Seventh-Inning Spliff or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cubs

The date is October 11, 2016 and the Chicago Cubs earned their place in the NLCS by knocking out San Francisco fifteen minutes ago. As the Giant’s last hope swung through empty air, tens of millions around the world temporarily lost their minds.

Beers dropped, bars erupted, screams deafened, high-fives slammed, strangers embraced and countless fists shook madly in the October sky.

The Cubs – “lovable losers” and the punch line of 20th century baseball – have one of the most passionate and loyal fan bases in the sporting world. This point is not up for debate. As a native Chicagoan, the city’s endless love for the team feels instinctual, a known variable, but within a modern society that so often resembles a meritocracy, it seems impossible that a team can fail so often, yet win the hearts of so many.

As any Cubs fan knows, there is a certain pleasure that comes from supporting the perennial underdog, a hedonistic dopamine drop urging us to lean into the pain – like biting off an irritating hangnail, taking that last lucky tequila shot, or meeting the one that got away for coffee, despite knowing that she’s been happily dating her perfect guy for months. There is a sick pleasure in betting big on the outsider and pushing the envelope, even if the outcome is so often disappointment – or disaster. We tell ourselves stories about what might be, betraying our most fragile hopes.

This is one of those stories, a marriage of rabid fandom and perpetual hedonism, for better or for worse.

*****

An hour before Game 4 began, nerves raw and thoroughly rubbed from a day of stagnant fingers and endless distraction, I popped a pill, seeking a ride to end the night, a spark to push me past what I could normally achieve. The sort of heart-fire adrenaline that spins out 2,000 words more than one’s brain typically allows, and spits sentences faster than most ears care to hear. There are things far stronger than coffee, and a shocking amount of them are legal. I found myself sitting anxiously on a couch in San Diego, far from the streets of Chicago where I knew millions of people would be writhing in ancient stress, jacked on years of adoration, like unrequited lovers finally getting a glimpse of their favorite team’s petticoat.

After days of jittery cross-country travel and the difficulties of sudden suburban domesticity, I was determined to force the tide back and seize a moment for myself. It took a little over an hour for my toes to start tapping, just as the opposing team’s lineups were being announced. The flush of a temperature rise was next, and the gnawing desire for a cigarette. I felt like a college student pre-gaming a frat party, nervous and hungry for a night to remember.

Eagerness for a victory was balanced by a lifetime of disappointment; memory plays a mean Devil’s advocate. My mind was fighting against my instincts, as a game show host might goad a contestant to answer just one more question, despite the very real risk of losing it all. When the stakes are even higher, just think how much better the pay-off will be!

This addiction to risk, our universal attraction to the extremes, is a part of our baser nature. However, this is not some remnant of evolution; it is solely a human trait. In fact, the process of natural selection rewards those who survive as a result of minimizing their risky behavior, whereas human beings seem to get off on it. No, mutation is not to blame; hedonism is one of humanity’s finest and oldest creations, even though it feels programmed into our bones.

It can be found in the countless, customized niches in each life, the releases of tension, the guilty pleasures, the inane tidying, the secret cigarettes blown out bathroom windows, femme fatale fantasies and coupon cravings. Hedonism is fundamentally defined as pleasure seeking or self-gratification, an embrace of anything that makes us feel good, but that isn’t necessarily true. It is simply the embrace of anything that makes us feel. A person with a three-latte-a-day habit can’t look down their nose at a pack-a-day smoker. If you have four maxed-out credit cards, judging someone who goes to the track every weekend is wrong, pure and simple. Our addictions come in many forms, just like our avenues for pleasure.

Remnants of this sensation-seeking can be seen in the bags under our eyes, the yellow of our teeth, or the emptiness of our pockets. Hedonism is just as easily witnessed in the freshness of pores, the brightness of fluoride-whitened teeth, or the weight of fat paychecks.

And some people, Cubs fans included, proudly wear their addiction on their sleeve.

*****

Before that historic 9th inning, 4-run comeback, which is already frozen in the annals of Cubs fans’ shared nostalgia, just for a moment… I hoped that they would lose.

I wanted it to go to Game 5. On the cusp of witnessing baseball history, minutes before I would fall to my knees, pounding the carpet, shouting loud enough to wake up my infant nephew upstairs, the rush simply wasn’t enough. I was already looking forward to an even greater high, a more extreme emotional peak – the gut-churning tension of a finale rubber match that would inevitably end in heartbreak or ecstasy for an entire metropolis.

However, thanks to cognitive dissonance and a chemically altered mind, throughout that final inning, from the very first pitch, I also sincerely believed that the comeback could happen. Odds be damned. The team had been magic all year. Something was in the water.

In those final moments, I took faith in the only religion I’d followed in over a decade – the cult of October Outcasts.

However, as any man of the Northside Cloth knows, faith comes at a cost.

**********

Read the rest of John Staughton’s October musing in SN8: Nightmoon, coming out November 12!

Comments

comments