Thursday, December 29, 2022

A Ball Boy's Regret

RIP Pele! One of the few regrets I have in my life, is the time I turned down an invitation to meet Pele. In 1975, I won the Morsan’s Sporting Goods, “New York Cosmos Ball Boy Contest”. I was 13 at the time, and was thrilled when a Morsan’s Representative called my house one day, and told me I’d won. A week or so later, a letter from the New York Cosmos soccer team arrived, congratulating, and instructing me to meet a Mr Dan Rooney at the Press Entrance to Yankee Stadium on a certain date (I don’t remember the date now). I was also told to return to Morsan’s where I’d be given a soccer ball (a cheap plastic one) and an official NY Cosmos ball boy shirt (which turned out to be a generic green rugby shirt). About a month later, three of my older brothers, Jimmy, Johnny and Brian, along with family friend, John Murphy, piled in my brother Jimmy’s Dodge Challenger and headed to The Bronx. I had never been to NYC before, and my mouth went dry when I looked out the windows at the burned out buildings and the homeless people wandering the streets. This was the Bronx of the Son of Sam era, a time when “The Bronx is burning” blazed across the headlines of the New York Post. I had barely left West Haven at this point in my life, and this was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was frightening. I was intimidated when I saw the giant baseball bat shaped smoke stack that stood just outside the Stadium entrance. My brothers told me to “calm down” and pushed me to the Press gate. There, I presented my official Cosmos letter to Mr Rooney, a stern, balding, middle aged Irish immigrant with piercing blue eyes, and a bulbous red nose. He snatched the letter from my shaking hand, and barked “Follow Me!” I ran after him as he led me through a labyrinth of tunnels under Yankee Stadium, and was awestruck when the hallway finally opened up into the Yankee dugout…and in turn, the majesty of Yankee Stadium. I remember it was a night game but the stadium lights made it look like noon. I swallowed hard, and shook hands with my fellow ball boys, all native New Yorkers with names like Vinny, Tony and Sal. They all talked, and swore ,with thick New Yawwwkk accents, the kind I’d only had heard from the kids on Wonderama. I innocently asked if they were contest winners too. They stroked their pubescent mustaches, thumbed their gold chains and laughed. They said they got PAID for this gig…”good money too!” It seems I was the only slave labor there that night. In a thick Irish brogue, Mr Rooney warned that we were to be alert at all times and there’d be no dilly-dallying chasing after the balls that went out of bounds. I was then instructed to stand on the sidelines in what would normally be considered center field, near the 417 marker. My only recollection of the game itself is hearing my brothers cheer every time I’d touched the ball, ”Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!” The more $2 beers they ingested, the louder the cheering got. Somewhere along the way, John Murphy struck up a conversation with two beautiful French women, who were all dressed in white from head to toe. My brother Johnny would later say that they “smelled of money.” He was right. The older of the two women turned out to be a French woman, who was the long time “friend” of Leroy Neiman, the famed artist whose paintings seemed to be everywhere in 1970’s America. He was the official artist of the 1976 Olympic Games and his works could frequently be found in the pages of Playboy and Sports Illustrated magazines. His specialty was painting sports figures, and he just so happened, at that very moment,to be in an underground studio at the stadium, preparing to paint Pele, the Cosmos superstar. Pele, at the time, was arguably the worlds’ most famous athlete, and here I was…his ball boy. After the game, I met my brothers in our designated spot in the stadium hallways. Neiman’s “friend” and her beautiful daughter stood there still talking to my brothers. Neiman’s “friend” told me she had connections and invited me to go with her to meet Leroy Neiman AND Pele. I said, “No, thank you.” I don’t remember why now...but I think the whole evening was overwhelming for me. I just wanted to go home. On the way home, my brothers all took turns harassing me about turning down the Pele invite. “You’ll regret it someday”, they said. They were right.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Lost souls

Millions=The amount the MTA has spent on new LED departure signs in Grand Central that list each train’s station stops.

Hundreds=of State of the Art repetitive speakers installed in Grand Central that give crystal clear departure announcements.

Dozens=of times I announce “5:41-Train to New Haven...Fairfield, Connecticut first stop”.

Four to Six=Misguided passengers that somehow ignore all these barriers and give me tickets to station stops in Westchester County every night.

One=handwritten sign as a last ditch effort to get people on the right train

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Next time, call an Uber!

