Tuesday, May 17, 2016

You can, briefly, go home again

There comes a point in everyone's life when the house they grew up in is no longer their home. It is a significant developmental milestone for some of us and while I won't claim that moment for me is now -- I haven't lived there in eight years -- there are some times when its place and what it holds are thrust back into your consciousness. For me, that time has come.

My mother has decided to sell my childhood home, and with that comes many responsibilities on everyone in the family, in particular the need for me to clean out my bedroom for the first time in 30 years. Apparently, using your parents' home as a storage facility isn't the greatest idea, and bit by bit I am chipping away at the monumental task of clearing out the house.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, though. In sorting through old drawings of football players and Wolverine from 1993, postcards my grandmother sent me from Spain in 1989 and a copy of the 2001 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue that I have apparently been hiding in a draw for 15 years I've entered a lengthy and at times overwhelming walk down memory lane. In between issues of Sports Illustrated proclaiming that nothing could stop Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods or Michael Vick, I uncovered some shocking discoveries such as the fact that Westminster Abbey hasn't changed its tickets in 20 years and the circus somehow cost $45 back in 1991.

As you might have guessed, though, while English cathedrals and parades of elephants are fascinating, the real finds (with the notable exception of one nearly complete technodrome toy from my fifth birthday) were generally of the sports variety.

Take for example this fantastic advertisement from SI's 1988 MLB season preview for tickets to see the highly-touted and ultimately doomed-to-heartbreak New York Mets. Look at the mustaches. The attitude. The great job of looking cleaned up despite the carousing Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry were probably doing the night before. It's all a fascinating glimpse at my team's history that is uniquely of its time. Most of these issues of Sports Illustrated or Sporting News that I came across have made a quick trip to the recycling bin. I had a nasty habit for most of my life of keeping every issue of SI or TSN because I thought one day I might like to look through them. As I found during my days of cleaning, I did enjoy looking through them, but there is little satisfaction to be drawn from a 20-year-old magazine touting that Bill Pulsipher might be the next big thing.

Some discoveries are more useful than others, however. I discovered several ticket stubs from the Mets' 2001 season stacked underneath books on my old night stand, which will soon make their way to my formal collection. I found New York Giants pennants that are a slice of life from 1996. I found the original itinerary my grandmother had sent me for our trip to London in 1998. There were newspapers from the Mets' pennant win in 2000 and the Giants' NFC title game triumph a few months later. And I discovered that I was maybe a little too excited when the Devils won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 1995. Then again, this kind of silly artwork is pretty standard for a 10-year-old. I discovered that I may have been too excited because nearly all the mail I received during that span when I was at summer camp referenced the championship.

My favorite find from the weekend might be this commemorative ticket given out during the first-ever regular season Subway Series in 1997. This is a particularly vivid memory for me, even though I can't seem to find the actual game ticket stub anywhere, because my mother took me out of school for the rubber match of the series, which the Mets lost in true Mets-like fashion in extra innings. The commemorative ticket to the right was given out throughout the three-game set, but for some reason the turnstile we had entered the stadium through didn't appear to have any left. My mother would have been none the wiser, but I mentioned in passing that I was disappointed I couldn't get one, prompting my mother to head off in search of the mythical giveaway. Sure enough she returned with one, which then sat in my room for 19 years until this weekend.

That commemorative ticket will now have a new home, but not all of the memories are good ones. Some are just missed opportunities, like these two free passes to a Mets home game I apparently never used before they expired in 2004. Those, however, pale in comparison to the pain wreaked by the most disturbing find of the weekend. I have made a curious habit of buying up phantom tickets in recent years for the Mets, and I now own tickets to World Series games that never came to be for the Amazins for numerous years in the past decade.

Those I purchased on eBay, however, are mere curiosities that don't gird my gears because in retrospect they seem like fun ducats from an alternative universe. On Friday I discovered something far more real -- and far more painful.

Hidden in the midst of endless bags and papers in need of recycling, was an envelope. Inside I found something I knew I'd come across, but had hoped I wouldn't. Lo and behold, there they were: Four tickets to Game 2 of the 2007 NLDS at Shea Stadium. I had expected this would be my first playoff game in person, but, well, you all know the rest of the story. I need no reminders of the Mets' 2007 collapse, but this one continues to stare at me, with the tickets so pristine, so mint, so... unused. For the time being I do not know what I will do with them, but consigning these to the trash heap seems almost, well, too good. I'll have to think of something worse.

There's no real way to recount all of the memories I am finding in my bedroom nor retrace the origins from whence they came. I've already found several birthday cards from people whom I don't remember and receipts from places I never knew I had been.

There was one last thing from which I could trace much of the man I am, today, however. The first Super Bowl I watched in full was Super Bowl XXVIII, a game in which Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys forgot they were supposed to play until the second half, when they rolled to their second consecutive NFL championship. I didn't care for the outcome, but I was entranced. Eight-year-old me needed to know more.

A few weeks later, my family was in a Barnes and Noble when I came across The Sporting News Complete Super Bowl Book for 1994. Complete! It had all the answers! I nagged my parents to buy me a copy and proceeded to devour every page. I read it religiously. I slept with it underneath my pillow along with the 1994 Information Please Sports Almanac and the NFL's anniversary coffee table book 75 Seasons. By the time I was done I had memorized every Super Bowl's winner, loser and MVP. My almost obsessive need to learn sports trivia was sparked and honed by this tome. In many ways, it feels like where the modern me began, and seeing it again, even if it is dated and soon bound for the recycling bin, made me remember what it was like to once be so young and unaware, a blank canvas ready to be painted with football knowledge. It is cruel irony that a Cowboy is on the cover just a month after he had legendarily dismantled the Giants' division title hopes, but this book still held meaning for me, like much of what I discovered during the beginning of my cleaning adventure.

I am a complex man in full, with many things owing to my mental development as a person and a sports fan, but this book may have been the start of it. For the person I am today, you all can thank this thick encyclopedia of football championships.

Or you can blame it. You know, take your pick.

No comments:

Post a Comment