No Gloves or Curves: It’s Base Ball

By Gaiutra Bahadur
The Philadelphia Inquirer

It was only the top of the first. There was already a man on third. And with the noonday sun an unforgiving spectator above, Tom “The Squid” Jordan had just knocked a single across the field at Fairmount Park.

“There you go, lad!” shouted his captain.

The cheer from Tom Fesolowich was not the only quirky aspect of the game between the New York Mutualsand the Elizabeth Resolutes, probably the first game of base ball played in Philadelphia in several decades.

Yes, that’s base ball – two words. And, as it was played in the 1860s, without gloves.

Did you say “ouch”? Watch your expletives. If your tongue wags any saucier, it will cost you anywhere from a quarter to $1 in fines.

Cursing is against the rules in vintage baseball, a reenacted sport that, with about 100 teams across the country, is a growing pastime for a subculture of history buffs who blithely don period uniforms made of wool, shrug off the occasional broken finger, and play ball – with an underhand pitch.

As the two teams squared off, the umpire stood removed from the hurly-burly of Saturday’s game, as much a picture of gentility with his marble-inlaid walking cane and black top hat as a New Yorker cartoon figure.

The ump – Brad Shaw of Flemington, who also coaches one of New Jersey’s two vintage baseball teams – provided a snapshot of a time when local pols judged fouls and outs for a crew of mostly white-collar workers who played for pleasure with few onlookers.

“It was a gentleman’s game back then,” said Mutuals player Steve “Even Steven” Sullivan. “If the umpire asked if you were out or you were in, you’d honestly say, ‘I was out.’ Everybody treated each other fair.”

By the end of the decade, paying spectators would arrive, as would immigrant players hoping to actually make a living at the game; the gentlemen would bow out, and the umps would, well, sometimes fear for their lives in a much more rough-and-tumble arena.

The Mutuals – made up of teachers, a tool-and-die maker, a sportswriter, a marketing manager, and others who also volunteer as actors at a Civil War-era village on Long Island – mimic an actual team that played during the brief life of the National Association of Base Ball Players, from 1857 to 1870.
Over the weekend they kicked off a tour of the eight cities where the association held its first games. Philadelphia, where a team called the Athletics reigned, was the first stop.

By the bottom of the sixth, with the Mutuals leading, 16-4, rookie Kip Yates was feeling pretty high about the tour.

He said playing in a regular – that is, circa 2002 – league wouldn’t do as well to satisfy his love of the game.

“Here, you’ve got history on your side,” said the 32-year-old Web publisher from Brooklyn. “Sometimes you feel like there’s a ghost breathing down at the back of your neck, making sure you’re doing it right.

“That, and I can’t hit a curveball.”

The Mutuals and other vintage baseball teams are almost like 19th-century actors who use the props of the past, such as handmade balls stitched in such a way that curveballs are nearly impossible to throw.

They keep modern trappings out of their game.

The catchers (called “hurlers”) don’t wear protective gear. The batters (called “strikers”) swing an old-fashioned mallet with iron at the end, rather than weights, to warm up. The flag they hang has 48 stars. And they wear only black shoes without logos or brand names.

“They didn’t have Nike back then,” said Tom “Kid Speed” Heinlein.

To some onlookers at the game, the flashback was fascinating.

“I’ve never seen nothing like this before,” said Bill Miller of Philadelphia, who had wrapped up his own game of ball, played by modern rules, earlier in the day. “It’s like 100 years of history rolled right back from you. I’m upset there’s no team from Philadelphia.”

Dan Gutman of Haddonfield went to Saturday’s game to research the next installment in his series of children’s books chronicling the adventures of a boy who travels through time using baseball cards.

He said the surge in vintage baseball in the last decade suggests fans, disillusioned by the baseball strike in 1994, might prefer to go back in time, too.

“People probably enjoy looking back to the good ol’ days before baseball players took steroids, earned million-dollar salaries, and charged little kids $50 for their autographs,” he said.

© The Philadelphia Inquirer. All rights reserved.

