Perhaps this entry should be accompanied with a disclaimer: this story is entirely true, and I am so intensely scarred by its content that I have no reason to exaggerate..
Shea Stadium, facing a rapidly approaching demise, contains many memories of Metropolitan triumph and futility over the years. Yet my most vivid and most acrid memories of Shea were formed this past weekend, at Saturday's Mets-Diamondbacks matinee, aptly named Cap Day.
I attended the game with my father, a self-described hipster, who has a passion for the Mets that is somewhat flickering: he considers himself a Yankee fan as well, ignoring my descriptions of the inherent treachery. As season-ticket holders, we had passes to the Diamond Club, though the world's slowest elevator failed to fit us in, to our chagrin, before ten minutes of waiting.
Fair enough. It's not as though anyone could have a problem waiting in line for overpriced grill room food or being surrounded by a select few who wished to consume shots of Cuervo prior to a 1 p.m. game.
We eventually made our way to our seats, though surprisingly our box was devoid of an usher to wipe our seats, something which was rather rare for us. A family of four who sat directly in front of us soon had their seats wiped. Discrimination, ah yes, the scourge of Shea.
Getting a glimpse of the usher, we noticed his somewhat weathered face. Maybe it was the Mets hat atop his head, but I noticed a resemblance to character actor John Capodice (right), who I remembered as the proprietor of the laundromat in the second season Seinfeld episode "The Revenge." There was a little Gregg Popovich in there too.
The usher is not to be ignored in this story: his, well, incompetence shall play a pivotal role in this fateful occurrence.
Midway through the second inning, what was apparently a group of eight ragamuffin twelve-year olds celebrating a birthday decides to pounce on the prime seating lower in the loge box. I don't much enjoy twelve-year old boys, as I have lived through that age, and perhaps I had improved my seating during that era.
I expressed to my father mock disgust, calling their conduct morally reprehensible. To be fair, the member of the group who I affectionately referred to as "the ringleader" hoisted both of his arms and beckoned the rest of the group to join him in this act of unprecedented indulgence.
"Look! Look at all of these seats," he cried, standing up. Using a mock deep voice, I screamed back at him. "Siddown," I said. He did, but this nightmare was to perpetuate itself throughout the afternoon. I debated whether or not to get the usher: I would have loved nothing more than to see that smug bastard and his cronies ejected from the unoccupied seats, but after surveying the surrounding selections, our geriatric usher appeared to have misplaced himself.
Feigning intense disgust, I decided to assuage my state with a pretzel and a chilled Diet Pepsi (sans bottlecap, to be sure) from the nearest concession stand. As per the corollary laid out by Metsblog, I noticed a somewhat upbeat cashier uniting people with their food and stripping them of their savings. That's great: this will take forever.
And it did; as I waited an entire inning in line. The worst part: an associate of the cashier, best described by my father as "one pill away from the nuthouse," attempted to convert me. To be sure, I had had experiences with Jehovah's Witnesses and ecoterrorists trolling my block in Connecticut looking for my faith or my cash, so I was not totally averse to such conduct in public.
This woman, however, propagated a strange religion.
"Become an electrical engineer," she said. "You should ask your teacher about electrical engineering, or mechanical engineering, or civil engineering."
I smiled, waiting for my Pepsi and pretzel, trying to ignore this outreach.
"Hey you," she said. "Go ask your teacher to take you to the Central Library and check out all of the books on engineering. You need to learn your math, too, study your numbers. And read your Bible, and you're set for life."
I wish I could have blamed it on the usher, but it might tie into a general dereliction of the Shea staff. This is not the first time I have been served by someone appearing to be loony, but this was the first time I had to experience exceptionally weak service AND an attempt to sway my career choice.
For the record, I have completed too much education in my life to become an electrical engineer, and in what was a bad omen, presumably, a bad power cord in my house delivered a whopping blow of electricity to my arm the night before the game. My arm was shaking for about five minutes. My lawsuit is still pending.
My father and I returned to our seats, after a little bit more time in the concourse, for he had forgotten his sunscreen and was intensely afraid of the skin cancer that we not-so-cleverly dubbed "hematoma." He's a doctor; he enjoys occasionally making medical malapropisms for my benefit.
The kids were still there. How lovely. When those annoying Shea photographers trying to swindle came around, all eight of them stood up, obscuring the view of everyone within the box. My dad muttered to the photographer if he would make them pose with their tickets, too, but the photographer seemed not to understand.
