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.

 

Unsolicited Arrogance (October 10, 2013)

“Good advice is often annoying. Bad advice never is.”

-French Proverb

I’m a huge fan of pithy, enigmatic quotes, but the Frenchies couldn’t be more wrong on this account. After weeks of sitting on the receiving end of advice from friends and strangers alike, I can confidently declare that really tone deaf guidance is more offensive than the helpful variety. Although when it comes to perfect strangers, I’d rather prefer they offer nothing at all.

For several months I have been grappling with a progressively debilitating case of pompholyx eczema on my hands. It is a particularly mercurial form of the skin affliction which affects only one of out every 20 eczema sufferers. Its causes are mysterious and there is no known cure. Available treatments offer limited results, are typically expensive (Coming soon in my annual blog series: America’s Healthcare System is Still Broken – Part III, wherein I examine an employed woman with a “Cadillac” health insurance plan dropping $540 on necessary medications at the local CVS), and bear the threat of their own detrimental side effects.

The attacks are affecting my work, exercise and wellness routines and most certainly, my self-esteem. It is my firmly held belief that creative types such as writers are already cursed with inordinately high levels of insecurity and self-consciousness. The misfortune of contracting a disfiguring and crippling chronic condition compounds the pain of profile immeasurably.

For the most part, friends and colleagues who want to discuss my illness and treatment course are loving people who mean well. Though there are times I’d rather reflect on something, anything besides the constant burning itch and unattractive qualities of my hands, I have patiently indulged their collective desire to help. I’m confident that I’d have much bigger problems to deal with if these souls lost interest in me altogether. And there have been times where the sincere pain I see in the eyes of a valued friend, envisioning my suffering, acts as an imperceptible balm for the heart and soul. May I never grow so cranky from inveterate discomfort that I stop appreciating these overtures.

I have noticed a real peculiarity, however, on the part of people who don’t know me from Adam. And it has taken me the more by surprise since I hail from, and still reside in Chicago, a bustling metropolis known for harried citizens who shuffle quickly down the streets, avoiding eye contact at all costs. It’s as though my embarrassing malformation has become community property. I can be quietly minding my business, reading a book or what have you, staring out the window of a CTA train. And it’s just then that an interloper crashes my reverie, feeling fully empowered to question and offer unwanted, asked for counsel about my “problem.”

I give you two anecdotes from the last 10 days, by way of example.

On my way home from a particularly dispiriting workout at the gym, where my hands cracked and bled profusely after relatively mild strength training, a man seated next to me posed the following question: “Excuse me, but I’m a professional chef and I have to ask. Did you burn your hands?”

Before I could organize my thoughts, humiliated blood rushed to my cheeks. I love the anonymity that city life offers and I was suddenly acutely aware that the hated eczema came with a price I’d never anticipated. I no longer blended. Once I recovered from this horror, I grew incensed by the man’s impertinence. The visibility of my affliction does not make it a topic for public discourse, and the whole “I’m a professional chef” declaration seemed to suggest that this show of concern was merely an excuse to talk about himself.

This was one for Ms. Manners. What do the rules of civility say about my obligation to indulge and respond to such unwanted conversation? I downshifted to the sunny disposition I typically reserve for telemarketers and unwashed tavern suitors: a dead eyed, nail-to-the-floor bitch stare accompanied by as few words as possible, spoken with flat affect. To my later amusement, the man seemed to take this disinclination for engagement on my part as a character flaw. I had to appreciate the irony.

But you know, CTA weirdos and miscreants abound, and I was ready to chalk it up as a one-time, annoying encounter. Until last night.

I was on my way home from the pharmacy chatting with my younger sister on the phone. I reached the station where I was to change trains, when a young woman tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around briefly and pointed to my cell. I figured she wanted directions or something and would understand to seek them elsewhere. Alas, she wouldn’t let up and I told my sister I’d call her right back. The most creative fiction writer in the world could not have devised what I heard next:

“Sorry to bother you, but you know, doctors aren’t going to tell you that it’s all the toxins in your body causing that problem with your hands. What you need is a colonic. It will clean your system and fix you right up.”

I believe my mind actually went somewhere else for several seconds. I was paralyzed and emotionless, incapable of doing anything more than standing and blinking. Then a well-bred autopilot functionality kicked in. I thanked the women for her counsel, told her I had a train to catch and walked away.

