Cubs NLDS Game 4: A Fan’s Four-Mile Fugue

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Very early this week, Major League Baseball made the supremely frustrating decision to schedule Game 4 of the Cubs/Cardinals Division Series at 3:37 PM Central on Tuesday afternoon. Working stiff citizens of Cubs Nation, such as myself, groaned inwardly (ok, outwardly too). I’d be stuck behind the desk when the first pitch was thrown.

Making matters “worse” (tragedy is all relative during this most excellent post-season run), I’d exhausted my digital data plan the previous Saturday evening. Enjoying the unseasonably warm Chicago weather, Bob and I invited some friends over for a BBQ. Our iPad was docked on the picnic table, transformed into the world’s most exciting centerpiece. As we noshed and gabbed, the whole group (which included some supportive South Siders) watched the Cubbies come back from Game 1 disappointment, beating the Cards 6-3 to claim Game 2. When my provider sent a system-generated email informing me I’d reached my data limit for the month, I shrugged. Totally worth it.

One of the pitfalls of being so fully enmeshed in the Cubs’ fortunes is a stubborn inability to think ahead. All that usually matters is NOW, that moment. But on Tuesday morning, the dawn of Game 4, I realized my folly. My thought process went like something like this: “Sure, I’ll be at the office, but I can’t be the only person sneaking peeks of the game on my iPhone….OH BLOODY HELL I’M OUT OF DATA!”

As I left the house, additionally hampered with an after-work commitment I could not escape, the dejection was all over my face (Botox shots shall never be strong enough to counter the emotions of a long-suffering Cubs fan). Bob promised to text me with scoring updates, and the venue for the post-shift event would certainly have a television. But, but…bah. Is there any substitute for watching every exhilarating, excruciating second for yourself?

Diligently I worked through the morning. I could do this. I am a full grown adult with responsibilities. It’s not as if the Cubs couldn’t finish off the Cardinals without my eyes on the action. However as the afternoon approached, the façade crumbled, much as it did on November 6, 2012.

On that evening, I was riding my bike home from a kickboxing class in Lincoln Park. President Obama faced a tight re-election campaign against Mitt Romney. I’d been cool like Fonzie all day but as class ended (and my adrenaline pumped), I pedaled furiously to reach home and watch the returns. Obama needed me. Yes we can…run a yellow light at the corner of Lincoln, Ashland and Belmont. I shattered my tailbone and sacrum when I met the business end of an SUV, and it took nine months to heal. Obama won of course, but my frenzied superstition lost big time. I vowed to learn a lesson.

Back to Tuesday evening. My work day ends at 5:00 and the Cubs were down. The event started at 6:30. Google Maps informed me that it would take 40 minutes to reach the venue by train, 80 minutes to walk. In my squirrely state, without a data plan, I could not handle the CTA. Not then. So walking it was. How responsible right? I’d channel my nervous energy into positive exercise, staying out of the road and avoiding an “Election Night” (the new metaphor for self-inflicted disaster) in the process.

The walk was four miles, the weather continuing unpredictably pleasant. I had no control over my Cubs-less situation, but I could control my feet. And I had Bob’s reliable text updates to fortify me until I reached the event (sample: “Schwarber smash! Babe effing Ruth baby!”).

Four miles is a lengthy stroll at any time. But when it comes with the challenge of trying not to think about something consuming every conscious reflection, it might as well be the Appalachian Trail. Total agony. However I ended up with an unforeseen and satisfying byproduct.

I am a Windy City native. I attended a small Lutheran school in North Center as a child before graduating proudly from the CPS system as a high school senior. There is no corner of the north lakefront area and due west disassociated from a memory. As I continued my feverish pace to the event, I paused periodically to stare at a place infused with the ghosts of Cubs past. Thoughts of my paternal great-grandmother, who died before I was born, endlessly thirsty for the Cubbies to go all the way. But she never stepped inside the park. My father’s mother, who worked for decades as a waitress at several Chicago establishments, often serving members of the Cubs roster. But as a single mother with six kids to raise on no budget, a day at the game was a rare luxury. The undying passion of my father for the men in blue through so many disappointments.

