The Middle Way
Zen Spot #134 -- Mindfulness, meditation and the 700 level February 8, 2018 00:05
Philadelphia, the city founded by Quakers, perhaps the most non-violent and cooperative sect of Christian believers in the United States, was, at one time, home to the most hated fans in all of professional sports. Opponents didn’t want to get off the team bus when arriving at the stadium. Home team heroes who failed to perform to our stevedore standards could become goats in less time than it takes to get to the end of this sentence. Ask Santa Claus. Ask the greatest third baseman of all time.
Champagne room for the great unwashed
Veterans Stadium was a multi-purpose outdoor venue, home to the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles. Opened in 1971 in South Philadelphia, The Vet was a ten minute subway ride from Center City — and a ten minute walk from the The Naval Shipyard where thousands of union sports fans toiled in physically demanding jobs, awaiting the minute the steam whistle blew announcing the end of the workday.
Circling the very top of the stadium, in the highest section, was the 700 level. Cheapest seats in the house. On thick August evenings, within an hour of workers beginning to leave the shipyard, the stands began to fill with men swilling suds. Showers not required. On Sundays in November, within an hour of mass ending, the stands began to fill with men swilling suds. Showers not expected.
Spittle. Spilled beer. Bare knuckles. Butt cracks. Cracked teeth. Body odor. Broken noses. Boiled hot dogs. Chompy cigar butts mashed into leftover Cheez Wiz. Tongues thick from empty flasks. Altitude sickness. Ortliebs’ Aristotles. Nary a cop.
Vomit. Love. Repeat.
God it was great.
Legends and the storytellers who never went to Woodstock
Ten million people claim to have gone to Woodstock. Of those, I personally know twenty. Of those, all but two were less than ten years old in 1969. Many of the claims are doubtful, but lovely.
To be part of a bigger moment is what many people want. A cult of personalities sitting on the bus with Ms. Parks at the moment of refusal. Stonewall. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That said, those people who actually attended Woodstock tell stories about the mud and the smell as much as they do the music.
The same can be said for most Philadelphia sports fans. True pathological curators of the sports culture from across the world are included in this tribe. Soccer hooligans. Rugby Huns. Any bleacher creature.
The mystique of the 700 level experience, with an emphasis on the fan experiences in the 1970s and 1980s, was transcendental. Liberty, accompanied by its most exhilarating highs and animalistic lows, was on full display.
Thirty years later, the mayhem is silent. Memories of throats and loudmouths full of half-chewed bun and boiled dog, chased by epithets in reverse, are as quiet as the mind of any monk.
A court and jail in the bowels
Such liberty, in the context of a still-existing Quaker undercurrent, required instant adjudication at times. A jail and a court room— literally a jail and courtroom — were built in the bowels of the church to fine hooligans who crossed an invisible line. Mostly stumbling drunks and their predators were fined and released.
In this fact, we took pride. That we, as Philadelphians, could claim a stockade for the worst of the worst of the worst meant that we had more control and common sense than any fans alive.
Vomit. Love. Repeat.
Family of origin
I was comfortable in the 700 level as a child. As a young man, the carnival was filled with my family, both biological and spiritual. As a young man, the jail was filled with my family, both biological and spiritual. As a young man, my mind was filled with my family, both biological and spiritual.
A certain kind of violence felt like home.
A generation removed from the beaten
I’ve been smacked and spanked, but not pathologically. Nobody has ever stood over me and smiled. That is the story of my ancestors, my grandparents and great-grandparents. They struggled to survive in America, sometimes not knowing where the next meal or roof was coming from. Buckles and bleeding on asphalt sculpted them.
That twisted comfort, coming from playing in a house where the slime and powder of nicotine is painted onto everything is a womb I can crawl into. My family smelled badly. Both in body and breath. Oily. Greasy. Ignorant. Ground teeth. The hopeless dirt of street children.
Land owners during every ball game. Renters throughout the rest of their lives.
The interdependence of filth and cleanliness
In part, because of my family of origin, I know the comfort of filth, half-chewed hot dogs, epithets and temporary handcuffs. Not pornographic filth. Instead, souls covered in street grime. Souls finding liberty and peace of mind among peers, in chaos.
My soul is grimy. I choose to wash it on a daily basis. No matter how clean my thoughts and deeds from the day before, the grime builds and clings. Pudding skin.
Cleanliness is sought. My soap is mindfulness and meditation. I miss the filth of the fistfights. No soul was more clean in the aftermath.
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