Archive for January 2014
A collective groan emanated from the north side of Chicago and most of the northern suburbs last week. It wasn’t because of the wicked weather we’ve been having–it was from the announcement that for the first time in almost a century, the Cubs have adopted a mascot. True to the team’s name, they selected a cub, and true to the team’s style of play, he appears to be a life-sized plush doll. This was enough for Chicago sportswriters and any crack-headed blogger (say my name!) to flood the internet with their opinions. I haven’t read any of the vitriol or logic because I knew where I stood the moment Clark was announced: Good job, Cubs. This is a wise decision.
But first, the naysayers. Those who have spiritually fought the Cubs on every change over the last few years have no doubt thrown their hands up and screamed to the baseball gods: “What have they done to my beloved franchise?!” As if the overhaul of the Wrigley Field grounds and surrounding areas isn’t enough, now they’ve gone too far. Now they’re relying on soft-peddling baseball to little kids and families. Have the Ricketts no shame? These naysayers would have dynamited the light stands in 1988. They would have kept the bleachers sealed off from the rest of the stadium. They would have let the rooftop owners double or triple the sizes of their buildings because the rooftops are an integral part of the party experience in Wrigleyville. They still want Gracey and Sandburg on the roster, and would probably dig up Ron Santos’ bones and prop them up in the broadcast booth. All told, it’s a strangely conservative stance for one of the most liberal pockets of population in the Midwest.
These are the same people who are blind to everything but nostalgia—Dammit, Wrigley Field should be all about the party in the bleachers and how it bleeds out into the rest of the stadium and neighborhood. We’ll pull on our Lovable Losers t-shirts and blame The Curse for the 95% of the time the team isn’t producing. Nostalgia is all that matters, and we’ll fight everything that gets in the way of that—despite nostalgia being the thing that has kept the Cubs from being even a respectable mid-level franchise. My life scheme oft times affords me the opportunity to reflect upon literature to explain or find parallels to unexpected occurrences in life. In this regard, the Nostalgic Cubs Fans are no different than Dave, the aging sled dog in The Call of the Wild. The beast has known nothing but his labor and his position on the sled team. He does all he can to preserve it, even as he is obviously dying:
Dave resented being taken out, grunting and growling while the traces were unfastened, and whimpering broken-heartedly when he saw Sol-leks in the position he had held and served so long. For the pride of trace and trail was his, and, sick unto death, he could not bear that another dog should do his work… he floundered in the soft snow alongside the beaten trail, attacking Sol-leks with his teeth, rushing against him and trying to thrust him off into the soft snow on the other side, striving to leap inside his traces and get between him and the sled, and all the while whining and yelping and crying with grief and pain…
Later, the dog even sabotages the sled rigging to maintain his familiarity:
Dave had bitten through both of Sol-lek’s traces, and was standing directly in front of the sled in his proper place. He pleaded with his eyes to remain there… a dog could break its heart through being denied the work that killed it…
Dave is eventually left behind, too weak to even walk. He howls mournfully until the team travels out of sight. One of the drivers returns to take care of him: “A revolver-shot rang out.”
I can only hope that things don’t have to go so far with the nostalgia-bent fans who have been raising a stink about Clark and all the other changes underway. Introducing Clark is a nice step towards changing the culture of the franchise. The Cubs are respecting a key demographic for every sports franchise, and the one that will do them the most good in the long run. Making the field and the franchise more family-friendly will pay great dividends because the game will be less about the party and more about Baseball. People will start expecting things. Fans will have some push-back. For the first time in decades, the Cubs will have to produce. That’s a novel thought to far too many people in the Wrigleyville neighborhood and other doubters in Cubs nation, but they are mistaken if they think the Cubs can ascend to legitimacy without steps like these. Nostalgia kills. You only need to look at the Cubs over the last sixty-nine years for proof.
The next step for the Ricketts? Get rid of the troughs.