What. The. Hell. My beloved and hilarious friend Beth summarily labeled this “The Magic Poop Theory,” offering me my first genuine laugh of a trying evening.

This pattern of unmitigated gall has instilled more than a wish for invisibility. I am left wondering about the crust of people. When did it become socially acceptable to identify people’s physical ailments and then discuss bathroom cleansing rituals in the same breath? I mean, shouldn’t she have bought me dinner first?

I don’t know if anyone who might be tempted to quiz me about my hands will come across this blog post, but just in case let me be clear. John Q. Public: your desire for information and need to pass yourself off as an expert of some sort pains me more than the pompholyx. Real talk. I am under the care of several physicians and have tried more remedies in the last several months than you can imagine. You do not have the answer, and even if you did, frankly, your disrespect for my personal space and privacy renders me unwilling to hear it.

I read somewhere recently that there is strong connection between chronic conditions and the development of agoraphobia. At the time, I found the relationship puzzling. How could the spirit crushing itch and burn with which I struggle lead to a fear of open spaces? Turns out I was missing the Jean Paul Sartre principle so important to this correlation. Hell is other people, or in my case, outsiders who mistake my condition’s perverse visibility for a “Help Wanted” sign.

Fight or Flight: Near Death Does Not Become Her (March 13, 2013)

I consider myself a fairly street smart woman. I was born and raised within Chicago city limits, moving across several different neighborhoods. I wear this as a badge of pride and honor and have been known to get mighty huffy with suburbanites who claim to be “from Chicago,” while oftentimes living in privileged unreality an hour or more from the city’s boundaries (you know who you are).

To choose urban life is to tacitly agree to occasional disturbances and harassments. It’s a trade off for the sort of cultural instant gratification that only life in a major city can offer. Do you want sushi at 4am? We have an app for that. Storefront or big budget theater experience? Take your pick. Want to engage in outdoor exercise and an automobile-free existence while enjoying a plethora of transit options? Move to the burgh.

Of course to enjoy the benefits necessarily means accepting the disadvantages. When I was in kindergarten, our home was burglarized (though this episode did give birth to a triumph of positive rationalizing, when my mother offered that perhaps our father merely took the giant-80s era, top-loading VCR with him to work). In high school, my younger sister was followed home from a CTA train ride by a nasty creeper who was not expecting to come in contact with a protective 140-pound beast by the name of Max. The largest, dumbest, sweetest Golden Retriever changed temperament on a dime if his girls were threatened. Signs and property get vandalized, wailing sirens might wake you in the wee hours and crazies are all about. Thankfully most of them are simply eccentric rather than dangerous, a population that deserves more empathy than fear. That’s city life. And I love it.

But I could have used Max’s snarling gate keeping when I encountered a situation last Friday night for which I possess no paradigm. After reunion drinks with a girlfriend I hadn’t seen for over three years, I happily climbed into a taxi and headed home. The archetype of cab driver malfeasance is the subject of much discussion as well as general acceptance. I have regularly been subjected to erratic driving skills, overly chatty professionals, the directionally impaired, what have you. But this time, several minutes into my ride, I became aware that this driver had no intention of taking me home – perhaps not ever.

I admit that I was distracted and slightly intoxicated, but as I said, I know my way around. Thus it didn’t take long to become aware that the driver’s route was circuitous at best. Initially I suspected that I was merely the target of a cabbie trying to make a few extra bucks, but upon voicing my concern with our path, I was greeted with a snarl. The driver pulled over and as I sat perplexed, he turned around to lunge at me. That’s when I knew it was time to exit the vehicle.

I took off running down a major Chicago thoroughfare and momentarily looked over my shoulder to see the driver continuing to give foot chase. He overtook me and grabbed my right shoulder as I started to scream: “Somebody please help me! Call the police!” It was quite honestly the first time I felt a genuine threat on my life from another human. Fortunately, as it was a busy street just before midnight, a man emerged from a liquor store and seeing my distress, shouted the driver away. Panting, I recounted the horror of the last couple minutes (it seemed that long but probably wasn’t) and my Good Samaritan said he would wait with me until the police arrived. He had actually witnessed the shoulder grab and may have been required to give a statement. Upon reflection, I can’t say for certain that the call to the police was ever placed.

