If you read Part 1 of this series, you already know what to expect from the next three installments. If not, here’s the last paragraph of the introduction:
Looking back over the nearly fifty years that I’ve been alive, I can’t help but feel a certain affinity for this extended mediocrity. What I’ve decided to do is to take a look back at the last 38 years of my life, and compare them to that same year in Met’s history. I hope you enjoy this casual biography of a man and his baseball team, in four excruciating installments.
When last we met, I was in my final year of high school, had smoked pot for the first time in the bathroom of my Catholic high school, had attended a dance with a girl I didn’t particularly like, and witnessed perhaps the worst pitching staff in the history of the New York Mets.
Shall we proceed on to 1981? I will do so with mixed feelings of trepidation and nostalgia. You’re going to want to sit down for this one.
1981: In October of 12th grade, a yearbook form was distributed to each of us to fill out so that the traditional non sequiturs, meaningless dates, pledges, lyrics from our favorite Rock songs and other forms of generalized nonsense could be included under our final high school picture. I sat there with a couple of friends of mine, who happened to be Hispanic-Americans, and we brainstormed what kind of junk we could include.
One of my friends suggested the Spanish translation of “My Penis is Itching!” (something like, Me Pica La Pinga!) So, of course, I duly noted it on my form, in Spanish. The lead editor of our yearbook (who was very cute; I asked her to the Prom, but she turned me down), was also one of the Spanish teachers, so I figured this would be a cool way to cause her some minor embarrassment when she inevitably edited out that particular statement. I assumed she’d come to me in a week or two, form in hand, and kindly request that I write something else to put under my picture.
Except she never came to see me.
As the weeks went by, I completely forgot about what I had written on that form. Christmas Vacation came and went, and the final countdown to graduation day was upon us. By the end of March, with the first hint of spring in the air, I was already making plans for summer vacation, except it wasn’t going to be summer vacation, it was going to be the rest of my life, a concept I still couldn’t quite grasp.
Then, sometime in April, my name was called over the school intercom. I was in the middle of Mrs. Wulster’s English class (I liked her very much; she regularly called us barbarians,) when my name was called sometime around late morning. Not once in my four years of high school had my name ever been called over the school intercom. Usually, this was not at all a good thing. When Sister Jeanette, the principal called you down, the odds were about 1 in 3 that you had spent your last day at Kolbe-Cathedral High School. Around 30% of the boys I had started Kolbe with were already long gone.
Sitting in Sister Jeanette’s office, I could tell she was not about to ask me to make the commencement speech at our graduation ceremony. Her face was waxy and her hands seemed fidgety, yet carnivorous. She looked at me and said, “William, do you know why I called you down here to my office?” I quite honestly responded, “No.”
“William, the yearbook staff was here until nearly 6:30 yesterday evening trying to undo the damage you’ve done to the yearbook. ” I looked at her blankly, awareness just beginning to dawn regarding what she was talking about.
“Are you even aware what words appear in Spanish under your yearbook picture?” I murmured, “I don’t think I remember,” an outright lie at this point. Easily forty lashes in Purgatory.
I watched her steel herself to tell me, in English, the heinous words that appeared under my picture. I felt sure that she’d never uttered any words like this before in her life. Assuming the floor beneath my chair wasn’t about to open up and drop me straight into Hell’s Everlasting Fire, I couldn’t wait to tell my friends.
“William,” she started, then paused dramatically, though perhaps not intentionally, “You wrote, ‘My Penis is Itching.'”
She then informed me that the only reason she wasn’t going to expel me from school then and there was because graduation was just five weeks away. She told me I had to apologize to each and every member of the yearbook staff, and…that was it. I apologized to her, the bell rang signaling the end of Third Period, and I went directly to first lunch to tell my friends what had happened.
A week or so later, we all received our yearbooks. Everyone went directly to the page which included my picture. Under my picture, in every single yearbook that year, was a little white piece of white-out tape covering the infamous words. First thing everyone did, of course, was peel off that tape. Under the tape, the short, four-world declarative sentence had also been inked over by some sort of black marker or felt-tip pen. Then someone realized that if you held the page up to the light, you could still read it! After that, I couldn’t walk down the hallways of Kolbe without someone either high-fiving me, or sneering at me, depending on their point of view of the situation.
As you can imagine, I still count this as one of the few outright successes of my life, a true high point if ever there was one. I also knew that Instant Karma was gonna get me, sure as you can say, “Me Pica La Pinga!”
Fortunately, 1981 also saw a work stoppage in Major League Baseball, so the awful Mets were mercifully allowed to play just 105 of their scheduled 162 games, more than enough as it turned out, as the Mets winning percentage was just .398 in ’81. The lone bright spot this time was rookie third baseman Hubie Brooks, who batted .307 in Joe Torre’s final season as Mets manager. I like to think that both Torre and I managed to escape our awkward circumstances the very same year, and we each had a prominent place in a yearbook as well.
