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Thursday, October 25, 2012

A few fans notes from home. Brooklyn has been cool as long as I've known about Brooklyn, insouciant, unknowable. Manhattan has its hip nooks and crannies but it is a world capital, and that means that its corners of cool mostly exist outside of the spotlight, as they should, in the clubs and lofts, downtown and around the edges. Brooklyn-- that's always been cool to the core. Of course, people know that now-- the edginess that was part of Brooklyn's cool, the vague sense off disorientation and menace that were part of what made it scary and weird and cool-- is not really what Manhattan is about. Sure, the Village Vanguard, but Sonny Rollins working out his sound on the Williamsburg Bridge. Yeah, yeah, Bob Dylan and Greenwich Village; but Bob visited Woody in Coney Island. Yankees? Sure, but Dodgers. And that leads me to my point: growing up on Long Island all of the adults we knew had their roots in The City somewhere, and we felt a bit disconnected from the place where we lived. New York had the things we wanted-- big league sports, Madison Square Garden, the concerts in Central Park....

So, when the Islanders arrived, it was a big moment. Long Island is one of those places that's a sports microclimate. There used to be three places in the world where Lacrosse was a big deal, for example: Baltimore, Syracuse, and Long Island. (Seriously, LX was as big as football or basketball in my high school.) For some reason hockey was also really popular historically, so when the Islanders arrived in 1972 it was a really, really big deal-- a much bigger deal than NHL expansion was in a lot of other places. What made the Islanders especially great was that they got real good real fast. For people my age Long Island had-- for the first time in our lives-- its own team, in a state of the art arena-- that gave some weight and feeling to our identities, just the way that the Yankees or the Knicks or the Rangers felt, we imagined, to people who lived in The City. It helped that the Long Island Coliseum was new, and a first class venue. That meant that the concerts that we'd grown used to being shut out of at the Garden were now also coming to our venue, so we could see, god help us, Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Yes without going into The City. It also helped that the Rangers were deep into a stretch of world-historical awfulness.

And now the Islanders are gone-- or at least going. They are moving to Brooklyn, just like we did, in order to pick up that hip cachet that we all wanted. As a hockey team the Isles stopped mattering a long time ago; as a symbol and a point of pride for the region it's been even longer. The Coliseum is a worn-out relic--possibly the crumbiest arena in the NHL. For myself, well, I realized a while back that I've lived in Buffalo longer than I have lived in any other place, and over that time I adopted the fans' prerogative and switched sports allegiances to the home team. The Mets are my birthright, and that hasn't changed, but the Bills are my football team, and the Sabres are my hockey team. I shouldn't care about the Islanders at all, but somehow I do. In a few years they will change their name. They will be the Brooklyn 'Hoods or something, and their fans will wear little fedoras and ironic Chuck Taylor hightops. It doesn't matter, really, but it makes me a little sad.

POSTSCRIPT: For some reason the thing that got me thinking about the Islanders was not the news itself, but this image, which I found on the invaluable If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger.
Another one-time Brooklynite once wrote a book"You Can't Go Home Again" (and, of course, a story called "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn"). I resist nostalgia, but that doesn't mean that I'm not interested in the history of my adopted hometown. Funny the way the mind works sometimes-- Buffalo being nuked made me think about the Islanders moving to Brooklyn, the hometown of sports abandonment. I guess there is nothing so subtle about that, is there?

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