Condo Rules Chafe, Then Comes a Lawsuit

By Gaiutra Bahadur
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Enter the gates of the Blue Bell Country Club, into a cluster of condos in Montgomery County and nothing seems to break the harmony of the landscape. Gray shingles cap every roof, and wrought-iron lanterns hang next to every front door.

Then comes Steve Blaustein’s house.

Here, the curtains required by the development are conspicuously absent, and passersby, strolling to the club’s tennis courts or cabana, can see piles of cardboard boxes filling the homeowner’s garage.

“It looks like a warehouse inside,” said Ed Gold, who lives down the street. “He signed the same document I did… . If you’re an individual and this isn’t for you, you don’t move here.”

Blaustein and his lawyer won’t discuss the issue, but his bare windows are the subject of a Montgomery County Court case that offers a glimpse into a conflict that is becoming more common nationwide.

The country club, like an increasing number of housing units being built in the United States, is managed and run by an elected board of homeowners that enforces a “covenant,” or rules and restrictions.

And as the developments mushroom, so do legal disputes between the boards and homeowners over those rules.

A Bucks County development sued a homeowner because his tenants’ children scribbled hopscotch squares on the sidewalk. A doghouse in the backyard set a Chester County homeowner on a legal collision course with his development’s elected board.
Debate over a homeowner’s right to park his Toyota pickup truck on streets inside Maryland Estates, a development in Missouri, made its way to the Court of Appeals there.

It took a bill in the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1998 to give condo owners – and anyone else – the clear right to fly the American flag.

State Rep. Robert Godshall (R., Montgomery) entered the fray after a Montgomery Township complex tried to force Gloria and Lee Tobak to move or cover the flag that hung inside their window as a memorial to Gloria’s father, a World War II veteran. The association cited its ban on window coverings that were not white, cream or tan.

And, in what could be a landmark case in Mercer County, N.J., the American Civil Liberties Union and several homeowners have joined in a suit protesting the association’s ban on political signs.

In 1970, only about 1 percent of Americans lived in condos and planned developments. Today, about 17 percent do, according to Robert H. Nelson, a public-affairs professor at the University of Maryland who is writing a book on such developments. He said that one in every two units built today is in a planned community, with the highest concentration in the Sun Belt.

And the pervasiveness of planned communities is now forcing courts to grapple with questions about how they are run, says Evan McKenzie, a political science professor at the University of Illinois and author of Privatopia, a book that characterizes the communities as mini-governments gone awry.

“Most of the time, associations have prevailed under the theory of contract,” McKenzie said. “Ultimately, judges say, ‘Look, a deal is a deal.’ But as the phenomenon gets more and more widespread, there’s a little more questioning of this.”

The head of the Community Associations Institute – a national lobbying group based in Alexandria, Va. – agrees.

“There’s starting to be some more sensitivity in thinking of the associations as more a community than a corporate entity,” said Dave Ramsey, the group’s president-elect and a lawyer in northern New Jersey.

*

“Welcome to Twin Rivers: A Private Community,” read the granite signs that border the first and largest planned community in New Jersey. Between the markers – along streets spread out alphabetically over 700 acres, with British-sounding names such as Avon, Canterbury and Covington – lie two elementary schools, a county library, a firehouse, a synagogue, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and several miniature parks.

With 10,000 residents, the development is larger than some surrounding towns. It has a monthly newspaper, called Twin Rivers Today. It collects trash and clears snow. Its homeowners pay a $100 monthly fee for those services and others.

In court documents filed in Mercer County Court in 2000, five dissident homeowners used those details to argue that Twin Rivers acts like a local government and, as such, should end practices and rules that conflict with constitutional guarantees.
“It’s a fantastic setting for a dictatorship,” said Bruce Fritzges, a townhouse owner at the development and a plaintiff in the ACLU suit against the nine-member elected board.

He and the others are challenging rules barring them from posting political signs beyond a three-foot radius of their houses.

They also claim the rules of open government, including access to financial documents, should apply to the board’s meetings.

Fritzges and his wife, Terry, Twin Rivers residents since 1973, can’t vote. For the last two years, they haven’t paid the $3 of their monthly maintenance fee charged for cable TV, because they don’t subscribe to the service.

