On the John presents…
On Monday: a story in two parts.
Edited first draft published September 29, 2010
Proper version published September 30, 2010
PART II (click here for Part I)
The sun was shining hot, hotter than I’d thought when I left home, but each time I considered unzipping my hoodie I felt the wind once more, those summer/fall Chicago gusts so smooth and cold. It was 6:30 pm, an hour to kickoff. I was wandering east on Roosevelt back to the Pink Line. As I passed Damen and turned left on Wood, I realized that I did not wish to ride the train. So I walked. And I called Mike. And as we spoke, I was struck by one realization after another.
For me, the rally was a series of dueling instincts and emotions, of painful truths I preferred left silent. My conscious pretense for attending was to get a story. To be a writer. A reporter. To observe. Or, more deeply, to serve as witness.
If that’s what I really believed, I was kidding myself. The story of the FBI raids, of Nicole Dunson-Bowen… I was angry and frustrated. I was betrayed and violated. Attendance was a reflex. It was my subconscious leading me to confront a reality that differed from the one I lived. And it was my subordinate side craving rebellion. It was Brando’s Johnny and his mantra: “Whadya got?”
This was not an observation gig, no matter how I tried to sculpt it. This was about me. It was not about the rights of Stephanie Weiner and Joe Iosbaker and Hatem Abudayyeh, or about Nicole Dunson-Bowen and her family, or about Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Josh Fattal, or about people dying in Iraq or Afghanistan or Iran or Israel or Colombia or Lebanon or Pakistan or anywhere else. It was about me. About my rights, my actions, my choices, my lifestyle.
During the summer of 2009, when I was covering the Iranian protests in Chicago, I felt powerful. In the approximate words of Ferris Bueller: “I’m not Iranian, I don’t plan on being Iranian, so who gives a crap what their president thinks of me?” As long as I stayed out of Iran and my friends and family did the same, I was free to write and say whatever I wanted. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could not touch me, and that gave me the freedom to tell the stories and share the voices of people who either could not do so on their own, or did so bravely in the face of censure. Writing about Iran and the struggle of these people, noble though it may have been, was safe. It was virtual reality. It was flying upside down in a roller coaster.
I had no such sanctuary here. When Stephanie asked me to sign up for emails, I felt threatened. Not by her, but by “they.” Suddenly, standing on the streets of the city I love in the country I cherish, my safety was in peril. Suddenly, my name was a liability. If I wrote my name on that list, then my name was on that list. If I said, “Yes, I will help you,” then I was also saying to my own government, my own leaders, and, effectively, to a man about whom I had written a book, “I stand beside them, and you stand against them, and I don’t really want to stand against you, but there we are.”
I’d felt guilty throughout the protest, guilty of not being involved, of trying to maintain my observer status like “The Quiet American.” Suddenly, on that walk home, as I spilled my feelings to my friend, I felt a different sort of guilt. Not a personal feeling of guilt, but a legal feeling of Guilt. I was now Guilty. My name was on The List. I was a sympathizer. I hadn’t marched, but that was only out of civic drowsiness and lethargy.
My mind flashed to my apartment, to my desk, to my books, to my computer. The agents spent half a day in Joe and Stephanie’s home. What conclusions would they draw looking through mine? I started cataloging my belongings:
I have two books by Howard Zinn… I have Gandhi’s autobiography… I have books by Orwell, Studs Terkel, Hunter Thompson, Nelson Algren, Leonard Pitts, Jonathan Kozol. I have “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” I have Anne Frank’s Diary. I have a book on our military action in Afghanistan. I have Season 1 of The Wire on DVD. I own four Spike Lee movies. I have Seth Tobocman’s graphic collection “You Don’t Have to Fuck People Over to Survive.” I bought that book on a lark – the cover looked cool, the content interesting, so I bought it. What would they think of that? They spent hours investigating Joe and Stephanie’s music collection. I have Dylan and Public Enemy and Nas and Joni Mitchell and Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon’s Graceland and Phillip Morris. Sure, that last one’s an unknown, but he’s Dangerous, right?
The more I thought about it, the graver the situation grew. Good god, I forgot about journals! Who knows what I’ve written on late, drunken, carefree nights? Secrets breed in journals. Mine must surely contain the seeds of revolution, or at least the seeds of the seeds. Suddenly I was Winston Smith noticing his hand furiously scribbling DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER. Everything was in play. What else could they use? I have a delinquent Verizon bill. I have an unopened letter from the IRS. I have a copy of the Torah. I have the Federalist Papers and a pocket-sized copy of the Declaration and Constitution. I have back-issues of Foreign Affairs magazine and The Economist. I have donated to Feeding America and I have no idea who is handling those checks or what lists their names are on.
