Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Can it be 30 years?

No, not since I last posted to this blog. Although that's close. But it was thirty years ago that New York City saw the Son of Sam stalking couples in parked cars throughout the outer boroughs. It was thirty years ago that the great blackout of '77 hit the Big Apple. It was thirty years ago that a little-known Congressman named Ed Koch beat a field that included Mario Cuomo, Bella Abzug and incumbent Abe Beame to become mayor of the troubled city. And it was thirty years ago that the New York Yankees officially stole the title of the Bronx Zoo from their neighboring institution for an outrageous confluence of outsized personalities battling each other and the rest of baseball for a world championship.

I was 12 going on 13 at the time, and it was a very memorable year.

ESPN is reliving it all for me in a summer miniseries titled, The Bronx Is Burning, based on Jonathan Mahler's book [which I got a couple years ago but haven't finished] about the 1977 baseball season and all the other simultaneous events. It was in many ways a low point for New York City. Middle class families like mine had left places like Throggs Neck in the Bronx for more stable locales outside the city. The city was teetering on bankruptcy, without the resources to supply the necessary law enforcement presence to combat the increasing restlessness and disaffection among so many of its citizens. But through it all, the Yankees fought their way to a pennant and -- not to give away the ending -- a World Series title.

The events of the ESPN series are from a time when I was most obsessed with baseball. In fact, as the first episode aired, I kept announcing what was about to happen, leading my forgiving but bemused partner to ask, "Why do you have to watch this? You know it all!" But, like an old episode of The Honeymooners, long ago memorized, the satisfaction is in knowing what's coming, watching it arrive, and then appreciating it all over again after it's gone.

To be really honest, I have no idea how good the series really is. I am completely, hopelessly unobjective. But it seems that John Turturro has studied and channeled the tortured Billy Martin. It seems that Oliver Platt has fully embraced the Midwest vowels and self-conscious bullying of George Steinbrenner. And the producers know just when to cut away to real footage, so we don't have to watch actors attempt to simulate the swing of Reggie Jackson or Thurman Munson.

Even the show's theme music is of the period, some sort of brilliant reimagining of the themes from shows like Mannix or Kojak. It almost, dare I say it, sounds like a Mike Post theme.

Maybe there's something fundamental, even elemental, about that age. As I said, I was on the brink of my teens. I remember it all clearly. When the blackout came, my parents wondered if something had happened at the Indian Point nuclear plant. The sky had an eerie glow and it was very quiet. I think that summer was when I first started to read a newspaper, fascinated by the hunt for the Son of Sam, who could have been outside our windows at night for all I knew, even though we were supposedly in a safe remove from the urban jungle in our recently purchased suburban home.

It almost feels like ESPN created the series for me. And, to an extent, I suppose they did. Counting on there being enough like me, around my age, who could relate with the same kind of odd nostalgia to a time that was troubled, turbulent and transitional. A far cry from the Disney-dominated Times Square of today, or the corporately composed professionals of the current Yankee clubhouse -- both of which are probably preferable in the long run, but less romantic, to be sure.

If you're still reading, it means you are a dedicated friend of this blog. Thanks for that. And do check out an episode of The Bronx is Burning, and let me know what you think.

Whew, I got a post in during the month of July! Hope to be back more often in August.