With the 231st street station closed for repairs this summer, the fastest way for me to get to my apartment is by getting off on 238th street and walking. About seven blocks from the station is a mountain of a steps. There are eight levels, each comprised of sixteen steps. After you make it past the first four flights, there is a rest area where you can catch your breath or puke your guts out, whichever comes first. Since the station at 231 has been closed for a few months now, I no longer suck wind by the time I get to the top of the stairs. Still, at the end of the day--particularly in these dog days of summer--the schlepp isn't exactly something to look forward to.
As I approached the stairs last night, I took my head out of my book and saw an old man in shorts ahead of me. Carrying two plastic shopping bags, he was walking oddly, almost hopping, as if he wanted to jog but just didn't have it in him to move any faster than he was already going. I caught up to him at the bottom of the steps and said hello. "Two-at-a-time," he announced in a thick Bronx accent. Well, if he was up for it, so was I. We started chatting--I told he reminded me of Art Carney. The conservation kind of died so I asked if he was a baseball fan. He said he was.
Nope. I figured it was a stretch that he'd be a Dodger fan so far north, so I said, "Giants?"
Sure enough, I'd hit the nail on the head. As a kid he remembered buying a cardboard Giants cap for a nickel that was held together in the back with a rubber band. He was razzed by the kids on his block--a Yankee neighborhood--and that cemented it. He had to defend himself and so a Giants fan was born. I asked if he'd seen Mel Ott and he had--told me Ott had a great arm and used to be able to throw runners out at first from right field. He told me about Monte Irvin and Bobby Thompson and Leo the Lip.
"Durocher was one uncouth sombitch, huh?" I offered.
"Well, I never knew the man but I suppose you are right."
I felt like a presumptuous ass but nevermind. We sailed up the stairs, only stopping a few times to catch our breath. We continued up 238th street for a few blocks until we got to my apartment. We walked in the street and he continued to do his little jog. I told him I was writing a book about Curt Flood and he told me that Orlando Cepeda's cousin worked at the Bank of America not far away. He also said that not only did he continue rooting for the Giants when they moved to San Francisco but that he belongs to a club of old-time New York Giants fans who get together a few times each year to share memorabilia and swap stories. There is one official annual gathering where a former player is invited but then several smaller meetings where about a dozen guys meet for a meal and talk about the old days.
Excited, I invited myself to the next meeting that will be held sometime in September. "It's just a bunch of old guys," he warned. Well, I should hope so, I told him. That sounds great to me. My new pal Bill Kent gave me his card. He's a writer and edits a website called Health Bulletin that is all about using foods for health instead of drugs. And here I was worried that he was looking frail in the heat. As he firm handshake suggested, he was anything but. Just goes to show you never know who you'll meet on your way home if you open your mouth and say hello.