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Saturday, July 7, 2007

God and Man in Merrick, 1975

My own general air of obsession was nothing new to my parents. This new obsession was more expansive, though, even dangerous. My strict Roman Catholic mother was beginning to wonder about the development of my early sexual identity when I spent most of my days now parked in wonder at the feet of the manly John Riggins.

When the day came for my first visit to Shea Stadium, I set aside my game clothes even before dressing for Mass. Our church was in the generic cookie-cutter style. Like all Catholic churches built to suit the post-war suburban sprawl, everything inside looked innocuous, plastic and uniform, just as it did in parishes throughout towns nearby like Seaford and Massapequa.

Even the crucified Christ hung above the pre-Vatican II altar looked exactly the same in St. John's Church as it did in every other Catholic church I had ever visited. It was as if the details of the crucifixion were without doubt, as if the company that produced these similarly suffering Christs in Catholic churches had an actual photograph of the event from which to work. It was not explained clearly enough how Jesus, from Nazareth, possessed dirty blonde hair and blue eyes.

I stared intently at Him from my pew. We sat next to the tenth station of the cross, where Jesus was stripped of His garments. The look on His face was problematic.

I’m doing this for you, He seemed to say, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

You did this to me, seemed more like it for some reason.

In light of His own impending peril in the face of the nails, the cross, and the lashing Romans, my own requests that Sunday seemed paltry, as they always did in general. Please do not let my first game at Shea be a blowout. Don’t let it rain. Don’t let him turn the car around if the weather’s bad. I don’t want to go home from the game early. Please let the Jets win. Please let them win. Perhaps Jesus understood, as I was told He understood all prayers. Being a young man loyal to his local Nazarenes, He would appreciate my sympathies for the home team - unless of course He had aligned Himself long ago with the Giants, in which case my prayers were wasted.

On the way to Queens that afternoon, my heart was in my throat. Dad warned me about being a “good fella,” and about not “whining about being cold or bored.” I thought he was crazy. He didn’t know with whom he was dealing.

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