Saturday, June 24, 2006

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Chris-Mets

Okay, Mets fans, I know that you (like I) dread spoiling things, jinxing them, putting the horns on our men in orange and blue. But as things stand here in New York City on June 24, 2006, I’m feeling a little bit like that Jolly Old Elf and Mr. Met all rolled up in one. Is it time to hang up our orange and blue stockings and hope for World Series tickets yet? I don’t know, but the smell of 1986 is undeniably in the air.

Thinking back to that glorious summer 20 years ago, I was deliriously happy at this time for the Mets were well ahead of the second place Expos and nothing seemed to be going wrong. Now in 2006 the Mets are comfortably ahead of the second place Phils by 11 games, and the always hated Bobby Cox and his Braves are in last place. Oh, do I love it. Yes, I am gloating and that’s dangerous, but I’ll take the chance right now because the cushion is big enough at this point.

Have you looked at the All Star voting? Beltran, Wright, Reyes, Delgado, and even Lo Duca are up there in the votes. Tom Glavine might should get the start if anyone does things right. Smells like team spirit or something like Nirvana for long-suffering Flushing fans. The National League teams in this town never got the respect they deserved. I mean, they used to call the Dodgers “Bums” even after they defeated the Yankees in 1955 in the sweetest of all victories. Even the “Amazin’ Mets” label is pejorative if you think of its ancestry, thrown on the team after losing so many games in the early years.

Still, I believe in Santa and Mr. Met more than ever now with my team owning a 45-26 record. There are also very tangible signs that the tide is turning again here in New York. I judge the sign of the times by what I see in public, especially the young people I encounter everywhere I go. A ride on the subway provides a good measure of what’s happening: there are just as many Mets T-shirts and caps being worn as there are Yankees. Go into a sporting goods store, and the Mets items are in the front racks where Yankees paraphernalia ruled even last year after they lost to the Bosox.

Even more impressive is when I pass a school, particularly the high school in Queens not far from where I live. The students in orange and blue clearly dominate the scene now as I watch the kids coming down the steps toward their buses. When I was growing up in Queens the Mets ruled the borough, and it feels like that is happening all over again. The occasional guy in a Yankee cap walks by, but the bravado and arrogance seem long gone.

This Mets resurgence is not relegated to their home borough. Just pass the Mets store on 42nd Street and see the crowds of shoppers going in excitedly and coming out with full shopping bags. Walk down the street and see Mets insignias in store windows, most notably major appliance stores that used to always have a Yankees sticker splashing across the TV screens. Also, go inside that appliance store and find more of the sets tuned to Mets games than Yankees games. Ah, sweet delight.

I feel there is an overall benevolence for the Mets this year, even grudgingly from some Yankees fans. A good friend who used to wear his Yankees cap all the time is starting to refrain from doing so after they lose. Why? He says that he’s “embarrassed” to wear it. Now, all real orange and blue in their blood Mets fans never have been accused of that. Losing takes character (just as much and probably a lot more than winning does) and Mets fans have had lots of experience with it over the years. Sometimes my friend will even manage to say, “Hey, your guys are doing good.” Man, to hear that from his Yankee-loving lips is sweet delight.

It’s also hard to be a good loser, but it’s even harder to be a good winner. Yankees fans (at least those that I’ve known) have not been the latter. They have treated Mets fans despicably, and now that the Yankees are struggling a bit they are floundering. They have trouble with not winning and, with the Mets doing so well across town, Yanks fans are in an even greater predicament. One colleague who is a Yankees fan said it best, “You guys (Mets fans) know how to be losers, but we just don’t.” Yeah, uh, right.

Well, I don’t know what to say to him and others except to tough it out. That’s what Mets fans have been doing for many long years (between 1969 and 1986 and until now). We don’t know what will happen yet, but I am confident that by September the Amazin’s will be still in the thick of it. With Boston doing so well, it would be very interesting to see a repeat of 1986 in the Fall Classic, but we do have an awfully long way to go.

I think that somewhere in the Mets section of heaven Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges, Tommie Agee, and many others are leading legions of fans in a cheer of “Let’s Go Mets.” If I stand quietly enough in the upper deck, I might be able to hear it, and I won’t have to wait long until another almost capacity crowd will echo those words as Wright, Delgado, or Beltran steps up to the plate.

I revel in the new look of the streets here in my hometown. They are more orange and blue shirts and caps being worn just like back in the 1980s when the Mets ruled New York. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Chris-Mets in and it’s about time.

Monday, June 5, 2006

For My Mom

For My Mom, Joan Lana

By Victor Lana


June 3, 2006

The thing everyone used to notice about my Mom was her smile. She had the most beautiful one I’ve ever known, and it has been embedded in my mind no doubt since I was a baby and she looked down on me. Over the years her smile did not dim even though she was experiencing increasingly greater pain from rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most horrific and debilitating diseases there is. Now, as I write about her, that smile burns through the fog of sadness and the haze of tears and reminds me how much she loved me and everyone in her family.

