God, I love my paunch, all this beautiful pink flesh, solid and undeniable.
Like truth. Like justice. Like success.
Patting my belly, I've often said to an admiring postgame
audience at Toots Shor's: "I figure my bumper here must've cost me a
couple of thousand bucks. Damn right. That's twenty-five years of
drinking beer. So this round's on me."
Even though sportswriters are supposed to be impartial, I'm a
Brooklyn boyo and Dodger fan through hell or high water, so my beer
is Schaefer. In bottles or from the tap, but never in cans because of the
coppery aftertaste. Damn right. Yankee fans "ask the man for
Ballantine." Giants fans drink Knickerbocker, strictly pisswater.
I'm proud to be just an old-fashioned guy who values purity and
quality. That's why there's always a Cuban cigar between my crooked
yellow teeth, small leathery-looking cheroots that smoke like
long-burning fuses. With my sporty blue eyes and stubborn chin, with
my cigar, my trademark soiled felt hat, and even the blasted blood
vessels that lace my nose, I look like what sportswriters are supposed
to look like.
The difference is my talent. I'll admit to being a witty and
energetic writer, able to compose inspired Brooklynese with overtones
of Shakespearean irony. Damn right. Even the Broadway wiseguys
treat me with respect. Years ago, using the local dialect in an
exquisitely ambiguous fashion, the great Jimmy Cannon of the New
York Post dubbed me "The verse of the peepul."
Verse...voice. Get it? Fucking Cannon's a genius!
The athletes on my beat praise me for honoring an off-the-record
etiquette. Whose beeswax is it anyway if a certain outfielder is a
boozer? Or if a certain college football coach cheats on his wife?
Certainly not John Q's.
I'm proud to be a minor celebrity in all five boroughs. Sure, the
photo of my smiling puss atop my thrice-weekly column in the
Brooklyn Sentinel, "Sports A-Plenty," is twenty years old, and I've
carefully avoided being photographed since then (ever since I became
prematurely bald and itchy-headed). But the hat always gives me
away. Publicly I swear up and down that the battered gray felt I always
wear is the very same topper in the old photo. In truth, since the inside
sweatband always rots after four or five years, I've gone through five
hats since then, each one meticulously stained and aged on the fire
escape outside my bedroom window to resemble its predecessor.
"I go for a man who wears an Adams hat!"
These are only two of my most guarded secrets: my scabrous
baldness and my Dorian Gray hats. Fortunately I'm able to ease my
conscience in many ways. After all, my old man is bald as an egg,
and heredity ain't nobody's fault. Right?
The champion of the underdog, that's me, too. A notorious sap
for a sob story, an easy mark for any old punch-drunk boxer or
punchless second baseman down on his luck.
So who doesn't love Barney Polan ? Nobody, I tell myself as I
remove the top of a red-plaid cabana outfit (that Sarah got me years
ago for my thirty-third birthday) and defiantly expose my wondrous
bumper to the hot summer sun. (Besides my father in the Beth
Abraham Home? Besides my crazy Uncle Max in Coney Island?
Besides the ballplayers I rag for their errors? Besides Giants fans?)
Nobody, that's who.
Even so, deep within some intravascular black-blooded chamber,
the truth gnaws at me and I can't fool myself. More and more, my hats
seem to suffocate my brain, my cigars raise tiny blisters on my tongue,
and maintaining my universal goodwill is a strain, a mental hernia.
Sometimes, with my costume and my stale dialogue, I feel like a
restless actor trapped in a long-running play. Sometimes I yearn to quit
the newspaper and move to a secluded cabin in Oregon or Montana,
where I'd cook my modest meals over an open fire, use "Sports
A-Plenty" as toilet paper, and write a fat, poetic novel to make William
Faulkner weep. (I'd write about my childhood in the streets of Brooklyn.
About my crazy friends and their cruel rites of passage. About my
parents. About good and evil. About love. Of course I can do it. Damn
right. Red Smith never wrote a novel.) And sometimes, for reasons I
don't understand, I feel like running naked through the streets,
screaming and spitting curses at the sky.
