A Morality Play Between the Foul Lines

When the Cubs punched their first World Series ticket since 1945, I got a text from my wife:

“Your cousin is at the game. I saw a picture on Facebook.”

My cousin is a familial strain that reached into Illinois somewhere after my grandparents divorced. When her father couldn’t get a job in education in Wisconsin, my grandfather made “a few calls” back in the day when that was a standard practice and helped him land a teaching/coaching gig south of the border.

It was my aunt and uncle, three cousins, my grandfather and his wife who all took up residence in the Greater Chicagoland Area.

They always lived “around” Chicago, but never IN Chicago. No L stops or delis where you needed to speak Polish to get served. They were basically the exemplar of what drove my wife nuts in discussing Illinois geography with people:

Her: “So where are you from?”
Burb Kid: “I’m from Chicago!”
Her: “I grew up on Hermitage Avenue. What street are you?”
Burb Kid: (blank stare) Uh… I’m from Wilmette…
Her: YOU’RE NOT FROM FUCKING CHICAGO!!!!!

As a child, I looked forward to trips down there. I always left disappointed, as she seemed to exude what became known around these parts as “Just THEIR Way.”

Aloof. Self-absorbed. Dismissive.

Maybe it was that I was the little cousin (she being three years older than I) who was always forced on her. Maybe it was that we just sat on opposite sides of the gender pivot at all the wrong times. Maybe it was just irreconcilable differences in regard to upbringing (My uncle, the coach, was like the dad in “Pitch.” My parents encouraged me to do things I liked, as opposed to whatever obsession fueled them.)

Mom always assured me that eventually we’d grow out of those awkward phases and become closer. Mom was wrong and almost diametrically so.

When she got married the first time, I was required to serve as a reader. I protested against going, as the student newspaper was starting back up after a seven-month shutdown. This was going to be our crowning moment.

Mom basically slammed the door on that one and although I was an adult who could do whatever I saw fit, I needed to do things for the betterment of the family.

So I went. She never even noticed. Neither did any of the other “Illinois Family.”

The only perverse pleasure I took out of the whole thing was that about three years later, my cousin divorced. I would commonly snipe that at least the paper survived longer than the marriage.

She was in and out of college and blew through money like water, leaving behind her a party trail and a ton of debt. Her father throwing around his sizable weight to get her gigs here and there. Eventually she became a teacher, although I have no idea how the hell this is even possible. Of all the people I thought of as being kind and decent toward childhood betterment, she was the last one I’d imagine that would fit that bill.

I often felt like this scene in “The Ref” in dealing with her:

Eventually, she remarried to a man who had been adopted by a wealthy family as a child. He’d been divorced once as well and really never found anything that was his calling. Thus, he schlubbed along until my uncle helped make him a coach as well. When his parents died, he inherited extremely well and thus my fuck-up cousin and her doughy husband were suddenly able to live the life she always thought she deserved.

Concert? All of them and the best tickets.
Casinos? Black Jack for hours on end.
Travel? Florida, Vegas, whatever feels good.
Sports? Season ticket to the Badgers (my uncle emphasizes his ties to the UW to the point of absurdity; his kids never even sniffed Madison’s admission standards, but they are constantly adorned in Bucky-wear and participating in the “traditions” of sport).

The Cubs games are the latest extension of the way in which her family (all but my aunt, who seems to almost take pride in being a Milwaukee-rooted South-Side Polack who grew up over a tavern and just happened to move south) approach life. Truth be told, I can’t remember ever seeing anything Cubbie-related in their house or hear of a passion for the Northsiders. Still, now that this is a thing, she’s into it as are the others in her family.

It’s “the place to be” so they are there. It’s “the thing to do” so they do it.

When it comes to the nouveau riche and the inheriters, the baseball metaphor often applied is that they think they hit a triple but they were actually born standing on third base. I think a more apt description here would be that she thinks she hit a triple, but she landed on third thanks to a three-base error.

Over the years I’ve been accused of playing the “city mouse/country mouse” card on this blog: I perpetuate idea that Chicago is a vast urban hellhole with nothing that doesn’t reek of bus exhaust or homeless people’s pee.

OK, I’ll cop to that, but that’s not what this is.

When I see the Cubs fans they tend to put on TV in this World Series, I tend to see two groups of people featured:

  • 103-year-old fans who get wheeled into the stadium valiantly fending off death for at least one more game in hopes of seeing the Cubs win it all before they die
  • Fuckheads like my cousin: Loud, belligerent, assholes who view things as their birthright and will never condescend to consider others.

The first group, I have no problem with at all and if my team can’t win this year, I’m glad they’ll at least get that moment for themselves. When the Red Sox got it in 2004, I was happy for all the people who lived long enough to see it and even those who took Red Sox caps to the cemetery for their departed loved ones.

(As for my stake in this, I said it even before the playoffs started: I asked God for one championship in my life for one of my teams. I got it. I’m happy either way this pans out.)

As for the second group, I know many Cub fans and I know they’re not all like this. I’ve been there with them when we had to produce the 2003 coverage of the Cubs coverage for our paper. I’ve been with them when we both said, “Maybe next year for one of us” in hopes that we could either end with an “Indian Summer” or a “Goat-buster” in October.

But it’s like Jeff Foxworthy once said about Southerners: “We just can’t keep the most ignorant among us off of TV. When there’s a natural disaster, they never find a doctor or a lawyer. It’s always the woman in the sponge rollers and the muumuu.”

Still, if you want to see what happens when they don’t get what they want, just watch “Catching Hell.” They eat their own.

The Cleveland slogan this post season has been #RallyTogether. LeBron James has shown up repeatedly at the playoff games and called for support for the Tribe during his own crowning moment. Even in the worst of times, Clevelanders have always exuded that “We’re in this together” vibe.

For Cub fans, #FlyTheW has been the calling card. For those like my cousin, though, I think a better one might be #FuckYouImGettingMine

2 thoughts on “A Morality Play Between the Foul Lines

  1. tom says:

    You’ve just neatly confirmed that a big reason why Wisconsinites have such contempt for Chicagoans is that most Chicagoans they know are from the North Shore — places like Wilmette.

    Like

  2. db504 says:

    I grew up on the far South Side (115th aka MorganPark). North siders complained that it wasn’t part of the city as it was too far from downtown. Yes, there was rejoicing when the White Sox won their series but Cub fans were rather lukewarm in their congratulations. So, I still bet against the Cubs and still come out ahead.

    Like

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