The association is “trying to insinuate themselves into people’s homes,” said Terry Fritzges. “Heaven forbid you should have a holiday wreath on your door past a certain date.”

Robert J. Hudak, a vice president of the board, characterizes the plaintiffs as troublemakers who have cost the community $300,000 in legal fees. “Obviously this is America, and we live and die by democracy,” he said. “However, this… is not a town. It is a homeowner’s association.”

“Nobody wants to live next door to someone who might paint their front door shocking pink,” Hudak said. “That’s the contract. When you buy into one of these communities, you’re signing off on that.”

© The Philadelphia Inquirer. All rights reserved.

Looking for America

By Gaiutra Bahadur
The Austin American-Statesman (Texas)

How does that Paul Simon song go? Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America. I don’t know if I was looking for America. I don’t know that I’ve ever looked for America on the New Jersey Turnpike. But I have looked for signs of home. Most times, I’ve found it somewhere around Exit 14B, when the twin towers become visible across the Hudson River.

I couldn’t get a flight into Newark International Airport the Friday following the attacks on the East Coast. The closest TWA could put me was Philadelphia, where I lived for two years. From there, I rented a car and drove north, along an 80-mile stretch of the turnpike I’d navigated at least a thousand times before.

This time, where the twin towers should have been, I saw a fat column of smoke curling like the precursor to a cartoon genie coaxed out of a lamp. My foot hit the brake, in a reflex. I pulled over to the side of the nearly empty highway to watch the cloud, lit up by floodlights and almost beautiful against the 4 a.m. sky. I didn’t expect that nearly four days later, there would still be smoke.

Home has never been an easy place for me to pinpoint. But Jersey City, a once-upon-a-time factory hub directly across the river from Lower Manhattan, is probably as close as I’ll ever come. It’s where I grew up after the age of 6, when my family left Guyana, the former sugar colony that was England’s only imperial foothold in South America.

Jersey City styles itself as a gritty sixth borough of New York. Its row houses cluster tightly together, staring at the back of the Statue of Liberty like a bunch of lewd old men ogling a symbol. But she’s not the only symbol to be ogled. Until two Tuesdays ago, the World Trade Center cast its perfectly symmetrical altitude over the squat landscape of my hometown.

From most points in the city, I could see the towers. I knew where I was, by looking at them. I could fix my coordinates on a literal axis (say, close to Mahatma Gandhi Plaza) or a figurative axis (try, in “a dreary afterthought of New York,” where “the people all had that look of being noplace,” as novelist E.L. Doctorow once described Jersey City). Now, that compass was no longer there. Did that mean that home, so elusive a concept to begin with, had also somehow shifted?

Doctorow might more accurately have said that the people, or many of them anyhow, have that look of being from someplace else. Someplace foreign. That has always been the case in Jersey City. At the century’s start, its immigrants came from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe. In the last two decades, they’ve arrived mainly from South Asia, the Philippines, Latin America, the Middle East, China and the West Indies. About a third of the city’s residents were born outside this country.

One of them died two days after the attacks. She was my aunt, Romewatee Chandan, nicknamed Baba. I went home for her funeral.

Others of them are being held as material witnesses in the FBI’s investigation of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Two Jersey City residents were picked up on an Amtrak train in Fort Worth, carrying box cutters. They worshipped at a mosque just blocks away from my elementary school; around the corner from the first newspaper I worked for; and a short walk from the strip of shops where I like to buy hip-hop remixes of Hindi film songs and syrupy gulab jamuns — and where my mother bought the white silk sari that my aunt asked to be cremated in.

But the proximity of the pair in FBI custody extends beyond what can be sketched on a street map. They look like me. They look like the people close to me. And they implicate me and the people close to me, in the eyes of some. It doesn’t matter that their actual national origins, in India, don’t exactly match ours. Or that the origins of other suspects — some from Egypt, others from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East — are even farther afield. (My grandfather was born on a ship called The Clyde, which ferried indentured laborers from Calcutta to the sugar cane plantations of Guyana in 1903.)

