Last Tuesday was game one of the World Series. Most years that wouldn’t be a big deal in Chicago but this year’s different. Citizens who would never otherwise acknowledge baseball are covered in blue and red gear and baby bear insignia. Storefronts, lampposts, and every other available surface is plastered with sinister blue Ws to the point that some of us are having horrible flashbacks to the Bush years. No, the world isn’t ending. The Cubs have just made it to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1945.
I love baseball but only watch it on TV at this time of year. The game isn’t suited to the small screen. The odd diamond fields don’t ever look quite right within its flat rectangle and the leisurely, stop-start pace doesn’t fit easily with the regular commercial interruptions inherent to the medium. Still, I always try to catch at least a couple of the games, whether I have a rooting interest or not. It’s a fall ritual which means something to me, unlike the procession of holidays which occupy so many of us this time of year.
I decide on the Gold Star, figuring that although it sits in the middle of a strip of Division Street which has basically become one continuous sports bar, it is a relic from an earlier era and might be handling the mania for the North Side team with a modicum of self-respect. The place is sparsely peopled when I arrive halfway through the bottom of the first. I take a seat a couple down from the day bartender who was working a couple weeks ago when I put my paintings up on the walls. He and a few others are cursing at the screen. The Cubs are down 0-2 before I even take a couple sips of my bourbon. They never recover.
An inning or so later, a young woman carrying a heavy-looking, oversized duffel bag walks in and takes the barstool next to mine and orders a can of Blatz. I ask if she cares about baseball and she says she doesn’t.
She tells me she’s packed for a trip to Nashville with a guy she’s been seeing a couple months. They’re supposed to leave early the next morning but he’s not answering his phone. She waited at the Starbucks down the street for two hours, then came in here to drink and worry. He’s never pulled anything like this before. Just yesterday he was telling her about all the things he wanted to do once they got there. He’d booked the AirBnB and car rental. She’d been excited about it too. She tells me she’s from Aurora and I say, “You’re from Wayne’s World,” and she says that everyone says that and rolls her eyes. She’s been couch-surfing since summer while cocktail-waitressing at a Lincoln Park nightclub and apprenticing at a Rogers Park tattoo shop. She shows me her knuckles which spell out D-E-A-D L-O-V-E. She says she did them herself. I tell her that it’s a little fatalistic for a twenty-two-year-old. Then she tells me about the guy she moved down to Tampa to live with. At first, everything was good, but then he started getting jealous, and before long he was knocking her around. She didn’t understand what had changed. Now this new guy, who had seemed so normal, had pulled a disappearing act on her.
She keeps texting her girlfriend to come out and get drunk with her, then goes toward the back of the bar where the pool table is to see if she can get a game in. I buy her a beer and tell her this night will be a funny story one day even if it really sucks right this moment. She’s not sure whether to believe me but it gets her to smile. She has completely distracted me from the game on TV. I sneak looks every now and then but the outcome doesn’t look in doubt. I’m thankful to have a story to listen to rather than feign interest in two teams I don’t much care for.
She finally convinces her friend to come meet her at some other bar, thanks me for listening, says she’s sure she’ll see me around, and leaves. The game is now out of hand with an inning left so I decide to go as well. Home is a train and a bus ride away. For months I’ve been joking that if the Cubs win the World Series, Trump will become king, and the world will end. For this one night at least that particular apocalyptic domino effect is averted and I can get a good night’s sleep.