Monday, May 25, 2015

Then and Now

I am taking a (now extended) break from "then"—our SoCal trip last month—to return to "now", May in New York. In so doing, I uncovered a series of unanticipated "then and now" relationships.

Then: Nick's Cafe, in Los Angeles since 1948 but in this instance on April 8.
(No, Pastor Park, I am not free from sin.)

I was drawn back into the present by an early-season promotion from the Mets; $13 off select seats at six games, April 30-May 6. My original plan was to see not one but two games against the Washington Nationals. On top of the discount, I was motivated by the giveaways; on Friday, May 1, a t-shirt commemorating the Mets' first season and a Jacob deGrom garden gnome on Saturday.

Then: The first season of the New York Mets.
Now: The second of the "Free Shirt Friday" promotions.

Between the two contests at Citi Field, I planned to see the Flemington Neshanock take on the New York Gothams Base Ball Club. The teams were playing according to the rules established in 1864 at what was the first of three sites known as Washington Park, now a public park. The team known successively as the Atlantics, Grays, Bridegrooms and Superbas played there, eventually to become the Los Angeles Dodgers. A then-and-now weekend, 19th century base ball and the New York Mets.

Then-ish: Baseball played according to the rules established in 1864,
at the site of the first Washington Park, which opened in 1883.

Coincidentally, my first apartment in New York was across the street from what the parks department then called J.J. Byrne Playground, now just the name for the children's play area. My share of the rent was $70 and it was not unusual to hear gunfire in the park at night. At that time, Third Street was the boundary between the 72nd and 78th precincts and we would sometimes flag down patrol cars only to be told to call 911 because the crime in progress wasn't in the right jurisdiction. Neighbors would dump old furniture in front of the park, which other people would set on fire. The fire department eventually stopped coming. "It'll burn itself out," one firefighter told me.

A recent article in Brooklyn Magazine reveals that John Linnell and John Flansburgh, better known as They Might Be Giants, lived there when I did. News to me. Not only did I think I knew all the hipsters on the block, I thought I had gone to college with all of them. We had settled in a couple buildings owned by Ricardo Dos Santos, who we referred to privately as Ricky Two Saints as if he was an underworld figure and not a New York City police detective supplementing his income with real estate investment.

Linnell recalls
"There was a stretch of 12 identical brownstones, and of the 12, three of them were completely burnt-out shells. There were people selling pot on the sidewalk, but apparently the pot was just kind of a front for heroin sales that were going on in the building behind it. And there was also one of those places that would take apart stolen cars, file off the serial numbers and stuff like that."
The buildings aren't brownstones; they are Old Law tenements and only two were burnt out—the two at the western end, next to where I lived. Otherwise, all true, although I remain mystified how I didn't take notice of Linnell and Flansburgh, especially since I moved to Williamsburg in the mid-80s and knew them, well, then. Not once did I say to myself, 'Hey! They're the guys from Third Street!'

Then: 319 Third Street, Apartment 2R, in 1916 when Buffalo Bill's
Wild West Show appeared at Washington Park. Image courtesy
of via

I only got to see about 10 minutes of the baseball reenactors. (Brad Shaw, a baseball historian and executive director of the Flemington Neshanock, prefers "recreators".) I was fortunate to have seen any of the exhibition at all. Washington Park (the city park) is across Fourth Avenue from a Staples, where I had driven my 85-year-old mother. She broke her hip twice in October and doesn't go out of the house alone. We made our way across the street after stocking up on toner and greeting cards.

"Life will never be same," Mom sometimes says dejectedly and as her sole caregiver, I can make the same statement. I have in the past spent hours in Washington Park, photographing the baseball reenactors. This year, I stopped by briefly and then took my mother to the supermarket. Nostalgia for the place you lived after college is fine (until you overly romanticize it at the expense of your present). There is little to be gained from railing against the inevitable changes associated with aging. My mother and I are still working on that understanding.

My "then and now weekend" was a bust. I didn't see the Neshanock and the Gothams, didn't see the Nationals and Mets, didn't get a t-shirt or garden gnome. I regret not seeing Matt Harvey shut-out Washington, 5-0, beating Cy Young Award-winner Max Scherzer. And I still dig that t-shirt, not that I have been searching for one on eBay.

Instead of a Jacob deGrom garden gnome, which I decided I didn't really want, I got the man himself on the following Wednesday. I took advantage of the $13 discount being offered, bought a ticket for eight bucks and progressively worked my way to a seat on the field level. The 2014 National League rookie of the year allowed just one run and went 1-for-3 at the plate in the 5-1 win over the Orioles.

Sources of fan excitement now, Matt Harvey, and a decade ago, Jose Reyes.
In the end, there was just one division championship while Reyes played here.

It has taken me a while to get to this post. After Harvey's victory, the Mets had won two-thirds of their games and were in first place, 4.5 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves. Five days later, the team was 18-10 (.643) and Atlanta had inched a half-game closer. Off-season talk about making it to the post-season this year did not feel like hype.

Two-and-a-half weeks later, 12 players are on the disabled list—including the starting third baseman, catcher and closing pitcher—on rehab assignment or out for the season. The bats are cold and only a great starting rotation has the team playing .500 ball. After today's win over the Phillies, the Mets are 25-21 (.543) and 2.5 games behind the first place Nationals.

How quickly then becomes now, but there are 116 games yet to the season. How quickly too the 35 years from Third Street to a co-op in Flatbush, where the Dodgers moved after playing in the third incarnation of Washington Park. Perhaps some day it will be me with the broken hip, but let's linger here just a little longer.

No comments:

Post a Comment