Of all my Independence Days growing up, two stand out above the rest. One was Friday, July 4, 1986. It was the grand re-opening of the Statue of Liberty, courtesy of one-time Chrysler head Lee Iacocca and The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, which had raised hundreds of millions to restore both symbols of American inclusion (via European immigrants, at least) to museum-quality glory.
Not so for me. I took my older brother Darren, and my then near-seven year-old brother Maurice and nearly five year-old brother Yiscoc to Shea Stadium to watch the Mets play. It was either a 1:05 pm or 1:35 pm start, I don’t remember. It was a beautiful eighty-five degree afternoon, beautiful because it wasn’t particularly humid, and there were no storm clouds to be found that Friday. Dwight Gooden was on the mound for the Mets, starting against the all-time great Nolan Ryan. It was built up to be a duel, and it was.
Keith Hernandez drove in a run in the first, and that was it until the top of the seventh inning, when Dr. K gave up a home run to Kevin Bass. Other than that, fly balls, walks, double-plays, and strikeouts were the order of the day. Lenny Dykstra drove in the game-winning run with a double to right-center field at the bottom of the seventh inning off of a reliever, as Ryan was out after beginning the bottom of the sixth giving up a walk and a hit. Despite giving up five walks and only striking out four, Gooden got a complete-game, 2-1 win, and 30,000 saw the Mets go to 54-21, well on their way toward their World Series title for 1986.
But that day was so much better with three of my brothers there, away from 616 and Mount Vernon, hanging out, without an adult to supervise, or rather, abuse us in some way. It was one of the first times I actually felt like a fully responsible adult. I took the four of us down to the city on Metro-North at the Pelham stop, rode into grimy Grand Central, took the Shuttle train to Times Square, and then the 7 Subway to Shea. Maurice and Yiscoc were so enamored with the trains and the city that it seemed all they did was stare out at skyscrapers and out of train windows when we weren’t at the game. Darren, though mostly quiet, at least wasn’t staring off into space plotting some revenge on me for my “5” on the AP US History Exam while doing the Wave.
It was so cheap to do what we did that day. The four upper-deck, slightly left-of-home plate tickets we bought cost $4 each, but each hot dog was $3, and the sodas were $2. apiece Given my $3.40-per-hour job with Technisort, though, the $50 excursion wasn’t so cheap that I wasn’t thinking about sneaking a Sabrett hot dog from a street vendor in before we got to the stadium. To be sure, the hot dogs at Shea were better than my usual fare on the street or at Gray’s Papaya.
It was probably the best day I had during my Boy @ The Window years. There were others to be sure, especially in 1986, including my Mets winning the World Series that October and my AP US History exam results. But on this day, I was with innocent family members, watching my favorite team and one of my favorite players. I was lost in the humongous human mob of New York on a double-whammy of an Independence Day weekend. I slept well that evening, knowing that I’d drawn a 10 am-2 pm shift that Saturday. I planned on buying a new Walkman at the Cross County Mall in Yonkers that afternoon. A normal three-day weekend for many sixteen-year-olds was a small eye-wall in the chaotic hurricane that was my life back then.
Contrast this with Wednesday, July 4th, 1979. My mom’s friend Mrs. Ralph was hosting a 4th of July party at her house off Wilson’s Woods in Mount Vernon, with kids included. She had hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, tons of ice cream and drinks, and an ice cream cake to top it all off.
I just couldn’t help myself. I became a nine-year-old version of Pac-Man. I devoured two hamburgers and two hot dogs, had some red drink, and a slice or two of the vanilla ice cream cake. All within the first half-hour of us getting to Ms. Ralph’s house.
I couldn’t have been higher if they had injected me with heroin and then had me snort some Oxycodone. I was running around the house and laughing for no reason whatsoever, my older brother Darren staring at me like I was an alien. My mom had grabbed me by my shoulders at one point. “Stop acting up!” she said.
But I didn’t stop. At least not until I ran into one of Ms. Ralph’s dividers in her living room, knocking it down along with some half-empty cups and plates on an adjacent table.
My mom took off one of her square-heeled flats and proceeded to beat my ass with it for the next minute, in front of a crowd of twenty or twenty-five guests. The ass-whuppin’ hurt, of course. The fact that it was a public one hurt even more. I was crying well after the party went back to normal. Ms. Ralph, though, came over to me later, reminded me that what I did was wrong, and then gave me a hug and told me that she loved me.
Looking back, I definitely deserved some punishment, maybe even an ass-whuppin’. The public spectacle and the shoe was probably a bit excessive. Was it a good day? No. But it was a day that made the 4th of July 1986 and so many other days easier to appreciate and savor.