Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas ... and Baseball

New York

I ventured out of my apartment today, although the dreaded pre-Christmas illness lingers on. Today it was 17 degrees, with the wind chill, 4.

I needed to get out so someone could work in my apartment in the morning. It was already a disappointing day because I had scheduled time to spend with Ethan and Edward, my little grandsons. But, their other grandmother is there since everyone at their house has been sick all week and she came to help out. So, I decided not to go over this morning and to let her have at some time with the kids since she's in New Jersey and I'm sure enjoys the chance to be with them.

I went to a local coffee shop for some oatmeal and raisins with skim milk and real sugar ( comfort food ). It was noisy, and crowded, and everyone looked 30. Conversations ranged from " I just CANNOT wear my wedding knuckles are SO big" to a cell phone snippet:" Hello. Oh, HIIIII. I'm having coffee with a are the, too... Awesome..Later."

The New York Times is often the highlight of my day because it is a bit above the level of reporting on knuckle size. I checked the Arts section, my favorite on Fridays, and scanned all the things that are happening in the city this week: The Wainwrights are performing on Wednesday at Carnegie Hall, there's a new play in Clinton that's "good theater". On to movies. I found the usual uninteresting. No Babel or Blood Diamond for me; certainly not Unaccompanied Minors.

Then I read the review for a new film ( and first feature ) by James Ponsoldt, a young writer/director called "Off The Black" with Nick Nolte. Nolte plays Ray, a whiskey sodden 60 year old who works by day at a scrapyard and as an umpire for high school baseball games in the evenings and on weekends. The review says he pairs up with a 17 year old who he coerces to act as his son for Ray's 40th high school reunion to repay Ray breaking his car window with a bat. Not exactly the kind of thing to cheer up someone who's been ill. But, I'm a bit of a masochist when I'm sick--bring the dark stuff on.

It opened today, and was playing exclusively at the Union Square Cinema, 60+ blocks from my breakfast venue. It wa 11:40 a.m.. The next show was at 12:15.I hailed a cab and set off for downtown.

The movie was as good as the review promised. It could have been sentimental pablum but Nolte pulled it off, along with the young actor who played David, aka his "son". ( However, there were six of us in the theater. At that rate, you won't have to wait long to see it on DVD.)

My youngest son, Ben, has been sick the longest ( next to Edward who was almost hospitalized last Friday ). He's home again, and he admits to hating the inactivity required to heal ( ). So, I decided to bring him a "treat" on my way back uptown. Who can resist a surprise when they're wheezing, coughing, and want to die?

Whole Foods on Union Square was busy--Friday afternoon, lots of students from NYU grabbing something for dinner. I got brownies, a sugar cookie cutout like a tree, a small green tree-shaped candle, turkey breast cold cuts, two candy canes. But the piece d'resistance, was a 8 inch tall live Christmas tree in a tiny, tin bucket that read "Cheers" on the side.

The line was ridiculous, and of course, I hadn't gotten a basket. So, the tree teetered in my arms with the rest of the items while I waited my turn for ten minutes. When I finished, I crossed 13th Street to look for a cab, pulling my multicolored muffler over my nose and mouth, and my furry head band further down over my ears.

The driver had one of the new cabs, which I just love-- the kind that are really small vans with separate armrests for each seat and sliding doors. "Take me to 80th Street any way you want, just make it quick", I urged. I called Ben and told him I would leave a bag inside his building's door. "No, Mom. Just leave it with your doorman." But I insisted.

Traffic was very heavy. So, the driver went far west to the Westside Highway; then back to 9th Avenue; then back to the Westside Highway, trying to make time. Somewhere I lost track of his weaving, though, since "Sliver Bells" was playing on the radio.

"Turn the sound up back here," I asked.
At first I hummed, then found myself singing along..." It's Christmas time in the city." Then Winter Wonderland. Next came Pachabel. I hummed along to the lower, repeating line. Suddenly, the driver was whistling the top line of music.

"Good station."
He turned, glanced back at me. "Yeah, he said, needed no more bad news. No more bad news. This is better."

We drove by the empty pier that had harbored the aircraft carrier Intrepid for the last three decades until last Monday when it was dragged to New Jersey for overhauling. We passed Trump Place, the 79th Street Boat Basin, passed the block where my grandchildren live, and arrived at my destination. We didn't speak about our unusual duet.

Ben buzzed me in. When I reached the fourth landing of his walkup, he was walking down the stairs with the cellphone in his ear, talking to his brother ( also sick but working all weekend. Go figure ).

When I got back to my own apartment, there was an email from Ben: "Thanks, Mom. Especially liked the little live tree."

And what does all this have to do with"Off The Black", my cinema of the day?

The term, for all of you who haven't been umpires, refers to whether or not the pitch was a strike or a ball. Nolte's last line in the movie questions whether the David, who pretended to be his son for the reunion, had thrown a strike or a ball in the last pitch. The game was important to David since it was for the championship game. Nolte's call decided the game for the other team.

In a way, David's losing the game because of a questionable call by Nolte, then getting caught by Nolte when he vandalized his car later that night, changed his life. David's life at 17 isn't exactly Leave It To Beaver. His mother walked out two years ago, so he is essentially the man of the house since his father has collapsed into a deep despair. David Nolte develop a gravelly, tough love kind of relationship that eclipsed anything he could expect from his totally withdrawn father.

The last line of the movie, Nolte admits the truth about David's last pitch: " I'm not sure it was off the black...or not."

I think Christmas comes in small moments like today's music medley with the driver--and Ben's response to the little tree. If this is my one moment for this season, that would be somewhat disappointing, but certainly not an unsuccessful holiday.
Every Christmas is different each year for pretty much all of us, if we tell the truth.

This much I know. There will be a gathering at my house, with a dear friend, her daughters from Philadelphia and an exchange student a long way from home who are coming to celebrate with me. Ben will be arriving from Charlotte in time to join us for a buffet. Chris, Jenn, and the children may come, too.

I will remember writer/director Ponsoldt's message, though. Sometimes when you things are complicated, you just don't know whether it's going to be off the black. Or not.

You just have to wait and see.


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