Since my father and I were sitting a seat apart in the box, the Mets fotog asked us when he came around if "either one of us" wanted a picture. I guess we looked like we were not together: this will perhaps be pivotal later in this story.
The Mets did manage to tack on three runs in the fourth inning, evoking a good deal of cheering from ourselves and others. After that fleeting jubilation, though, we did notice some increasingly conspicuous folks behind us, courtesy of several spilled beers and loud, boisterous cheering.
Mine and my father's aforementioned adolescent experience give us a minimal ability to discern the intoxicated from the crazies, and this pair was somewhat intermediate. They were too loud and too raucous to be merely drunk, but they appeared to be at least somewhat sane. Yet my perceptive father managed to notice that the group made excessively frequent bathroom breaks: could it be cocaine?
Cocaine use was our somewhat reasonable conclusion. You might appreciate that a pair of the alleged cokeheads were dancing in the aisle during Sweet Caroline, and one had her dress fall off. How charming... entrancing, in fact. This is another reason to ban that venerable Red Sox tradition from Shea, and it might also be added that I despise Neil Diamond. Where was the usher during this chaos? Hiding under the overhang, of course, nowhere to be found.
The promotion of Cap Day once again enters into the fray, in this part of the narrative, as my father and I combined amassed, as you might expect, a pair of hats. Yet my father, in an attempt to pay homage to Dontrelle Willis, only will wear this one Mets hat with an unbent brim tilted slightly to the side. So I had two hats.
A woman who wasn't with the cokeheads prior approaches the group, beer in hand, and mutters something indiscriminate, though I hear them mention "Wagner" in between loud whistling and cries of "SMITTY!" to honor the Mets rookie reliever on the hill. Wagner wasn't going to come into the game, as far as I could tell, and I was wearing my WAGNER 13 shirt and sitting right in front of the rowdy bunch. It might also be said that I was unsure if this crew had ever seen a Mets game before; they didn't seem to care much about the action on the field.
Were they talking about me?
I answered my own question when the beer-porting woman approached me. I don't usually have strangers come up to me at Mets games.
"I'll buy your hat from you," she said. I employed my technique of politely smiling and saying nothing. It almost sorta worked when I was with the crazy concession lady.
"I'll either pay you for it or you can [look at my female anatomy]." I crap you not. Perhaps this woman was unaware that I was with my father, although he might insist that his presence spurred the bizarre offer on. I looked toward him for advice, but he hadn't heard the flashing comment and urged me just to hand over the hat. I did, and the woman threw a dollar at me.
It could have ended there, but I seemed to forget that the inebriated often find friends among the anonymous. The loud, tattooed woman behind me asked me if I was satisfied with the transaction's outcome. I smiled, chuckled, and although I should have learned my lesson, I ignored her for the most part.
I heard her behind me. "She's a chicken[expletive]. She got the hat but she didn't show him her [anatomy]. Let's go over there." She soon called to me, "We'll get you at least a lapdance, Wagner!" I shook my head slightly, hoping to avert any sort of controversy and trying to remain as sensible as possible.
She and a crony went over to speak with the girl and her boyfriend, with all parties visibly agitated by eachothers' behavior. I couldn't discern exactly what was being said during the shouting match... after all, this is a baseball game, and no one can speak over the deafening PA... but I listened to the woman behind me after she returned, defeated.
Behind our seats, I vaguely heard some chattering.
"He told me I was crazy; I told him your girlfriend's a slut," mutterred the cokeheadess. "I told him that we'd see him outside."
For the first time in my life, I felt a bizarre emotion. That emotion was not at all sexual, not any sort of embarrassment, but rather that I wanted to leave a Mets game early. I had somehow become a lynchpin for conflict, despite not consuming a drop of alcohol or an ounce of blow.
The Mets dispatched the Diamondbacks rather quickly in the top of the ninth, and my father and I bolted Shea with speed rivaling Jose Reyes with brand-new hamstrings.
Such is life with elderly ushers, in the hot sun, on a day when Paul Lo Duca and Carlos Beltran are sitting. What a day. Cap Day.
Tomorrow, I will be your host for the second annual Crosstown Rivals Draft Liveblog Extravaganza, covering the Mets' draft. Pore over, if you will, the coverage from yesteryear. Hope to see you there.
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