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"Yes, I was here on Bartman night," said Fred. "The woman I came with was crying. I walked out of this stadium after Game 7 like John Wayne, and I realized, They can't hurt me. That's the moment I knew. I'd hit the Zen spot—no one or nothing could touch me."
I, too, transcended, gloating not as my team salted one away, 5--2, and I hit the jackpot as the last man holding the Batter Game cup when the ball game ended. The crowd exited, stunned that its favorite song remained lodged in its throat. Fred, just before departing, told me which one of the three dozen Wrigleyville bars to meet him at, and he finally let down his scar tissue. "If they win it all," he confessed, "I'll cry like a baby and laugh like a hyena for a week."
I AWOKE on my last day, showered and caffeinated away the cobwebs, hopped the el to Addison Avenue and arrived eager to go out with a bang. The beer gardens were already thronged, the music hopping, the vendors weaving through the surge selling salty T-shirts—I WANNA SEE MARK DEROSA IN EVERY POSITION the females' fave. It occurred to me how familiar all this was beginning to feel, from summers I'd spent in Italy and Spain and Bolivia, and how foreign it felt in America. What Wrigley had wrought was something virtually nonexistent in the United States and yet essential to life in southern Europe and South America: the fiesta!
By blind luck as much as design, the Cubs had gathered and stirred all the critical carnaval ingredients: They annihilated the social barriers by preserving the bleachers, keeping humanity of all ages, shapes and bank accounts ass-to-ass on the same plank. They served up songs that everyone knew and sang together. They had percussion, pelvic fuel, in the bands of black youths beating overturned plastic buckets on Addison, Waveland and Sheffield. They had pagan sacrifices, like the skinned carcass of the billy goat lashed to the arm of Harry Caray's statue when they were going down in flames last October. Add alcohol, costumes, old men tottering on baseball-bat canes next to college-age girls removing their bras and wearing them as earmuffs—see YouTube, search Wrigley bleachers Cub girls get drunk. Add defeat, year after year of crushing, bewildering defeat, essential as well because the fiesta, at its roots, was a pre-Christian hoedown, a rational man's response to the irrational, his howl at his ultimate futility, a few days or weeks a year when he embraced the absurdity of it all ... by becoming it.
Which is precisely what was occurring in "the well" out in left, the bleacher seats—located at the wall's sharp inward curve—where I'd been invited to join Ken Keefer and the Merry Pranksters, a throng of old hippies who roosted there every game. Ken was spraying the shapeliest of neighboring females with one water bottle, Ellen Shockley was spraying Soriano with another, Mary Ellen Reinhold was spraying Phillies leftfielder Pat Burrell with sexual innuendos, and Ellen's husband, Radical Tim, was spraying one-liners upon everyone and everything. They had Burrell shaking his booty for them—best one in baseball, the ex-hippie chicks concurred—and nodding when they asked if he was going commando.
Oh, by the way, the Cubs were busy going down 5--3 throughout all of this, losing their second straight at home for the first time in over a month. And yes, the 66-year-old fan sitting on my left, Elliot Fineman, was busy recruiting me to his website and his 1200-Month Fan Club, convinced that Cubs fans must begin referring to their drought as 1,200 months rather than 100 years to counteract all that number's negative psychic energy, "because otherwise, if a black cat walks across the field in the playoffs or Kerry Wood hurts his finger on the orange-juice squeezer, this city will freak, and as good as this team is, it can't wipe that away." And yes, the Cubs would lose six of their next seven games after the Phillies left town, and old fear would begin to spread, and Judy Caldow, the centerfield bleacher regular, would tell me that "Cub fans will tell you that doom's not in the back of their minds, but it is—it is for every Cub fan here."
But I felt no pity for them as I wobbled out of Wrigleyville. They could lose for 100 more years, and they still had what neither I nor any other fans in sports did, on the schedule every year from now till kingdom come or Wrigley go. Eighty-one chances to be children again.