1982: Well, freedom from Catholic high school was not all fun and games after-all. I had quit working at Carvel Ice Cream during the late summer of 1981, and had gone on to work at U.P.S. I had no idea what else to do with my life. Neither of my parents had made it past tenth grade, and we didn’t have a lot of money for college, so I thought I would work for a living, just like everyone who had ever come before me in my family had done. Only, UPS sucked. After nearly two years of being harassed by managers who wore brown shirts, black boots and herded us to and from our ten minute breaks under watchful eyes, I’d had enough.
On a side note, my cousin Jimmy had bugged me for months to get him in to UPS, because the money was good. I told him repeatedly that he would hate it there. He kept pestering me until I finally told a union rep that I had a cousin who wanted a shot at loading the big-rigs from 10:30 pm to 2:30 am, the same shift as me. Jimmy got his opportunity one late summer night, meeting me in the dirt parking lot out back in his ’78 Camaro. We were assigned different departments, so I didn’t see Jim again ’till break-time.
At around 12:40 am, I saw him walking towards me, slump-shouldered and defeated.
“I’m done,” was all he said.
I just said, “What? Man, you’ve only been here for two hours.”
“No, I’m all done. Your were right, this place is terrible.” Jimmy walked out of the huge warehouse, and went on to work for Bradlees over at the Dock Shopping Center in Stratford.
On my final night, about a year later, an assistant manager came into my steamy truck, frowning purposefully.
“Miller, you allowed this package into this truck. The zip code is for Stonington.”
Packages fell off the conveyor belt into the back of the truck at a rate of around a dozen per second. I had two rigs to load in the next three hours. I just looked at him and said, “I didn’t ‘let’ in into my truck, it fucking fell on its own,” which was clear even to a douche-bag like him, since he had to step over a mound of packages to come see me.
“Miller, you have to sign this form right here acknowledging that you allowed this unauthorized package into your truck.”
“What if I don’t?”
“Then I’ll have to fire you.” He was clearly moving in for the kill. Another notch on his fucking belt. Clearly pushing for district supervisor some day. Then he could sit in his fucking little office, going over the days production forms, sipping crummy coffee, day-dreaming of the day he could afford a split-ranch in Trumbull. Fuck him.
“What happens if I sign it?”
“Then the manager will decide what disciplinary action is appropriate.”
“I want to talk to my union steward.”
“Well, you can’t. Sign this or you’re fired.”
“I have a right to speak with my union steward.”
“Sign this form, or you’re fired. Last warning.”
Before I could really think about what I was doing, I threw the small, brown package I had in my hand during this entire conversation at him as hard as I could, narrowly missing his head. He looked stunned, then said, “You’re fired!” I burst out of the back of the truck, climbed over the wall of packages that had formed there, and left. On my way out, I saw my union steward.
“Where the fuck were you when I needed you.” His mouth opened to respond. “I just got fired,” I told him.
“Come to the manager’s office tomorrow morning” he told me. “I’ll be there.”
On my way out the door, the radio that piped in Rock music for the workers was playing, “Train in Vain,” by The Clash. It was one of my favorites, and felt right to hear on my last night at UPS.
Next morning, I had already made up my mind that I was all done with this place, but I thought I’d get my say in any way. Walking in to the manager’s unremarkable office, I was told to sit down. My union steward was already there, and it was clear that the two of them had been discussing this situation for a while before I got there.
“We’ve decided that, if you sign this form, we’ll give you another chance,” the manager, a half-digested piece of carrion informed me. Every worker he had ever dug a knife into was a pockmarked scar on his face. I looked over at my union steward for guidance, though I really didn’t give a damn at this point. He shook his head no at me.
“Don’t sign it,” was all he said. Now I was confused. Clearly, if I didn’t sign it, I’d be all done.
“Sign here, ” the manager said as he leaned forward, pen and paper in hand, acidic coffee breath escaping into my face. Again, I looked over at the union man, expecting him to explain to me exactly why I shouldn’t sign it. He said not a work, just stared into space, and shook his head again back and forth. What the fuck was his problem? Was he having a mild stroke or something? I looked back and forth at these two men, each in their thirties, and decided I’d had enough of this pantomime little opera.
“O.K., guys,” I began, not knowing exactly where I was going with this. I looked at the manager and said quietly, “You can shove that paper right up your ass.” Then I turned to union man and added, “Thanks for nothing, asshole.” I got up, walked out the door, which I did not slam behind me, and left that place for good.
I can’t say for sure if I got fired, or if I quit, so I’ll call that entire episode a draw. Not the best of times, but surely not the worst of times, either. I was still only nineteen-years old. I went down to Seaside Park, cracked open a beer, and watched the sun burn away the day.
That same year, the Mets upped their winning percentage to .401. Thirty-seven of Dave Kingman’s forty-seven extra base hits that year were home runs, but in 607 plate appearances, he hit just .204. Free agent bust George Foster slugged just 13 homers while posting a .247 batting average. Staff “ace” Craig Swan managed to win 11 games.
Clearly, over in Queens, things were faring no better for the Mets than they were for me. Perhaps 1983 would bring better times.
And so, my friends, let’s end this post right here and right now. I’ve had enough, and in all probability, so, too, have you. We’ll resume this series when I can remember what the hell happened to me in ’83.
Thanks for riding along with me.