“The 7 Questions” is a new sports questionnaire — the Eephus way of capturing a snapshot of the fan’s life. From writers to artists and beyond, we bring you answers every week.
Today we get the answers from Jonathan Lethem, the New York Times bestselling author of ten novels, including Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, and most recently A Gambler’s Anatomy.
1. When was the last time sports made you cry?
Aw, crap, where do I begin, how do I stop? It makes me cry just about every other day at the moment, an admission which feels awfully cheesy, or neurotic, or both. My nine-year-old son is ravenous for the history of baseball — that of our team together, the Mets, and of everything else: Maury Wills, Bob Gibson, league expansion, Derek Jeter’s “The Flip,” Joe Carter’s home run, why and when umpires stopped using the fat chest protectors — it never stops. With the help of all present-day baseball action, which really doesn’t let you down if you’re nine and like pitcher’s duels and home runs equally, plus YouTube for delving into the infinite summer of the past, we’re always taking in something astounding. And conveying this stuff to him is the surest tear-jerker I’ve practically ever come upon. Maybe I’m just getting old.
2. What’s your most treasured piece of sports apparel or memorabilia?
My mother handed down to me a tattered orange pennant from the 1969 Mets. It lists all the team names on one side and boasts of being the 1969 National League Champs — which is to say, it was an item produced between our vanquishing of the Braves and our engagement with the Orioles, manufactured specifically to wave at the Series games. I’ve had it pinned to my wall in various homes — Vermont dorm room, Berkeley garret, Maine summer house — for 45 years.
3. Competed in any sports lately, at any level?
My knees still permit me to go out for two-on-two or three-on-three half court basketball in the park across the street about once every three weeks.
4. What’s your desert island sports movie or book?
Breaking Away, and Ted Williams’ I Did It My Own Fucking Self — isn’t that what that autobiography was called?
5. What do you like to eat and drink while you watch sports?
No knock on traditional ballpark fare, which I gobble indiscriminately, but in the late ’80s my friend Joel and I used to meet at Candlestick Park for day games and he’d swing by a great Vietnamese take-out place for a sack of banh mi sandwiches first. I still pine for those sandwiches, and the windy, space-out, badly-attended no-cell-phones vibe of those games. Somewhere probably Atlee Hammaker is still the starting pitcher, and Jeffrey Leonard circles the bases with “one flap down.”
6. What’s the greatest length you’ve gone to watch or attend a game?
In 1998 I drove to Detroit to catch a game at the old stadium before they tore it down. It was an interleague game with the Cubs, and my luck was to catch a rookie-season Kerry Wood performance, when he was just lighting up baseball for the first time. But the greatest lengths were surely the night I made some German publishers drag me to the one bar in Frankfurt that was showing the Mets 2006 NLDS game at 2 in the morning. My reward there was having to try to explain to the Germans watching with me that Paul Lo Duca tagging out two Dodgers at home on the same play was not a typical baseball moment, but one they’d never see twice in their lives.
7. Ever caught a foul ball?
Same era as the banh mi sandwiches, I used to still bring my glove to games. Joel and I were seated at Candlestick deep in the right field stands, toward the foul pole, and a sharp line-drive foul hit the arm of the guy in the seat at my left. His right arm. My glove on my left hand. All I would have had to do, truly, was twitch my glove out to protect him and snag the ball. I sat frozen instead. He spent the rest of the game rubbing his bruised arm and looking at me oddly. That was the last time I brought my glove. Like other sports and life failures it never quits replaying in one of the tiny screening rooms of my 3 a.m. insomnia multiplex.