Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Old Stoneface: Memories of New York

On this anniversary of 9/11, I want to repost my thoughts, written ten days after 9/11.

Old Stoneface: Memories of New York

In times of grief, I can usually call on Old Stoneface to help get me by. Old Stoneface first appeared in 1968 outside of a church in Pennsylvania. The military pallbearers carried the casket into the church. The rest of the honor guard, myself included, stood at parade rest, outside in our blues, in the freezing cold, staring at the church doors. I thought of the soldier we were honoring: killed in Vietnam. He deserved respect for paying the ultimate sacrifice. I stood taller, staring straight ahead, unblinking and solemn: Old Stoneface.

I was part of the Honor Guard from Stewart Air Force Base, New York, my first base of assignment from technical school, and close to home. New York City was home, Jamaica, New York, to be exact. I grew up close to JFK Airport, back when we used to call it Idlewild Airport. My father was a New York City cop. My Uncle Frank was a New York City cop. My Uncle Mike was a New York City fireman.

My first date was in New York City. I took a girl named Stephanie to Radio City, which I knew was right down the block from the Automat. What I did not know was that there was more than one Automat in New York City. Stephanie wore high heels that day. She got blisters.

I have faint memories of attending a game at Ebbets Field. My brother Joe used to recite the entire Brooklyn Dodgers lineup frontwards and backwards. I remember most of them by position: Roy Campanella, catcher. Gil Hodges, first baseman. Junior Gilliam, second basemen. Pee Wee Reese, shortstop. Don Hoak and Don Zimmer, third basemen. Sandy Amaros, left fielder. Gino Cimolli, right fielder. Duke Snider, centerfielder?

The Duke of Flatbush was somewhere on the playing field, but to a young boy, Mickey Mantle was the center fielder in New York City. Add Willie Mays, another center fielder, and the Duke was a distant third, except in the eyes of my brother Joe.

I have other fond memories of baseball in New York City. I was at Yankee Stadium with my friend Timmy and his sister Kathy when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run. Ten years later I watched the film clip for the first time. I smiled as Maris circled the bases, stepped out of the dugout and then waved to the crowd. The camera circled the stadium, showing the New Yorkers cheering, and zoomed in on two teenagers jumping up and down on their seats as Kathy sat quietly in her seat between us.

I was in New York City when the New York Mets won the World Series in 1969. I was on leave from the Philippines, saw my son for the first time, and took my wife to opening night on Broadway. Three Men On a Horse, the name of the play was. We got off the train from Peekskill at Grand Central when the last out was made, and New York City went wild. I mean wild.

Yes, I have seen New York at its finest. My father worked for New York's Finest. I, Old Stoneface, did not cry at my father's funeral in 1975. I, Old Stoneface, did not cry at my brother's funeral in 2000. Yes, I have seen New York at its most horrible time of late. I picture myself standing at parade rest, outside of the Great Doors of Time, and I, Old Stoneface, can't help but cry.

Jerry Morris,
New Yorker

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