When I was fourteen I traveled by myself on the subway - all the way from Marine Park to Downtown Brooklyn - to visit her at her new job. Beaten down for years by people who should have been her most ardent supporters, Mom suffered with an inferiority complex that never completely disappeared...as well as an almost pathological fear of putting herself "out there" i.e. looking for a job. The possibility of being judged - either on her qualifications (or perceived lack thereof) and/or work performance - terrified her. But my brother and I were growing up - or at least getting older - and Mom wanted to do more than just be housewife - so she finally got the nerve to take a test for a government job. Which lead to her first real office job, with the IRS.
Mom was so happy to have a job - and prouder still to introduce one her sons to her co-workers. She met me in the lobby, we started to take the elevator up to the IRS office - and then Mom stopped. She looked at me and said, "I...just want you to know that my boss...is a black man." We lived in a white, middle-class neighborhood, Everyone was Jewish. (Or Catholic.) Mom couldn't have cared less about the color of any one's skin. She was just worried that I would embarrass her boss somehow, that I would react inappropriately. After all - I was a backwards kid. Really backwards. Instead I looked back up at her, replying, "Who cares? Is he a nice man? Does he treat you nice?" (I probably meant, was he fair.)
Mom loved to tell that story. She and I didn't really connect as friends until much later, after I'd been through much therapy and really learned to understand her - but I could tell that she was proud of me that day.
Mr. Lawrence was nice to me, made a big deal out of it, invited me into his private office for a moment. I noticed the baseball sitting on his desk. It was clearly an autographed baseball. I was shy...wanted to look at it. The man handed me the baseball, allowed me to turn the ball over. I don't recall the name of the player. But I know it was a New York Met. Mom's boss was a Met fan. We sat and talked baseball for a few minutes. (Until he signaled Mom that I had to go, it was time to return to work.) This conversation with an adult who also loved the Mets...I never forgot the fact that the man took the time to talk a little baseball with me. It was wonderful.
I was reminded of this story yesterday. My daughter and I went to see the movie "42", which details Jackie Robinson's epic struggle to become the first African-American major league baseball player. The movie is fabulous, old-fashioned entertainment. Wonderfully acted by an ensemble cast headed by someone named Chadwick Boseman (who does a dead-on Jackie Robinson, infusing the character with the correct mixture of intelligence, courage, strength - and dignity) and Harrison Ford (who completely disappears into the character of Branch Rickey...who knew the man could really act?). And - totally gripping in it's depiction of this well-known story. I sat in the theatre completely mesmerized - despite the fact that I was able to anticipate each plot point before it actually happened.
Old-fashioned entertainment. (That's not a criticism.) Without unnecessary sex or gratuitous violence. And with just a few obscenities, all of which were those honestly justified by the demands of the true story.
A wonderful, inspirational story.
And then - there was the unexpected presence of "The Glider". Ed Charles. Who played third base for the Mets in 1969. My Mets. When the team went from "lovable losers" to World Series champions during the course of one amazing summer. Legendary Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy coined the line "...don't throw a slider...to the Glider." He was just a mediocre ballplayer. But he played hard. With much passion. Ed Charles was one of my boyhood heroes. His character briefly appears in the movie as a young boy in Florida who is witness to Jackie Robinson's first major league training camp. Appropriately moved and inspired. And about to embark upon his own struggle for equality, his rightful place in society. I googled Ed Charles. Read the poem Ed had written for Jackie Robinson when he learned that Robinson had died. Thought much about the ramifications of Robinson's triumph in a way I had never thought about before.
Jackie Robinson had been retired for several years by the time I started watching baseball. The major leagues were filled with African-American ballplayers. Willie Mays. Henry Aaron. Willie McCovey. Bob Gibson. Billy Williams. Tommie Davis. Elston Howard. On the Mets? Tommie Agee. Cleon Jones. Al Jackson. Joe Christopher. Ed Charles...these men were my heroes. Ballplayers. I rooted for them. (Or against them.) As I did for any of the other players from that era. As a boy I read about Jackie Robinson, understood the depth of his struggle and the magnitude of his accomplishment...but could not have known how much he meant to the men whose presence on a ball field I took for granted.
I read somewhere recently that a high percentage of American youth do not know the Jackie Robinson story. Perhaps "42" will change this... in the meantime, the country is clearly in need of leaders who have the courage of their convictions, who do the right thing - for the common good - regardless of the political consequences.
"Where have you gone, Jackie Robinson?"
Old fashioned cinema. Old fashioned American courage. Son-of-a-gun...I thought it all began with Woodstock. Didn't it?
See you all soon. Until then...pls be safe.
And check out "42".