Holiday Reading: George F. Will’s “A Nice Little Place on the North Side.”

Caveat emptor! This book was written just before that which it implies could never happen, happened. Like  the first (fourth) Star Wars, it takes place in a galxy long ago and far away. A world wherein the most hapless of all hapless baseball teams, hamstrung by a small venue, impecunious (not to mention inept) ownership and the contrivances of the Old Ones themselves (you can find an account of their malevolence in the Necronomicon) converged in the longest sustained record of futility endured by any American professional sports team so far. A world wherein pain and frustration, according to Will, literally amended the neurological circuitry of Cubs fans. A world wherein fresh air, sunshine and the lost symmetries of playing two exempted the expectation of victory. A dystopia anchored by an improbable relic of a baseball field squatting in a small clearing in the midst one of North America’s great conurbations. Wrigley Field, as it was until a little over two months ago.

Now, of course, to extenuate the title of the Ty Cobb iconoclasty recently mentioned by Badhair, all is changed, changed utterly. What Will must have been thinking when Rajai Davis hit that home run in the bottom of the eighth inning in game 7 may never be known. It is entirely possible, in keeping with Will’s delightful discursus on brain chemistry and the suffering of the fan in A Nice Little Place, that even Will doesn’t know what he thought, his anguish subsumed in a neural pipeline rupture of endorphins.  One of the more enjoyable segments of the book, in fact, is Will’s discussion of l’affaire Bartman, a moment as endearing to Feesh fans as it is anathematized by Cubs fans. On his way out of Wrigley after the Feesh concluded their demolition of the Baby Bruins, a fan recognized him and said “Don’t worry, Mr. Will. We’ll get ’em tomorrow.” Will replied, “Not a chance. I’ve seen this movie before.”

Oddly enough, Will has been silent about the Cubs’ victory, despite several emails I personally have sent upbraiding him for his reticence and reminding him of his duty to expound upon this miracle of miracles. For all we know, he still expects to awake some nearterm morning to discover that even the game 7 rain delay was nothing but a wet dream. What Will also probably doesn’t realize is that the Cubs’ victory was only made possible because the Old Ones were distracted from their perennial hijinks of tripping up the northsiders by their giddy project of electing the beloathed Donald Trump (as predicted in the Necronomican, which I bet you Will never read):

In addition to his account of the Bartman fiasco, when Cubs fans collectively reverted to their primitive roots as a bunch of swine (hog butcher to the world, you know), Will not only bestows an apologia for Carl Sandburg in general, but also covers such gems of Cub history as Lee Elia’s expletive-vermoulou tirade (you get the entire text, plus or minus a few asterixes and grawlixes) about the faithlessness of the Wrigley faithful, a truly enlightening history of beer, meditations on the nature of architecture, the great opportunities awakened by the Chicago fire, Ernie Banks, everything you always wanted to know about Hack Wilson but were afraid to ask, the rise of statistics, the statistical correlation between winning and attendance that Cubs fans have stood on its head, the advent of Tom Ricketts, how World War II delayed the installation of night lighting for seventy years, and his own failed effort to have his son and daughter-in-law name their impending child Clark Addison Will. That one must have hurt.

Look, I think Will’s political discourse is about as attractive and logically consistent as some of the records Cub ballplayers set for things like most errors in a game, most strikeouts in a row, most consecutive years without a world championship (108). However, when he turns his attention to baseball, he cranks out masterpieces like Men at Work and Bunts. I’d rank this one just a little behind Men at Work as a cornucopia of delights and bellylaughs for the winter-bound baseball fan. Cubs fans might find it awakens memories of pain and anguish they thought had been decisively extirpated by the 2016 team, and it’s even possible that they’ll wake up sweating and shuddering the night after they finish it from troubled dreams, transformed, if only psychologically, into enormous cockaroaches. Yes, and if the preceding 108 years of Cubs history does indeed read like something out of Kafka, Will’s mordantly elegant prose has a way of redeeming it with his love for his team. He recognizes that George F. Will is himself constituted of such jouissant memories. In his memorable interview with Ken Burns in the PBS Baseball documentary, Will notes that he grew up in central Illinois, equidistant from Chicago and St. Louis. “My friends became Cardinals fans and grew up happy and liberal. I became a Cubs fan and grew up bitter and conservative.”

This really is a wonderfully erudite, elegantly inscripted account of the team that, until only recently, was a meme for ineptitude on a cosmic scale. I loved it. Bet you will too.

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9 thoughts on “Holiday Reading: George F. Will’s “A Nice Little Place on the North Side.”

  1. Merry Xmas OG! the erudite nature of your writing stands in stark contrast to that of PBT. You mention Will not having expounded upon his negativity about the Cubs chances to break their curse, but it makes total sense since Conservatives are very bad at admitting they are wrong (take that ultra Yang fool Hair Hitler Trump for example). Chicago’s roots as a slaughterhouse (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle made me a vegetarian for over 30 long, hard years) might have had something to do with that curse. There;s humane treatment of animals and there was the brutal, Chicago way. I am going to get Will’s book based on your very reliable recommendation.. Also, I love the way you use foreign words that have no, real translation in English to make your points. Language is culture and the more we share that the better chance for peace. Happy Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, too.

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    • Hair Hitler claims to know more about hell than the Necronomicon.

      My daughter Chelsea took a summer program at Brown University between her junior and senior years of high school and her dorm was in H. P. Lovecraft’s old Providence mansion, now owned by Brown. She reported no odd noises at night (other than the occasional squeaking bedsprings from somewhere down the hall) but also noted that the mattresses were from hell. I suspect that troubled sleep (with apologies to Jean Paul Sartre) is a proud tradition among Arkhamites.

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