And that became important to me as well as another passerby who stopped to learn the cause of the fuss. As the three of us were chatting and I was still taking deep breaths, the cabbie elected to make one last go of stuffing me back into his vehicle. After turning around, he screeched the taxi to a halt at the intersection where we stood and got out of the car again. At that point, the Good Samaritan placed his body between my attacker and I…..then he pulled a huge knife seemingly out of thin air, slashing the assailant’s front tire while uttering a hideous racial slur.

(Fade to black as Becky’s mind snaps).

I squealed, “Why did you do that?”  The Good Samaritan (who no longer appeared so benign) retorted with a sneering, “Why do you care? Just run.”

And I did. Over a mile all the way back to my apartment. I raced with tears of shock, shame and fear in my eyes, as fast as I could, angling for the small nook of safety that my living space represented in that moment. I ran without thought until I finally shut and locked the doors behind me. Then I broke completely. My partner unreachable at the time, I called two married friends who happened to be awake and willing to talk me through delirious, incoherent downloading. For mystifying reasons, it was imperative that someone more together than I confirm that I had done right with my flight, rather than waiting for police who might never have come. Because after all, I am a Midwestern woman raised on Protestant values. The appearance of wrongdoing is every bit as traumatic as an actual faux pas.

The husband, a trained military assassin and Jiu Jitsu black belt, assured me that I had no reason to believe anyone on that scene had my personal safety in mind. Obeying the automatic response of my body had been sound.

As I said, I had no paradigm accessible that could help me process what had happened. Violent predators I understand, but bloodthirsty “heroes” with their own racial axes to grind are less familiar territory. There was no clear picture anymore of the victims and villains. I needed assertive ideas of right and wrong like I needed oxygen.

The cabbie was a maniac and needed to be locked away, but does that make a hate crime the warranted response?  Was my rescuer just out looking for an excuse to fight? Was I blameless for fleeing the scene? The two men may well have killed each other after I turned and ran. Did that make me complicit in whatever followed? In this instance, ignorance is not bliss. It’s psychological torture.

The Curse of the Class of ’96 (December 14, 2010)

I am a fairly tortured soul, as is obvious to anyone who either reads my work regularly, or is personally acquainted with me. My childhood struggles were complex, painful and more than any kid deserves, but I have been pretty fortunate as an adult. The bulk of my psychological work these days is to try to make sense of my past and come to terms with it; to find a way to live and move forward despite having the two least capable parents on the face of this Earth, who still pop up to torment my sister and I now and again. But as I mentioned, in adulthood, Jen and I have a pretty good thing going: solid marriages, thriving daughters and nieces and a wonderful relationship with each other. I often forget to count my blessings, which I believe the self-indulgence of writing often renders a tempting oversight.

In the last 18 months, I have come across the stories of three of my fellow female graduates, Lincoln Park High School class of 1996, that render me shamefaced with my own weakness. What these brave, formidable women have endured, I am certain I would never have had the stones to face. And the accounts of their survival and endurance must be shared, must be written by my pen, so that I can continually remind myself of the preciousness of life, that I haven’t a moment to waste in depression and wallowing.

Right before the graduation rituals and festivities of my senior year, my close friend and confidante, Niki, was struck by a CTA bus on her way to school. One of the most brilliant, beautiful yet small built people I have known, the impact with the large vehicle sent my friend skidding across Halsted Avenue on her head. There was every reason to worry. However, after a fairly lengthy hospital stay, Niki made a miraculous recovery and appeared at our senior luncheon with nothing more than a slight limp. There was much rejoicing after a terrible scare.

Sadly years later, the fallout from the accident reared its uly head once more when Niki suffered a massive stoke that forced her to learn to walk and talk again. Obviously, this much adversity would be more than enough to put most of us in a bad mood, but the always well-dressed, still smarter-than-I-will-ever-be Niki has gone on to earn a law degree, marry her soulmate and become the co-founder of a successful fashion blog:

http://sequinsthatdontsuck.blogspot.com/

I have written about my friend Jesika more than once on this page. Jesika, the nonstop hysterically wry and funny presence in my life for 16 years. In late April of 2009, this gifted woman (also a trained lawyer) died after a tragically short 17-day battle with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. I will never forget this brief period of illness, not only because it was so difficult for everyone who loved her, but because she never, ever lost her spirit. At our final meeting, before I departed for what turned out to be an ill-timed 10-day trip to Israel (I was not there when Jesika breathed her last), she had her priorities in order: making fun of my “ghetto” black, puffy winter coat, mock pleading with me to get a new one. Despite the months of endless grief that followed, this final taking of the piss could not have been more apt – and comforting.