Before I finally arrived at my destination, in time to witness the Chicago Cubs send the St. Louis Cardinals packing (I will NEVER tire of writing that sentence), I realized I was carrying a lot through my four-mile fugue state. The hopes and dreams of others whose blue Cubby blood courses through my veins. I wanted it for them as much as myself. Maybe more. And perhaps that’s not so crazy after all.

 

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Citizens United Responsible for the Trump Phenomenon? Yep.

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“Throughout the 2016 primary season, I have been irked over and again by comparisons between Democratic candidate and Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, and loudmouth Republican cartoon Donald Trump. Beyond tapping into the frustration of their respective parties, what could these two men possibly have in common besides being white, male and over the age of 65? And then this week, as I listened to Bernie Sanders solicit campaign donations from the debate podium (resulting in a quick $1.3 million from liberals Feelin’ the Bern), it hit me.

I may not like it. Sanders might not like it. But yes, after all, these two politically divergent men have a very important connection driving their primary fortunes. Fucking Citizens United.”

Click here to read the full article on the Contemptor website.

Penalties, Dynasties and Benched QBs: Inside the NFL

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“I don’t think I’m alone in finding this NFL season rather surprisingly, terribly, excruciatingly boring. Maybe we lost interest before it started. Back in early May, the draft broadcast ratings were down 25 percent year over year. The Bears are not in contention, and my fantasy team is a hot steaming mess, but that’s the annual state of things. I still manage to have fun. But I’m not this year.”

Click here to read the full article on the Contemptor website.

 

Wait ‘Til…Now?

Wait Til Now
1984

The Chicago Cubs are Division Champs! I’m six years old, my father not yet 30. Two kids jumping around the living room. We’re living in our old apartment at Byron and Leavitt in the North Center neighborhood. My grade school and maternal grandparents are a reasonable walking distance from our place, and there’s still six months left before the wheels completely fall off my immediate family’s functionality wagon. I don’t even know it’s coming. I have never seen my daddy so overjoyed, so euphoric and full of hope. I will again during other manic moments – later – but for now the whole North Side of the city has the fever. Cubs fever.

The Cubs led the Padres 2-0 in the National League Championship Series, but go on to lose three straight – and a trip to the World Series. A ground ball got by first baseman Leon Durham during a disastrous Game 5. Durham was one of daddy’s favorite players. How could he do that? This is the first time I ever remember seeing my dad fight tears. It takes him days to recover. I sit next to him helplessly, knowing something tragic has happened to Chicago. Daddy says it’s not the first time, and unlikely to be the last. This seems horribly unfair.

1989

The Cubbies are Division Champs again and I’m the perfect age – 11 – to truly appreciate the wave of excitement that once again sweeps the city. By now I have the 1985 Bears Super Bowl Shuffle under my experienced belt. Let’s do this. Daddy’s out of work again and the house we bought is trashed, but if the Cubs win the World Series (oh my god!) everything will be ok. Dad will be so pumped. We’ll all clean up together and he’ll be in such a good mood. Go Cubs go!

The Cubs lose Game 3 of the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants when reliever Les Lancaster gives up a two-run homer. The Giants take a 2-1 series lead and the Lovable Losers are unable to mount a comeback. Daddy is upset. But it’s not his mood that’s crushed me. One of the post-mortem sports shows plays a video montage against the backdrop of Peter Gabriel’s mournful tune, “Don’t Give Up.” I feel like I’ll never stop crying. The disappointment literally hurts.

1998

I’m a junior in college, sharing an off-campus apartment with Theresa. With interesting classes, a decent part-time job, a recent breakup behind me and a new set of friends, Champaign feels possible for perhaps the first time. And Sammy Sosa’s record-setting home run derby with Mark McGuire has been a lot of fun this season. Just a few years away from the 1994-1995 Major League Baseball strike that hugely disappointed my father. Said he’d never been more ashamed of the sport. I try not to talk to dad as much these days. It always leaves me upset, but I’ll definitely call him if the Cubs pull off an upset.

