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Heresies, Curses and the Magic Man

Tonight, as many of you already know, is game seven of the world series.  It’s a big deal for Chicago because if the Cubs win tonight not only will they have broken a drought of 108 years but they will also be the last of the three “cursed” teams in baseball to break their curse, and the win will be definitive proof that Theo Epstein is a magic man who can do anything and should immediately replace Rahm Emanuel as mayor.

I have to admit, though, that my feelings about the Cubs over the years have been mixed.  When I moved to Chicago in 1995 I played piano at the Annoyance theater which at that time was on Clark street just north of Wrigley Field and to those of us in the theater community the Cubs games were simultaneously a source of irritation and excitement.  As there was little to no expectation of winning in those days, home games often brought an ugly streak of drunkenness that once seen is difficult to forget.

At the same time I can remember being at the Gingerman Tavern when Kerry Wood had his famous 20 strikeout game.  There were guys watching the game who realized that this first year rookie was going to tie a record and quickly settled their tabs and ran to the stadium to buy last minute tickets to watch it in person. You could do that back then.  Despite the excitement though, I stayed behind and worked on my patternless crossword puzzle.

Speaking of the Gingerman, it was my favorite bar at that time not only because it was across the street from the Annoyance which was then the center of my social world, but also because they played classical music after every Cubs home game, a move taken less from an enthusiasm for classical music and more as a way of keeping drunken mayhem to a minimum.  And it worked.

Drunks in Mark Grace jerseys would crash into the bar, hear the music, noisily disapprove and storm back out.  Meanwhile we in the bar would raise our glass of port and return to our patrician pursuits, which at the Gingerman in the ’90’s were myriad.   There were always chess and scrabble games happening and a wildly popular backgammon tournament on Sundays.  There were lively political disputes, poets scribbling away in corners and of course the ubiquitous theater people, some of whom now write for SNL and Conan O’Brien and one of whom, Matt Walsh, plays the press secretary on Veep.

The Gingerman was also one of the very best bars in the city for high caliber billiards, so much so that a scene from the Color of Money was shot there, and two of the bartenders were big music heads: Joel Leoschky started Cranky Records and Harrison Bankhead is still a well-known bassist on the free jazz scene, though he has long since quit bartending, much to the chagrin of those of us who fondly remember his skills.   All of this and classical music playing after Cubs home games?   Yes, please.

Living near Wrigley Field you always had a Cubs schedule in your car so you’d know on which days to avoid Clark street like the plague.  I always claimed to hate Cubs games and the attendant traffic jams, but I was also sympathetic to the team’s plight and would pay close attention in the years when it seemed they had a shot.  A friend of mine once jokingly asked me if I had ever listened to a Cubs game on my car radio and rooted for them while simultaneously cursing the extra traffic the game had caused.  The answer is yes and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I’m not a person who defines himself by loyalty to a sports team, not by a long shot. That said, tonight’s game will be epic and I’m looking forward to watching it. interestingly enough though, it won’t be the only epic in my day.  I’m in Dublin at the moment for an opera called Heresy by Roger Doyle about Giovanni Bruno, a medieval free thinker who was tortured and eventually killed for his beliefs.

So I’ll head straight from a three hour opera to the hotel bar to watch a three hour baseball game in which it would be nothing less than heresy not to root for the Cubs.  Things didn’t turn out so well for Bruno.  Here’s hoping they go a heck of a lot better for the Cubs.

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