The goat’s got nothing on me.
It’s 1984 – we all remember 1984 – and I’ve just moved into a house with the man who in three months will become my husband. He’s one of those Cubs fans who can rattle off batting averages and specific plays. Me, I just love the Cubbies. I grew up in Skokie; it was the only option.
We unpack the television set, which sits perched on a tower of boxes, and unwrap the oak wardrobe where all the tee-shirts and sweats are stored. We eat popcorn into the seventh inning, slightly unnerved by the sixth but pretending otherwise. And then, inexorably, inevitably, things start to head south. Denial does not survive the inning. The Cubs are going to do what they always do, and lose.
Suddenly our eyes lock – and even 32 years later, I remember thinking that this is not the kind of expression I want to see from the man with whom I am about to exchange vows.
“You’re wearing the wrong shirt,” he says.
I can’t recall which souvenir tee I had on at that moment; it could’ve been the smiling Cubbie wrapped around a big fat blue C, or it could’ve been the marigold yellow one you can’t find anymore, with “No Lights in Wrigley Field” in big red letters. The fact that I was wearing it, and they were losing, made it the wrong one.
And because too many years of losing had reduced all of us to superstition, I hopped up, flung open the doors of the wardrobe, and grabbed a different Cubs shirt.
Too late. We watched in mutual horror as the Cubs did what they always did. If I’d paid attention to omens in life as I did in baseball, I might’ve questioned the marriage sooner. I imagine he had his doubts from that day forward.
Flash forward to every time the Cubs got past July 4, the unofficial heartbreak date, without folding. You might say there’s no causal link between their performance and fan behavior – what narcissists we have become, to think that our actions have any impact at all – but 1984 died hard, so I monitored my every move. If I turned on a game and the Cubs started to lose, I changed the channel. If they won in the end, my worst fears were confirmed; if I’d stay tuned, they would have lost.
In 2008, I happened to be making rice pudding when the Cubs won a game against the Cardinals, and I allowed myself to think that I could watch subsequent games if I made rice pudding and just glanced at the screen every now and then. I vowed to make rice pudding during every game, and then life got in the way and I forgot.
I confess that I’m still not the kind of Cubs fan who can quote chapter and verse of the team’s performance, though I know the names of more of the players than I usually do. There’s a second tier of Cubs fans out there – not as devout or as knowledgeable about the sport, perhaps, but in love with the legend of the team and the Second City that’s waited, and waited, and always stayed loyal. Big shoulders and all that. Midwestern decency; faith in the future.
So allow me to reassure the vast ocean of Cubs fans who are now holding their breath around the country: I am not watching, I am not inventing rice pudding-esque rituals, and I am not indulging my desperate yearning for a “Do Simple Better” tee shirt or a vintage Cubs caps. I pretend that I don’t care, which isn’t easy: I got as far as the online checkout window for that shirt, but then I backed away. I will not allow myself a single souvenir, lest the gods of baseball victory take note of my interest as they have in the past.
I like that the Cubs’ young players have rejected all talk of goats and curses and superstition, and I envy and rely on their deliciously clean and victorious mindset. That’s how it should be: Four games with no history, because the team’s history has nothing to do with who’s taking the field.
But for me, a vow of abstinence and sacrifice.
And when they win – knock wood – would somebody please let me know?
Karen Stabiner is the author of “Generation Chef: Risking It All for a New American Dream.” The book follows a young chef as he opens his first restaurant and chronicles the upheaval in that risky businesses.