Thursday, October 27, 2016

Yet Another Sappy Cubs Post to the Interwebz

Yeah, we are irritating. All of us Cubs fans crying with happiness, writing sappy sentimental blogs, posting Cubs hype online, flying the W, talking about the first time they went to Wrigley, wishing their dead father was here to enjoy this, wearing their Cubs gear 24/7. Of course there are references and sometimes discussion about the relevance and/or meaninglessness of the billygoat, Bartman, the black cat in Ron Santo’s on-deck circle, Leon Durham’s Gatorade soaked glove, lack of lights costing home field advantage against the Padres and on and on and on. And on.

 This is what happens with extreme futility. Last World Series in 1945. Last World Series Championship in 1908. Us Cub fans can’t help ourselves. If we were Sox fans, we’d get wasted with our kids and beat up old guys that coach the Royals. Ah, father-son bonding at the old ballgame. If you aren’t shot by a sniper on the way to Comiskey Park, you can pick up some crack for you and your fifteen-year-old, get some neck tattoos and beat the snot out of Tom Gamboa right there on the field. And then three years later the Sox win the World Series which hurts more than the doubleplay ball going through Alex Gonzalez’s legs after the Bartman incident. Futility.

I guess this is another sappy sentimental blog about the Cubs. Or is it about something else? Yeah, my first baseball game was at Wrigley Field with my dad. I’ve been to so many, I can’t honestly remember which was my first. I know I was in elementary school. We’d exit the Eisenhower early and park way north down Clark Street by the cemetery. An obligatory joke about people dying to park there or a dead end road would come up for sure. We’d walk by Nuts on Clark and sometimes step inside. Bubba Gump’s variety of shrimp has nothing on all the nuts in that place. See what I did there?

Usually we’d have tickets. Sometimes we didn’t and my dad would buy them on the street. The Cubs were horrible in the mid-70s and I’m sure my dad paid less than face value. We both learned a lot about the mean streets of Chicago from those experiences. At least we weren’t getting robbed on the El on the way to a Sox game. But we did get scammed once by a heartless scalper one sunny weekend. Even though the Cubs sucked, weekend games would often sell out. We found a guy that was selling a pair for face value so my dad jumped on it. Fake tickets weren’t an issue back then so we happily headed to the turnstyles.

We entered Wrigley Field under the red marquee and marveled at how the floor could already be sticky. The smell of popcorn and hotdogs filled the air. We looked at our tickets to see if we went to the left or right. Oops. My ticket was down the left field line near the foul pole. My dad’s ticket was in the same spot, along the right field line. No wonder the tickets went for face value! They weren’t together!

We made the best of it. Like most other games, we’d move around and sit in empty seats, improving our location until we were in box seats just a few rows from the field. My dad taught me how to keep score in the Cubs program. I got countless autographs on those programs. One time I met Ernie Banks in the stands and he signed the bill of my Cubs hat. We’d watch the game, my dad would teach me about baseball and tell me not to make basket catches like Jerry Morales. My whole family attended a game one time and my sister got a foul ball hit by Ivan DeJesus. A fat kid landed on her but she came up with the ball. I was jealous but also proud of her. The Cubs would usually lose but we’d go home happy anyway.

I watched countless games on WGN. First Jack Brickhouse and then Harry Caray. Hey hey, holy cow! Nothing like a drunk Harry Caray singing “Jody, Jody Davis! Catcher without a fear!” And then constantly calling Sandberg “Ryne Sanderson.” I’d also listen to games on the radio, particularly on family road trips. Man, I loved Lou Boudreau’s voice.

