A Lid On Old Memories

I’ve been reading Garrison Keillor’s column in the Washington Post lately; maybe you have too. You should be, because it’s a gem, nothing more or less. There’s something about rhythmic, lyrically arranged words on a page or a screen that makes your mind relax and your heart smile, and soon the day passes you’re saving your files and gathering your things, happy to be heading home.

I found myself thinking, the other day, about time travel. I’m no scientist, and this wasn’t a pipe dream or science fiction; this was a column Garrison Keillor wrote the other day, or the other week, about spaces where time doesn’t pass. The Grand Central Oyster Bar, he wrote. I would add: Fenway Park, Strand bookstore on 12th Street, the den when my brother and my father and I watch The Honeymooners, and maybe the beach we used to go on Summer weekends, before life got in the way.

I’d just gotten home from Washington for Thanksgiving; I was on my way out the door, in a Porzingis jersey, to see the Knicks. My girlfriend, Emily, was there too; she’d just gotten in from Michigan, and she was wearing a Porzingis jersey, on her way out our door to see the Knicks. I was rummaging around on a shelf in my closet, looking for a Knicks hat, but never quite finding the letters or logos I wanted, even though there was plenty of orange and blue. And that’s when the time travel started.

I picked up my Shea Stadium cap, limited edition, one of only 144 ever made, constructed from baseball leather with red stitching, and it was the end of the 2014 season. We were mediocre, but on the upswing. I was in a hotel room in Boston on Saturday night, and the next day, as our season was ending, I walked around Harvard Yard and then went to Fenway Park and saw the Red Sox play the Yankees while I wore a Mets shirt. Talk about time never passing. I never wear that cap; it’s mostly ceremonial. I put it aside.

A group of caps took me back even further. The old Veteran’s Day camo, my first classic blue and orange, the interview cap with stylistic rips on the brim, the orange-brimmed alternate that David Wright wore when he announced his re-signing…it was December 2012 or so, and I was in the process of becoming independent. I bought the caps my heroes wore, or the ones that looked good…either way. For the first time, I was buying my own tickets, going to my own games, filling my own metro cards. And it felt good, even if Frank Francisco at the back end of the bullpen didn’t do much to fill any seats besides mine. I lingered on those caps for a while, but I was still looking for a Knicks hat, so I kept rifling through.

I kept finding different caps and different memories. There was my green cap, the time I forced my way through St. Patrick’s Day Parade traffic to make it to the Mets Clubhouse Store; my updated classic home blue, with the 2015 World Series patch; the rest of the caps from the 2015 postseason, remnants of a hopeful, fist-pumping few months that has yet to come to full fruition; a battered, dusty black cap that I bought at a Lids in New Hampshire in July of 2011, during one of the most interesting weeks of my life. I didn’t find a Knicks hat, but I did remember all the Mets caps I’d been missing.

I don’t have a Mets cap in Washington. I forgot to bring one, or we didn’t have space in the car; really, it could have been anything. It probably didn’t seem consequential, at the time. I wear a suit four or five days a week, and on the weekends I’m here and there, back and forth, and nobody seems to notice what I wear. But you remember how great it is to wear a Mets cap, when you wear one for the first time in a while; the slight, tight pressure around the side of your head (7 1/4 fits pretty snugly when my hair is long, as it is now in anticipation of winter), is a constant, comfortable reminder that you’re a proud Mets fan, and the entire world can see it. You can feel the orange and blue, or the “Mets,” or the cartoon Mr. Met, shining out at the world, and you know that whatever else may happen, you’re happy to be yourself. So I’ll be bringing a cap back to Washington with me, or maybe a few.

We saw the Knicks, and then it was Thanksgiving, and then we saw the Rangers, and they were two great wins. Then, Saturday night, we saw School of Rock, the musical, and it was a win as well. We fought our way through Times Square crowds for eight blocks because the 50th Street Subway Station was closed, and finally we got on the express uptown and got out at 96th Street and went to find a diner. As we were walking, we passed a man I didn’t know, wearing a thick blue jacket with a hood, and under the hood, I could just see the bottom of an orange NY.

I don’t even know what it was; his clothes, or the way he was walking, or the temperature outside, or something. But suddenly it was 2004 again, and I was just becoming a Mets fan, and I was noticing whenever adults or cool kids wore Mets caps, and the graphics at Shea were still stuck in the ‘90s, but were all the better for it. We got to a diner with walls covered in photos of old New York, but somehow, we sat near the front, and our walls were nearly bare, so my illusion didn’t waver, and for a while after that, I kept thinking about how it must have been in the early 2000s, when the Mets were a powerhouse that could never deliver, and when it was still okay to be a Mets fan, and we still had some names and some stars and some fun moments, but everyone realized we were sunk. Those weren’t exactly high points in Mets history, but it was fun to think about nonetheless, because there were scores of baseball memories to pore over, and outside, it was so cold it could have been snowing.

Then the night ended, and the new day began, and soon enough I was standing at Laguardia airport, waving goodbye and saying “See you in January” as Emily got on a plane back to Michigan. I took the  cap I was wearing off my head and looked at it, and it was one of the new ones, high tech fiber and all, and all of a sudden it was November 2017, and the Mets were coming off 92 losses and wouldn’t play again for four months. And that put me down for a second. Then I saw a plush David Wright doll in an airport store window, and bought it as a Christmas gift. The lights of Citi Field were just visible in the mirrors as we drove away from the airport, and towards the 2018 season. Maybe I’ll get a new cap then, and a season’s worth of memories to go with it. And as I’ve been learning recently, four months is next to nothing.

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