What Facebook groups am I in? Who are my “friends”? What did I write back in college? What classes did I take? I cheated on several tests senior year. Not stealing answer sheets or anything… just double-checking off of the work of other students. Did they know that? Would they care?
I looked at the items I was now carrying. The smoking gun! Holy shit, look at all of this socialist and communist material! I’ve gone Red! I am Jerry Seinfeld: outed, and I wasn’t even in! Should I throw these out? My prints are everywhere!
The dueling emotions ran deep. The FBI raids these people’s homes, and they respond by going to the FBI’s home and gathering peacefully around it? I wanted action, action I knew I would not lead, action I was not even convinced was right. I thought the protest was hopeless, and then I felt ashamed for maligning the efforts and methods of people who have dedicated their lives to this fight, who have risked their freedom and privacy and dignity, people who, as Swiryn reminded me, might have a plan unknown to me.
“Protests can be frustrating,” Mike said. “I got burned out going to one every week. The thing about protests is that sometimes they energize you and make you feel great and powerful and give you the motivation to go home and do whatever it is you want to do, and sometimes they make you feel weak and helpless. You can’t look at the protest as The Thing. It’s usually The Thing The Leads To The Real Thing. The ‘action’ that you seem to be talking about.” I stayed silent. Mike continued: “You should find out what people are doing after this. A protest like this might just be the first public gathering, meant in part to get more media coverage for the cause, or to get new people involved. Talk to someone after it’s over and find out what they’re doing after. The protest is not the action.”
“I know,” I said. “And I did talk to them, and there is something going on after this, and, yeah, fuck you to whoever is listening to this conversation: I’m probably going to go to their next meeting.”
“That’s good,” Mike said.
“I get what you’re saying about the protest. About how it’s not ‘the thing.’ I understand that. And I know that it was wrong to show up at one single protest and feel like I knew what was going on or what was right or what we should have been doing. Still though, I could not fight the feeling that the whole thing felt… small. It’s like, you know, we’re protesting the actions of the FBI, and we’re surrounded by cops on duty making sure things don’t get out of hand, or whatever…”
I was now nearly at Harrison, still on Wood. “I kept looking up at that dark building,” I said, “at those windows at the top. How do you think we looked to someone at the top of that building? Do you think we looked like a threat, a relatively small group of angry, well-behaved citizens having a public meeting surrounded by police? I don’t know…”
We spoke for a few more minutes. He gave me the ear I needed and a few kind words, and we said goodbye. It was a gorgeous Chicago day, green and blue and leaning trees. I walked through the park north of Cook County Hospital, slanting northwest to Ogden, where I crossed the highway, ignored the Blue Line stop, and continued my trek home.
I could not shake it: from the moment the woman approached with her notepad all the way until I said goodbye to Stephanie and Joe, the assessments I’d just now rolled off to Mike – along with many others – were chewing me up. But there was one realization that stood high above the others, one that I could not totally articulate on the phone. I’m not sure I can even articulate it perfectly now. Kubrick has been quoted as saying: “Sometimes the truth of a thing is not so much in the think of it, as in the feel of it.” The same goes for experience and perception, and it was in that vein that the Great Realization shook me most.
When we were kids, The War was something happening Over There. From America, you could support it or oppose it, but either way, your day would be your day. You would go to school, go to work, see your friends, eat your food. You might be outraged, and you might write protest songs or powerful pieces of journalism, and you might attend rallies or organize meetings, and you might campaign against this politician or in favor of that one, but it’s all happening here, in America, where you go home at night to your bed and your family and your books and rest from it all.
I saw a different picture on Monday.
On Monday, I saw the war. This was it, right here, right at this protest. And it made sense. And my intuitive understanding of why it made sense chilled me to the bone, nearly as much as the threat itself. Let’s say you are running a war. Not fighting a war, but running one. Operating one. Writing, directing, and producing. There are two sides. There is your side, and there is the enemy’s side. It is not divided by nation, but by personal alliances. It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business. Not anymore Mikey. It is totally personal. There can be no room for “patriotic dissent” because the term itself is oxymoronic. You cannot oppose your government’s “unjust” war with any more expectation for success than you can oppose your boss’s “unjust” firing. It’s just business, bubba. I’m the boss. I pay you. And don’t you fuckin’ forget it.
Right. There are two sides, ours and theirs. Are you with us or against us? Will you aid our efforts or oppose them? To you regular folk, war is this terrible event where “innocent” people are killed and maimed and damaged beyond repair, where your tax dollars waste away and the school systems sink and whatever else it is you people think. To us, it’s a football game. You play fantasy football, right? We play too. We are the owners and coaches, and we’re having a ball. You are the gnats protesting the 18-game season, declaring our game too violent, accusing its surrounding culture of a corrupting influence. But we have the power, and it’s our league, and we’ll do what we want, and there we both are. Majority rules, bub. Thanks for playing.