Now, where the hell is the fucking pool? Eagle-eyed sportswriters
aren't supposed to wear spectacles, so I have to squint mightily to
read the nearest signpost:
Ambling past the tennis courts, I squint again, this time in
disgust. The tennis courts are as warm with players and pretenders all
smartly dressed in neat white outfits. "Out!" they shout at one another.
"Deuce!" and "My ad!" Line drives are thwocked. Pop-ups are pinged.
A chorus line of leathery middle-aged women rehearse the proper strokes
with the club pro. All this against fields of green asphalt
square-angled with crisp white lines.
This is considered a sport? With no cursing and no spitting and
no scratching of the crotch? Instead of one-to-nothing the score is
15-love, and 3-2 is 40-30. Imagine a 3-2 pitch, two out, bases loaded,
score tied in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants against the Dodgers in
Ebbets Field. Imagine Red Barber announcing to the fans, "Silence,
s'il vous plait."
Let that snob Red Smith write odes to half volleys and overhead
smashes. Tennis anyone? Not anyone I want to know.
The vast hotel grounds are teeming with guests, mostly
vacationing Jews up from the city. A few golfers stride purposefully to
and from a distant course wearing knickers and plaid stockings. Rapt
honeymooners lost in time stroll hand in hand. But mostly family
groups complete with mishpocheh, perhaps a zaideh in a wheelchair,
and always the obnoxious, caterwauling children. (It's hard to like
children, they're such a pain in the ass, so helpless and yet so
demanding. I've almost convinced myself to be thankful that Sarah and
I were childless. Almost.) In midweek only an occasional single prowls
the white-stoned pathways and spacious green lawns.
Tucked snugly under my left arm is today's Sentinel, a scarce
commodity up here since it's a forty-five-minute drive into the nearest
one-horse town (Monticello). Up-to-date newspapers are particularly
valuable for yesterday's major league box scores and today's pitching
matchups, the results at Belmont and Aqueduct, as well as today's
Meanwhile I'm sweating so heavily that my cigar is drenched and
falling apart. Pttul Surreptitiously I spit the slimy tobacco into my
palm, then toss the mess into a nearby bush as I finally approach the
"Outdoor Nautitorium," the hotel's most popular summertime venue.
And the pool is certainly the grand centerpiece, nearly long enough for
waterskiing. Rude gangs of children jump in and out of the pale blue
water, shrieking and splashing, pausing only to pee in warm green
currents. Three old women in rubberized bathing caps navigate the
shallows with dainty,fearful steps. Most of the old folks are schmeared
and laid out upon wood-slatted lounges to sizzle in the sun.
A hefty young tomato in a blue bathing suit shouts across the
pool to a small exuberant child,"Don't run, Michael! You'll fall and break
On the far side of the pool and connected by a common wall to
the "Recreation Hall" is a large wood-shingled pavilion filled with elegant
wrought-iron furniture where other guests play impassioned card
games. There's also a noisy crowd on the shuffleboard court, where
Mickey Nightingale,the hotel's longtime resident tummler, entertains
the middle-aged ladies. "Simon sez to put your right thumb in your
tochis and your left thumb in your mouth!... Oy, look at the missus
here. Your thumb, tateleh, not your pinky.... Simon sez, girls! No, no,
that's close enough. We don't want to get raided by the police! That's
right.... Now, Simon sez switch thumbs!... Heh! You're all disqualified
except Missus Fishbomb here.... "The sound of the ladies'
half-hysterical laughter, shrill and clucking, makes me think there's a
fox in the henhouse.
Red-shirted attendants of both sexes are everywhere--fetching
drinks, dispensing towels, arranging chaise lounges, tables, and
chairs, constantly adjusting the tabletop sun umbrellas.
