I was in the circles of love and hate all over again. I couldn’t live with them; I couldn’t live without them. They couldn’t help but disappoint; I couldn’t help but hope. In years to come, this was also the way I insufferably described women, drinking, God. However, at 12, nothing other than the Jets could really be comprehended enough to inspire neurosis at such an intense level. The Jets began 1981 with their usual 0-3 mediocrity.
But then, finally…
Finally, it began to pay off. The Jets won 6 of the next 8 games, tying the first-place Dolphins in the Orange Bowl, 28-28. If Pat Leahy had only made his field goal attempts late in the game, the Jets would have won. The crucial game against the Dolphins, though, would be played later in the year, this time back at Shea. All during the week leading up to the Dolphins home game, newspapers in New York had been invoking the 1968 championship, as if the return to glory had indisputably arrived. It had taken the sum total of my life. Perhaps feeling my agonies and ecstasies, Uncle Mike invited me to the game.
Unlike Dad, Uncle Mike had never given away his half of the season tickets. He had cleaned up his act a little over the years, but he still lived as the lone soul in Greenwich Village. He didn’t go to Jack Barry’s or the White Horse on Sundays, but there was still a good chance that he spent his Saturdays and some weeknights there after work. He was in publishing, a thirsty industry, and unlike Dad, he was a scholar of literature who might just as well have been a college professor in a different universe.
When Dad gave up his season tickets, Uncle Mike arranged it so that he would be with a different friend with each home game so as to never be bored with the same company. (He reassured me at some point in time that this was not intended to be a comment about Dad.) He had apparently been waiting for some time to invite me, and as soon as one of his pals was unavailable, my number was up, and it just so happened to be the Miami game. He called Mom and told her. He demanded it, in fact. Whether she approved or not, she would have refused him nothing, thank God. But she got off the phone and warily told me the news. Mike was not really a parenting adult but more like a big child.
The less I seemed to resemble Dad, the more people told me I was like Uncle Mike. Mom, in particular, noticed it, and she spoke about our similarities with both pride and concern, as if it were a very complicated assignation. I thought that growing up like Uncle Mike would probably be just fine. Everybody liked him. He arrived at our house to pick me up for the game in his sky blue 1965 Dodge Dart with the funny hubcaps that twirled extremities like the wheels of the chariot in Ben-Hur. He drove me to Shea.
He slowed down before the Whitestone toll. His cigarette still in his mouth, he clambered for change as we approached. He was the kind of person with change strewn about his car because all his moments leading up to the toll were like this. He never had his money ready, and when he found it, there was always an eruptive stream of change freed from his pockets’ constrictions just as he came to the toll, and with it a stream of profanity. I smiled.
When we arrived at Shea, he maneuvered the long and narrow automobile to a spot located suspiciously close to the gate entrance gate.
“One of the perks of befriending the city’s finest,” he said.
“The cops?” I asked him.
“You remember your Dad’s old friends in the Loge, don’t you?”
“Sure,” I said, as we got out.
“Well, the most important things to know are not the philosophical vagaries of life, but the essential ones.” I understood maybe half of what he talked about, but it sounded interesting. “For example,” he said, winking at me, “I own a car, do I not?”
I nodded. He was also a short, dapper man. Apparently Uncle Mike wore a bow-tie and a snappy Brooks Brothers suit to work in the morning, but unlike other men of his generation, he had already caught up with the shift toward men’s casual wear, wearing blue jeans, a flannel shirt and a short brown leather jacket to the game.
“A city dweller with a car is a fool unless he parks safely wherever he goes. That’s my city dollars at work. That’s how the police work for me. Who knows where to park better than a cop?”
I didn’t know.
“Always befriend a cop,” he added as we approached the gate. He handed me my ticket. “They’re not as friendly as firemen, but that’s only because cops see more of the ugly side of human nature, don’t they? It’s not their fault.”
“OK,” I dutifully answered.
I had forgotten how much I loved watching games from the Loge. I felt like the luckiest kid in the solar system. Had I never appreciated how good Dad’s view had been of the field? We had a full view of its entire green, with no baseball field lingering behind and a huge Jets football helmet designed at midfield, just like other teams had in their real football stadiums. I turned to thank Uncle Mike for bringing me. Mom had told me to do so, certainly more than once. But Mike had already gone to get a beer. The day was unseasonably warm for November, at least at first.
Yes, the off-duty cops were there; some had grown considerably greyer and larger in five years. There were quite a few people around us I did not remember. None of them recognized me. They looked stern and nervous. It may have been the sense of anxiety about the importance of the game in general, for there was a restless, frightened euphoria moving around the place. It wasn’t cold, but people were dancing in place as if they were. It couldn’t be helped. Fans knew how brittle the Jets could be in important games. Had Pat Leahy made his field goals earlier in the season, the Jets would have been tied for the division lead at the start of this game, instead of a game behind Miami.