Tomorrow, September 23, is my birthday. To mark the occasion, I am printing here a portion of a chapter from my new book, The Last Days of Shea, called ”My Birthday Party.” It is about my birthday, two years ago, when I had a book launch for Mets Fan and saw, for the first time, signs that the Mets internet community existed in real space and time. Speaking of real space and time, I’m going to Citi Field tonight (9/22). I promise to post a piece about my experience.
… On September 23, 2007, I celebrated my 53rd birthday and for the first time since I was 13, I had a birthday party. But it wasn’t just a birthday party. It was a book launch. I had written a book called Mets Fan and I was throwing a party to promote it at a little bohemian joint on Avenue A in the East Village called Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction. A reader of the blog which I had set up to promote my book, was an investor in the place and he recommended it for the book launch party. It turned out to be perfect for the occasion. A book launch party has always been a fantasy of mine, a part of my dream of myself as a writer and not just a professor. I had always imagined that they were glamorous affairs, either glittery or funky. We were obviously going to go for funky here. But they don’t really have book launch parties any more, certainly not for obscure little books by nobodies like my Mets Fan. They’re things of the past, things from the days before the corporate acquisition of publishing houses, things from the days when the world, irrationally, had more on its mind than making money.
They also don’t really have funky and cheap little joints in the East Village any more. Yet Mo Pitkin’s was trying to be the kind of mythical place where hip, offbeat and not very rich people could gather and eat comfort food and hear great music and watch performance art. It was a dream of the Hartman brothers, Phil and Jesse, big Mets fans who had founded the Two Boots pizza empire. Mo Pitkin’s would be out of business by the end of the year. It just seemed to me to be appropriate that we were having the kind of party they don’t have any more in the kind of place they don’t have any more, to celebrate a book about being a baseball fan in ways that didn’t fit what baseball is now any more. The whole thing was an exercise, on every level, of wistful yet idealistic romanticism. It was perfect for a 53rd birthday. It was perfect for an aging professor who was trying to re-invent himself, before it was too late, as the writer he had dreamed of being every since he was 15.
I had invited my friends and colleagues and blog readers and my fellow bloggers to the party. And of course my family was there including my mother Helen, who had made it up the one flight of stairs with considerable difficulty and my father-in-law Charlie who was bravely going out into the world less than two months after losing his wife. My sisters, Jennifer and Stefanie, my wife, Sheila, and my daughter Sonia were there. Sonia wore a cool, hip new dress and had gotten a bohemian gamine haircut, thinking that she was going to a big literary event in Greenwich Village. A lot of people came. I was particularly moved by the turnout of fellow bloggers. There was Steve Keane, of the Eddie Kranepool Society, Mike Steffanos of Mikes Mets, Kathy Foronjy was there, who had made a documentary film about Mets fans called Mathematically Alive, which I hadn’t seen yet but which turned out to be just like Mets Fan in spirit. There was MetsGrrl and there were three women bloggers Zoe Rice, Taryn Cooper, and Steffie Kaplan, and who called themselves the Joan Whitney Paysons after the woman who was the Mets’ first owner. I knew my friends, family, and colleagues, of course, but I had never met any of the Mets people in person before. I felt like a kid in a cartoon whose imaginary friends have come to life. Sure I knew that people I knew from the Internet really existed, but you’re never really sure, you know what I mean? For all I knew, these people were inside the worn laptop with the F8 key missing on which I had written my book, and on which I composed my blog and my website.
Everyone was so nice and so supportive. Everybody made me feel as if I had done something worth doing. Everybody made me feel as if we were all in this together, trying to build an alternate world of blogs, podcasts, and films about the Mets; an alternate world in which the hopes and dreams of millions and the joys and sorrows of fandom, were treated with respect. For that one afternoon, the Mets did not exist simply to soak up irritating condescension from Mike and the Mad Dog. They were part of a family that included many fine, generous, and imaginative people.
All through the afternoon, as we ate Two Boots pizza, drank, and talked, people kept track of the game that was being played in Florida. The Mets finally won, 7-6, on a David Wright home run in the eleventh. The Phillies had lost, 5-3, to the Nationals. We were two and a half games up with seven more to play. The Phillies had six more games to play. If we could win 4 of our 7 games, the Phillies would have to win all 6 of theirs to tie us. If we only won 3, they would have to win all 6 of their games to beat us. If we won 2 and lost 5, they would have to go 5-1 to beat us. We were okay. Everyone in the assembled company felt good. When the game was over, I read a few pieces from my book to my fellow Mets fans.
You know, in the end, I am convinced that the most amazing thing about the New York Mets is not the inconsistent baseball franchise by that name. It is the millions of people who continue to root for them, through years of frustration and disappointment, even though they are geographically entitled to root for the most successful of all baseball franchises. We fans had been dangling over a precipice ever since the Mets had dropped those four games in Philadelphia. Now we could breathe just a little bit easier. We could rest. We would find out soon enough how we would remember this strange moment in Mets history. Whatever happened, though, I knew that I would never forget my 53rd birthday. I knew I would never forget my sense of wonder at how I was celebrating my 53rd birthday. I would never have imagined any of this on my 50th birthday. Life was full of surprises. All life is is surprises. It is one thing that might have been different after another thing that might have been different. That’s what it is.