Among the cardplayers in the pavilion I recognize Georgie Klein,
a small-time bookie from the Bronx who frequently has useless
information to sell. With his protruding Adam's apple, Klein looks like
he's just swallowed a doorknob. Also Jimmy O'Hara, a second-string
clerk in the Manhattan D.A.'s office whose long bony nose reminds me
of a can opener. There's a cut-man named Joe Leibowitz. And Flatfoot
Ferdie, a runner for some two-bit mobster. Plus other suggestive
silhouettes dimmed by the shade, the familiar sporting crowd and
attendant wisenheimers. The game is always seven-card stud and the
stakes are a-dollar-and-two. Georgie is dealing.
Eyebrows are raised as I cross the near horizon, and cordial
greetings are shouted.
"Hi ya, Barney."
"Good to see yiz, Barn."
"Hey, Barney," Klein pipes. "What's the spread tonight?"
"The only spread I'm interested in tonight," I say with a sly grin,
"is the horseradish on the pot roast."
The cardplayers laugh in sparkling good humor and I favor them
with a smile in the shadow of my hat brim. Then I turn away to scout
out a poolside lounge chair in the shade.
"See you later, boys."
"See ya, Barney."
Already stretched out on adjacent lounges there in the sunshine
beyond the deep end of the pool, Johnny Boy Gianelli is talking to his
young wife, Rosie, but I pretend not to see them. Not to see old
Gianelli's narrow chin jabbing and thrusting at the young woman like an
accusing finger. Or his thin lips sucking on his ill-fitting false teeth.
Jeez! A rich man like that, owner of a construction company in
cahoots with the Black Hand. You'd think he could afford a better set
According to the police blotter, Gianelli is sixty-seven years
old--yet he still has a full head of gray hair. (Better gray than none.)
Even Gianelli's twitchy little Charlie Chaplin moustache is gray, and bushy
gray eyebrows shade his pebble-colored eyes. Gianelli wears a white
terrycloth cabana outfit and a floppy straw hat, also rubber thongs that
show his blue-lined and gnarly feet.
Gianelli's wife, Rosie, is a shapely dame in her early thirties
whom the old fart rescued years ago from the chorus line at the Copa.
Sitting next to Rosie and blatantly ogling her tits is Ray Paluski, Jr.,
six-footthree-inch high-scoring frontcourtsman for the Redmen of St.
John's, a Jesuit college in Queens. Junior averaged 11.3 points per
game in '49-'50, pacing the Redmen to a 14-and-8 record. Actually a
disappointing season for St. John's.
The persistent rumor is that young Paluski is porking Rosie.
I turn away just in time to ignore Paluski giving me the high sign.
As an upstanding and righteous purist, I don't approve of scandalous
Speaking of which, here's Senator Joe McCarthy's face on the
front page again, goddamned Irisher, always making trouble for the
Jews. Sure, he talks about "Communists" and "the Red Menace," but
he's really just another vicious anti-Semite. What's his latest shtick?
Waving around pieces of paper--"proof," he says, that the State
Department is riddled with Communists and Communist sympathizers.
Aha! It's this "sympathizer" business that gives him license to find
subversives everywhere he wants to look. And he's got everybody
scared, including Truman. Anybody who looks cross-eyed at McCarthy
is accused of being "soft" on Communism.
Oy, so much bullshit, so much confusion. Weren't the
Communists instrumental in establishing labor unions? Damn right. I
wouldn't have a pension in my old age without them. And didn't the
Russkies fight the Nazis? So now what? This one's supposed to be
guilty. That one's supposed to be innocent. What the fuck do I know
All I know is that, according to the Constitution, everybody's
innocent until proven guilty--and then they're guilty forever. Until then,
leave me out of it.
All I know is that the good guys won the war and that eventually
the good guys always win.
All I know is that Hitler killed six million Jews, and cocksuckers
like Joe McCarthy are trying to finish the job.
All I know is that today's installment of "Sports A-Plenty" is a
gem. My theme is baseball--"The Phillies are running on empty." Get it?
