For years "Miriam from Forest Hills" has been one of the great hockey callers in New York sports-talk radio. "Ya gotta beat that goaltender top shelf!" she'd insist. "Why don't these guys know that?"
She lives for her New York Islanders, having missed only two of their radio broadcasts in the team's 30-year history. In her tiny apartment in the Forest Hills section of Queens, N.Y., score books and audiotapes of Islanders games are stacked floor to ceiling, so many that she has only half of her single bed to sleep in.
Yet she had never attended an Islanders game.
When the team's vice president of communications, Chris Botta, found that out not long ago, he vowed to get her to a game and offered up two guest passes, hers for the taking. There was one detail.
Miriam is blind—has been since birth.
Living with her cat, Joey, and on a fixed income, Miriam had always thought that going to an Islanders game wasn't only too expensive, it was also inconceivable. This is a woman who waits for six-for-a-dollar sales on the spiral notebooks that she uses to keep score in Braille. This is a woman who sticks her radio between cans of chicken soup on the windowsill to get better reception.
"The Islanders are a way for me to talk to the sighted world," says Miriam, a 51-year-old native of Queens who has ruddy cheeks, short gray hair and gray eyes she doesn't hide behind sunglasses. "It's something safe [to talk about], you know?"
It's how she kids the cop on the corner. "What happened to your silly Rangers last night?" she'll chide him, as she crosses the street with her white cane. And he'll kid back, "Yeah? They'll still kill your Islanders next week!"
Sports gives her a family—the radio audience of Joe Benigno's l-to-5:30 a.m. show on WFAN. She calls in regularly to be with them. It's a family she knows like the floor plan of her apartment but has never seen: Doris from Rego Park (she's had some health problems) and Bruce from Bayside (he likes cats) and Short Al from Brooklyn (his wife passed away recently).
So that was enough for Miriam—until Botta wouldn't take no for an answer. He offered to pick her up at her apartment and take her to Nassau Coliseum, home of the Islanders. Suddenly, Miriam was about to go to a place where she'd gone for 30 years but had never actually been to. "I think she was a little worried," Botta recalls. "For 30 years she's had this ideal of what it was. She was afraid that actually going there might ruin it for her."