Cinco de Mayo

The big bottle of Budweiser, supine on the scoreboard, sweating and shedding chunks of pristine ice. My brother, also supine, reclining in the dimly-lit depths of a subterranean Turkish bath, his face covered in a towel, while a be-turbaned, scrawny youth flogged his pinking flesh with a bundle of olive leaves, sporadically soaking him with a plastic bucket that sat, eternally filling, under a metal spigot. A college-aged alpha male, his facial hair just filling in, so awash in self-confidence that he made the act of sniffing every thirty seconds and wiping at his nose seem like coolest thing a human being could possibly do. That was Friday.

Joni and I nestled together in the vertiginous heights of Shea Stadium’s Upper Deck, a place so high it seemed impossible that Joni in her Andean residence or the two of us on a bender could ever get higher. It was the fourteenth inning of Joni’s first Met game. My brother had jumped ship earlier in the night, but the five-pound bag of peanuts he’d brought was still with us. We’d been working on it since a traffic jam three weeks ago in Pennsylvania.

Joni and I ate peanuts mindlessly and threw the shells on the ground in a wide radius. The remaining seats of Box 848 were now vacant of spectators. The other holdouts scattered through the area were similarly quieted, except for those who had constructed instruments out of the complimentary Shea Stadium cookie tins and the specially decorated Cinco de Mayo Budweiser cans. Some banged loudly, but a group of men in the first row were playing a soft melody, dancing in their multicolored jerseys. The excitement of the Mets’ seventh-inning four-run game-tying rally had long since worn off, as had the excitement of their refusal to lose by one run in the 11th. The game, like the traffic jam in Pennsylvania, had been hung up for hours (maybe it was the curse of the peanuts) but we’d started something and now we had to see it through.

Whenever a game goes into extra innings, I feel compelled to stay. In fact, I hate to leave a stadium with the sounds of the game still echoing from within. What if this is the longest game in baseball history and I miss it? The Mets loaded the bases and failed to convert, loaded the bases and grounded into double plays, achieved first and third with no outs and lost momentum. The game, I realized, was beginning to feel more like a frustrating sexual or romantic escapade and less like a sporting event. Inebriated by nothing but a moderate $6 Budweiser or two and a hot dog each, Joni and I merged into one mind, first simultaneously enraged by the girl banging her cookie tin, now affectionate toward the remaining drunken louts fighting at the top of their lungs, their language increasingly slurred, their insults increasingly irrelevant, “YANKEES SUCK!” “HOW ABOUT YOUR BRAVES NOW, MOTHERFUCKER!” “WE’RE STILL IN FIRST PLACE, ASSHOLE!” Blue veins stood out in their necks and their faces reddened until they resembled the Jumbotron graphic of the screaming Mets mascot who enticed the crowd the do the same. A toddler bounced nearby, waving his plush likeness of Mr. Met. Mr. Met himself, surrounded by a half-dozen sombreroed young girls (it was, after all, Cinco de Mayo), danced wearily on the Mets dugout. My own voice was hoarse from screaming, largely exhortations based on the fact that it was now the twentieth anniversary of the Mets 1986 World Series Win. I had also been heartily booing Chipper Jones, who we decided was the guy who had made the nasty comment about the diversity of the New York City subway. We wouldn’t find out until the next day that his crime was actually naming his son “Shea”, an insulting reference to his hitting streak at the ballpark. “Why don’t you ride the fucking SUBWAY!” I shrieked happily from the Upper Deck, on top of the harmonious background of boos. I had been screaming for hours, for the Mets, for beer, for hot dogs. At times, I howled for no reason at all, simply because I could. We had done the wave, not once, but twice, and the second time it went all the way around from our seats in left field to the right-field foul pole. Having had little success fomenting the revolution thus far, I took this as a good sign. We debated how many innings we would stay–fifteen? Sixteen? It was almost midnight.

Then, unceremoniously, David Wright hit a solid double, scored the lone baserunner, and we stood and cheered, stood and high-fived, hugged and left. When you wait so long for resolution it can be anti-climactic, like Mr. Big deciding he does love Carrie at the end of Sex and the City, or the government deciding that it is actually okay if gay people want to love each other. Sort of.

Still, we were giddy, tripping down the long ramp-walk from the Upper Deck to street level. There were banners everywhere of great Mets moments, moments I remembered watching on television. Tonight was just another night in a long history still in the making.