Phillies ... Fill ies ... empty. Anyway, Philadelphia can't possibly win the
pennant because their big hitters (Del Ennis, Andy Seminick, Willie Jones,
Granny Hamner, and Mike Goliat) are right-handed and therefore
susceptible to the Dodgers' right-handed pitching. Also, only Robin
Roberts and Curt Simmons are established pitchers, and how long can
the Phillies' ace reliever, Jim Konstanty, get hitters out with the slop he
Have no fear, the Bums will prevail.
Hold on. Who's this gangly Negro teenager, dressed in the
hotel's red uniform, hustling up to me with a huge smile on his face.
The tall boy is stooped as he carries a thick rubber body pad under his
long right arm. He looks vaguely familiar--his ebony skin glistening in
the relentless sunshine, the tight smile pressing his puffy lips into a
thick red line, the thin white scar above the left eyebrow, and the eyes,
the huge round eyes, fawn-eyes brimming with such sweetness and
innocence that I suddenly feel fraudulent and hopelessly corrupt.
"Anywhere in particular, Mister Polan?" the boy asks. "I could
angle you toward the pool or toward the sun or in the shade. You want
an umbrella, suh? Or something cold to drink? Whatever you say,
Mister Polan, suh."
I hate being catered to, being waited on. Such ruthless
benevolence giving the false impression that I'm a helpless boob. Besides,
Negroes always make me feel guilty, for what I don't know. "Over
there's good," I say, pointing toward a dark corner with good angles on
both the pool and the pavilion. "And, when you get a chance, could
you please bring me a bottle of Schaefer? A bottle, not a can."
"Yes, suh," the boy says, and effortlessly aligns the body pad on
the designated lounge chair.
"Wait a minute," I say with sudden remembrance. "Haven't I seen
you play someplace? I never forget a face."
"Yes, suh," the boy says, boldly rising up to his full
six-foot-threeinch height. "I'm Royce Johnson from Seward Park High
School down on Grand Street. We won the P.S.A.L. city
championship last March in the Garden and I had thirty-one points.
You wrote in the paper that I was the best high school player you've
ever seen. But, believe me, Mister Polan, you ain't seen nothin' yet."
I'm glad the kid is a braggart. Now I can feel superior to him
again, even as I move clumsily to settle into the chair. "Oh, yeah. Now
I remember you. With the behind-the-back dribbling and the quick set
The boy hovers over me, beaming brightly. "I got a jump shot,
too, that my coach wouldn't let me use."
"So what're you doing here, Royce? Working, huh?"
"Working the pool and helping in the kitchen, yes, suh. Coach
Goldberg got me the job for fifteen dollars every Monday and lots of
free food. I'm gonna go play for City College next year."
My smile is tight and full of wisdom. "Coach Goldberg won't be
too happy about your behind-the-back tricks. The Ol'Coach, he hates
"No, suh. Me and Coach Goldberg already got us a
understanding. I'm just gonna be proud to play for him and I'll do
whatever he wants and don't do whatever he don't want. But after a
while, once he learns how good my game is, then I know he's gonna give me
the ball and turn me loose."
"I like to see such confidence in a young player," I tell him with
practiced sincerity. "Good." Then I pause long enough to let the boy
scoot off to get the beer. "Very good."
Actually I'm mildly surprised at the hotel's progressive stance in
having a Negro work so out in the open. The young fellow, Royce
Johnson, must be quite the hoopster.
Checking my sightlines, I lean back into the cushioned lounge,
looking forward to seeing the kid play tonight.
Of course I'd much rather see the Dodgers play tonight, but not
in Cincinnati in August. The Dodgers' current road trip includes three
games in Cincy, four in Chi-Town and three in St. Louie. No thanks.
Sixteen summers of sweltering Midwest roadtrips was quite enough.
Sixteen years as beat writer for my beloved Bums.
I can still recall the names, uniform numbers, and essential stats
of every player. The stars: Del Bissonette, #25, hit .336 in 1930. Babe
Herman, #4, hit .330 in 1943. And the benchwarmers from Johnny
Hudson to Al Glossop. Hey, a few of the old-timers are still hanging
on. Joe Hatten. Hugh Casey. Rube Walker is now a coach. The
Brooklyn Dodgers were my first love and I'm convinced that their
newest star, Jackie Robinson, makes them God's team too.
