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Tourists crossing the borders of The Bronx to view a baseball game should be advised that, while no visa is needed, The Bronx is an independent province possessed of its own customs, language and national heroes.
It is known as the Borough of Universities, the Borough of Champeens, and the Borough of the Bagel. A bagel, which is held in high favor by the local populace, is a hoop of dough possessed of such tensile strength that it has been described in certain quarters as a doughnut dipped in cement.
The word champeen, a term of native patois usurped last year by Brooklyn, refers to the Bronx Bombers, nee the New York Yankees, who, as deft practitioners of the willow, have been 15 times world champions, an unprecedented number of wins which did not commence until they crossed the river from Manhattan in 1923 and began to inhale the Bronx's tonic air.
Bounded on three sides by lapping water and on the north by the forest-lands of Suburbia, The Bronx occupies three square miles more than the Republic of San Marino. It is inhabited by 1,600,000 citizens known as Bronxites—which makes it larger than Copenhagen, Madrid or Rome, and it has more people than 17 of the United States.
This populous empire is ruled over by Borough President James Joseph Lyons, a smiling suzerain who has been on the throne since 1933, or just long enough, were he a lesser man, to entertain private thoughts of divine right. Although he admits to the indiscretion of having been born in Greenwich Village, Lyons insists he "migrated early in life, attracted by the attractiveness of The Borough." In a recent interview with this correspondent in the presidential suite of The Bronx County Court House, President Lyons stated, "It was the salubrious climate of The Bronx that first brought people here from distant places with their aches and pains. The fact that the Yankees are champeens is based on the local salubrity, and it is the climate of the community that enables them to stay champeens."
Abetted by centuries of salubrious inhalations, Bronxites have developed such special character that President Lyons vows he can pick a constituent from a mixed crowd of neighboring New Yorkers. All he has to do is hear a few spoken words. "There is a little more class to their method of expression," he says. The Bronx accent? "It's symbolic of culture." The Bronx cheer? "It's an uncouth method of expression used by people who are not natives and who are overcome by our climate to such an extent they give vent to an expression that is not tolerated in The Bronx. People coming here are not always in accord with the champeens, and they let off steam in this way."
Besides its own cheer (science has called it a "multivibrational beta"), its own flower (forget-me-not), its own cocktail (gin, vermouth and orange juice), and its own Riviera (Orchard Beach), The Bronx, like any other state, has its own famous inn and its own renowned tavern. The tavern is known variously by the name of its owner, Paul Daube, or his sobriquet, "The Dutchman." Located a few blocks from the Stadium on Courtland Avenue, it was opened by Daube in 1924, who dispensed baloney, hasenpfeffer and pig's knuckles. "What did I know about baseball?" he says. "They put up a lot of naughts and everybody goes, 'Wow! Wow!' "
Herb Pennock discovered Daube's first, then came Shawkey, Bob Meusel and Grabowski. "One day the Babe came in with Gehrig. 'Hey, Lou,' he sez, 'I schmell sauerkraut.' I had an odd knuckle. It weighed three and a half pounds. I give it to the Babe. When that pig's knuckle was served the whole place got up. I said to the Babe, 'You better eat that damn t'ing, you're gonna need all the shtamina you can get.'
"Once Ruppert brought this Spanish kid from the West Coast and said, 'Let him eat here four or five times a week.' That was Lefty Gomez. He only weighed 134 pounds. Hell, he didn't come here only to eat. He moved in. He sat upshtairs with my kids, playing Monopoly and fighting like hell."