I have a luncheon friend who has been deep in the dumps all week. He sits slumped over, picks at his food and won’t speak. The only way to bring him to life is to stick him with the tab.
The reason for his malaise? He is a Hanshin Tigers fan and cannot come to grips with their recent playoff flop.
“Don’t make fun of me,” he whines. “You don’t understand my pain.”
He’s right. I don’t.
“When it comes to baseball,” I tell him, “I have no feelings whatsoever. My heart is an icicle and in place of a soul I have two lungs of frosted air.”
He stares at me and gasps. “Does that mean . . . you’re one of the walking dead!?”
OK, yes, I admit it. I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.
So don’t complain to me about pain unless you perhaps get hit by a bus or have a limb chewed off by a coyote. For when it comes to pain, I have very high standards.
You see, the Cubs didn’t flop in a mere playoff series; they have instead flopped for an entire century, with an extra year to grow on. One hundred and one seasons of pain.
The last time they won it all — in 1909 — my grandfather was in elementary school. William Taft was president. The wheel had not yet been invented. Fire was but a red glow in someone’s imagination. Adam still had all his ribs.
Or so history seems to Cubs fans. Who divide the vast pantheon of human events into B.C. and A.D. ? “Basking as Champs” and “Always being Defeated.” Most scholars now consider B.C. as pre-history.
And I thank my lucky stars that this litany of losing did not occur in Japan, where sports announcers forever gush out micro-stats as if their lips and throats were part of some banal fire hose. As in . . .
“It’s now been 36,900 days since the last Cubs championship! Or 885,600 hours! 53,136,000 minutes! 3,188,160,000 seconds! Make that, 3,188,160,001 seconds! . . . 3,188,160,002 seconds! IN A ROW!
“Tell me,” says my lunch buddy. “Just how did a nice guy like you become . . . such a loser.”
“I mean,” and then he clears his throat and qualifies himself, “associated with such losers.”
He pretends to stroke a goatee. I pretend to lie back on a couch.
“Well . . . growing up near Chicago started it. And then the Cubs had all those nice guys . . . Banks, Santo, Williams . . .”
“Aha! Nice guys! And we all know where they finish, don’t we!”
And that is the Chicago Cubs identity, now projected onto all us fans — lovable losers.
I blink into the mirror each morning to spy a wrinkled face with bloodshot eyes and more hair in my eyebrows than on my head. I then raise my lips to find crooked, yellow teeth and I think, “OK, OK ? so I’m a loser. But at least I’m lovable!”
Yet if we could win — just once — it might all be different. The wrinkles might disappear. The hair might pop back. Successful men might rush up to shake my hand. Pretty girls might blow me kisses. Butterflies might dance around me wherever I went.
“You’re delusional,” says my friend. “To start, you’re about as lovable as a wart.”
I wave him off. After 101 seasons of ineptitude, I have earned the right to be delusional.
Especially because not all of those seasons have been inept. There were years when they almost won. So, like with a slot machine that suddenly spits out five bucks of quarters after eating most of your money, it makes you think . . .
“Gosh, I can’t quit now! I’m about to hit it big!”
Like in 1984, when I stayed up all night to catch Armed Forces Radio broadcasts of a playoff round against the Padres. I salivated so much half of Tokyo was put on a high water alert. Of course, they lost.
And don’t even get me started about 2003.
The Cubs then added outfielder Kosuke Fukudome from Chunichi, sparking the promise that — with a Japanese star in their lineup — NHK might make the Cubs regulars on BS television.
Yet not even NHK was ready for the Cubs brand of BS. Into which Fukudome has sunk up to his neck.
But there is silver lining to being a Cubs fan from 6,000 miles away.
After three decades in Japan, I always find trips home a little sobering. Friends and family that I remember as young and spry, now spout white hair and edge ahead with walkers. City streets that I recall as once bustling with shoppers now show empty lots and boarded buildings.
Because things change. Except for the Cubs. They are the one true constant that keeps home-sweet-home exactly the same.
Plus, should I bump into another Cubs fan anywhere on earth, we can immediately commiserate. Like discovering we have both had triple-bypass brain surgeries performed by the very same surgeon.
Resulting in the same numb outlook on life.
“I have no hopes about next year,” I tell my friend. “Because next year never comes!”
Unlike our lunch tab, which I insist on picking up.
“Well, OK,” my friend concedes. “Maybe you are a little lovable, at that.”