Back in 1925 when I started at The Sentinel as a copyboy, I
would've given a trillion-to-one odds against a shvartzer ever playing
in the majors.
As of this very morning the Dodgers are still two and a half
games ahead of the Phillies, and Robinson is hitting .324, with seven
homers, sixty-seven runs scored and nineteen stolen bases.
Even when I was a kid, I always studied the stats, reading The
Sporting-News like a sacred text. In the many pressrooms and hotel bars of my
acquaintance, I'm the official adjudicater of most sports arguments:
"Who was better, Barney? Ducky Medwick when he was wid the
Cardinals or wid the Dodgers?"
"Medwick hit three points higher lifetime with Brooklyn, but he
won a World Series with Saint Louie. You figure it out for yourself."
"Hey, Barney? Who won the Davis Cup last year?"
"Ask me next if I fuckin' care."
Thankfully I don't spend much time in pressrooms or hotel bars
anymore, and these days I can pick my assignments to suit myself.
Sometimes in the spring I'll take the train to Philly or Boston. Perhaps
slum at the Polo Grounds when the Dodgers are out West. Another
option is a periodic visit to the Bronx to report on the lordly Yankees.
Mycolumns appear on Mondays, Thursdays, and
Saturdays, forty-eight weeks a year, making 1,296 columns since 1941
(The Collected Woiks?). I remember well my very first column, a
spring-training celebration of Mickey Owens's great hands behind the
plate. (Six months later, in Game Four of the World Series, the
Dodgers had a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth inning when the
Yankees'"Old Reliable" rightfielder, Tommy Heinrich, apparently struck
out swinging to end the ball game. But the ball also eluded Owens,
Heinrich was safe at first, and the Yankees rallied to win, thereby
assuming a commanding 3-1 lead in the Series. In my postgame
appraisal I now declared that Owens was always a defensive liability
and that his was "a name to all succeeding ages curst.")
From Canarsie to Bensonhurst, from Coney Island to Park Slope,
baseball is a sanctified ritual. According to a tag line that I use at
every opportunity, "Life is a metaphor for baseball."
Truth to tell, I used to be mightily bored in the long off-season. "I
don't like hot stoves," was my judgment of winter, "because I once
burned my ass on one." And what else was there? Six-day bicycle
races have gone the way of vaudeville. What about ice hockey? The N.H.L.?
Naw. Just a bunch of dumb Canucks on skates who wear suspenders
under their uniforms. Wee? Wee?
The National Football League is a bad joke because too many
people know about the fixed ball games. And I absolutely detest the
professional basketballers. "The Basketball Association of America,"
or "the National Basketball League," or "the National Basketball
Association," or whatever the hell their name is this week. With
forgettable franchises like the Anderson Packers, Pittsburgh Ironmen,
Providence Steamrollers, St. Louis Bombers, Toronto Huskies,
Tri-Cities Blackhawks. Gypsy teams in a gypsy league. Mercenaries.
Winters were painfully long and empty until just a few years ago
when I discovered the several joys of college basketball.
Legend has it that Ned Irish, a twenty-nine-year-old sportswriter
for the New York World-Telegram, had been assigned to cover a
basketball game in Manhattan College's tiny gymnasium early in 1930
in the hardscrabbling heyday of the Depression. The gym had been
filled to overflowing with fans, and Irish had torn his pants while fighting
his way inside through an open window. Irish became convinced that
college basketball was ready to go big-time. Accordingly, on December
31, 1931, Irish produced the first college basketball program in
Madison Square Garden, an S.R.0 triple-header involving six New York
colleges, to raise money for the relief of the unemployed. Before long,
Irish was promoting similar events for his own profit. Functioning now as
vice president of Madison Square Garden, Inc., Irish has become the
impresario of college basketball. His crowning achievement was to
inaugurate, in 1938, the annual, and always lucrative, National
Invitational Tournament in the Garden. He expanded his operations into
arenas for hire in Buffalo and Philadelphia. By 1950 Irish could offer a
touring college team at least a six-date package, the chance to play their way
across the country and back without ever seeing a campus.
