Fans of the New York Mets baseball team have been hanging their heads this week. The Mets were supposed to be heading to the play-offs. At one point they were seven games ahead of their nearest challenger, with just 17 games to go. But then they blew it.
Come last Saturday night, they were level, at 88 games all, with the Philadelphia Phillies. All they had to do was win their last game of the season, against the unfancied Florida Marlins, anchoring last place in the division to be in with a chance.
Instead, they lost 8-1 and the jig was up.
To make matters worse, their veteran pitcher 'Gentleman' Tom Glavin, aged 41, announced that, hey, it was only a game. Only a game? Glavin didn't know what a storm he had just pitched into with that throwaway remark. It was as if the goalkeeper after a penalty shoot-out in the final of the Champions League, in which he had failed in every attempt at a save, had then gone on to remark that it didn't really matter, there were more important things in the world to worry about.
Try telling that to Bill Shankly.
The Mets' manager, Willie Randolph, was a picture in defeat. A jowly black man, with a Clark Gable moustache, Randolph looked both crestfallen and bewildered, his manner suggesting that, frankly, he would rather be in Philadelphia. He is a popular figure across baseball, and across New York. People - even Yankees fans - felt that his players had let him down badly. Now all Randolph can hope for over the close season is a return to the entertaining series of fast food ads he did last year with Joe Torre, the Yankees' manager, in which he always has the upper hand.
Torre, meantime, is headed towards his umpteenth successive play-off appearance. A lugubrious Italian-American with a John Wayne gait, he too is popular with New Yorkers. His problem is that the Yankees, though they keep on showing up at the party, haven't actually won the World Series since 2001
To make matters worse, this year the American League East division was won by the hated Boston Red Sox (Go Sox!), who in 2004 won the World Series after a gap of 86 years and now plan to do it again.
If the Mets' misery is added to by a Bostonian sweep of the Yankees, there is no telling what the impact will be. But don't expect Joe Torre to announce afterwards that it's only a game.
If baseball isn't real life, what is? Last week, my wife was sitting reading a newspaper in Union Square, listening with one ear to an elderly busker who was singing Mexican songs to a soundtrack provided by an amplified dvd player.
Soon after, a cop appeared, who informed the busker that there had been a complaint about the noise he was making. The old man grumbled in Spanish and produced a city permit.
"No way," said the cop. "That permit don't apply to Union Square." The busker was not impressed and continued to complain loudly in Spanish as he packed up his equipment. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the officer had had enough. "Right," he said. " That's it."
He threw the old musician onto the sidewalk, causing him to cut his mouth against the tarmac. As blood poured from the man's wound, the officer handcuffed him and radioed for help. Three police cars drew up in less than a minute. Twenty cops now stood round the bleeding figure on the ground.
"Move off!" several of them motioned to the crowd that was now gathering. "Nothing to see here."
The old man was then bundled into a car, which got ready to draw away. " What about his stuff?" a member of the public called out. Only then where the amplifier and DVD player placed in the trunk.
At least they didn't shoot him. What happened to the elderly Mexican? I have no idea. But I doubt he'll be answering back New York's Finest any time soon.
In Eamonn's bar, in Montague Street, such stories are two a penny. I was there the other day, saying hello to Tommy, the bartender. Tommy is from Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, and likes to introduce me to regulars as a " writer". He says I should be reading Charles Simic, the Serbian-born US poet laureate. No doubt I should.
Anyway, one of the drinkers he introduced me to on this occasion was a young chef, who was about to graduate from the French Culinary Institute. The young fellow said his teachers, most of them French, were hard task-masters, but knew their stuff.
"France!" said an older man seated to his left, who had earlier complained about the strength of the euro against his beloved dollar "A dead culture and a dead language. We liberated their country, now they won't even give us any help in the war in I-raq. Who needs 'em?"
Unlike a previous drinking companion, he did not confide to me his certain knowledge that the French navy only had one ship.
He probably thought I'd know that already.