Praying Mantis waiting for a train in Stamford 1 AM.  Just before this photo, he pissed himself, stomped out his cigarette, then awkwardly flew into the side of the local and bounced off.  Drunk!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Dangling Conversation

Scene: two 15 year old girls sitting down on the Stratford Station platform today. They had their legs dangling over the edge just as our train was pulling onto the platform. Luckily our engineer had quick reflexes and applied the brakes in time.
Me (agitated): Girls, What were you thinking? You could have gotten your legs chopped off...or worse!
Girls: We’re sorry!
Random guy across the aisle: Hey, At least you’d get great parking spots.
Me: Do you know how many people get killed out here doing stupid things like that?
Girls: We’re sorry!
Girl’s mother: Conductor, I have their tickets.
Me: And where were YOU when your daughters were dangling their legs off the platform?
Girl’s mother (defensive): Well...I TOLD them to stand up.
Random guy: ...and don’t forget, you’d get disabled rate on train tickets.
I still haven’t figured out if the random guy was being a jerk or was trying to make a point.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Bridging Generations

Yesterday, while crossing a footbridge at a beach here in Maine, we came upon a cute little 10 year old girl leaning over the wooden railing watching her father trolling for crabs in the water inlet below. The name “McDonough” was emblazoned across the back of the softball shirt she was wearing. I get ridiculously excited when I meet other people named McDonough, so I couldn’t wait to strike up a conversation. “What’s your name?”I asked, in the most non-pedophile voice I could muster. “Caitlin” she said. “Wow! My daughter’s name is Caitlin McDonough.” She smiled, but I could tell she wasn’t as taken by this fact as I was. “Where do you live?” I asked next, even though my wife was giving me that “you’re kind of being creepy” look. “Boston,” she said. “Wow! my ancestors first immigrated to Boston.” Caitlin smiled and turned back to look over the bridge as if to dismiss me. After putting our sand chairs away, I went back to the bridge and introduced myself to Patrick and Linda McDonough, Caitlin’s parents. They told me that the name McDonough is ubiquitous in Boston, “a dime a dozen” was the phrase I think Patrick used. They were very friendly, but I could tell they didn’t share my enthusiasm for finding distant relatives. I was a little disappointed, but before I left them to their crab pots, I told Caitlin that my daughter’s middle name was Aileen. Caitlin told me that her middle name was “Arlene”. I was now beside myself. I even think my Bean-town cousins were a little impressed by that.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Yale Glee Club Brings Holiday Cheer To Train

There was a shampoo commercial back in the 80's in which a freshly showered Heather Locklear holds a bottle of Faberge Organics Shampoo.  She says that it was so good that she told two friends about it...and they told two friends, and they told two friends...and so on, and so on...

I know the feeling.  In December of 2015, I posted a silly video of me while working as a railroad conductor, musically "conducting " The Yale Glee Club aboard my train.  This video went viral and at this writing has over views on 3,348,126 Views on Facebook, and 52,321 people shared the video with their Facebook friends.  These numbers don't account for the thousands that watched/shared it on YouTube, or those who saw it on their nightly news programs across the globe.  Not bad for a silly video that I just wanted to post to a few Facebook friends.

Here's how it happened:

On December 4th, 2015, I was the conductor on the 2:45 PM Metro North train from New Haven to Grand Central Terminal in New York City.  A few minutes before leaving time, a swarm of college  kids headed toward the back of the train.  The rear two cars were closed, so I quickly opened them to accommodate the extra crowd.  We pulled out of  New Haven Station and I began collecting tickets.  I soon learned that the 80 students were on a single group ticket. I was directed to a gentleman who looked not unlike a professor.

"What group is this?" I asked.

"The Yale Glee Club." He responded.

Now I've had the legendary Yale Whiffenpoofs on my train before, as well as other assorted singing groups from Yale, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to ask them to sing.  But here it was, the holiday season...and I really wanted to hear a Christmas Carol.  I asked the professor (who turned out to be Jeffrey Douma, Yale Choral Director), if they would sing me a Christmas Carol.  He prompted them and they then sang the most beautiful version of "The Wassail Song" that I'd ever heard.  It sent shivers down my spine.  I thanked them for sharing their talents with me as they poured out of the train and into Grand Central.

Later that night I was boarding the 10:06 PM train from Grand Central to New Haven.  I heard  singing in the terminal, and sure enough, The Yale Glee Club rounded the corner, walked through the gates and down the ramp toward my train.  I quickly walked forward to the head of the train to open more cars.  On the way I chatted up some of the students.  I told them I had an idea for a Facebook video in which I'd say,"I'm the conductor, let me conduct."  They all laughed, and Dan Rubin, one of the Glee Club Presidents said, "Tell us that we're singing it all wrong and that you need to conduct us."  I loved that idea....but we still didn't know which song to do.  One of the students yelled "Carol of the Bells".  I knew this song pretty well from the dozens of Christmas CD's my wife continuously plays from Thanksgiving to December the 25th, so I said "I love it!"