The Cubs lose the National League Division Series to the Atlanta Braves, 3-0. A few years later we’ll all learn that Sosa was juicing. Another huge black mark for the sport. Eh. The Cubs didn’t really belong in the playoffs. I’m sure dad knows that too. There’s always next year.

2003

I’m a married woman now and all season long I’ve forced Mark and my long time best friend Gary to watch, really watch the games. Like almost all of them. I believe. I’ve made them believe. I know every player, follow every nuance, injury and farm report. This is fucking it bitches. Cubbies! I see my dad and talk to him now and again. He never seems to be quite on track, always has his hand out for more than he gives, but we agree on this. Now.

Game 6 of the NLCS. The Cubs are five outs from the World Series. The city is electric. It’s our time. Moises Alou. Bartman. A man’s life ruined and I don’t need a Game 7 to know how this ends. Finished. More tears. I avoid my father. I don’t want to listen to his tirade. I just want this self-inflicted loserdom to be done.

2008

Marriage number two to the dashing, distant Eddie. He’s more of a cricket fan but I manage to get to him. The Cubbies are in the playoffs for the second year in a row! I still don’t understand why Piniella removed Zambrano early in Game 1 of 2007’s NLDS but no matter! This is going to be it. Finally. Eddie works a lot, even on the weekends, and needs quiet time. So I’ve been to a few games on my own. I like what I see. I pretty much avoid Gregg (I don’t call him “dad” anymore) like the plague but I don’t have to talk to him to know how he feels. For me personally though, if the Cubs choke again, I’m out. I’m starting to believe what they say. Wrigley Field – the world’s biggest tourist attraction. Not the home of a serious baseball team. Prove me wrong guys.

The Dodgers sweep the Cubs 3-0 in the NLDS. I cried again last year but this year? Furious. I actually talked Eddie into going to Wrigleyville with me to watch Game 3 from a bar. Eddie rarely likes my entertainment ideas. Fooled again. But I drank so many PBR tall boys and I am pissed in every sense. As Eddie and I walk home, I decide that every orange cone in my path gets it. To my surprise, he even points a few out for me. This whole evening has been surprisingly supportive. But this girl? Done with the Cubs.

2015

I enter the park for the first time in years. The story goes that it’s because my company paid for the tickets. But in reality, Bob has been working me for months.

During the long break I took from Wrigley Field, I also evaluated, ripped up and rebuilt a lot of other destructive patterns in my life. The result, a good man by my side in a Cubs jersey, both of us happy and feeling excited about our future together.

Gregg’s out of my life but I know he’s somewhere rattling off statistics in that encyclopedic way of his. The fortunes of a baseball team no longer bind us.

As I repeatedly declare my hard-earned skepticism, Bob momentarily checks his mild manners. Tomorrow is the Wild Card Game. “Shut up and enjoy it Waldorf! I’ll be surprised if Jake Arrieta doesn’t throw a perfect game tomorrow. Cubbies!”

And somehow I know that even if the Cubs make a muck of it like they always have throughout my lifetime, I will enjoy it. 

Will Kevin McCarthy Be Able to Benghazi Bungle His Way to the Speakership?

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Last week when Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner announced the intention to resign his post at the end of this month, I indulged in a few moments’ worth of delicious schadenfreude. They were almost painful in their sweetness – the Party of No’s Grand Marshal driven out by the lunatic fringe that looks suspiciously mainstream in 2015. But once my giddy synapses ceased firing, a horrifying realization set in. The replacement Speaker is bound to be even worse for governance, and the country in general, than the weepy tangerine. Emboldened by a mandate of GOP crazy, and possibly even one of the embedded insurrectionists, the already halting wheels of Washington democracy seem likely to come to full stop.

