I love when someone makes a vivid point with few words and a telling juxtaposition. Derrick Jackson's column in today's Boston Globe is today's winner: "In 1981 as a special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith, [Supreme Court nominee John Roberts] wrote that affirmative action 'required the recruiting of inadequately prepared candidates.' Such sentiments will not sink his chances for the high court, not in a nation where affirmative action of inadequately prepared white men is so rampant that we let them manage our two worst disasters," meaning FEMA hack Michael Brown (Hurricane Katrina) and our Yale-legacy president (the Iraq war). You go, Derrick.
On to unfinished business -- the story of our Fenway experience last week. It all started when Ben saw an ad on NESN asking for people to e-mail their "Red Sox stories" for possible inclusion in a new show about the people and stories of Red Sox nation. So he jotted a few lines about our dual conversions on June 30, 1998 (me to Judaism and him to Red Sox fan) and sent it in. He heard nothing for a while and then got a call asking Ben and I to come to Fenway for a taping.
There are two categories of stories for this show: pieces several minutes long where they interview someone in their home and other locations, and "Red Sox moments" (maybe a minute and a half) where people summarize their stories while standing in front of a camera next to the Green Monster. There were other people waiting their turn that afternoon to do the same thing, including a man and his five-year-old son who entered the park with us. I couldn't help noticing that the kid had a mechanical leg and that the other leg had some sort of brace on it. I briefly wondered what illness had caused problems in both legs (the rest of his body looked fine) but then we got distracted by passing through a maze of SUVs and other expensive cars parked in the walkways inside the park across from the concession stands. Turns out the Sox were on the road and had left from the park, so the players' cars were moved inside. The most arresting was Schilling's Hummer. I knew he had one, but I didn't know that it has a cool paint job that makes it seem to change color among several iridescent shades of green and blue as you walk by, like a hologram.
While the camera crew was setting up, Ben and I were hanging around under the bleachers (which now features a nice big ladies' room and an oak-and-brass wine bar on wheels, for God's sake) and taking photos of each other. The man we'd seen before had forgotten his camera, so I offered to take some shots of his son and e-mail them to him. This broke the ice and he told me what had happened to his son David. The boy was the most seriously hurt of 12 people who were rushed to hospitals after a 66-year-old guy with a prosthetic right leg dropping off his grandson ploughed into a group of children and parents at a Stoneham elementary school in October 2004. I had read about it on boston.com when we were on our yearlong sojourn down south. David lost one leg above the knee and had a bunch of operations to save the other; he was in the hospital for months. But now he's walking and even running (sort of), going up steps and ramps, and being told not to climb on things like any other five-year-old kid. And he's a huge Red Sox fan; the wooden base of his prosthesis is covered with Red Sox logos, he has a David Ortiz bat, and he got to watch a game from the owner's box when Larry Lucchino spotted him at a game.
So Ben and I were struggling with admiring this kid and his dad, having horrible thoughts about such an accident happening to one of our kids, and telling our light-hearted conversion story. Basically what happened was that when Ben and I were dating and things were getting serious, he told me it was important to him that if he ever had children, he would want them to be raised as Jewish, though he didn't care if his wife was or not. I said this was fine since as religions go, non-Orthodox Judaism seemed OK to me. I didn't know much about it other than a lot of my parents' equally brilliant colleagues were Jewish, so I figured Jews were smart and that was a good thing. I myself was raised a staunch atheist; I never set foot inside a church until I was 16 when an older friend's baby was being christened. Anyway, Ben and I joined a group for interfaith couples and then we took a four-month "Introduction to Judaism" class after I decided to convert, since I decided Judaism was pretty interesting from a food and holiday standpoint as well as intellectually, and if we did have kids, I didn't want to be the only shiksa in the family.
Since many in the class had been raised with Christian traditions that they would have to give up after converting, the teacher said it was OK for the converting partner to ask the Jewish partner for a concession as well. I told Ben that I still wanted to be able to watch "A Christmas Carol" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" in December, and then half-jokingly said I wanted him to convert to Red Sox. Ben grew up in New Jersey and cheered for the damn Yankees, though he'd stopped following baseball after graduating from college. Anyway, Ben said that would be fine, so I went to the Fenway souvenir store and bought the smallest cap they had, suitable for an infant (it was white), and I cut off the brim to transform it into a yarmulke. On conversion day, I did my dunking at the mikve, the three rabbis signed something and we went home for a double celebration, since it was also Ben's 37th birthday. At the appropriate moment, I produced the Red Sox yarmulke, we lit some candles next to a copy of "Curse of the Bambino," we blessed the candles and then sang a a slow, reverent rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
The sequel is that Ben really did become a devout Sox fan, watching games with me and rooting wholeheartedly. His family couldn't believe he was sincere, but I knew he was after the next season. That's when the Sox finished four games behind the Yankees but got into the playoffs anyway as the wild-card team. They beat the Indians in typical exciting fashion by losing the first two games and then sweeping the next three to face the Yanks for the pennant. They lost the first two games to New York by scores of 4-3 and 3-2, then creamed them 13-1 (in two innings, Big Pig in Pinstripes Roger Clemens gave up 6 hits and 5 earned runs). But then the Sox lost the next two games by scores of 9-2 and 6-1. I was of course disappointed but not terribly surprised, since this was pretty much par for the course when you're a Sox fan. Ben, on the other hand, was CRUSHED. He actually had tears in his eyes. That's when he made his famous observation about our respective conversions: "You got it easy -- just 5,000 years of past persecution and suffering! I have to suffer like this EVERY SINGLE YEAR! You never told me it would be this painful!"