Fenway Postcard

       Wheeler, my thirteen year old, approached me.  He looked distressed.  “They won’t let Lydia through security.”  We were at the airport, waiting for a flight to Massachusetts to visit my father.  I followed him around the corner, and there was Lydia.  We’ve got a problem.
     Her carry-on bag is hauling half her body weight in shampoo, conditioner and mousse.  She’s got enough of this stuff to wash, rinse and style the entire cabin, plus the crew.  But thank God for Homeland Security when my daughter goes on one of her grooming jihads.  She’ll have to check that bag.  �
       In Boston we grab a rental car and fight our way through the Friday afternoon rush through Cambridge.  We are on our way to New Hampshire, where my dad has rented a cabin on Laurel Lake in Fitzwilliam.  It is small, cramped and cluttered.  But Laurel Lake is where our family, with assorted aunts, uncles and cousins, spent the summers when I was young.   I had my first job washing dishes at the Fitzwilliam Inn when I was 14.  It was a greasy, sweaty, smelly job.  I earned $1.25 an hour, and could not believe my good fortune.  In one month, if I did not break my leg, I would earn $200 – enough for my first guitar amplifier.�
       Fitzwilliam is one of those ageless New England villages. It hasn’t changed in the 50 odd years I’ve been visiting.  The green is surrounded by rambling colonial homes and a Congregational Church, and probably looks little different than it did two hundred years ago.�
      In the vernacular of my family, they call these cabins “camps”.  They are un-insulated, unheated or cooled, save for a fireplace and an occasional woodstove.  The wiring runs from room to room simply
stapled to the walls.  The wood in the walls and the ceilings is so old it has cured to the shade of bourbon.  A careless match would burn the place to the ground in 45 minutes.  The walls are so thin they are really more about modesty than privacy.  When I was a boy I recall my grandmother’s snoring as though she were lying next to me.  But the smell of old wood and the smoke from a thousand fires gives these old camps character.  The lake laps almost at the back door.�
     My father is 80 years old, and although he is a generous and amiable fellow, his quirks have begun to sprout like liver spots.  The cabin has a faulty septic tank.  My father is obsessed with it.  There are times when he can speak of little else.  He extracts from every male a pledge to pee in the bushes, and we must never, ever, under any circumstances, shower.�
     He has explained to me on at least a half dozen occasions the theoretical and gritty practical aspects of cess pool/septic tank operation.  “Do you know how a cess pool actually works”, he badgers me, preparing to share with me for the second time today another engrossing account of what happens after we flush.  I need to get him off this subject or it’s going to be an awfully long week.
     Next day, I take my son and daughter, and my nephews, to climb Mt Monadnock.  It holds the distinction, behind Mt Fuji, as the second most frequently climbed mountain in the world.  On the assumption, seldom wrong, that young people are not that smart anymore, I ask them, in which New England state is Mt Fuji located?  They look at me.  No, I prompt them, it’s not Connecticut.  That’s where Mt Krakatoa is.  Mt Fuji is actually on Long Island, which isn’t technically New England, but occupies the same side of the San Andreas Fault which runs from Martha’s Vineyard through the Delaware Water Gap to Niagara Falls.  My sarcasm is unappreciated.  Like my dad, a small dose of me goes a long way.�
     We haven’t driven more than a few yards, indeed we have not reached the end of the driveway, before my daughter, suddenly disgusted with the boys (or me, the accounts vary) is shouting to stop the car.  She has changed her mind, apparently, about spending the day with us hiking the mountain.  I am playing catch-up, trying to figure out what happened.  She is now pushing the door open, threatening to leap.  I am trying to placate her, recalling the warning of the rental car agent “no scratches more than five inches”, as she flings the door toward the bushes and trees that loom next to the driveway.�
     “You can’t jump out of a moving car,” I warn her, “you’ll hurt yourself”.  I am trying to take the high road here, and stick to cool objective logic. “Stop the car, Daddy, I’m not going, I’m not going.  Stop the CAR!!” she shouts.  I am clearly up against a force of Nature here.  She is determined that she will not go with us and will, I am certain, make the rest of my afternoon miserable – a talent she inherited from her mother – if I don’t let her out.  “OK, have it your way.  Beat it.  Spend the day with Grampa.  Ask him to tell you about the septic tank.”  She is gone.  The vote is four to zero: we’re better off without her.�
     Monadnock is a beautiful but strenuous climb.  We enjoy the scenery as the view gradually fills with the lakes and forests of southern New Hampshire.  We love the hand-over-hand climb up the boulders.  Grady, my fifteen year old nephew, is a rock climber.  Near the top, he spies an almost vertical but climbable jut of rock.  He wants to go up.  I volunteer to give it a try with him.  I warn him though: no falling.  You break your neck, it makes us both look bad.�
      At the top I try to get a photo of the three of them.  They are adolescents and impossible to organize.  They are all obnoxious, giving me sullen, dumb, contemptuous looks.  I pull out the photographer’s old reliable.  Hey boys, listen up, are you ready, look over here, hey boys, one-two-three, alright, saaaaaaayyy …….  and with a coarse reference to the female anatomy, I have three grinning faces.�
     Boys are easier than girls.