I began to fantasize that the Mets, like the Red Sox, would now enter a terrific championship drought. It is already twenty years underway. In another sixty or seventy years, they would win again. I would be one of those very old people who remembered the ’86 championship. I would be interviewed on the local news. Perhaps I would provide childhood photographs. I would tell once again my memory of watching the game on the high blue pile of the wall-to-wall carpet of my family’s apartment in Queens, of the mounting despair as the Mets came within one strike of the losing the World Series, of the extreme focusing of will in my seven-year-old mind, of the unbelievable elation of my hope becoming action. I would tell the late 21st century of the miracle I had witnessed as a child in Queens, and then I would die peacefully in my sleep.

Back in Shea Stadium I was thrilled to find myself so young, my face so unlined, my knees so resilient, even as they pounded the concrete stadium ramp. I looked confidently forward to the howling voice of an announcer perhaps yet unborn crying “And the Mets win! The Mets win!” I love the “and,” in that phrase, so poetic, implying that so much else has happened leading up to this win. Now I was with my friend, the night was warm and black, everything that would come before the Mets’ next World Series Championship was now unfolding, and we had been to the Russian-Turkish baths, and we had eaten lunch on the patio, and now the crowd carried us along to the subway, the rowdy, affable, cigarette-smoking crowd, their accents harsh, their makeup heavy, their swaggers wide. It was a winning crowd. I was secretly pleased to have delivered a win for Joni’s first visit to Shea, as if I had pitched relief at a crucial moment.

We boarded the 7 train, sandwiched between a group of teenaged boys pretending to sell extra hot dogs from the stadium and a group of college boys talking about who had the best, cheapest weed on campus. I shuttled between eavesdropping on each group, fascinated with the specificity of their age and maleness. Among the high schoolers, there was one boy who was the loudest and the rowdiest. He made himself the center of attention by stepping in between the cars to throw hot dog fragments at exiting passengers. “EXIT TO YOUR RIGHT!” he shouted, and then splattered the leg of a left-exiter with ketchup. “Yo, shorty!” yelled a spectacled teenager at a girl on the platform. “Want a hot dog?” He howled with laughter. The train rolled its eyes.

More quietly and at more advanced an age, the college boys discussed the weed problem. It was $50 for an eighth. Someone else would sell you an ounce for $400, but that was the same thing, and the $50 weed was better. I watched the alpha-male in this group exert his authority with finesse. His say on the weed matter was final. When the 7 train got in, they would buy from his dealer of choice. Conversation moved on to the summer, to girlfriends, to fidelity. The quieter member of the group expressed his weariness of playing the field, his intention to remain faithful to his girlfriend through a separation necessitated by internships, summer jobs, circumstances of privilege I couldn’t quite make out. The alpha-male grinned, took control. “I just know how it is, in the city, in the summer. I may not be looking for it, but it’s nonstop.” The beta male looked momentarily bewildered, you could see that the concept of action so nonstop that it would seek him out and find him was not a real concern. I believed the alpha male, for some reason, I believed that girls and decent weed and a host of other things veritably landed in his lap. He was too magnetically relaxed for this not to be the case. “I just know how it is,” he said finally, shrugged and sniffed. He twitched his limbs in the way of athletic men who’ve been sitting for a while. I considered him with the fascination I reserve for all people who give the appearance of freedom from neurosis and self-doubt, and a measure of the contempt I hold for people who seem rather pleased to be assholes.

In the midst of the immature maleness, it hardly seemed possible we’d begun the day in a warren of underground ovens at the Tenth Street Baths. If baseball celebrated the male form in all its steroided glory, and the 7 train currently celebrated the male psyche in all its messy aggression, then the baths with their obliterating heat blurred the lines of gender, of body, of mind into one vaporous cloud. I dimly remembered the scrawny youth (he remained in my mind a “youth”) motioning me to unhook my bikini top as I lay facedown on the searing hot wooden bench, the feeling of my bones pleasantly cracking, stretching, giving way as he yanked on my limbs in a most unchiropractic way, the feeling of immodesty that someone might see my exposed chest quickly burned away with the rest of my fears and thoughts, my only wish to be doused again with the icy water. In the baths, there was all manner of sweating flesh, all colors, all sizes, all ages, all reduced to its most elemental and living capacity: to release salt and water in beads of liquid that roll down to the ground like tears.

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