In New York City these days, the most horrific realities seem unreal, so that Manhattan resembles something from escapist fiction. Everyone said that Sept. 11 was "like a movie," and six weeks later Gotham is still the Gotham City of the Batman TV series, in which the Joker turned the town's tap water into grape jelly. The reservoir in Central Park is under guard, and people still wear surgical masks downtown, and anthrax-laced envelopes arrive in the city's newsrooms—which is to say, at CBS and NBC, though not yet at The Daily Planet.
Conversely, for many fans an escapist pastime—baseball—has taken on a strange gravitas this postseason. The nifty shovel pass to home plate by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in Game 3 against the A's? "Unbelievable," Fox announcer Joe Buck said repeatedly. "It defies description," said his partner, Tim McCarver, though of course the play was eminently describable. It's the rest of life these days that leaves us disbelieving, at a loss for words.
Not everything here has been inverted. New York, New York's still a hell of a town: The Bronx is up and the Battery's down. The people ride in a hole in the ground. Indeed, the Bronx has seldom been more up, with the Yankees going for their fifth World Series victory in six seasons. To say that the Battery's down is obscenely inadequate: It's the neighborhood at the southernmost tip of Manhattan—what Americans now know as ground zero.
So last Saturday I rode in a hole in the ground, disembarking the D train at 161st Street, the stop for Yankee Stadium. I've never been able to tell if every Yankees fan merely looks like an off-duty cop, or if every Yankees fan is an off-duty cop. It isn't just the telltale cop mustaches, either. You may have seen the highlight this summer of that Yankees fan in the rightfield bleachers, stretching to catch a home run, revealing the pistol holstered on his blue jeans. (God, I hope that guy was a cop.) In any event members of the NYPD have worn Yankees caps for years, and now—movingly—the Yankees are wearing NYPD caps.
FDNY caps, too. Since Sept. 15 the Times has run a heartbreaking series called "Portraits of Grief." Every day a dozen or so profiles appear, each no more than a few paragraphs long, about the men and women who were killed on Sept. 11. What is striking, in a baseball sense, is not how many of these thumbnail obits mention the Yankees, but how many of these life summaries mention the Yankees in the first sentence.
Take this first line, about a 38-year-old fireman: "While growing up in the Bronx, Steve Mercado wanted to play for the Yankees." Or this one, about a 34-year-old broker: "The day Sean Fegan got to meet privately with the New York Yankees, his sister Ann Marie nearly lost her mind with envy and excitement." Or this one, about the vice president of an investment firm: "Richard Todisco loved sports. He once played sandlot baseball in Brooklyn with Joe Torre."
Nancy Farley was a 45-year-old insurance claims negotiator on the 94th floor of 1 World Trade: "Except when she was cheering on her beloved Yankees, Ms. Farley was a quiet person." Soichi Numata was a 45-year-old Japanese bank vice president: "His favorite baseball team was the Yankees." Brothers Enrique and Jose Gomez worked together chopping vegetables in the Windows on the World restaurant, at the top of 1 World Trade: "Enrique, 42, and Jose, 44, both fathers of teenagers, always made time to dream together, envisioning themselves one day sitting in the stands at Yankee Stadium, just like the people on television, sharing beers and rooting for tire guys in pinstripes."
Farley, Numata, Gomez. Those were Twin Towers of Babel that fell on Sept. 11. Because of the tragedy, soldiers in the U.S. Army mustered outside the stadium on Saturday afternoon. They would present the colors before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, and the names stenciled to their fatigues—Lopez, Grieco, Goldstein—read like the mail call in a 1940s war movie. Fittingly, these were members of the 42nd Rainbow Division, and that rainbow is, of course, what makes New York, and America, great.
New York, New York, it's a hell of a town. The Bronx is up and the Battery's down. As the people rode in a hole in the ground on Saturday, headed home from the stadium, we couldn't help but hope that the Bronx stayed up a little longer. And we knew that the Battery wouldn't be down for long.