As I write this column, I’m looking at TheMercury.com. Although it is the website owned by the company that employs me, I’m not writing this as a promotion of it. I am writing it as an appreciation for the kind of community Manhattan is.
The top photo is of Lisa Bietau, a teacher in the Manhattan school district. The next one down the screen is of Dawson Zenger, the all-everything basketball player for Rock Creek High School. A package of photos a little further down is of the Manhattan High girls soccer team, including an action shot of Sam Grynkiewicz, a senior star on that squad.
All three of those people were written about extensively in Tuesday’s print paper.
Here’s the thing: Coincidentally, I know all of them, in more than one context. Well, I don’t suppose Sam actually knows that I know her, but I do. Back to that in a minute.
Ms. Bietau taught a couple of my kids. I also knew her before that as a tennis player, and as a tennis mom, and as a running companion of my ex-wife. I also used to play tennis quite a bit with her ex-hubsand. I think her ex-husband now rides bikes in a group that includes my ex-wife. Not entirely sure about that, but I’m saying it here in furtherance of a point. Back to that in a minute.
Young Mr. Zenger? I coached him in baseball when he was 7 and 8, when he was known as DZ. He was a helluva second baseman as just a little fella. Tremendous hands. He probably remembers me; can’t guarantee it. I know his dad particularly well from lots of time in dugouts, sitting on overturned 5-gallon buckets, and key coaching strategy sessions held precisely at Beer-30. His dad now zings me as overly liberal in opinion-page columns sorta like this one, and then we end up laughing about something anyway.
Ms. Grynkewicz: Well, this one goes back further. Her mom and dad are friends of mine, and so I’ve heard second-hand about her soccer career for quite some time. Her dad has sold me cars; her mom has given me story ideas. Her uncle is one of my best friends on the planet, a guy I know would turn out to testify for me at sentencing. We go back to, I think, age 4, when our parents forced us to “play.” We eventually re-discovered each other on the Blaker Studio Royals, a Cookie League baseball team, where he knew how to pitch and I wanted to learn. His dad coached. Ms. Grynkiewicz’s grandmother, meanwhile, is one of a couple of surrogate moms of mine, likewise somebody I’ve always known would have my back.
I’m not naming these people here because this is not a column for name-dropping. I’m sure many of you know who these people are without me naming them, anyway.
That’s also sorta my point. Manhattan is the kind of place where, over time, these kinds of interconnections develop. That person is my brother’s ex-wife. That other person was my dad’s really good friend, the guy who always dressed so well. She was my daughter’s para. He’s taking care of my wife’s knee. That guy once brought me a generator from Lawrence. The person at the window at the pharmacy was my wife’s best friend since kindergarten.
And so on.
And so on.
Manhattan is a Power 5 conference big-time university community. It’s next to an Army base that employs thousands of people that cycle in and out from all over the world. It’s probably the capital of the world in wheat, and it’s the home of a high-tech lab to combat some of the world’s deadliest diseases.
But it’s also the kind of place where, as they say, people read the paper to see if the reporter got the story right.
If you don’t get away from it from time to time, of course, it could drive you bananas. But it’s also tremendously comforting. I’ve lived far away from it, in places where I really knew nobody. Maybe those places had their own similar webs of connection, although the bigger the place, the less likely that seems. All I really know is that there’s certainly one here, and it makes the place feel right.