And only yesterday, I learned of yet another heartbreakingly awful blow dealt to a female member of my graduating class. My first memory of Bahar, a fellow student in Lincoln Park’s International Baccalaureate program, was of her approach toward me, all torn stockings, black eyeliner (it was the grungy 90s after all) and open heart. Another student in the program had mentioned my name to her, favorably it seems. So she approached me on the playground, and after announcing the need for introduction, politely shook my hand – all earnest business.

I never grew as close to Bahar as I often wished I had. She ran with the “cool” crowd, but appeared to be one of the few who actually deserved the label. I never saw her mistreat anyone she encountered, so quick with a smile or compliment. I always admired that as well as her alternative, exotic good looks.

So when a mutual friend sent a link to this story from the Chicago Tribune yesterday, I was heartbroken beyond all reason for my classmate. But I was not at all surprised by the depth of her character that the story portrays:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-cancer-marriage-20101212,0,1667137.story?page=3&track=rss

Bahar met her husband, Nick, two years ago, when he was already sick with an advanced form of the cancer, sarcoma. She fell in love with him anyway, married him despite the inevitable conclusion, and devoted her life to looking for a cure. Sadly Nick passed away December 1st, a mere two months after the couple finally made it legal.

I do not know where she finds the strength. Bahar is my hero. Though we have not spoken in many years beyond the casual bonds of Face Book, she needs to know, as she picks up the pieces of her life, what an inspiration she is to everyone who hears her story.

I don’t know why so many miserable challenges have befallen such a crowd of fantastic young women. I know that life is full of terrible experiences that often defy explanation. I spent all day yesterday, forgive me, coming up with a silent mental list of lives I would trade in order to restore Bahar’s husband to her. But I am not God and I have no say in these matters.

I wrote about this trio of people from my formative years not to point out coincidence, but to synthesize the collective strength of these women. I don’t know if fortitude and moral fiber can be absorbed by osmosis, but in the name of Niki, Jesika and Behar, I am obligated to try.

Colder Than the Mood at Tiger’s House (December 10, 2009)

cold

Before any of you wiseacres post comments, yes, I realize how phallic this image is. Hee hee. Beavis and Butthead would be proud.

Well now, winter has arrived hasn’t it? There can be no doubt about that. As I headed into work this morning wearing tights, jeans, wool socks, boots, my ski jacket, a hat, scarf and gloves (which still wasn’t enough), I told myself for the millionth time that I will, in fact, get out of here one day and move to Miami. Chicago has me caught in such a terrible Catch-22. From a culture, cleanliness and population density perspective, nothing can beat the Windy City. It’s just unfortunate that the damned place is uninhabitable for seven months a year. Though I do love to take the piss out of the elderly, I will likely join them before I turn 40. Each year I grow less tolerant of shivering.

I am sure all of us have some cold snap snafu stories for the day, but here are a couple of anecdotes from my end:

1. Eddie drove our car to the office in Oakbrook this morning. I had a bad feeling before he left the house. Call me the trivial psychic. Sure enough, he popped a tire on I-294 near the O’Hare Oasis. That was at 8:30 AM. It is now 3:35 – seven hours later. He had to wait two hours for a tow truck and three hours for the garage to have time to change the tire. A whole’s day lost plus $500 in towing and replacement expenses.

2. It may have cost less money, but it was no easier for those of us on the CTA (is it ever?). The Brown Line train I took downtown stopped several times due to “equipment failure” – i.e. a frozen door. The train then decided to turn into an Orange Line bound for Midway at Merchandise Mart. A whole herd of the frozen cattle (including myself) disembarked to huddle together for the next approaching Brown Line. I was relatively blase about this. However, many of my fellow commuters had choice words for the conductor as we alighted. I silently cheered them on. I try to behave with some decorum, but am a nostalgic anarchist in my heart of hearts.

I hope all of you are staying warm somehow, whether that involves calling in sick to work or ambling over to the nearest happy hour spot for an old fashioned hot toddy. Snuggle a loved one tonight. Start a blaze if you are lucky enough to have a fireplace. Or if not, grab your partner and make some sparks of your own (see image above). Frigidity lends itself to loving. Can I get an amen?