And then I learned who Boehner’s replacement is likely to be – House Majority Leader and California congressman Kevin McCarthy. Oy. McCarthy’s meteoric rise through the ranks began with his election to the House in 2006. From there he became Republican Chief Deputy Whip (2009-2011) and House Majority Whip (2011-2014), before replacing Eric Cantor as Leader after he was “primaried” by the Tea Party toward the back end of 2014.

Short tenure in the national legislature notwithstanding, we already know that McCarthy is no better equipped than Boehner to keep the monkeys from overrunning the zoo. In July of 2011, writer Robert Draper of The New York Times Magazine published How Kevin McCarthy Wrangles the Tea Party in Washington. He noted in the piece, “To hold the caucus together, McCarthy’s delicate approach has been to acknowledge the independence of the hot-blooded new charges while instilling in them a sense of team loyalty — and thereby moving them, ever so gently, to a victory that will be enduring rather than Pyrrhic.”

Boehner’s resignation confirms that McCarthy’s leadership approach over the last leap year has been a dismal, crushing failure. The party has continued its gleeful cannibalization. He’s also from a blue state and the GOP caucus still seems to like him. That’s even more concerning. Brimming with confidence, a smug McCarthy made the media rounds this week, apparently dismissing all those earlier dreams of enduring, cooperative victory. And then he stepped in it immediately.

MSNBC’s Steven Benen writes, “On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) acknowledged a fact that everyone knows, but which Republicans aren’t supposed to admit out loud: the GOP’s taxpayer-financed Benghazi committee is all about the Republicans’ ‘strategy to fight and win’ against Hillary Clinton. It’s not, in other words, about investigating an attack that left four Americans dead.”

It was all well and good when the mockery that is the Benghazi hearings was America’s worst kept secret. But for God’s sake McCarthy, you’re not supposed to say it. Suddenly, waking from a willful coma, some members of the party admit a Leadership Void Has Hill Republicans worried about 2016. CNN journalist Manu Raju observes that “Coming on the heels of Ben Carson’s criticism of Muslims, Donald Trump’s repudiation of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and a presidential race where personal insults are flying, the sudden resignation of House Speaker John Boehner is creating an unease the party establishment has not experienced in years.”

The article goes on to feature the concerns of Senator John Cornyn of Texas. I could not offer a better assessment of these comments than that of my younger sister (I swear one day I’ll stop quoting her, but the woman is a soundbite wunderkind): “When a Republican from TEXAS says the racist rhetoric and political infighting is a problem, either hell has frozen over or somehow reality is actually penetrating the fog.”

So what now? Benen notes of McCarthy’s continuing Benghazi committee overshare fallout, “Behind the scenes, some Republican insiders are quietly starting to refer to McCarthy as ‘the new Dan Quayle.’ I don’t think they mean it as a compliment.” But the party may not have any other viable Speaker options given the short timeline. Representative Daniel Webster of Florida challenged Boehner for the gavel last year – and netted only 12 votes.

It’s a cognitively dissonant tightrope the democratically-minded of us must walk before this coming Thursday’s vote. To delight in the continued implosion of a hysterical, irresponsible party while furtively hoping they actually select a functional, honest human being to lead the team. We can’t avoid the latter. For now at least, Republicans have too much power.

There You Are

So I haven’t posted any personal reflections in awhile – seven months and a week to be exact. In early March of this year, the blogging platform with the built-in audience where I’d been publishing for years unceremoniously shuffled off its mortal coil. This created several weeks of existential panic. How would I recover my work? Where would I find a new forum for the personal therapy which blogging has become? And once I return, will anyone care?

The answers: Blessed be STEM friends with IT credentials, my own branded website, and who knows? But here I am. Once the dust settled and my legacy work was archived, I benefitted from the wisdom of several female champions who offered a provocative challenge. “You’ve been writing for years. Aren’t you ready for your own site? All your work collected in one place?”

