I’m part of a writing group that has given itself the assignment to write our best autobiographical story that takes place in a bar. I’ve never been able to stomach alcohol so I’ve spent shockingly little of my 39 years in bars, but this story at least ends in a bar.
On Tuesday, October 15 2003 I was riding an el train to go hear presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich speak. It also happened to be the night of Game 6 of the NL Championship that pitted the Chicago Cubs against the Florida Marlins. I don’t follow sports, but the drama had gotten to me: along with every Cubs fan in the universe, I found myself emotionally poised for the miraculous to happen. Could the Cubs actually go to the World Series? If they won this game, they would. Even though I was committed to the political rally, I gazed eagerly out the train window as we neared Wrigley Field. As the train passed I could feel the emotional excitement as strongly as I could see how alive the entire area was with blue, white and red -- Cubs fans. The stadium glowed with at least three kinds of electricity and hordes of fair-weather (like me) and true fans made Wrigleyville a solid mass of aching, anxious adreneline. The hope was exquisite.
At 9:30 I headed back on the train, determined to at least be in proximity should the miracle take place. On the train, those with access to the game updated those of us without it. The tragic Bartman incident happened when I was about halfway home. The riders with radios reported it to the rest of us and I searched their faces for signs of reassurance that things might still be okay. I didn’t get any. The energy on the train fell and I grew very serious as I realized that the worst had happened: the Cubs had lost Game 6, the game with which they were supposed to capture the championship. Even though everyone knew the Cubs could still go to the World Series by winning Game 7, somehow they knew this was the end. The ride was over.
As the train pulled up to the Wrigleyville stop, I looked out over the silent yet still congested streets. Thousands of people were slowly walking away from the stadium, heads down, speechless. I turned to the door as my train car filled. White men in their 40’s -- the demographic I see as the most emotionally unshakeable -- slumped despondently in their blue and white jerseys and caps. Couples, families, groups of friends, all in Cubs regalia took their places in the crowded car and rode in silence. All the spirit was gone; all the light, all the hope. Their sadness felt all the keener because it was unrelieved by tears. Their dry eyes were filled with stunned disappointment and maybe an all too familiar sense that this was how it was supposed to be, this was the only way it could ever have been.
On the night of Game 7 I decided I didn’t want to watch the end of the game alone and that’s how I ended up at the small, local bar nearest my apartment. I joined a few guys and a couple who were sitting at the bar, while about a half dozen others sat in corners. They all grimly stared at the television screens, Cubs-fan-excitement replaced with a stoic determination to see this thing through to the end and not look away no matter what.
The game ended about ten minutes after my arrival. The bartender turned off the tv, the place fell silent and I once again felt like an intruder at a funeral. The couple embraced, the woman’s face buried in the man’s shoulder. Others stared into space, the bartender pretended to find a spot to clean, and I glanced anxiously into faces, wondering what anyone could say. One of the regulars was the first to speak. I remember he said, “Well, you can’t hurt a Cubs fan. What are you gonna do? Tell us our team sucks?” I felt awful as the silence continued, unbroken by his pronouncement.
Eventually people started moving and talking again and later I think I helped relieve the tension by expressing my surprise that people seemed so wrapped up in this “curse thing.” What I said was “No one can ever tell me again that women are the superstitious ones after what I’ve heard about this ridiculous goat story.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized how offensive they could sound, especially coming from an outsider, but to my relief the men actually laughed and appreciated my opinion. By the time I left the bar I felt glad I had decided to participate in a small piece of Chicago history.
Since then I've supported the Cubs and not just because I live on the northside of Chicago. If they're such big losers that they aren't even a punchline anymore, then we belong together.