By Jason Keidel
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I can’t put a bow on bin Laden. None of us can. I won’t be pretentious or presumptuous enough to think that I can tell you how to cheer, jeer, or mourn, how to rebury the beloved after the news stirred the stiff soil. Like you, like all of us, I merely thank the Navy SEAL who busted a cap in his satanic ass.
If you’re a true New Yorker, born in the five boroughs, sprung from the city dirt – not some Oberlin grad chasing your “Sex and the City” fantasies – you know what I mean.
Along with several coworkers at American Express, where I was a corporate travel agent, I was offered a job at Marsh & McLennan. For no real reason, I refused. The first plane pummeled the entire company in a nanosecond. I was supposed to meet my homeboy Benito Valentin for some bowling at Port Authority on Labor Day, 2001. He canceled, saying he’d see me the next week. Same with my homegirl Bridget Thomas-Esposito, who called me when I was at the hospital after I shattered my left leg the night Holyfield beat Michael Moorer during a silly, drunken wrestling match I had with a childhood friend. She sat next to Ben on 9/11.
I should have been next to both.
We all have a story: a twig, branch, or limb on the bloody, murderous family tree bin Laden left behind. Justice is relative, and we prefer our relatives to return than to send him to whatever hell will have him. Sadly, his death doesn’t bring them to life.
A shame we’re so often bonded by tragedy, by the threat of our death, which is perhaps the lone, universal thread that weaves through our collective conscience. Rarely do we feel good about the same thing at the same time.
So we have sports, which don’t know Republicans or Democrats, pity party or Tea Party. It allows you to lean toward the dude squatting next to you on the bus, train or airplane, wearing the laundry of a loathed or loved team. We speak in the masculine, provincial parlance of stats, home teams, and childhood dreams. It is a metaphysical chain that connects this country.
We are Americans, of course, and damn honored to be so. But we are New Yorkers, too – a distinction as delightful as the flag we fly from our front yard. We integrated baseball. We made the World Series our rite of autumn. We beat the Colts and made good on the guarantee. We rode that black cat in ’69 to a World Series title to follow Broadway Joe.
Sports gave us Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson and Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali: icons of all ilk, equally important inside and outside the arena.
We are New Yorkers, a subset of sublime species known as Americans. We are born with the arrogant certainty that when God created life, he began with Times Square (or what’s left of that gentrified horror of a tourist trap they call it now).
We are New Yorkers, beneath the hard stare climbing the stairs is a soft heart and warm soul ready to help our neighbor on 9/11 or 9/12 or 9/13. Like those who don’t fathom the fabulousness of sports, many see New York and New Yorkers in distorted, stereotypical terms. We know what we are. And we know we love sports.
Sports are too often dismissed as a disease spawned by men befuddled by testosterone: “Pituitary cases stuffing a ball through a hoop,” to paraphrase a line from Annie Hall.
But sports are a genre and art form, no different from literature or violins or Vermeer. I could write about myriad artistic motifs but I choose sports because of its interweaving maxims with everyday life – notions of discipline, pain, gain, sacrifice and teamwork.
Those who trivialize sports – mostly academics and atheists – are the insecure types who veer from what they fear. It’s not enough to dislike something; they must categorize it as the default acts of dolts who lean on physical brutality in the absence of wisdom. Jocks are just an amalgam of criminals resting between crimes. I say to hell with the aristocracy, who are no more a part of New York than the bulimic vegans selling organic onions at Union Square. New York is for and by carnivores. If you’re not from here, you’d never understand.
Perhaps you were raised in the same vein. Starting around 1977, I awakened before school to find my father slouched in his chair in the dining room, a yard or so from the kitchen, a can of Tab soda (remember those?) glued to his palm, and the sports section of The New York Times sprawled across his lap. As with any pack of mammals, I waited until the alpha was done before I was able to scan the box scores. It’s a habit I kept long after those calm, childhood dawns with my pops.
Because of his clutch home run during the first game after 9/11, Mike Piazza seems to be the de facto vanguard of our vindication, at least on an athletic stage. Piazza, a California kid, isn’t the savior.
It is you, who paid his salary, who watched the game, or listened through the static of your stereo as you whistled through the Lincoln Tunnel. It is you, who ran into those burning buildings while everyone was darting in the other direction. It is you, who gave blood, money, and endless prayers. It is you, the real New Yorker. 9/11, as much as any story in history, is a New York story.
The gods again frowned on our town in November that year when Mariano Rivera – who seems to have the deity on speed dial – forgot who he was for an inning. We lost a game, a series, and a season we had to have, off the broken bat of a broken player, Luis Gonzalez, a 97-pound weakling who found 57 homers in his formerly flaccid bat. (He never hit more than 15 home runs during his first ten years in the majors.) We recovered then. We recover now. We recover forever. We are New Yorkers.
It feels to many like the bullet in Osama bin Laden’s face signals the circle clicking shut on an era. It’s not. But justice was grooved, belt-high, to a Navy SEAL who sealed the deal. Forgive the facile sporting idiom, but while he may have led, he couldn’t win. From Japan’s emperor to the Hitler’s empire, time may pass but we never lose our pride, preeminence, or pastime.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
How do you feel now that bin Laden is dead? Let Keidel know in the comments below…