A Nation Divided

There are so many things that divide us. The sources of our divisions are often deep-seated and irreconcilable, and they are all not of recent origin. Many have been formed decades ago.

It seems fitting to start with one of our most spirited debates as it is at this time of Christmas when it usually arose in public discourse. I am referring, of course, to the Lionel v American Flyer controversy.

As a child in the ’50s growing up in the Bronx, you were either a devotee of American Flyer trains or Lionel. There was no quibbling allowed. You had to choose. You had to take a stand.

It was not enough to acknowledge the attributes of each, you had to point out the flaws of your opponent’s choice of model trains.

Santa brought my brother Michael a set of American Flyers before I was born. So it was that Newell flirtation with A. C. Gilbert’s trains began. When I was six years old, Santa brought me a beautiful American Flyer freight train despite my insistence on an even more beautiful Santa Fe passenger set by Lionel. That set was listed as costing $100 in Macy’s and my father insisted Santa was bringing a freight set. To this day, I remember “hearing” fake set, and of course, I rebelled and said  I wanted a real set.

Nevertheless, I did receive a beautiful freight set with a boxcar equipped with a walking brakeman.

Three years later, however, my father and mother picked me up at Blessed Sacrament, where I was a fourth-grader. This was unusual because my father rarely got home early enough to do so.

Something was up.

As I squeezed into the front seat next to my mother, my father directed me with a nod to take a look at the back seat. There I saw a big Lionel boxed set.

And so Michael and I become Lionel devotees ever since.

Another issue that tended to divide our nation of Leland Avenue had to do with Mickey Mantle.

Most Yankee fans chose Mickey as their favorite player. By this time, 1960 or so, the days of arguing for Willie, Mickey, or the Duke were long since over. Willie and Duke were now the topics of debate for Californians.

However, there were many fans who chose Roger Maris for the subject of their adoration.

Yankee fans loved them both, of course, so the debate never reached a fever pitch. But that source of partisan scorn was on the horizon.

In 1960 The American Football League was formed to challenge the National Football League for domination over the nation’s second national pastime. The New York entry in the new league was the New York Titans, and they played in the Polo Grounds.

As New York Giant fans, my brother Michael and I scoffed at the newcomers.

How can you possibly compete in New Yorke when your New York Football Giants possess such stars as Y.A. Tittle, Sam Huff, and Frank Gifford? You just couldn’t compete.

But then in the summer of 1965, Michael was working down in Wall Street when he came home one evening with startling and incomprehensible news.

Michael had purchased a season ticket for the Titans who had been re-named the New York Jets, and they were set to play in the brand new Shea Stadium, and they had a brash new star in the person of Alabama quarterback, Joe Willie Namath.

He wore white shoes…on the field!

Now, my friend Mike had been singing the praises of Joe Namath all summer long, so I wasn’t completely shocked by Michael’s pronouncement, but I still demanded an explanation.

Michael’s one-line response was sufficient to convince me of his wisdom, “We could never get tickets to the Giants.”

In a few weeks, Michael took me to a game and I go,t to see Joe Namath play for the first time. I never saw anyone throw a ball like Namath and, it was clear, I became a Jet fan in the first quarter of that first game I attended when Namath threw his first pass.

Of course, I was the recipient of scorn and contempt by all Giant fans who regularly congregated on Hoch’s Corner.

As with the Lionel v American Flyer debate, opponents wouldn’t let you say, “I’m a fan of both teams.” You had to choose.

When it came to Mickey Mantle, there was never any other choice you could make. I was always a Yankee fan and always a Mickey Mantle fan…to this day.

But I still have some fond feelings and memories about my American Flyer trains and my New York Football Giants’ heroes.

You may think I can’t love both.

You may demand that I absolutely should not see the wisdom in any other choice.

But, not everything is binary, and I get to choose what I like.

So should you.


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