Despite Everything, There Are Still Vestiges of the Good Old Days…
I love talking to people. Although there are times when I make it blatantly obvious that I don’t want to be bothered and will have “nunnadot”, for the most part, I am a very approachable person; and it apparently shows with some people.
And then there’s older people, and they don’t care if you wanna talk or not, you’re going to listen to them. (Or as they say down south, “LISTEN AT ME”). I miss my grandparents and my great aunt. I’ve lost all of them in the past seven years (including three of my grandparents within 30 months of each other). I don’t have that connection anymore. As a kid growing up, I gleefully made the most of the time I could literally sit before them and glean wisdom and knowledge from all their stories and axioms, many of which guide and carry me today. Some people say I’m an “old soul”, but I’m the biggest kid most people will ever know. However, wisdom knows no age nor bounds, and when you have so many older relatives who were always ready and willing to impart it (whether you wanted to or not, within all the areas of my family, you had NO CHOICE BUT TO LISTEN).
I’ve always loved being around older people, although in this particular instance, the guy wasn’t a viejo at all. However, given that he was Italian, I knew I was going to be engaged in a pretty vivacious and demonstrative conversation should I choose to acknowledge what he said to me.
I WAS RIGHT.
I had just left The Rock and getting early dinner, as I normally do in that area, and I’m walking across 47th St. to head to my bus to come home Uptown. This guy, who, while going on his one upsman, “I’m older than you, I actually SAW these guys play, so just listen to me, kid” line is sweeping the sidewalk in front of the Sprint Store on Fifth Avenue. He later revealed that he was 63 years of age, and I knew he was Italian from the moment he opened his mouth and started doing the Bankhead Bounce that older Italian guys typically do while talking (people who have known me for years know I subconsciously speak demonstratively and use full hand, arm and body language while illustrating what I am saying). He goes:
“You wear dat hat with pride, kid? TAKE DAT HAT AWWWWWWWWWFFFFFFF!” (referring to my Yankee fitted).
At first, I just looked at him, thinking he was just one of those guys who’s lost it. But he was one of those guys who cleans the sidewalks for companies that like to keep their sidewalks clean for the tourist shopping in that area.
I says to him, “Yeah, for 25 years… why, what’s the problem?”
“I’LL TELL YOU MY PROBLEM, PAL. FUCK THE YANKEES!”
(I’m looking at him, flummoxed).
He says to me, with a mocking look on his face (he thought I was in my early to mid 20s before I told him I was 32 and not one of those post-1996 bandwagoner Yankee fans), “You came along on the tail end of the good years, huh?”
I replied, “Nah, I was a fan when Deion Sanders, Jesse Barfield, Matty Nokes, Mel Hall, Rickey Henderson and Willie Randolph were playing here”.
He raised his eyebrows as if to say, “This guy is the real deal.”
So he goes into this long, profanity-laced spiel about the Yankees. I actually agreed with 95% of it. He barked about how “everything is about the money now” and “I hate how they did Joe Torre! They didn’t need a new stadium! Just renovate the old one, put a dome on it, but not inviting Joe Torre to the opening of the new Yankee Stadium??? FUCK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU” (this is exactly what he said verbatim — everything I’m putting in quotes in this column).
“It’s the sons, those pricks. Fuck ’em. I hope they never win anythin’ else.” (all while bobbin’ his head and doing the De Niro face and gesturing with one hand like Paulie Walnuts and holding his broom like a staff). By this point, I was pretty much saying “screw it” about getting on my 3 bus and getting home by 6:30, as I had a friend set to call me and wanted to hash out some business at that time.
So I continued to converse with him. I began rattling off names of players that I actually watched play, naming obscure moments in Yankee Lore — which made this guy’s brow drop low and cause him to become even more animated.
SPORTS FANS SEE ME COMING FROM A MILE AWAY, APPARENTLY.
“The money they pay that A-Rod and Teixeira, agggghhhhh… who needs ’em? TROW DA BUMS OFF ON ANOTHER TEAM AND HAVE THEM TAKE ON THOSE SALARIES!”
“I don’t even watch ’em anymore, since they moved into the new Stadium, and you’re a jerk if you pay to go to any of the games, also, kid!”
I died laughing, but he was dead serious, while cracking up also.
Then he proceeds to nail the NBA and NFL because they’re all greedy and arguing over billions of dollars, while the fans get screwed (which is what I went in depth about). He nearly went over the edge at that point.
“Dese giiizzzze… what happened to the love ov da game? The passion ain’t dere no more, you know, kid???”