And so for the last half year plus, my team and I (redundant, as the rest of the squad includes my sister, life partner of 35 years) have been building beckysarwate.com. When Jenny finished collating the posts last week, I needed a moment. There it was – all of it, all of me, in one place, with my name on it. All 610 of the theater reviews, magazine and website articles, political columns, feminist rants and yes, blog posts that represent the bulk of a six-year career. With each piece I was convinced it was the last. Every time I hit “publish” would be the death of my creative spirit. I’d run out of things to say. This site is evidence of that fear’s misguidedness.

2015 has been an eventful year – even by the whirlwind standards and pace by which my life is usually measured. The launch of this site, a change in 9-5 day job that has brought greater satisfaction and financial security, travels, a new elected office and forum switches for publishing my freelance work.

But what I want and need to write about today is Bob. My dude. My lobster. The biggest 2015 revolution of all. It’s no secret that romance has long been a rocky road for this woman. Divorces, partners with addiction issues and my own catastrophic struggles with co-dependency. As I recently wrote in a piece for About Women, my romantic world was an endless repetition of the broken dynamic I “enjoyed” with my parents: “Dominate me, make me feel small. In silent martyrdom, at least I know who I am.”

Fucking gross right? So after my last long-term relationship exploded in early December 2013, I took a long overdue break for reflection, individual and group therapy, for celebrating my selfhood. I wasn’t a nun but I kept it light as I strengthened bonds with my family, cherished friends, saw more of the world and cultivated a new identity. No longer the exhausted serial monogamist, I started to enjoy a revision of myself – the unattached bon vivant, the adventurer, the woman who actually believed that if the right man wasn’t out there, that might be just fine. I had Prosecco to drink, Spanish wedding songs to sing and tap dance lessons to take (loudly).

Toward the close of 2014, a sweet younger friend of mine who regularly affirmed, “I love your life,” nonetheless started to work on me. Maybe she suggested, I could keep having it all AND find someone with whom to share it. Someone who would appreciate me, embrace the quirks and support my commitment to ambitious, constant evolution. I scoffed of course. Ridiculous. She’d heard about the divorces, the colossal failures of subsequent relationship forays. It wasn’t meant to be, and I was no longer sure I minded. So there.

But she was persistent, and when it’s abundantly clear that someone has my best interests at heart (a phenomenon I’ve not enjoyed often enough), I will often relent. So we struck a deal. She’d create me a Tinder profile (“What? Tinder??!! I am 36 years-old missy and not that kind of woman. Ok, maybe I am but I have heard horror stories!”), and I had to give it a few weeks of swiping. However, if you’ll refer to my parenthetical objections, it follows that I acquiesced in my own way. There were ground rules for this trial period.

  1. No swiping the profile of any man who was: overtly religious (I’m an atheist, so let’s just avoid the tension), holding a gun, shirtless or standing proudly next to a car in photos (siphon off some of the douchebaggery), living in the suburbs (I don’t own a car, don’t want to and will never leave my concrete jungle again) or adamantly seeking a wife (you’d be surprised).
  2. Upon first contact, the man in question had exactly three exchanges to say something intelligent and/or humorous – or I was out.
  3. To those who got past the first two gates, I would offer two chances to meet in person. Occasionally shit happens, so one cancellation earned a pass. But I am a busy woman so a second flake was the limit.

This system worked fairly well. I didn’t meet anyone terribly exciting, but no serial killers or furries either. Eh. I tried something new, right?

Just before the conclusion of the trial period, I came across the profile of a cute, slightly younger man with a stated passion for running, books and dogs. It was early February, typically Chicago’s cruelest month and Dino and I were sick of the cold. This man’s profile boasted a picture of a fluffy, warm looking pup frolicking in the snow. So I messaged him in my typical blunt fashion: “Hi. What’s your favorite Sedaris book?” If he gave me an uncertain answer, I’d keep moving.

Messaging led to a first date at a BBQ joint. Major plus. Over drinks and conversation, Bob informed me that he lived in a condo across the alley from my grade school. In my tipsy state, I wanted to go, right then, sneak into the playlot where my Lutheran primary cohorts and I jumped off the geodesic dome. Bob was game. And then I met the dogs: 10 year-old Meko and 8 year-old Jude, both large black rescue beasts who slobbered all over me with love and joy. I started to feel my heart ignore orders to play it cool.

