New York is in my DNA. Twenty-one years ago, I moved away for the second time, but N.Y. is still in my blood, and my accent. Twice each year we drove north from our Virginia farm like spawning salmon for a taste of what will always be home, regardless of where I live.
Sally (my wife) and the kids laugh and tease me,when I change like a werewolf under the full moon as The City comes into view. A real metamorphosis takes place and I become an older version of the Brooklyn boy I once was. My driving becomes more aggressive, my accent thickens, and I yell at the other drivers. There’s no place like home.
My youngest daughter Nicky was inflamed by the sacrilegious tearing down of Yankee stadium in 2008. Some Americans, not this one, have a habit of tearing down beautiful old buildings in favor of newer, but not better structures that in other countries are still in their prime. The old Yankee Stadium is filled with the ghosts of great players and games, tradition thick like homemade Italian sauce, and comfortably worn in like my favorite jeans and threadbare Polo. Nicky’s birthday wish to see the Yankees play the Red Sox at the old baseball temple commanded a trip.
Our home and business are housed in a century old building, twenty years older than Yankee Stadium, that manages to escape the executioner. We left the downtown corner of our tiny Central Virginia town near the Blue Ridge Mountains to spend the night in a hotel. Early the next morning, we crossed the George Washington Bridge, weaved down the West Side along the wharfs on the Hudson, parked in Midtown, and had breakfast at Ben’s Delicatessen off 7th Ave, just a few blocks north of where I worked 34 years earlier on the other side of Madison Square Garden.
We spent over an hour at Capezio Dancewear, the equivalent of FAO Schwarz for dancers. And then we went to the Salvador Dalí exhibition at MoMA. Floors filled with his paintings and rooms with his films consumed us for hours. We nearly forgot to eat. How does one forget to eat in NYC? We inhaled something at the museum cafeteria and soaked up another hour or two of art at the expense of our plans to see Monument Park at the stadium.
I think the Yankees were the first team to retire player’s numbers, and even if they weren’t, they did it…well…like only a New Yorker could. Center field was shortened during the 70s to the smallish dimensions of modern stadiums to make room for more seats – and Monument Park. Legendary Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Miller Huggins have plaques commemorating them on a granite wall. And along another wall, there are other great Yankee ballplayers like Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel, and Whitey Ford. It’s been replicated at the new stadium, but sadly it isn’t the same. Reproductions never echo what once was and the viscerally permeating spirits that send chills of remembrance are noticeably absent.
Goose Gossage, the great Yankee’s reliever from the 70’s, stopped by the announcers’ booth yesterday after Old Timer’s Day. I remember seeing Goose strike out three batters in the ninth inning on 10 pitches. The ninth pitch was as close to a strike as it gets, and the N.Y. crowd let the umpire know it shoulda been a strike in a NY kinda way. Goose said disheartened, “The new park looks like the old park, but it doesn’t feel the same.” Didn’t you want me talk just a little about the old stadium?
Back to our 2008 visit. We ate Sabrett hot dogs with kraut and onions, drank cold beer, and watched a flatfooted, deflated Yankee team lose to the Red Sox. Their loss seemed a befittingly somber. Nicky bought me a commemorative tee shirt and Yankee fitted cap that I often wear while watching the games at home in Virginia where even old locals love the Bronx Bombers. Then we headed home, but not without one last stop.
We ate corned beef sandwiches and sipped Dr. Brown’s cream soda downtown at Katz’s Delicatessen on Houston Street. If you have seen “When Harry Met Sally,” you know Katz’s as the place where Meg Ryan had the famous fake orgasm during a debate over whether Billy Crystal had ever been fooled by a woman. Director Rob Reiner said he gave his mother the best line in the movie when she said to the waiter after Meg finished her rapture like nothing happened, “I’ll have what she’s having.” There’s commemorative a sign hanging over the table.
There are few cities where you can have a single day filled with colorful culture, flavorful fun, and audacious attitude. Where else can you have a knock down drag out fight with a stranger over who the best ballplayer is or was, what the best taxi route is, or where to eat the best food, and when all said and done have made a new best friend for life? There is no doubt in my mind about what city is the best city.
I guess you can say, “I’m in a New York State of Mind.