Thoughts on the Passing of Jane Jarvis

Millions of us can recall perfectly the sound of Shea’s organ as Jane Jarvis played it.  It was a very distinctive sound:  muffled, carnival-like, perfectly-timed, and filled with generous flourishes.  To hear a stadium organ played with such virtuosity is a privilege, and it is a privilege Mets fans have not had for thirty-one years.

Why not?  You know why not.  The sound of baseball has changed. 

I’m not going to tell you that the world was better in the past because it wasn’t.  Baseball wasn’t either, for reasons we don’t have to rehash.  But certain things about the past were really really nice.  And the sound of Jane Jarvis, Shea’s Queen of Melody, playing the Thomas organ was one of the nicest things I knew as I listened to her between the ages of 9 and 24.

That’s what Shea was, back in the day.  It was nice.  It wasn’t wow or whatever.  For all of its World’s Fair novelty back then, it was, by current standards, simple, rickety and low-tech.  It was like a permanent circus had come to town and that’s what Jane’s organ made it sound like.  A permanent circus.  Or a picnic.  My second favorite of all of the songs she played was a song called “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic.”  You’d know it if you heard it.  It’s an old song about Teddy Bears having a picnic while the children who are their “mommies and daddies” are off doing something else.  It’s a fun goofy song that gives an organist a real chance to show off.  Jane played it with relish.  Can you imagine a song like that being played at Citi Field for any reason?  It was a family song.  A picnic song.  A teddy bear song for the kids.

My favorite song of hers is a song that Jane composed.  It’s called “Lets Go Mets” and if things were different, it would be something you’d hear all the time at Citi Field.  I think they may have played it for the 1969 reunion.  When I was a kid I didn’t know it had a name.  It was just “Da dum da dum da dum dad um, DUM DUM DUM! (Let’s Go Mets), da dum da dum da dum da dum, DADADA DADADA DUM!”  and then on and on with the same organ-grindery curlicues and arabesques.    

How I wish that could all come back.  You see, back before there were clubs and suites, there were carnivals and picnics.  And everybody at the ballgame was a kid.  Even the grownups, for those three hours, weren’t grown up.  And when the game was over, Jane would play something nice for us to file out to, as our mommies and daddies took us home to bed.   Because we were tired little teddy bears.  Not an alienated fan base.  Not bitching and moaning pains in the asses.  Tired little teddy bears with tummies filled with cotton candy, hot dogs, and ice cream. 

When Jane died last week, I could not help but think of the fact that Karl Ehrhardt, the Sign Man, died almost exactly two years ago.  It was a similar Mets death in a similar dark winter, of someone beloved who had fallen out of our lives too long ago.  It was a death that made me wonder, what are we now?  Where are the Mets?  Where is the picnic?  What time does the circus start?  How did time go so fast?  How could it have been so long ago that these wonderful people were part of our lives?  I never knew them, of course.  I never even saw Jane with my own eyes.  And I knew nothing about the Sign Man except that he held up wonderful signs. 

But I loved these complete strangers because I loved the circus so much.  Anything that was part of the magic island of time at the ballgame was holy, and loved, and now it is painfully missed. 

Jane had to move out of her apartment a little over a year ago because a crane fell on it.  When this happened, I remember having the surreal thought that cranes were coming after her, just as cranes were tearing down Shea.  Jane dodged the wrecker’s ball.  Shea couldn’t.  So weird.

I will miss Jane, even though I haven’t heard her play in thirty years.  I hadn’t seen Karl’s signs in just about the same amount of time.  I hear her though.  I hear “Lets Go Mets.”  I can always hear it whenever I like, exactly as it really was, as I will always remember it.  And the circus and the picnic are still with me even when I sit in Citi Field, even if they are only in my mind.

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