Monday, August 4, 2014

you got that special kind of sadness

The tiny New York village of Cooperstown is renowned as the Home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is a proverbial Mecca for enthusiasts of the "national pastime." On any given day, thousands of families — with a proud Dad at the helm — visit the history-packed museum. As each memorabilia-filled display is encountered, a misty-eyed Dad imparts the historical significance of each and every ball, bat and glove to a group of his offspring who just plain don't give a shit. Or, in the rare case that they do have an interest in baseball, they don't care about a bunch of handlebar-mustachioed ghosts who played a zillion years ago. They wanna know where the Mike Trout stuff is. And if they can get a milkshake later.

Cooperstown offers other diversions. For those whom baseball is of no consequence, there's alcohol. A lot of alcohol. For a place with just under 2,000 permanent residents, the town boasts seven — count 'em — breweries and wineries. I guess there's just so much baseball the population can take.

"Wanna go get a beer?"
Just off the beaten path of an already off-beaten path, nestled in the green, wooded mountains, is the award-winning, well-known (among beer connoisseurs, that is) Brewery Ommegang. Situated on a 136-acre site of a hop farm (how perfect!), Brewery Ommegang has grown exponentially since its founding in 1997. The brewery offers tours, tastings, a beer-respired restaurant, the annual "Belgium Comes to Cooperstown" beer event (another excuse to drink, I suppose) and, recently, an outdoor summer concert series. Cooperstown is two hours from Albany and two-and-a-half hours from Manhattan. We can't understand from where the audience draws. If the town only has a population of 1,800, it would've been the perfect time to rob Cooperstown blind, because everyone was seeing a concert.

On Friday, Mrs. P and I took the long, boring, four-and-a-half hour drive to Cooperstown to see one of those concerts at Brewery Ommegang. The show, an indie rock trifecta featuring supergroup The Baseball Project, rockers Dawes and modern troubadour Conor Oberst (late of Bright Eyes), was the draw, but not the only source of entertainment, as we would soon witness.

We arrived early, with our folding chairs and blanket in tow, and picked up our tickets at the Will Call tent. We secured ourselves a small plot of real estate a comfortable distance from the crowd forming at the base of the cloth-draped, metal skeletal stage. After spreading out our blanket and popping open our chairs, Mrs. P and I sauntered across the expanse of lawn, circumventing the nuevo-hippies sprawled on the lush grass, towards several food trucks to assess our dinner options. A funky-looking, modified walk-in truck staffed by an even funkier-looking crew of misplaced flower children offered suitable vegetarian fare. I got a black bean taco-looking assemblage and my spouse settled on a falafel wrap. Making our way back to our little land claim, we saw the woman who was sitting on a blanket behind us when we left, now gathering up her belongings. With an armful of blanket, cooler and chairs, she, along with some half-hearted help from her two young boys, moved their stuff in front of us, just a bit too close to another couple in chairs enjoying one of Ommegang's many hand-crafted specialties. They looked none too happy, now that their personal space was being breached. They silently grumbled, shook their heads in disbelief and looked around to see if anyone had witness this injustice. They caught Mrs. P and me chuckling and chuckled back in agreement.

For here or to go?
In addition to Mom and the two young boys, the nomadic family also included teenage twin boys and Dad. The older boys were standing near the stage, at a distance that screamed "I am sooo embarrassed by my family!" The two younger boys were obviously bored and would have been happier in a Guantanamo Bay torture cell than here listening to live music with their family. They took turns pushing each other off the blanket. They kicked off their expensive sneakers and tramped around in the damp grass in their stocking feet. All the time with their backs to the stage. Mom looked exasperated. First, she over apologized for relocating her clan in front of our blanket, then she calmed herself with several chain-smoked cigarettes. And then there was Dad. Upon first glance, one would say Dad was a dick. Upon further examination, one's first impression would prove correct. He was impeccably groomed with the look of a man who spends an unnaturally long time in front of a mirror. He wore his cellphone clipped proudly to his hip, as though he was the only one who owned this new piece of technology. He shied away from his children, and after a quick, inconspicuous grab of Mom's ass, he disappeared into the crowd for a very long period of time. He surfaced for a few moments to kick one of his kids out of a folding chair, only to retreat back into the camouflage of the crowd. At one point, one of the young boys began to cry. Dad, looking stern and inconvenienced, appeared with a stuffed burrito and chips and deposited the platter on the grass near the boy's prone body. The plate — food and all — sat untouched for the entire show. The boys ran wildly around the grass, barely missing the plate. Until, finally, a sock-enrobed foot landed square in the middle of the rolled tortilla, squirting its contents onto the grass.

As night fell and a pink light-bathed Conor Oberst took the stage, Dad returned and whispered something into Mom's ear.

"What do think he's saying?," I asked Mrs. P.

"'Why did you make me have these kids? I was okay with the twins, but the little ones?'," Mrs. P answered. We laughed to ourselves.

"I wonder where he keeps wandering off to?," I continued my line of questioning.

My wife, with an answer for everything, surmised that he must be banging some hippie chick behind the line of Port-a-Potties. "And," she added, "Mom is never gonna get the grass stains out of those socks!"

Dad slipped away again. Mom lit another soothing cigarette and we packed up our stuff and headed out to our car — satisfied with the extra bit of unadvertised entertainment.

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