I was a 19-year-old college freshman who felt unduly burdened by my father’s insistence that I get a job as well as attend the occasional class at Fordham University in the Bronx in the autumn of 1969.Dad did more than insist I work – he got me a job. Every couple of days, I’d take the D Train down to 50 Rockefeller Center, where I whiled away the hours as a statistician in the smoke-filled offices of the sports department of the Associated Press.
Sports was dad’s game. It wasn’t mine. Nor, for that matter, were statistics. To extend the comparison even further, work wasn’t exactly my game either. If hippiedom hadn’t ever been invented, I’d have still found a way to while away endless hours and days doing nothing much more demanding than sitting around, listening to and speculating what the “true” lyrics to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” were. And what they meant.
It was too early in my career as a layabout to be much noticed by the hard-bitten working men and women of the AP. I looked and acted pretty much like a typical college kid of the day. My hair had not yet reached girlie-boy length. I wore a sport coat and tie. I was polite. I addressed my elders as “sir” or “ma’am.” I was, after all, a product of the Catholic South – South Buffalo, NY, that is, where disrespect of elders was a crime punishable by three years in Purgatory or a week of jug in the Jesuit high school I’d just graduated from.
My job was the care and feeding of a double bank of about 12 clattering teletype machines, wired-up black metal typewriters out of whose maws poured an unending stream of the day’s sporting news. I would rip these paper feeds into digestible sheets, transcribe incoming final scores onto a template of the various league’s standings that I would then send out by means of the same contraption in time for the next day’s editions. I had a corner desk in front of the teletype bank. I only got noticed if something went wrong with the machinery. Otherwise, I was as nondescript as a box score, which was fine by me.
When I got noticed at all, it might be by some fatherly old hand who would marvel approvingly that, while I was no All-Star at the teletype-paper-replacement-game, at least I wasn’t one of those damned long-haired peaceniks who were destroying the country.
One such guy, an editor nicknamed “Spike,” had a long, ruddy face topped with a shock of bright white hair clipped in such a way that it stood straight up, as if each strand was standing at attention. When he praised me for at least not being a hippie, he may have meant it as a complement, but it sounded to me more like a warning. Hippies and their ilk did not work for the AP Sports Department.
The truth was that I was a peacenik in the making. I’d become more and more concerned about the non-sports news of the day, which was Vietnam. I was well aware that Fordham was the only thing standing between me and three years of unwilling “service” to my country. That trade-off didn’t sit well with me. It felt, in the parlance of the day, like a cop-out. So I found myself Thinking About the War. And out of that muddled process, I resolved to Take Steps. Something Needed Doing. And I needed to do it.
Which was where the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam came in. Anti-war forces were set to gather in DC in mid-October. If you couldn’t attend, the idea was to show your opposition in some way in your daily life. Boldly, I decided to Take Action. To Take a Stand. I would . . . wear an armband! A black armband, in solidarity with the war protesters, whose ranks I was not yet ready to join.
Though I would have been content to wear my armband around campus, I reluctantly concluded the only place it could have some sort of impact was at work. So I decided. I would risk the wrath of Spike and stand revealed as a secret peacenik, and if that meant disillusioning Spike or anyone else in the office, then so be it. Somehow, I'd survive.
The next day, a Thursday, I stepped out of the subway’s squealing murk into the bright sunshine of a gorgeous New York City October afternoon. I felt as if the sun were charging me up, filling me full of righteous resolve as I strode down Fifth Avenue. Nothing was going to stop me. I would be . . . impolite in the name of peace, and let the devil take the hindmost.
Lost in thought, swollen with dreams of righteous glory and not a block from the subway exit, the city exploded around me. People streamed out of buildings. Laughing, they gripped hands and skipped and danced their way along the sidewalk behind and in front of me, then out onto the street, where traffic had slammed to a stop and drivers had jumped out of their seats, leaning deliriously on their car horns. Office windows flew open. Confetti fell on the heads of the sudden celebrants below.
My heart, already inflated like a dirigible by visions of my imminent bravery, swelled to bursting. Confused but joyous, my mind reached for and seized on the only possible explanation for such delirious craziness:
The war in Vietnam was over!
I'd never seen such prancing, dancing joy. Nor felt such unalloyed excitement. Better yet, I was off the hook, armband- and Spike-wise. Dizzy with anticipation, ready -- no, eager -- to join the street dancers, something caught my eye and froze me in my tracks.
It was a man waving a blue-and-orange blur. A pennant on a stick. Then I saw another one.
Then I put it together.
The New York Mets had just won the 1969 World Series.
My heart shrank to the size and density of a small stone. Immune to the surrounding jubilation, I trudged through the crowd to an office full of awe-struck, frantic and happy sportswriters. The teletypes were full of the news. "Miracle Mets Wallop Baltimore Orioles in Fifth Game of Series."
One of the writers saw me sitting at my desk and read me like a headline.
“Whatsa matter kid? You an Orioles fan or what?”
“Someone die or something?”
I looked at the armband, peeled it off and tossed it in the wastepaper basket.
My big brave day of revelation played out only in the courtroom of my wounded ego, where I'd been found guilty of being the only sports statistician on the planet who could mistake a sports miracle for a real one. And a secret peacenik without the courage of his convictions.
It wasn’t until later – much later -- that I started telling this story with less shame than amusement to friends and family, many of whom recognized a bottomless gullibility that only I had believed was a deep, dark secret.
But gullibility has its consolations. For a few unforgettable seconds on that sunny city day, thousands of strangers and a bunch of underdog athletes mixed in a nervous 19-year-old's brainpan to produce a an intoxicating glimpse of what it felt like to witness an end to war, in the way all wars should end -- with people shouting and dancing in the streets under a sky full of confetti.