Someone even kicked in the door of the Malaysian woman who lives in our old apartment, shouting, “You foreigner, get out!” In San Francisco the weekend after the attacks, an Australian software engineer was stabbed with a Phillips screwdriver while out clubbing with his roommate from Calcutta. Their assailants called one an Arab, as though it were a slur. That same weekend, gunmen shot to death the Sikh owner of a Chevron in Arizona and the Pakistani owner of a grocery store in Southeast Dallas. Both are possible hate crimes.

Now, it seems almost everyone with a skin color, accent, name or habit of dress that even appears to connect them to the Middle East or South Asia could be a target of backlash, if not a potential suspect.

I did get a flight back to Austin from New Jersey. It, like the hijacked plane that crashed off-target in Pennsylvania, embarked from Newark airport.

A TWA employee behind the ticketing booth suggested I check my carry-on luggage, since it contained a make-up kit with tweezers. “Best you do it, honey,” she said. OK, I said, not a problem. I made my way to the airline’s cluster of gates, a purse with four forms of ID slung over my shoulder. I cleared the metal detector, and my eyes caught those of a security guard down the corridor. He stopped me and asked for identification.

I offered my American passport, with an 8-year-old photo and my place of birth stamped on it. He looked long and hard, then walked over to a superior, another guard at his heels. As the three scrutinized first the passport, then me, once, twice, thrice, I handed over my Texas driver’s license. Another few seconds, and I gave them my American-Statesman credentials. Then, finally, my press pass for the floor of the House and Senate at the Capitol.

“What’s that? The Austin American-Statesman? Is that a newspaper? ” one asked. I nodded assent, and another guard smiled. They returned the accumulated proof of my roots and stake in this country, and I found a spot with a view of the checkpoint. Over the next hour, I watched them stop every single person with brown skin, searching the contents of some bags and patting down some men. And I watched them gesture along every single white, black or East Asian person, even those reaching for ID, eager to present it.

I suppose I should be grateful I was allowed to leave with my flight. A Delta crew in San Antonio told a New Braunfels man, on the first leg of a journey back to Pakistan for his brother’s wedding, to get off the plane. His presence unsettled the pilot. All I had to contend with, once onboard, was the occasional glance from a nervous passenger.

I’m still trying to process what I witnessed — like I’m still trying to process the fact that my aunt, the one who opened up her two-room apartment to me, my baby sister and my parents when we came to look for America, is gone. A quiet woman, who lived for others, is gone. A part of the geography of my family is missing. Soon her sons, their heads shaved to mark their mourning according to Hindu rites, will scatter her ashes in the Hudson River, a skyline no longer anchored by the twin towers looking on, itself bereft.

What other parts of our landscape, I wonder, should we fear losing as Americans from someplace else?

© Austin American-Statesman (Texas). All rights reserved.

Gallego Guides Legislators to Common Ground

By Gaiutra Bahadur
Austin American-Statesman (Texas)

Pete Gallego’s great-grandfather worked on a crew laying the railroad tracks that later would divide Alpine, his West Texas hometown, into two halves. Anglos would live to the north; Mexicans, to the south.

There, in an adobe hut in the barrio in 1917, his grandfather opened Pete Gallego’s Chili Parlor. In the years after World War II, the restaurant became a hangout for politicos from the north side of the tracks and later — as his father’s decadelong campaign to desegregate the town’s schools climaxed — the place they boycotted.

Pete P. Gallego, inheritor of this past, has a much easier time crossing boundaries. In fact, some say the Democratic state representative’s genius — and the reason for his emergence, after a decade in the House, as a top legislative lieutenant — is his ability to stand on the tracks with a hand stretched out to each side.

“He’s a bridge between factions,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who came to the Capitol as a freshman with Gallego in 1991. “He’s a West Texas member who happens to also be Mexican American and fairly conservative on some issues. There are pieces he has in common with most members. I mean, Pete does wear cowboy boots and listen to country music.”

Despite being chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, a role that could slip easily into that of an attack dog, Gallego commands the respect, admiration and good will of lawmakers from both parties.