I nod and reply, “Yeah, that’s part of the reason these guys are getting hurt so much now more than ever. They’re soft. Their hearts aren’t in it like it was before and they’re generally not TOUGH like before”.
I add that I grew up watching those John Facenda-narrated NFL Films episodes that featured games from the 1960s and 1970s, which is my only way of seeing some of these legends in action.
I began rattling off some names from guys like Andy Robustelli (RIP), Dick Lynch, Chuck Foreman and several other obscure guys. He nods and adds, “Yeah, and Rocky Bleier, he went off to ‘nam, got shot up, was told he was never gonna play football again, WHADDADEYKNOW??? DIS GUYYYYYY… he makes Franco Harris look good throughout the 70s, okay, kid???”
I agreed. I watched a lot of vintage Steelers football clips, as they dominated the 1970s NFL landscape, as most football people should know.
“Dey don’t make ’em tough like that no more, kid.”
I verbally agreed and told him that my old man was a huge Steelers fan up until I began watching football in 1984 (when they were starting to go downhill). He does the old man point and looking over his brow, “LISTEN TO YOUR POP, KID! HE KNOWS WHAT HE’S TALKIN’ ABOUT! How old is he, anyway?” I tells him, “He’s 59.” He goes, “Oh yeah, he’s my age, I’m sixty-tree years of age, kid. I WAS THERE. I WATCHED DESE GUYS PLAY, OKAY???”
I love talking sports history with people who watched these guys. This guy knew his stuff. He spoke about stuff that I, a walking football almanac know about, but many people would only know if they WERE there.
“And da Giants? PUHHHHHHHHH… dey didn’t need a new stadium. And not for nothin’, they’re soft also. You know who I liked? THE OLD MAN ARCHIE. AND COOPER! He was better ‘an bothada brothas playin’ now. TRUST ME WHEN I SAY IT, KID. HE WAS DAT GOOD, BEFORE THE SPINAL ISSUES”.
True indeed. My 2011 Giants are nowhere near the LAWRENCE TAYLOR (the one and ONLY “LT” — Jets fans) Giants of the 80s, who I watched as a kid and was prouder than ever to say that I was a Giants fan. They played tough football and Parcells’ linebackers were the best in football. I’m saying all this and he agreed, then jumped in and said…
“AND DON’T FORGET ABOUT DA SAINTS! Yes, the SAINTS!”
I was nodding feverishly. I try to tell these youngins nowadays about the JIM MORA Saints. The “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda”, “Diddly Poo”, “They… kicked… our… ASH (with the Mora Denture-Lisp) Saints from 1986-1993. He says, “DOSE GIZZZE.. dose linebackahs…”
I ran down their names… Turnbull (Renaldo Turnbull was a beast, I had his Topps card in ’88), Rickey Jacks… (he cuts me off while nodding and pointing his finger and saying “YES!” and “PAT SWILLING… OH MAN THAT GUY WAS AMAZING”.
Yes, Swilling was a BEAST. I watched him play his entire career. God I loved football back then.
I said that last statement aloud and he was like, “TANKS KID, it was good talkin’ to ya… go getcha bus and take dat hat off!”
I told him, “ehhhh… I hear ya talkin’, but I ain’t doin’ that, and I’m going to the Giants game in a few weeks”. He gave me that look that my grandfather (paternal, who was a HOOT) used to give me when he was basically giving me a non-verbal “BULLSHIT! Fuck outta here widdat!” and pointed and laughed. He shook my hand and said “don’t ever go to da new Yankee Stadium either, kid!”
I haven’t been, and with beers running $10, it won’t be anytime soon that I will, as much as I love my Yanks.
Encounters like this used to be REGULAR back in the 90s. Whether I was waiting on line with my copy of the Post and reading the sports section and having someone blurt out “You think Ewing is gonna finally do it?! (back in the 90s when I used to hang around the Virgin Megastore in Times Square) or with some old Irish guy reading from the next seat over on the train and going on a rant for the ages because he hated Pat Riley for leaving the way he did (this was back then) or just randomly running into someone on the street like today, I MISS THIS.
This was a breath of fresh air, in what has become a very staid, anti-septic, overly whitewashed city since 9/11. Pretty much washed away a lot of the concerns of the day, with all the people who are pulling at my strings lately and all the people whose strings I’m pulling trying to find someplace, ANYPLACE to live, I had a good 20 minutes to do one of the things I love best.
JUST STAND ON THE MIDDLE OF A SIDEWALK ON ONE OF THE BUSIEST AVENUES IN THE CITY WITH PEOPLE CUTTING THROUGH AND BUMPING INTO YOU WHILE YOU HOLD AN ENTIRE CONVERSATION ABOUT SPORTS.