Monday, July 8, 2024

Lights Out.

Way back about 200 years ago I had my first job after graduate school writing advertising copy for the Montgomery Ward catalog. It was a crappy job for a crappy company for crappy pay. I started at just $225/week--which was just over $5/hr, but I learned a lot.

First, you learned to show up every day and do your job. Then you learned if you made a mistake, to take responsibility. Finally you learned that at most jobs there are two types of people. The lifers--the ones with little ambition and drive to get elsewhere. Their opposite were the stepping-stoners. The people using their current job to get to another job. Usually office friendships were established along these lines.

One hot summer day someone had organized a softball game against another office or another department. We were assigned by whatever league we were in to a small ball field on East 14th Street, with the FDR Drive on one side of the field and the towering smokestacks of an old Con Edison powerplant on the other side. The field was about as far away from people as you could be in Manhattan and it could only have been called a ball field by someone who had never before played ball. Or seen a field.

I think the expanse was about a mile east of the Union Square subway stop and as we walked there the heavy stormy skies grew blacker and the clouds looked like wet gym towels saturated in sweat. The whole of the atmosphere seemed ready to burst. Thunder was already booking and sheets of lightning were spreading across the gloom as if the heavens were being gift-wrapped in catastrophe.

But ballplayers are troupers. And if you love playing ball--especially when you're older and a game is hard to come by--you deny the reality of the weather and utter like George M. Cohan, 'the game must go on,' and so it did.

Back 45 years or so ago, I was prodigiously strong, think Paul Bunyan in a factory outlet suit and I was not all that far from my ball playing years. Plus, my temper had yet to be tempered and every swing I swung was swang with the velocity of anger.

I made it up to bat in the first inning. And like Roy Hobbs in Malamud's "The Natural," I hit a towering fly ball that cracked into the clouds and released streaks of lightning like Zeus with a migraine. The fat ball went up and up. Through the troposphere, the stratosphere, well into the mesosphere, heading westward as it descended.

The ball crashed into the barbed-wired shrouded Con Edison substation and sparks set off sparks like the 4th of July. Just at the peak of the explosions, the rain came and the city, ball players included ran for any doorway, broken umbrella or non-pissed-stained newspaper they could find. The lights went out all over New York, except for a thin section of Rockaway out in Queens that was serviced by Long Island Electric, graft and the mafia.

I can't be sure that my fly ball caused the power outage. And in those days, we all lived in fear of a replay of the 1977 blackout, riots, looting and mayhem of that 45-hours of terror. I think the power was out for a couple of hours. But we were cowering in our small apartments by then, dripping in sweat and fear of that particular brand of New York violence. 

Some cigarette attached to a union electrician from the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers found an old baseball that clunked a rat that bit into a wire that snapped the copper that caused the dark. He taped the whole conurbation up and the power crackled on not too many hours later.

I think that might be the last time I picked up a bat and swung the ash with intent. It's never easy to hang up your spikes. You can always convince yourself you have a few more games left in you. LeBron seems to be doing so now. Tom Brady did some seasons ago. Mickey Mantle saw his lifetime average drop to .298 because he played one season too many.

The portents told me to quit.

And I listened.

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