The holiday break wraps up here after an extension for cold weather, and for the nineteenth straight year I’m saying “It’s time.” The holiday break is like a summer vacation packed into sixteen days. Just like summer vacation, you spend those first few days languishing, reveling in the glory that you don’t have to be at work until Next Year! And when you say it like that, it makes those sixteen days seem longer. But also like summer vacation, you reach the point where the languishing becomes an almost terminal condition. That’s when you know that it’s time to get back to work. Personally, I reached the tipping point Thursday afternoon when I fell into a cocktail-induced nap that lasted until 7PM. I awoke asking myself what happened to the day, despite having cleaned up around the house and having worked out for the fourteenth day in a row.
Getting to the holiday break has never been easy, and this year was no exception. When you work at a school where more than half the students live in poverty, it can be hard to find the joy in the season. There are several factors that contribute to this. One is timing. The holiday break comes with less than two weeks left in the semester. Students who haven’t gotten their act together all semester now know that they are going to fail and there is nothing that can be done about it. It’s not uncommon for them to act out. Take a class full of low-level or struggling learners, and as many as half the students might have checked out some time between the Thanksgiving turkey coming out of the oven and the Christmas turkey going in. The resulting amount of classroom distractions crests for the semester, and rampant discipline problems follow.
You can pretty much forget about meeting with a counselor this time of year if you’re trying to help a student or bring a situation to their attention before it runs off the rails. They’re too busy dealing with kids who are melting down at the prospect of spending sixteen days away from school. I recently mentioned this to a well-educated woman who lives in an affluent community south of where I teach. I might as well have been telling her that Martians have landed. Our students aren’t deliberating about whether to visit Telluride or Jackson Hole–they’re preparing to deal with a bare floor under the Christmas tree (if there is a Christmas tree), the heat not working, not enough food for Christmas dinner, or an out-of-control parent that they don’t have to be around when they are at school but now have to be around for sixteen straight days. What’s more, we seem inundated each year by students being pressed to donate every last cent in their pockets to the local food bank or Toys for ______, or whatever other charitable cause someone has managed to wheedle into the school. I’m all for giving and considering those who have too little during this season of abundance, but I think some people should think twice about badgering a student population in which 1 out of every 2 students is in poverty–especially when you hear kids mumble, “Who the hell is watching out for me?”
There are other things happening, too. Our fights spike to their highest point before the end of winter. One dean explains this as a weather phenomenon: The kids aren’t getting outside to burn off energy or frustrations like they do in the fall and spring. I think there’s more to it than that, and it goes back to my previous point of kids feeling like they’re trapped without school as an outlet. They are quicker to anger, and too many of them already have little or nothing to lose, so why not pop someone who has been aggravating you? And then there are the thefts. Things disappear. IPods, cellphones, nice sets of headphones, entire book bags. Even hats, gloves, and winter coats can walk away if left unattended. One of my Creative Writing students wrote a story about an encounter with a girl in a locker room who stole a scarf from her. She ended up “gifting” it to the young lady, who appeared to be in more desperate need of it. At least someone was feeling the spirit of the season.
More often than not, we limp across the finish line as we head into the holiday vacation. It takes some time to rebound from that before you can feel the spirit of the season–and sometimes it takes more than a few days. I think my first encounter with the holiday season at my current school left me jaded for a few years. I couldn’t quite capture that Christmas feeling after witnessing first-hand how difficult it is for people in different circumstances. None of that changes the fact, though, that we ethically have to push on. We can’t stop teaching and let things slide that week before the holiday. As tempting as that sounds, it would actually make things worse. All we’re left with is to keep with the classroom routines we’ve been following, despite coming across as The Grinch.
Pushing on has a lot to do with why it’s time to get back, too. Pushing on and returning to “normalcy” will help deaden the foul taste left from the weeks before Christmas. A new semester will start soon enough, and that nominal rebirth will help even more.