Epiphany at Coogan's Bluff
The class stood and listened to the tall, pale woman wearing a long period dress who served as tour guide at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in uptown Manhattan. She told them in a voice that was both sing-song and monotone how the building dated back to 1765, and then said something about its two-story portico and elongated octagonal wing. The mansion was originally home to a British colonel but then served as headquarters for George Washington. “So I can honestly say that George Washington did sleep here,” the guide said, pausing for polite laughter.
Thomas exchanged glances with Heather, his roommate Seamus's girlfriend.
He thought their guide looked sad in her bonnet and her dress's puffy shoulders.
They broke for lunch. The class's instructor, a graduate student who invariably wore an ill-fitting suit jacket, jeans and Converse sneakers, said, “Let's break for lunch now. Everyone meet back here in an hour.”
Thomas walked outside with Heather. “Look, there's a park down there,” she said, pointing down the rocky decline at the edge of the grounds. “You want to go exploring?”
“Sure, why not.”
They headed down to a metallic fence that enclosed the park. The fence was warped and broken in places. There was a brown park sign on the fence with the outline of a leaf inside a circle, the symbol of the city's park department. The sign said COOGAN'S BLUFF.
“'Coogan's Bluff.' Where have I heard that name before?” Thomas asked.
“I think it's a movie,” Heather said. “Like, an old western or something?” They went through an opening in the fence and into the park. It was a surprising arboreal oasis in the middle of upper Manhattan. A stretch of thin maple trees provided a sense of seclusion, a stark contrast to the apartment complex that stood nearby. The chirping of birds provided grace notes over the sound of car horns in the distance.
The ground sloped downward, and an old stairway led downward. It was old and looked unsafe, boarded off with a sign that said CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC.
“Let's climb down over there,” he said, pointing to a stretch of rocks. Leaves from the previous autumn still lie decomposing amidst the stones and dirt and gave off a sweet odor of fecundity into the brisk air. “Be careful. The rocks can be slippery,” he told Heather. He held his hand out for her to take as she climbed down behind beside him.
Shadows from the trees streaked over them as they made their way down the incline. They came to a section of the abandoned stairs that led to a stone square in the ground. A squirrel sat on the stone on his hind legs eating an acorn. They stopped in their tracks and stood silently, watching the squirrel. It looked up at them and twitched nervously, then went back to its feast. Thomas saw that there were letters on the stone. It was a plaque of some sort, but from his perspective the letters were upside down and the squirrel was blocking some of them. The rodent decided it had had enough of the trespassers and skittered away leaving the remains of the acorn on the stone.
Thomas walked over to the plaque and cleared away the sticks and dirt so that they could read the inscription. It said: THE JOHN T. BRUSH STAIRWAY, PRESENTED BY THE NEW YORK GIANTS.
Thomas smiled. “That's where I heard about Coogan's Bluff,” he said, snapping his fingers. “There used to be a baseball stadium here. This is where Willie Mays played centerfield. This is where the Miracle at Coogan's Bluff happened.”
“The Miracle at Coogan's Bluff. That's what they called it. Bobby Thomson's home run that beat the Brooklyn Dodgers. You must have seen that classic footage of it. You know--'The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!'”
“Oh, yeah, I've seen that.”
“It was the most famous home run ever hit.” He looked around at the trees, the quiet ground. He scratched his head and frowned. The area looked sad and run down. He thought back to the old black-and-white newsreel highlight he'd seen many times of the home run, with Giants manager Leo Durocher beside himself in glee, practically tackling Thomson as the sudden hero rounded third. Thomas had always assumed the location was marked by some kind of proud landmark, perhaps even a museum, a place to which baseball fans would make a pilgrimage. Instead, it was obscurely marked in a park left to fall into neglect and urban decay.
“People used to come here to watch games. I've seen old pictures. This cliff overlooked the ballpark. They could come here and watch the game for free.”
He sat down on the ground and she sat down next to him. A gust of wind blew through the park. She put her arms around herself. She hadn't worn a jacket, just a long-sleeved sweater.
Thomas took off his jean jacket. “Here,” he said, draping it around her shoulders. She slipped her arms into it.
He rubbed his palm in circles along her back to create heat.
“It's something how history can jump out at you like this,” she said.
He liked that she said that. He slowed his hand to a stop and put it around her shoulder.
She looked at him and smiled, sniffing through her nose. She put her arm around him and leaned her head on his shoulder.
“Don't get any ideas,” she said.
“I'm with Seamus.”
“And I love him.”
“But I do like you. You're a nice guy.”
He wanted to tell Heather how he felt sitting there--how he felt like he was facing his future and the shades of gray that he knew would seep into his life, and how for the first time he looked forward to not knowing things. He wanted to tell her what he was feeling, but he wasn't sure how to explain it. Instead, he sat alongside her and said nothing, enjoying a silence that suddenly seemed holy.
After a while, she said, “Maybe we should head back.”
“Okay,” he said. “Let's go.”
©2007 by Rob Kirkpatrick