Mom’s beginnings were modest. She was born in 1930 and grew up during the Depression. She and her sisters lived with their mother and father in a cold water flat in Glendale, Queens. While her father was a firefighter and had a steady job, they still lived sparely but managed to get by on what little they had and lots of love. She went to PS 91 in Glendale and then on to Richmond Hill High School. At the age of 18 she went into Manhattan and entered the working world, taking a job with the Equitable Insurance Company where she worked with an IBM machine that filled an entire room with what was ostensibly the first operational kind of business computer.

Mom and her sisters Margie and Ruth were so very close that they were like triplets of different ages. Sharing everything sisters share and loving each other so irrevocably and completely, their bond remained throughout life and has never been broken, not even now that both my Mom and Aunt Margie (died Feb. 6, 2006) are passed on. Their kind of love is that unconditional and eternal type that poets write about and regular folks hope to attain someday. Mom loved her family and friends so earnestly and unendingly that absolutely nothing could shake its tenacity or endurance. I know that even if Mom didn’t like something we did it meant nothing compared to how much she loved us. The power of that love overcame any kind of adversity, thus letting us know we mattered more than everything and anything else.

After Mom married my father she quit working and happily set up her household. They were very much in love and remained that way for almost 48 years (their anniversary being the 24th of this month). Mom kept a sparkling clean house, cooked wonderful meals, and soon gave birthto me and then only fourteen months later to my sister. Despite our being so close in age, she handled all the complexities of our infancy and kept doing everything else. During our Catholic school days, I recall that she always had crisply pressed uniforms, spotless white shirts, and shiny shoes at the ready for us. She was there when we came home from school, beaming that megawatt smile as she gave us a snack and then helped us with homework.

I can especially remember struggling in the early grades, and Mom helped me with constant patience until I understood math, English, and eventually everything else; I don’t know what I would have done without her quiet and graceful intelligence. Mom had a special bond with my sister Joan, whom she helped with homework too and also taught her invaluable lessons about style and grace. Mom was an extremely beautiful woman, always dressed in the latest fashions, wore high heels, and applied her makeup perfectly. As a little girl, Joan liked to dress up in my Mom’s clothes. Now that she is a woman, my sister has inherited all my mother’s best qualities, especially the same kind of ability to love and capacity for generosity beyond imagination.

Mom had such a zest for life and found ways to express it in big shows put on by our school’s St. Anne’s Society. Mom appeared in musicals like Showboat and belted out a song like she was on Broadway. I remember sitting in the audience listening to her singing “Old Man River” and feeling so proud that my Mom could do something so cool. She joined the Ladies’ Auxiliary at the VFW 123 in Ridgewood where she rose to the office of President two times. There she and her friends did a good deal of charitable work and managed to have many good times too, including the weekly coffee klatch in our home that became a ritual for about twenty years.

Mom loved giving big parties at home and also hosted Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve gatherings for our family every year. In those times before she got sick, Mom had so much energy and enthusiasm for all that she did. Even after she was hit with arthritis, Mom continued to do many of these things for years until she could no longer manage. My father did so much for her; he took care of her and us children while still managing his own business. As Joan and I got older, we did more and more too as did our cousins Margaret and Ruthie. No one in the family ever thought twice about helping Mom, and her legacy is that we all loved and cherished her so much that we’d do anything to help her.

Our friends were always welcome in the house and they knew it. My mother would make us snacks and we’d hang out watching TV, playing pool, or listening to records. Mom’s love for us extended to our friends and then eventually to when in-laws came into the family. Mom always opened that umbrella of love for them; and Susan, Ozzie, Mike, and Tom were never considered anything but part of the family, and they reciprocated by also helping out whenever they could. When we had our daughter Lauren, Mom was thrilled to become a grandma, and she cherished that role and doted on Lauren and marveled at everything she did. Mom also loved Margaret and Ruthie’s children like her own grandchildren, and nothing made Mom happier than being with Lauren, Michael, and Thomas.

There is much more I could write about Mom, but none of it would be enough to capture her amazing zest for life and immense capacity to love. She was struck with rheumatoid arthritis at thirty-nine years old and suffered with it until the day she died. Increasingly crippled and disabled by the disease, Mom never let that stop her from loving us or giving us that smile when we needed it. We all know how much pain she endured, but we also are buoyed by the spirit of her love and faith in us despite the odds against her. She was there for us whenever we needed to talk, to get a hug, or to just be together. Whenever we had a problem, Joan and I knew Mom would listen and give us the best advice. Now we feel a great void with her gone, but I know she can still be there for us if we shut our eyes and remember that she is with us always.

I will miss many things about Mom, including her funny sayings, which I recall now fondly and with a grin. They included, “Stop looking six ways for Sunday”; “I am no bluenose” ; “You’re an accident looking for a place to happen” ; “You’re like a bull in a china shop,” and many others. But my favorite one is “Every knock is a boost.” I always remembered Mom saying that when I faced tough times. Life certainly gave her more than her share of knocks, but she fought back with that philosophy that boosted her spirit and kept her going and taught me that the best thing to do was never give up.

Mom, I love you and miss you but your smile is burned into my heart and soul. Dad, Joan and Ozzie, Susan, Lauren and I, your sister Ruth and Uncle Frank, Margaret, Ruthie, Mike, Tom, Thomas, and Michael and all the rest of your family and friends are all so fortunate to have had you in their lives and your impact on us and strength of your love will never be forgotten.