One of my favorite radio games was actually on the Cincinnati Reds feed. We were visiting some hillbilly relatives of my mom’s in Ohio. I was probably seven or eight years old putting this right around the time of the Big Red Machine. I can still name the Reds starting lineup. Foster, Geronimo and Griffey in the outfield. Rose, Concepcion, Morgan, Perez from third to first and Johnny Bench behind the plate. Sparky Anderson could manage that team to victory in his sleep. Anyway, back to the hillbillies. This really old guy named Jim that I think was my mom’s Great Uncle was listening to the Reds-Cubs game in the kitchen. I was bored out of my skull.  The Reds were killing the Cubs. In my memory it was by like ten runs.  Maybe it was only a handful, I don’t know. But old man Jim told me he’d give me a dollar if the Cubs came back and won. Suddenly the Cubs bats woke up. Hit after hit after hit. I won that dollar handily by the time it was over. I was happier than a kid going to DisneyLand.

I probably spent that buck on baseball cards. I had a huge collection. I’d get old cards by hitting the garage sales with my parents. This was before the value of baseball cards really took off and I could have scored all kinds of valuable cards if only I wasn’t a Cubs fan. My strategy was always to buy the old Cubs cards. If I were a Yankees fan, I’d be rich! Instead, I loaded up on Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and uh, well, there is a reason the Cubs have been bad for so long. Not too many players!  

After college when I lived downtown Chicago, I’d go to as many games as I could. I lived in Wrigleyville one year, but was mostly by Lincoln Park. We’d walk all the way there, bar hopping as we went, often passing right by Wrigley to have lunch at Bernies back when it was still a dive that only the locals knew about. I’ve sat all over that stadium and also across the street on the rooftops before they became big business (walked up the back stairs of one of the buildings on a whim and got in with all you can eat and drink for thirty bucks).

I have numerous Cubs hats and always have the traditional one in prime rotation, needing replacement every few years. I have a dozen Murphy’s white plastic cups in the bottom drawer of my kitchen. My kids have been drinking out of them since they were toddlers. My work mates got me a brick from Wrigley Field and an ornament made out of the seats for Christmas last year. That’s one nice thing about the park renovations! My Australian Shepard was named Wrigley. Anytime I meet a kid named Addison, I’m shocked their parents didn’t do it on purpose. If I’m wearing my Cubs hat while traveling, strangers will say, “Go Cubs.” If I see a Sox fan, we give each other shit. If I see a Cardinals fan, I ignore them because they are too nice to give shit (but I still hate the dirty birds).

I’m going to Chicago this weekend to watch games 3-5 of the World Series with my friends. Some are my homeys and some are also coming in from around the country. As of right now, I don’t have any tickets so I plan on watching with the thousands of Cubs fans that will be my best friends at the bar by the time the game is over. We will sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame together. We will laugh. And we will cry. Hopefully only tears of happiness.

Which brings this back full circle. Is this about baseball and the Cubs? Well sure. But its also about love. Between me and my father. Between me and my friends. Between a team and its city. Between strangers with a common bond. And its about hope.

So many people have laughed and mocked us Cubs fans because we are all so nervous. Our team has been heavily favored all year to win the World Series. But when you are used to saying, “Wait til next year,” in May, you are fricking nervous!

Tomorrow I will join friends and family in the revelry of rooting for our home team. We have so much hope, we are bursting. I will bring extra underwear for all the peeing in my pants with excitement. I will bring my love for my family and friends and for my Cubs.

Dare I say it? What happens if they lose? Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? It won’t happen.

Big sigh. If they lose, I’ll just count the days to April. And you know what? If they win, I’ll be counting the days to April as well. Cuz I’ll always have my Cubs. They’ve already given me a lifetime of memories. They just keep giving me more and more.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Monkeys and Whales in Nicaragua and Burning Man

“Remember when the bus pulled over so we could pee on the back wall of the church next to the chained up monkey?”

Yes, that really happened.

“We were sitting inside the orca during the dust storm when a woman took out her violin and performed a solo for the next half hour.”

Yep, that really happened as well.

Different places a month apart in time, 3600 miles apart in distance, polar opposites in humidity (tons versus none) and yet they were the same experience. No, I have not been doing drugs. Unless you call grand adventuring a drug.