When we pulled out of the station, I quickly ran through and picked up all the tickets. I then told my assistant conductor to take over the ship, I had something to do in the head end.  As I walked forward, I collected the group ticket from Professor Douma.  I asked for permission to borrow his glee club for a Christmas carol I liked to "Conduct".  He gladly gave permission and even offered to stand behind me to do the real conducting. "Okay," I said, even though I had no intention of using him.

This is what happened next:
I was floored by how amazing they sounded, and I was a little self-satisfied with my less than stellar choral directing.  You can see that I messed up at the end of the song when I raised my arm in a flourish, thinking the song was over, then realizing we weren't done.  I was a little embarrassed by this and briefly thought about yelling "Take two!"  But any subsequent execution would have lost the videos spontaneous feel.

I walked back to the rear of the train after the performance, and by the choral director Douma.  He asked me when he was needed to conduct the song.  "We already did it." I told him.

The next day I got an email from Greg Suralik with the video attachment.  I watched the video and was delighted...and a little abashed for being such a ham. I briefly thought about posting the video to my Facebook page, but I wasn't sure how well it would be received by my employer.  I decided that I better not post it in fear of getting myself into trouble.  I replied to Greg's email, saying it was great, but I was too chicken to post it.

That weekend, my family went up to visit my younger daughter at her college.  I hadn't shown anyone the video, but decided to pass my iphone around as I drove through Willimantic, and let them have a gander at it.  They all loved it.

"Dad, you HAVE to post'll be on Ellen." said my daughter Caitlin.

I told my family of my trepidation about posting the video, and they all seemed to think I was being overly cautious.  Two days later, I sat at my computer, watched the video again...and decided to post it.  Almost immediately, people started "liking it" and sharing it.  By the time I got to work that day, I had something in the neighborhood of 250K views.  The next morning it was over 1 Million views then my phone started ringing.

I first got a call from a company in Los Angeles that wanted to buy the rights to the video from me.  They told me they'd give me a percentage of the profits.  I told them I didn't own the video, it that it belonged to a Yale undergrad named Greg. The phone continued ringing, we were asked to appear on Good Morning America (couldn't work out the logistics).  The next morning I did a radio interview with Vinnie Penn on a local radio station. Two local news stations interviewed me, one whilst following me down the aisles of my train with a camera.  The New York Stations set up a press conference in Grand Central, but my train broke down on my way in from New Haven, and it was cancelled. 

I became quite famous that Christmas season.  It seems the video went all over the globe. Passengers wanted to take selfies with me, I even got a few autograph requests.  Suddenly, my regular pizza shop stopped charging me for my daily slice of pizza, and friends I hadn't seen in years began calling and leaving messages.  I had hundreds of new Facebook friend requests.

 Months later I discovered I had a spam filter on my Facebook page and that I'd missed tons of interview requests from media all over the globe.  I also got love letters from Sweden and Hong Kong, but most were just thank you messages for brightening people's day.  I even got a special thank you from Lynda Carter, aka Wonder Woman. 

It really was a once in a lifetime chance meeting...or so I thought.  Here we are again a year later in 2016.  Again must be fate.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Only in New York

Eating Clam Chowder in the lower level of Grand Central tonight. A homeless black woman is staring at me from the next table.

 "Hey baby!"

 "Hi" (I give a nod and a polite smile)

 " that a real smile?"

 "I'm being polite."

 "You know baby...I'm 61 years old and I don't look as old as you...ya know why?... Cause black don't crack!" (laughs)

 (I give a genuine smile).

 "Baby, You do know that Adam and Eve was black don't ya?"

 "Yeah...I suppose."

 "Give me a fistpump on that."

 (We fist-bump)

  "Baby...Did you know that God is black too?"

 "Hmmmm...I kind of picture him as being colorless."

 "Alright...Alright...I'm willing to go with dat...if you can find your way into giving me some money for a sandwich."

 "But you insulted me! I'm 55 and you said you look younger than me."

 ''Oh baby... don't worry about dat''

 I laugh, reach into my pocket and hand her a 10.

 "Thank you give mama a hug."

 I hesitantly stood and reluctantly embraced her.

 Passing commuters stared at us, the bedraggled conductor and his homeless, ageless, nubian princess.

 What a sight!