There is that great scene in The Third Man when Holly Martens (Joseph Cotton) rides to the top of the Ferris wheel with his old, mysterious, nefarious friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Lime has been accused of mass-murdering hospital patients by diluting penicillin in a black market scheme, and Martens tries to guilt him: “Have you ever seen any of your victims?”
The slick Lime easily deflects that sentiment, opening the compartment door from high above the ground: “Victims. Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spend…”
When Lime first says the word “dots,” there is an amazing shot of the carnival far, far away. We see a carousel spinning slowly, and tents, and the dots who are even more shadow than dot. And for that one moment, our sympathies flip from the protagonist Martens to the scoundrel Lime, and we gasp in horror as we realize that, yes, just for a moment, we were calculating dots.
It made sense. It made perfect sense. And from their perspective, it wasn’t crazy or scary. It was right. “If we want to fight in Afghanistan, and you want us out of Afghanistan, then you are now with Afghanistan and we’ll do to you as we’ll do to them.” It was Paths of Glory all over again. Either you fight and risk possible death from the enemy, or you refuse and face definite death from us. It’s your choice, fella. Make it fast.
When I finally reached Division, the bars were filled with navy and orange, (sprinkled with green and gold), and flowing with football chatter both televised and in person. It was five minutes to kick. My apartment was ten minutes away. And I needed at least ten minutes of phone charging, probably fifteen.
So I scrapped my original plan to bike to Irving Park, and twelve minutes after I plugged in my phone I was headed toward the Six Corners looking for a cab ride. The game was underway, and the announcers and crowd reactions were already steaming from the bars as I walked beneath the Damen Blue Line. As I crossed North Ave. after the Flat Iron building, a cab pulled into the North Ave. left turn lane. We caught eyes, signaled each other, and I hopped in.
The driver was a young man around my age, friendly and casual, dark-skinned, with an African accent I could not identify. “Where to?” he asked.
“1902 W. Irving,” I said, knowing full well the predicament I’d placed him in. “Irving Park and Damen.”
“Irving Park and Damen…” he mouthed quietly, as he began the maneuvering necessary to turn right on Damen from the left turn lane.
“I guess I picked the wrong cab,” I said.
“We’ll be fine,” he said as the cabbie to his right let him go. The light turned green and we swung to our right in front of traffic, halting a bit when a motorcycle drove through the far right lane before finishing the turn.
I was now itching to catch up with the Bears. His radio was off. Hold on Jack. First things first. “How is your day going?” I asked him.
“Fine, fine. Just listening to the Bears, you know,” he said in his accent.
“Oh! Perfect!” I shouted as he turned the volume back up. I had, apparently, entered on a commercial break. “How are we doing?”
“Not too good. Down seven nothing.”
I groaned. “Already? What happened?”
“They stopped us, man. They held. We had a field goal, missed it, they got the ball, down the field, done.” He shook his head.
“Dude.” I was not happy. “Robbie Gould missed a field goal?”
“Yeah man. And it was not long. 39, 43 yards, something.”
“When did the Packers score?”
He shrugged. “Four, five minutes ago. Right before you got in.”
We listened together as Cutler marched the Bears down the field. A ten-yard scramble with fifteen yards tacked on for a facemask. Thirteen yards on a pass to Olsen. A short run for Chester Taylor. And then Cutler, back to throw from the 25…
“Intercepted!” yelled Bears play-by-play man Jeff Joniak.
We let out a heinous groan, him lightly slapping the steering wheel, me clapping my hands together, and off went the Packers the other way with the ball.
He turned right onto Irving and we spotted the bar together and he pulled over and I stepped outside. I paused as I did my mental run through, leaving the door open for the moment. Keys… check. Wallet… check. Phone… check.
“Have a nice night.”
“You as well.”
The front door to Silvie’s Lounge leads to a traditional bar area on your right. Walk to the back and turn right into the connecting room, and that’s where the music is played. There is an open wall over the bar, so that the bartender actually serves both the bar room and the performance room. Thus, when I walked inside, the game was on, but quiet. It was the second quarter now, still 7-0 Packers.
As I sat on my side of the bar and looked across, I spotted Steve and his wife Linda in the other room. They smiled and waved. With thoughts still circling, I had no desire for alcohol. I paid for a Coke and walked around to the other room to greet Steve and Linda.
Steve was the second of four acoustic acts at Silvie’s “Acoustic Explosion.” The first guitarist was half way into his set. I returned to the other side, watched a bit more of the game, and circled back when Steve took the stage. My mom arrived right as he started; when I looked over after the second song and saw her there, I pulled my bar stool over and we sat together and watched.