Seven months later, Dino and I are happily ensconced in that condo across the alley from my grade school. My name is on the mailbox. That existential panic I mentioned when my old blog crashed? None of that here. After 25 years of pushing romantic boulders up the hill, the work stopped when I met Bob. I told him recently that I lacked words (ironically) for this level of comfort and certainty. The best I can offer is this. After a few weeks of developing a bond that is now the strongest I’ve known with a man, it felt like: “Oh there you are. I didn’t know I was looking for you. But thanks for arriving. Now give us a kiss, a glass of wine and a pat on the bottom.”

Love and Information

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Toward the middle of Caryl Churchill’s “Love and Information,” the 19th season opener for Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, a woman who is either hearing impaired, or attempting to communicate with someone who cannot hear, carries a box of Whitman Sampler chocolates. As she runs through the ASL gestures for “I love you,” actress and Bumppo Artistic Associate Linda Gillum pleads with her eyes. Understand me. It’s a lovely scene.

The Whitman’s Sampler is a handy metaphor for the play as a whole, another piece of fresh, interesting work from one of the best mid-size theater operations in Chicago. Directed by Shawn Douglass, the production is a study, per press materials, of “the ways in which the desire for information both distances and unites us.”

Douglass leverages a flawless cast of 10 to slip into the skin of 125 characters, each one part of a vignette that underscores the myriad ways in which knowing and not knowing cause pain and pleasure in human relationships. This might sound quite busy, and indeed Theater 3 at the Greenhouse Theater Center is hardly cavernous. Yet toward the end of the production’s opening night, I found myself comparing it with the recent Broadway in Chicago mounting of “Dirty Dancing – the Classic Story on Stage.”

That big budget effort was an awkward, vertigo-inducing attempt to leave out nothing at all from the beloved film that serves as its base. It just didn’t work. “Love and Information” has arguably more scenes than any stage production I’ve ever audited and yet, it’s a bullseye. Why is that? Because of the oh so light touch, the lack of wink-wink knowingness, the sheer poetry of the source material. A Whitman’s Sampler replaced with the finest, most delicate truffles.

Remy Bumppo’s Producing Artistic Director Nick Sandys observes of the play, “There are no settings, speech headings, or character descriptions in the text. All of those decisions… must come from the director and the design team.” And what a wonderful bunch of arrangements Douglass and his staff have made. It doesn’t hurt one iota that he’s assembled a beautiful cast with the ability to, quite literally, become different people in the blink of an eye. And we believe it.

In addition to Gillum’s work, which I have enjoyed across several seasons of Bumppo theater, I can’t say enough about the talents of yet another Artistic Associate, David Darlow. To watch him move through “Love and Information” is to laugh, have your heart broken, to feel everything in the course of the production’s one hour, 40-minute run time. Although he just one man in an immensely capable ensemble, it’s hard to move your eyes away when he’s on stage. Totally vulnerable yet commanding — the Darlow brand.

This show is different. Fans of linear plot, of context, of narrative arc might find themselves frustrated. I urge these theatergoers to try to get past it. As Sandys suggested before the first curtain rise, “take the ride.” Although one might not connect with every scene, you’ll find yourself nodding your head in silent agreement often. Who among us hasn’t been on the receiving end of pleas from a loved one — share with me, open yourself to me — only to feel the sting of rejection and regret when that data proved to be more than the listener really wanted?

If I have any quibble with the production, it’s this: that one hour, 40-minute running time has no intermission. While I completely understand the decision not to interrupt the “story,” the theater does serve beverages. Make sure you’ve visited the restroom before the curtain rises.

But really, that’s all I’ve got for criticism. “Love and Information” is another Remy Bumppo winner.

“Love and Information” runs through November 1 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 773-404-7336 or visit the Remy Bumppo website.