Look at all the money generated by college basketball just from
the gate receipts and beer concessions. Paydays for everyone from
ushers to cleanup crews. For the athletic directors and the coaches.
The neighborhood bars and restaurants. "Sis Boom Bah" and "Boola
Boola." Damn right.
In my columns I've always made certain to laud the
undergraduate cagers because they play strictly for the love of the
game. College baskets is the only amateur sport worth watching. Vot
den? The rowers? Pole vaulters? Polo players? No, thanks. Only
college basketball warms my blood in the wintertime.
Only five months ago, in the N.I.T.'s championship game, the
sons of immigrants and the grandsons of slaves miraculously upset
the University of Kentucky's top-ranked basketball team, the
blue-blooded legions of Adolph Rupp, by 82-59. There it was in
black-and-white. On March 5, 1950. Truth and justice proved by a
single headline--C.C.N.Y. COPS CHAMPIONSHIP.
Oh, here's one more reason why I suddenly love college
basketball--in 1925 I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in
journalism from the College of the City of New York. So, if God were to
grant me the power to decide, I would never trade City's miraculous
N.I.T. title straight-up for even a Dodgers World Series championship
come September. Definitely not. Not even if it meant sweeping the
Yankees. Another secret I'll have to keep out of my column.
Naturally there's a seedy side to the college game, and I've heard
all the rumors of point shaving and dumped ball games, mostly from
disgruntled bettors. My own sources never report anything except
pissant stuff--college players playing in money tournaments under
false names. Varsity coaches skimming their players' meal monies. I
constantly receive all kinds of "inside info" from the old-time bookies
in several National League cities. Rumors of occasional funny point
spreads and unseemly fluctuations. Nothing to worry about. I figure
that most of the bookmakers of my acquaintance are so used to
setting odds for basketball games that they're often clumsy and
capricious when quoting one of the newfangled point spreads.
Two-and-a-half? What? Plus or minus 8 1/2? Jeez, a smart college
coach with real inside info could make himself a fortune.
Aha! There's the real proof that everything's on the up-and-up.
Except for Sidney Goldberg at C.C.N.Y. and Henry Carlson at
Rhinegold U. in Yonkers, the other area college coaches are poor men
with lean bellies. And except for the lads at Harvard, Yaleand
Princeton, I've never seen an undergraduate cager with money to spare.
Hey, look at the home-relief kids on C.C.N.Y.'s championship squad:
Otis Hill. Barry Hoffman. Phil Isaacson. None can even afford a shine
on their shoes.
The defense rests.
Besides which, the American sports public, the writers, the
athletes, the coaches, and even the gamblers have learned a painful
lesson from the Black Sox Scandal in 1919. Say it ain't so, Barney.
Growing up on Ditmas Avenue, only a subway stop from
Brooklyn College, I was especially distraught at the newspaper
accounts of a sinister turn of events that began early in 1945: The
Manhattan County's D.A. office happened to be tapping the telephone
of a pawnbroker whom they suspected of receiving stolen goods, when
quite by accident, the wiretappers discovered that the supposed fence
was also involved in fixing a college basketball game. The sonofabitch!
In my expert opinion the conniving pawnbroker's deed was unforgivable,
comparable to a shyster swindling a widow out of her savings, or a
pederast let loose in a kindergarten.
Surveillance was stepped up and the full plot was quickly
uncovered. Five members of the Brooklyn College basketball team were
implicated along with several local gamblers. Each player had already
been paid a thousand dollars and was promised another two thousand
if he "laid down" in an upcoming game against Akron University. It was
also learned that one of the Brooklyn College ballplayers wasn't even a
registered student. (Fucking 4-F chickenshit bastards!) The gamblers
were arrested, the ball game was canceled, and the players were
expelled in disgrace.
In "Sports A-Plenty" I went slightly overboard in calling for a
public ceremony wherein all the participants would have "666" branded
across their foreheads. But surprise, surprise.... I received bundles of
letters supporting my suggestion and none in opposition.
