And then I stop, and he waves across the street, and the homeless guy with the suit comes hurrying over from the café’s bench,” she said. “And he’s wearing the Yankee cap!”
I scratched my head. “Wait a sec,” I said. “Didn’t the fruit guy tell you he ditched that cap with the travel bag?”
“Right,” she said. “That’s why the kid from the sandwich shop stopped me. He speaks Spanish, and the homeless guy with the suit only speaks Spanish, and asked him if he’d seen me around.”
I didn’t bother asking her how the homeless guy expected the sandwich shop kid to know who she was. There are hundreds of women living on our block, plus countless others who go walking up and down the street all throughout the day. But I’ve learned she’s one of those people everybody always recognizes, just like I’m one of those people who sort of blends into the crowd.
“Okay,” I said, getting everything straight in my head. “The homeless guy runs over to you…”
“Wearing the Yankee cap.”
“Right, he’s got the cap on…”
“And he starts speaking to me in Spanish, talking a mile a minute, while the sandwich shop kid’s trying to keep up with him and translate.”
I look at her. “So what’s his story?”
“The story’s that after I gave him the travel bag, he couldn’t figure out how to open the slide zipper all the way, but managed to open it enough to get out the banana and Yankee cap,” my wife said. “He got so frustrated with the bag, he put it down on the sidewalk, and went looking for something on the street that would help him cut it open so
he could get out the rest of the stuff.”
“And what? The hot dog man copped the bag while he was gone?”
She shook her head. “He’s got memory problems,” she said. “The homeless man, that is. And he forgot where he left it, and felt terrible, because he was afraid I might’ve seen him put it down, and thought he’d thrown it away. Which he didn’t after all.”
I looked at her. “And then, later on, the hot dog man finds it.”
“Right. He hears from the fruit man that I gave it to the homeless guy, and both of them figure the homeless guy didn’t want it.”
“And the hot dog man manages to get it open and takes the poncho.”
“Exactly. So it won’t wind up in the trash.”
I shake my head. Only in New York, I think. “Well, I’m glad it turns out he didn’t throw away your package.”
“You and me both,” my wife said. “Plus he said he really loves the Yankee cap and hasn’t taken it off since I gave it to him.”
I considered that and grinned.
“Told you that slide zipper was good for nothing,” I said.