Let’s not get too literal. Peeing on a church wall next to a monkey isn’t at all like listening to a concerto in a whale. And before you call me a heathen, I didn’t realize it was a church until I looked in the front window of the cinder block rectangular building and saw the altar in the back. Look, to me, this earth is my church and sometimes mother nature is a man’s bathroom so I thank the lord, baby Buddha and your mother too that I got much necessary relief. On the church wall next to the chained up monkey. Ugh.

The monkey happened two weeks ago in Nicaragua. The orca happened a month and a half ago at Burning Man in the middle of a desert. Nicaragua, Nevada; not the same thing at all. Or is it?

My Burning Man campmate and bestest friend forevermore Tory has been investigating an opportunity to support a charity that builds entire communities for poor people in Nicaragua. They buy land, help them build houses and the infrastructure and clear fields for agriculture. They help set up distribution and create a better life for these people that had next to nothing. Once the community is set up and running fairly independently (7+ years), the people own their land and houses and are self-sufficient. Tory and I went to Nicaragua for a Vision Trip – an investigatory outing to learn about the charity organization, see a community that is advanced and see the community that we might support.

The charity organization is Agros. Everyone we met associated with Agros was great and it looks like something we want to support. This is a faith-based organization which is a bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to religion and its place in the communities. To each their own and I’m cool with the Nicaraguans’ faith. There were other people on this Vision Trip representing their church in the U.S. and quite often incorporated their faith into this outing which again, to each their own, but it wasn’t the angle Tory and I have for being involved with Agros and the Nicaraguans needing our support. We just want to help them live a great life and be happy regardless of their religious beliefs.

When the participants of the Vision Trip all first met up, introductions were made and everyone tried to get to know the basics about each other. Imagine twelve super religious people asking Tory and I how we know each other.

“We are travel buddies.”

“Oh, you aren’t married?”

“No, we aren’t even dating. Just friends. We both have someone at home.”

“So how did you meet?”

“At Burning Man.”


“Burning Man.”

“Is that in Arizona?”


“What is Burning Man?”

I have trouble explaining Burning Man to super liberal crazy people that have an idea what it is about. It’s really hard to explain to these people when most of them are over 65 and they just finished devotion over breakfast together.

“It’s a week-long temporary city constructed by participants in the desert. It has tons of art, creativity…”

The glassy-eyed looks came fast.

“It’s kind of like trying to explain the color green to a blind person.”

Full on look of bewilderment. So I went for the impossible explanation.

“It’s actually quite a bit like what we are doing here. Burning Man is about love and giving. Participation without judgement. Radical self-reliance and yet a community working together to take care of each other. Tribes within a tribe. Isn’t that what we are trying to do in these communities in Nicaragua?”

I think we were being full on judged and their lack of understanding combined with our lack of religion made for an interesting group. Thankfully, they were very nice to us and we all got what we wanted and needed out of the trip so it was all good.

Tory and I are getting a kick out of the fact that we are the only two people not pictured at all (other than one obligatory group photo) in the multitude of photos published in a series of blogs put out by the church group regarding the Vision Trip. Hard to believe a couple loud mouths like us apparently didn’t officially exist with the church people. Halleluiah!

Here is what I saw in Nicaragua. A whole bunch of beautiful people working their respective asses off as a community with a great appreciation for music, giving, relationships and love.

Here is what I saw at Burning Man. A whole bunch of beautiful people working their respective asses off as a community with a great appreciation for music, giving, relationships and love.

Okay, I saw some other stuff too. And the Nicaraguans are a year-round community that sustains their entire life and well-being whereas Burning Man is a week-long event (ignoring the year-long planning and other events) that isn’t all about survival (although it sure can be).

Everything is relative. Who am I to say what is a good life in Nicaragua? Who am I to say how one should spend their week at Burning Man? But I do know the Nicaraguans need and want our help. Whether its money support, a hug, building a relationship or working in the fields, I’d like to be there for them. Just like at Burning Man. Whether its support, a hug, building a relationship or working on the playa, I am there for my Burning Man family.

Now it’s time to build my Nicaraguan family.