Norman Thomas Marshall, Actor/Director/Writer

Resident at Westbeth in the 1970s

The Birth of an Epitaph

The first real book I ever read, a slim tome of about 125 pages, was titled The Babe Ruth Story. The second was Lou Gehrig, The Iron Horse of Baseball. It was the late forties. Joe DiMaggio flawlessly patrolled centerfield in the House That Ruth Built. From that point, I was a Yankee fan. In 1951, Mickey Mantle arrived. I was a Yankee fan for life, so rabid that I often would not open the sports page on days after the Yankees lost a game. When the Dodgers defeated the Yankees in the World Series in 1955, I wept more ardently than I had at my father’s demise.

Joel Oppenheimer, my Westbeth neighbor, grieving the abdication of dem feckless Bums, embraced the latter-day Bums, the Mets. So naturally, the gods of irony made us neighbors on the third floor of Westbeth. Under the hapless stewardship of manager Yogi Berra, the 1972 Mets staggered to a sixth-best record in the National League. This was the year Joel chose to write his fan-oir about his favorite team. Several times a week, he and I would get together over morning coffee and talk about baseball, or more specifically the Mets, who were defying optimistic expectations to have a barely-over-.500 season. Each loss weighed upon him as might the loss of a friend. To my everlasting credit, I rubbed it in.

Late in the season, a delegation of six Westbeth residents, including Joel, John Dobbs, and me, piled into a station wagon and went to Shea Stadium to see the Mets’ great portsider, Jerry Koosman, pitch against the Phillies. With the score 0-0 in the eighth inning, the Phillies’ Denny Doyle came up. He took the great Koosman deep for his only homer of the season and a 1-0 victory over the Mets. Being a sore winner, I was beside myself with glee, razzing Joel mercilessly. In the bottom of the eighth, Joel informed us he was leaving, and off he stalked to the No. 7 train.

In his book, The Wrong Season, Joel recounted that adventure to the effect, “Even though Marshall is a dear friend, he is big and loud, and he doesn’t know when to quit.” That will be my epitaph.

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