     The day before the Game, my father and I took the boys golfing.  Lydia’s psychotic break in the car has not healed.  She has moved in with Aunt Polly and Cousin Jane.  They are both fun, like to get out – and, neither of them is male.  Lydia has found a home.�
    I find that the older I get the more I love golf – so long as I don’t have to play.  Playing golf is no fun at all.  I would rather hit myself in the head with a hammer.  But driving a cart and watching three boys knock little white balls all over creation is relaxing.  Away from the stress of monitoring bathroom use, my father, too, is having a good time.  Golf courses are beautiful.  They are parks, with lakes and meadows, even stretches of beach here and there, crowned by a pretty lawn, where a little flag flutters in the distance.  They would be put to so much better use if you could bring a swimsuit and beach chairs, a hibachi and a Frisbee.�
   I wanted to go to Harvard, but it was raining.  So I rolled over and went back to sleep.  Even the subway to Park Street Under was, well, under a cloud, a lot of clouds.   Before the Game, I wanted to take my son, daughter and nephew on a tour of the city.  Show them Harvard Yard, the Boston Common, the shiny dome on Beacon Hill, the brownstones on Marlborough Street, reeking of old, moneyed Brahmin families.  I had four tickets for the Red Sox at 1:30, but nobody was going to want to trudge around Boston in the rain.
     It is always a daunting experience, buying Red Sox tickets.  I buy them over the internet, where I am dismayed again at how much Red Sox fans love this team.  A month or so ago they celebrated their 500th consecutive home-game sell-out.  At 80 games a year, that’s six years without a box office ticket at game time.  They are grotesquely, laughably expensive.  You could fly your family here and spend the week in high style for the price of these silly Red Sox tickets.  But I was raised here.  I’ve lived away, now, many years longer than I lived there, but in the immutable world of tribal loyalty, I still love the Red Sox.�
     In Shrewsbury, where I was raised and my father still lives, the rain is slackening.  In the magical way of New England weather, the day is turning from bleak to beautiful.  The drive into the city is pleasant, until we try to park.  Parking is a nightmare.  It always is.  Boston is a colorful and beautiful city, but it is not big.  It is, as I think of it, like Calcutta, without the cows.  Too many people are going too many places in too many cars.  Parking will make you crazy.  I nudge my way along Brookline Avenue, and spot Red Sox parking.  Fifty Dollars.  I finally find an open lot, not so far from the New Hampshire line, for a measly $35.�
      Out of the car finally and into the ballgame crowd, we pick through souvenir shops across from Fenway.  My son is already aggrieved that his sister is wearing his Manny Ramirez shirt.  Why she would want to squeeze into her little brother’s tee shirt is a question I’m just not going to ask.  But she brought it, she wears it, I announce.  It is not my parental authority that prevails.  I’m carrying the money.  Kids are like lawyers.  They know who’s got the money.
     Fenway Park is an extraordinary place.  Like the Great Mosque of Mecca, it is a shrine, to which people travel great distances to genuflect before the altar of baseball.  A place like Fenway helps to bridge the chasm between the crass phenomenon of today’s zillionaire players and baseball’s humbler beginnings.   It opened in April 1912, it’s first game (against the team that would one day become the Yankees) overshadowed by the sinking of the Titanic.  The only stadium as old, Tiger Stadium, which opened almost on the same day, was torn down a few years ago.  Fenway reminds you of the days when baseball was a simpler, more working-class diversion.
     They wanted to tear down Fenway a few years ago.  The richies apparently weren’t getting rich enough, and wanted a bigger, sexier arena.  The people of Boston would have none of it.  In the city of he Minutemen, the Tea Party and the Sons of Liberty, they backed off when they realized there would be bodies – maybe their own – hanging from lampposts.  In the lower level, where the concession stands serve beer and hotdogs, the concrete is so old it has emulsified into natural cavernous rock.
     I love the place.  I love the trees in Yawkey Way, the banners fluttering, the Green Monster in left field – the “Monstah”.  I’m not totally crazy about those little seats, installed before everybody in the country got fat.  I love most of all these crazy Red Sox fans who have loved this team through good times and bad.
      Red Sox fans are special.  Like the Jews, we spent years in the wilderness.  When I was a boy, shortly after Ted Williams retired, my team of no-name players was regularly crushed by the New York Yankees, the team of Mantle, Maris, and Ford.  They lived for decades under the Curse of the Bambino.  But the flame never flickered.  Now they are a powerhouse.  They have won two World Series in this decade.�
     The ballpark is full.  The stadium is electric when the Sox put together a rally, it explodes when Big Papi hits a home run.  It is an up and down game, but the Sox pull it out.  Even in the Ninth Inning, I don’t think a soul has left the park.  The Red Sox fans are exuberant, but they’re exuberant a lot.  Boston is a baseball town.

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