Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Take me out to the ball game


Peter Parker Spider-Man 33

While we're on the subject of nostalgia, let's look a great example of how to do it properly. Paul Jenkins' story of Peter Parker and Uncle Ben's annual visits to New York Mets to watch their team get thrashed.

Each year, Peter and Uncle Ben would head down to Shea Stadium, eat unhealthy looking food and watch their team, who would contrive a way to lose while Peter and Ben did some male bonding. One year Peter got smacked in the face by a baseball and had the wits scared out of him by a concerned team mascot with a huge round head. Peter grew into a stroppy teenager who had to be dragged along. Finally, the Mets won. Ben was killed three days later. It's affectionate, touching and monstrously over-sweet. I really should hate this issue, but I don't.

What's bizarre is that Paul Jenkins is English, and it's a rare Englishman who has the slighest interest in baseball. Perhaps this is just an indication of how pervasive American culture has become. Even here we know about the Mets being losers, the Yankees graceless winners, Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson, the Brooklyn Dodgers, "Say it ain't so, Joe" and that bloody awful Kevin Costner film. Or the song "Take me out to the ball game", which I know without ever having heard. I imagine it sounds a bit like Yankee Doodle Dandy, but in my wilder moments I think how wonderful it would be if it was more like "Stavanger Toestub" by Half Man Half Biscuit.

Last year, during a noctural bout of gastro-enteritis, I watched a baseball game, and found it slow, simplistic and manned by strange men in pyjamas who were attempting the world speed-gum chewing record. And I'm not anti-American sports, as I love American Football, though I fear being a Cleveland Browns fan involves the kind of suffering a Mets fan might identify with. I will admit to liking cricket, which on any evidence is actually much worse than baseball (it goes on for five days, and still can be a draw - what sort of idiot would invent a game like that?), but I'm afraid baseball's charm escapes me.

(Nostalgic interlude - My Dad couldn't be arsed to take me to football games when I was a lad, so the first time I went was with my mates as a teenager, and it was like being dropped in a testosterone cauldron. There was a stink of urine, beer, cigarettes and violence. The first football song I ever sang was "You're going to get your fucking heads kicked in", a threat I had not the least intention of carrying out. The constabulary were constantly carrying out over-excited away fans, while we sang "You've come all this way and you're nicked". Every so often there be the high-pitched whizz of a two pence coin being lobbed over our coin barrier - the only one in Europe, boasted our fans - and at the away goalkeeper, who responded by spending half the match standing a good thirty metres away from his goal. We continually taunted him about the faithfulness of his wife, despite him being the goalkeeper of the England team and pretty much a national icon. Now call me an old cynic, but I'm going to have to have a brain aneurysm before I start thinking of my first ball game in a waxy, nostalgic way.)

Perhaps what's special about baseball is not that it's a good game, but that it has a melancholic air. Made for fiction rather than television.

Anyway, Peter Parker 33 is a sloppy sentimental comic book. For all I know it might look completely ridiculous to an American or it might have them dreamily remembering childhood days. It's good, but you'll finish it feeling you've been smeared in syrup.