An ambitious graduate of St. John's, John Morley was (and is)
the district attorney. His official judgment was that the "Brooklyn
College betting scandal involved only a neighborhood crowd," and I
was easily convinced.
Eventually New York City's lawmakers amended the civil bribery
bill to include gamblers who made bribe offers to amateur sportsmen,
and the matter was forgotten by nearly everyone.
Of course, several notable individuals did speak out in warning.
Most prominent among them was Forrest "Phog" Allen, the basketball
coach at Kansas who had learned his Xs and Os from the game's
founding father, Dr. James Naismith. Allen predicted a gambling scandal that
would "stink to high heaven." But most knowledgeable observers felt
that Allen was merely bellyaching because his own teams hadn't been
up to snuff in recent seasons. In any event, no further bribery schemes
were uncovered, even as gate receipts at the college doubleheaders
increased and jubilant alumni continued to fund basketball
scholarships by the dozens. One of my subsequent columns featured
a spokesman for a national coaches' organization who chastised Allen
for showing "a deplorable lack of faith in American youth and a meager
confidence in the integrity of coaches."
Rumors of peace. Rumors of war.
In the meantime, all things considered, as far as I can tell, as far
as I want to know, college basketball is as kosher as a rabbi's wife.
And there's one last reason why I'm so loyal to college
basketball: Red Smith continually rails against the "pituitary goons"
who play "roundball." Well, fuck Red Smith and everybody who looks
like him. Damn right. I can write rings around that snooty bastard.
Closing my eyes, I can feel the sun's gentle pressure on my
face, on my glorious bumper. And I yearn for simpler times. For the
grandfatherly guidance of FDR. For the days when G.I. Joe saved the
world. Back when the Russkies were dauntless allies. When a tune
from Walt Disney set the time:
Whistle while you work
Hitler is a jerk
Mussolini is a meanie
But the Japs are worse
When good versus evil was always a solid bet.
These days I often feel much older than my forty-eight years. Old
enough to breathe an ancient sigh. I wish I were home in my tiny
apartment in Brooklyn Heights. With a bottle of Schaefer at hand. With
the radio tuned to the far-off Dodger game. The electric fan strategically
positioned over a trayful of ice cubes so that a frosty breeze blows in
my face. All this while I indulge in my most secret of passions:
Only in the private 100-watt illuminations of my apartment am I
secure enough to freely devour the Shakespearean canon. In fact even
more than my collection of autographed baseballs, my most treasured
possession is an oversized replica of the 1604 Folio, which cost me a
handsome $550. Every s is printed as an f, and I love reading the
soliloquies aloud. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow... "And
"life" is like the Boston Celtics' Kleggie Hermsen, "a poor passing
player." In one infamous column after the homestanding Dodgers
swept the hated Giants in a three-game series in June 1941, I foolishly
wrote this: "To paraphrase Shakespeare,'Ah, Ebbets Field were
paradise enow.'" My lowbrow readership was aroused as never before
or since. One irate letter from Red Hook excoriated me for providing a
bad example for the schoolchildren by using "pig Latin." Another letter
claimed that only Yankees fans read Shakespeare and that I should be
exiled to the Bronx. Chastened, I henceforth kept my Shakespeare en
In spite of my obvious blessings, I do have a short litany of
annoyances: Giants fans, Yankee fans, and the latest National League
pennant race. The Soviets stealing plans for the A-bomb. The hair
clogging the bathtub drain. But by far my most persistent, most
agonizing problem is finding a suitable topic for my next column, then
the one after.... New ideas and fresh slants three times every week,
"until the last syllable of recorded time." Sometimes I feel like the
merest of hacks.
Mostly, though, I feel weary: Of being divorced and childless. Of
consuming too many solitary dinners of canned beans and condensed
tomato soup. Maybe I should try getting married again. That
spinsterish-looking dame in research has a nice smile and a nice set
of headlights.... Maybe I'll have a kid this time. Barney, Junior....