As Rep. Rob Junell, the San Angelo Democrat and appropriations kingpin, put it: “He works well with Republicans, Democrats, African Americans, Hispanics and rural white boys like me.”

That empathy might explain why Speaker Pete Laney has chosen Gallego — at 39, a soft-spoken lawyer known for working hard, keeping his word and striking a low profile — for some of the chamber’s thorniest tasks.

On April 17, Gallego shepherded an ambitious campaign finance bill through six hours of debate and changes in the House. A fellow Democrat stripped a key provision — one that would have required contributors to list their employer and occupation to uncloak any special interests — from the bill, arguing it was too burdensome a chore for citizen legislators.

“That was one of the hardest days I’ve had in a long time,” Gallego said.

It wasn’t his first big assignment. His colleagues describe him as a “go-to guy” on a broad range of issues, notably ethics and criminal justice. Last session, when pro-business and environmental advocates deadlocked, Gallego came up with an out-of-the-box compromise on so-called grandfathered plants exempt from pollution controls. He spearheaded the probe over the summer into mismanagement of the state’s Permanent School Fund. And this year, as in the past, he will be one of a select group of lawmakers to iron out the differences between the House and Senate budgets.

Still, there were some amendments to the campaign finance bill that Gallego did not anticipate, and the debate left him too wired to sleep that night.

“So many people are worried about getting in trouble,” he said of the provision stricken by a majority of his colleagues. “Once there’s a sense of fear or panic, it’s hard to get people back on the issue.”

Criticism of Gallego comes reluctantly, if at all. Fellow lawmakers call him a “member’s member,” who helps them get bills important to their districts through the process as intact as possible.

“The most important thing members have is their dignity,” Gallego said. “If you allow a member to save face, you’ll find common ground. I work very hard trying to find common ground, so members can go home and hold their heads high.”

One mentor noted a double-edged virtue, however, that might have played a role in the surprises on the House floor last week.

“He’s probably a little too trusting,” Junell said. “He takes people at their word.”

But victories accompanied the setback. The bill passed by the House requires out-of-state political action committees to register with the state ethics commission; advocacy groups to disclose the bankrollers of ads that target a particular candidate in the final stretch of a campaign; and candidates to report contributions regularly in the nine days before an election.

Nor is Gallego’s memory long or resentful.

“He’s learned the rules of the playground,” said lobbyist Hugo Berlanga, a representative for two decades and a Bush Democrat who preceded Gallego as a leader of the House Mexican-American Caucus. “He doesn’t bully his way around. He doesn’t hold grudges. Whoever supports him, whoever opposes him, there’s always another day.”

In fact, if the buzz around the Capitol bears out, the future probably holds more than the promise of another day for Gallego.

“I would not be surprised if someday Pete Gallego is governor of Texas,” said Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin.

His success — as the son of the first Mexican American school board member and a pillar of the Tejano community in Alpine — represents not only the pinnacle for one family. Gallego heads the pack of a second generation of Latino lawmakers sprung from the box of stereotyped roles, just as Texas is poised to become a majority-minority state.

He’s grateful to his forebears — “radical guys” such as Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, “who had long hair and wore bandannas and were going to burn down the Capitol.”

“They broke down the doors and made it possible for people like me to serve,” Gallego said. “I didn’t get where I am on my own. A lot of people helped me along the way.”

Moreno arrived in Austin in 1967 when there were about seven Mexican American lawmakers in the House. Today, there are 28 and one of them — Gallego — is the first ethnic minority to lead the chamber’s Democrats. Moreno thinks his people have arrived politically in the person of Pete Gallego, but he adds a fatherlike caveat.

“I think he should get mad more often,” Moreno said. “Speak softly and carry a big stick. But you’ve got to use that big stick once in a while.”

Gallego, meanwhile, downplays talk of his greatness, present or future.

“I washed dishes for the first 18 years of my life,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be in the Legislature. For now, I’m content where I am. I’m lucky to be here. Whether I rise higher is not really an issue for me.”

© Austin American-Statesman (Texas). All rights reserved.