I was raised Jewish. These days, I consider myself a devout Pedestrian, but I can’t hide from my experience in that particular religious tradition. Saying “I was raised Jewish” is more of a convenient shorthand for saying “I am an adult survivor of the spiritual and emotional trauma that was Hebrew school.” In general, I hate the culture of victimization, but we’re talking about Hebrew School. They used to teach us to sing prayers to the tune of television theme songs. What kind of sick sons of bitches do that? To this day, whenever I hear the M*A*S*H song, I feel a ghost yarmulke on my head and have nightmarish flashbacks to Mrs. Levine – a fireplug with blue eyeshadow – crying about the six million. Oh, the six million – every damned week! Mrs. Levine totally ruined the Holocaust for me.
Here’s what I learned about Jewish history in Hebrew School: long periods in the literal and figurative desert were punctuated very rarely by brief periods of strength and unity, which inevitably ended in crushing defeat and a return to exile. The Jewish holidays of Purim, Passover, and Chanukah (there are probably other Jewish holidays, but since I went to Hebrew School I don’t know them) all follow the same narrative: Jews were up against incredible odds and through hope, dedication, and perseverance, we overcame and won. Until the next time we got our asses handed to us. It kind of makes you wonder why Jews have stuck with God for so long. The Flood, Enslavement, Haman, Exile, the Holocaust, Kosher Wine, Bernie Madoff, Joe Lieberman… what kind of God inflicts such terrible things on believers? Only a complete jerk God, that’s who. A hateful, spiteful deity who is flipping you off with a “mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”
This of course brings me to the Chicago Cubs and their fans, the Jews of Baseball.
What kind of team would subject their fans to 104 years without a World Series win? Each year, the spring begins with the faithful full of hope in the belief that if they just pray hard enough, this will be their time. Every spring at Passover, Jews say “next year in Jerusalem.” Cubs fans say “next year, games in October.” And then fall comes, and just like Jews at Yom Kippur, they atone mightily for their sins. And for the entire summer in between they believe – just like they did the previous one – that they might overcome their history and actually win it all this time. How often can Cubs fans think they’re following Moses to the promised land (remember “in Dusty We Trusty” two or three failed managers ago?) only to find themselves lost in the late-season Sinai? Maybe they should stop worrying about that stupid goat and just build a giant golden calf.
The evidence is clear: the Chicago Cubs hate their fans. This spring started out with the new owners demanding the city acede to their demands to build a new hotel and a skywalk and erect a new scoreboard in a $500 million dollar package that would essentially turn Wrigley Field from a friendly confines in a residential neighborhood into another tarted-up major league ballpark with a giant TV in center field. The one thing the Cubs had going for them was Wrigley Field, and its many alleged charms. Apparently, urinating in a century-old trough and drunks spilling their beer while singing suicidally about how they don’t care if they ever come back is charming.
If the city didn’t accept their plan, the Cubs were threatening to leave the city for suburban Rosemont. What kind of cruel God threatens to abandon the faithful? Especially for a place like Rosemont, where the current tourist draw is the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center – which will be hosting something called the Empower Network featuring “Toby and Layla’s Super Secret Money Getting Formula.” Next month, the convention center is hosting Anime Central: The Midwest Anime and Manga Convention. Rosemont: a place for complete dupes and people into elaborate fantasies. Maybe it would be a perfect place for Cubs fans after all.
The Cubs hate their fans, and they don’t even really try to hide it. They take their money through ever-higher ticket and concession prices and spend it on contributions to conservative political candidates. The Chicago Cubs. Chicago, home of the Machine, the Daleys, and Obama. We haven’t had a Republican mayor since 1931 – right around the last time the Cubs could reliably win a pennant. Why not use the money to buy a reliable pitching staff and some sluggers? Because that would be an act of love. That’s not how the Cubs roll.
How can they get away with this? Just like Judaism, the crushing obligation of being a Cubs fan usually comes from your family. I remember sitting in interminable Rosh Hashanah services with my family, and seeing which of my siblings would ask my dad if they could leave first. This became an elaborate psychological game: getting my brother or sister to break, turn to my dad, and get the look of utter disappointment and a long sigh. Sure, God wanted us to sit there until our asses went numb. Then, suddenly, Torah time! Everyone has to stand and you’d stumble and hit your crotch on the seat in front of you. This is pure cruelty – just like the Cubs hitting a homer every couple of innings – there’s no danger of victory, but just when you find a comfortable position in those stupid narrow plastic seats you have to stand to be showered with beer and risk tripping over the bleacher and face-planting into some frat boy’s tramp stamp.
So why keep up with it? Is it family tradition? Is it masochism? Is it really that much fun to be the loveable losers? How can the very thing we worship exhibit at best a lack of interest and at worst utter contempt for us? Why not find something better to do for three or four hours on a weekend? What was I talking about again?