The show was wonderful. Steve played about seven songs, all original compositions. He was sweet and skilled and loose and fun, with songs to match; the entire set was marked by a communal feeling of peace, enjoyment, and a deep respect for the moment, as, I think, we all sensed the beauty of age still holding promise for new beginnings. With my little photo camera, my footage ranged from decent to splotchy. But the sound was there, and Mike can see his dad playing. As the saying goes, Good enough for who it’s for.
My mom offered me a ride to Wicker Park, which I accepted. The Bears, we learned, had scored a touchdown to close the half, and when we arrived at my apartment, the score was ten to seven. My mom gave me some mail that had arrived at their place, and my plan was to put the mail upstairs and then head over to the Blue Line bar to watch the rest of the game, since my roommates and I no longer have cable. But as I walked into the building, I saw that our downstairs neighbors were watching the game as well. I knocked on the door, and one of them, Adam, a tall, friendly-faced fellow, welcomed me in.
Along with Adam were roommates Pat and Mike, all three of whom attended Indiana with me, a fact we did not know at the time, and only discovered in mid-May when we met. Pat and I, it turned out, even had a creative writing class together, a very cool surprise to receive seven years later. Adam is a Bears fan, Pat a tolerable Colts fan, and Mike, though from Scotland, has lived in Chicago long enough to embrace the Navy and Orange as well. “It’s not like we’ve got a rival team,” he told me. Fair enough.
The screen was wide and flat and big, as most screens are now, and along with the clarity and width of the view, their set up also featured DVR capabilities, a technology that I still find really, very, freaking cool. I’ve never had TIVO or even a reg’lar ol’ DVR – it changes the whole experience. Now, when Jay Cutler gets cracked under his skull by the lunging helmet of an opposing player, we don’t have to wait for the replay. I’ve watched a few games downstairs with Pat, and ones at other people’s homes, and I always end up with a conversation like:
“Whoa! What happened there?” (I am, of course, asking rhetorically. The TIVO user, however, takes it literally.)
“Let’s find out,” he says, rewinding.
“Oh, that’s right…”
But DVR also jives with my evolved early-in-the-season sports fan philosophy: What Happens is more important than me viewing What Happens. Today I had a responsibility, and the Bears had a responsibility. My responsibility was to be a good friend, and, as it turned out, to be a good citizen. The Bears responsibility was to whup ass on the Packers.
Once, when our dog Killarney was not sitting still so that my dad could pet him, my dad looked down into his Welsh Terrier eyes and said, “Excuse me dog, let me tell you something. You are a pet. That is what you are. If I don’t pet you, you don’t exist.” I believe the same is true about a professional sports team. They exist because of fans. If no one cheers for you, sooner or later, you will not exist either.
At the same time, they’re big boys, and as a sports fan, it is important to remind yourself of that, to remind yourself that it is okay to leave these men on their own from time to time. You have to trust them to win without you, to fire themselves up, to do it without the karma and iron-sure will you deliver telepathically direct into their helmets. You can miss a quarter if you need to, miss a game if you need to. You can cheer during the plays and sit quietly in meditation through everything else. If that’s what you need to do.
But for goodness sakes, when the plays are running, cheer man, cheer! Cheer loud and strong! Cheer like you always have. When Devin took that fourth quarter punt 62 yards for a score, when Peppers went through the Packers field goal protection like Two Scoops in the gauntlet, I was up, baby! I was yelling and distributing high fives to Adam and Mike, and cold, cold stares into Pat’s artificial turf-laden, dome-encased soul.
And a few minutes earlier, when Cutler banged a pass off Dez Clark’s fingers on 4th and goal from the one inch mark, and Rodgers and the Pack took over from their own one at Soldier Field on a Monday night facing left to right, you’d better believe I was sweating, whispering, “Oh shit, this is Robert Brooks territory here. Stop ‘em stop ‘em stop ‘em stop ‘em stop ‘em.” When the Packers followed the Hester return with their own march down the field, deliberate and effective, I was grinding my feet into the carpet, and when Rodgers himself capped off the drive with a Favrian dive for the pylon, I shrugged “C’est la vie” and hoped we tie it.
And as Cutler deftly threw interceptions that were called back by one penalty after the next, and as Gould kicked a field goal to tie, and as Urlacher, Briggs, and Tim Jennings granted us possession once more, and as Robbie Freakin’ Gould put the final kick through the uprights, I laughed and guffawed and cheered and clapped and celebrated.
And when it was over, I thanked my neighbors for their hospitality, said goodbye, went upstairs to my books and desk and computer, got into my bed, and went to sleep.
Copyright 2010, jm silverstein
COME BACK THE DAY AFTER EVERY 2010 BEARS GAME for a new column from Jack M Silverstein, right here at readjack.com
WEEK 1: Once a Bears fan…
WEEK 2: 2-0 and beyond the infinite
More Bears material from readjack.com
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WHY WE ROOT: Mad obsessions of a Chicago Sports Fan
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