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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Where I'm Calling From


No, I no longer live in Jets' territory. I live miles away in Philadelphia, where I have formed a simple, appropriate bond with the local people - they hate the Giants, and they feel cheated by life. We are in agreement.

They are Philadelphia Eagles fans, and while the Jets' regular season game against Philly this year isn't going to test my loyalty to the Jets, I have been to the valley with these people more than once. I have seen how a rare euphoria that accompanied their appearance in the Super Bowl a few years ago plunged with surprising alacrity into a morass of deep, endless doubt - the kind, I realize, in which Eagles fans normally live. This is the city whose fans booed Santa Claus at a game in 1968.

How can I not feel at home?

However, Eagles fans have a singular nastines that I still haven't found in the Jets faithful. It's the mean side of the surly father, an already aggrieved personality just looking for someone to piss him off. Much has been written about the Philadelphian - the supporting characters in "Invincible," dissatisfied fans booing Santa Claus at home in 1968, booing Donovan McNabb when he was chosen for the draft, the only in-stadium court house for brisk conviction of violent gametime offenders. I am a wary person by nature, so I've never stepped on any land mines with Philadelphians, but nothing brings out their sullen sense of entitlement and victimization like a New Yorker. Case in point - a conversation with a stranger in a bar once:

MAN: Where you from? You sound funny.

ME: Me? New York?

MAN: (beginning to simmer) Oh yeah? The city?

ME: Kind of. Born in Queens. Then I --

MAN: I've never been to New York. Never going to. What the fuck's the point, really? I'd never fit in. Just be treated like shit, right?

ME: Well,...uh, I.... No, I don't think so.

MAN: Stuck-up motherfuckers. Mostly, right? No offense.

ME: No, none taken.

MAN: Yankees fan, right?

ME: No. Mets.

MAN: (more intense now) Giants fan?

ME: No. Jets.

This satisfies the man to whom I've yet to be formally introduced. That I root for the "other" New York teams not only means that I'm less offensive to him but that I might also fit in a little better with the natives. Maybe I'm a "real" fan because I have obviously chosen to hitch my star to something much far more ponderous and unrewarding than a bandwagon. He knows where I'm calling from. Of course he now takes this as an invitation to begin slicing up the myths and mystiques of the city of my birth, looking over his shoulder occasionally to make sure that the real New Yorkers - the chronic winners and boasters - are not somehow listening in on his conversation. He must alternately know how ridiculous it is to expect a New Yorker to listen in on his conversation in a neighborhood Philadelphia bar, sort of like the sullen nerd who takes a second to see who's around him in the careferia before speaking ill of the high school jock of whom he's both jealous and afraid. That kind of insecurity always seems to produce the most curious combination of self-conscious paranoia and narcissism in the aggrieved. That's the Philadelphia fan to a T. Mon frere.

The Philadelphia Phillies are on the brink of recognizing the 10,000th loss in their franchise's history. This represents more losses than any other baseball franchise has endured - a staggering statistic almost as significant as the fact that it's also more than any other organized sports team in the world has endured (to be fair, baseball teams play 162 games a year). Pioneers may have settled West in the hopes of finding a place to start a life where it would be more possible for their dreams to come true. I moved to Philadelphia and was lucky to find that these people are tormented by false expectations and the sense of pervasive loss. A city of falling anvils. Feels like home to me.

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