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Wednesday, October 10, 2012


I grew up in a tiny row house in Queens.  My room, the smallest in the house, was just large enough for a bed, a little dresser, and a table next to the bed, on which sat a little radio.  At night, sometimes, I would lie in the dark and listen to the Dodgers baseball games.  I was a rabid fan, even going once or twice to Ebbets Field for a game.  I didn't know that Dixie Walker was a racist pig, just that he was a hell of an outfielder.  I would cheer as Eddie Stanky, the Walkin' Man, would foul off pitch after pitch until he drew that fourth ball.  I was true to them until I went off to college, but I never transferred my allegiance to the Red Sox.  My passion for the game just cooled [although I did ride in a nearly deserted club car of the Shore Line train from New York to Boston with Ted Williams at the other end of the car -- I did not disturb the great man, of course.]

Christmas is approaching, so so I sent an email to my daughter-in-law, Diana, to ask what the grandchildren would like for presents.  Samuel's seventh birthday is December 22nd, and having myself been born on December 27th, I know what it is like to get "one big present for both Christmas and Birthday"  --  never, I was convinced, as good as what my sister got for being born in August.  So I try to make sure that I find something for Samuel's birthday and something totally different for him for Christmas.

Well, Samuel lives with his father and mother and sister in San Francisco, and apparently, having finished with the phase in which he was fascinated by cell phones and the phase in which he was fascinated by button operated crossing lights, and having gotten over his brief fling with chess [always a questionable idea for him, since his father is a famous International Grandmaster], Samuel now decided that he is a baseball fan.

All well and good, and quintessentially American, except that it is the Giants who now play in San Francisco, so Samuel of course is a Giants fan.  He does not know that seventy years ago, when his grandfather was his age, the L. A. Dodgers played in Brooklyn, and that it just a little bit breaks his grandfather's heart that he is a Giants fan.

How sharper than a serpent's tooth ...


Magpie said...

I was a bookish kid. For good or ill, I owe that to my late Dad and to Neil Armstrong.

My Dad, for economic reasons, never managed to finish his medicine studies. Given this, I guess understandably, he placed much importance in education, particularly in the sciences.

Maybe you'll wonder what does it have to do with Armstrong. The answer: my Dad was a clever guy.

When the Apollo 11 landing took place I was 8 years old. I still remember my Dad, Mum, my little sister and I literally glued to our old black-and-white TV set watching every detail.

As millions of kids all over the world, those guys were my heroes.

And my Dad understood that very clearly. So he told me if I wanted to be like them, I had to study and, although often money was short, he managed to buy the occasional scale model (so as to keep the imagination vivid) and several of the Time/Life series books. I remember, among others, Evolution, Space, The Reptiles.

And it worked just fine, as I am sure he knew it would. I wouldn't turn the TV on, or play, or anything really, before doing my homework.

Later on I became a fervent Isaac Asimov fan (not just, or even mainly, for his fiction, but for his popular science books) and I went on to buy with my own money high school books so that I could study on my own, so anxious I was to be an astronaut.

Needles to say, I never managed. Now, even Armstrong is dead.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Ah, but clearly you did manage! Not to become an astronaut, but to become educated, which is, in a way, better.

A propos, when my sons were little, both of them bought and read so many comic books that we had to get big plastic laundry baaskets to keep them in, so that they did not litter the whole house. How did they turn out? A chess prodigy and a law professor. I actually read a bunch of the comic books at one point to see what they were consuming. I discovered two things: First, the vocabulary in the comic books was rather sophisticated. Second, the underlying ethos was clearly liberal [the villains were all originally good people who had been turned rotten by some terrible accident, like being dropped into a vat of acid.] I stopped worrying after that.

Jim Smethurst said...

It could be worse, Bob. My father was a Giants fan when they played in Polo Grounds and I grew up to be a Yankees fan (and it was his mother, who thought Joe DiMaggio should have married her rather than Marilyn Monroe, who converted me).

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Since I consider you a dear friend, Jim, I must pass over in silence your surely painful confession that you are a Yankees fan, but I have to hear more about why your grandmother thought Joe DiMaggio should have married her! Was there actually a chance? Or was it like my belief that Angelina Jolie missed out when she chose Brad Pitt over me?

Jim Smethurst said...

Well, if it makes your silence any easier, I find I'm not as intense about this stuff as when I was younger--I feel pretty sanguine about the extra inning victory of the Orioles last night. Basically, I think the event of a subway series in 2000, which I had no real expectations of ever seeing, in which the Yankees crushed the Mets (who are the real enemies of Yankees fans, not the Red Sox) pretty much fulfilled all my baseball dreams. I suppose it might have been like the Dodger World Series win over the Yankees in 1955 for old Brooklyn Dodgers fans. Re: my grandmother and DiMaggio. It was pretty much along the lines of you and Jolie. (Though in the real life fantasy department, when I worked for the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union in Connecticut, one of my co-workers was Morty Miller, the nephew of Arthur Miller. He once mentioned to me that he danced with Marilyn Monroe at his bar mitzvah. For a 13-year-old boy at the time, it probably seemed like some weird, erotic dream.)