Like I Love You

I’m thinking about walls and constructs of identity and who is allowed in and who we keep out and the arbitrary nature of fandom and what it means when we say “real fan” and why I don’t like to cheer with a crowd and loving the thing that everyone loves but the very real need to keep that love apart and private to distinguish it from the uglier thing that envelops a people or place. They don’t love you like I love you. 

Aside from family, the Chicago Cubs have been the one constant in my life. Before music, before art, before everything, I watched and played and loved baseball. The story of how our family- we of the immigrant parents and no particular regional loyalties and no deep history (that I’m aware of) of sports fandom- came to obsess over baseball, and the Cubs in particular, is quick and simple and connects to our then-love for pro wrestling, but my brother Milan tells it better than I do and it’s irrelevant here anyways. Suffice it to say, beginning on July 7, 1987, at 5 years old, I was all in, all the time, for all of time.

Our shared bedroom became overloaded with boxes and albums of baseball cards, our walls adorned with posters of Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace and one poster that just said “Baseball Fever.” I had Starting Lineup figurines positioned across my headboard. Everywhere we went, we would find a way to play some version of the game. Daily games on the cul-de-sac with our neighborhood friends. Only three available? We invented Tag Up. Only two? Let’s practice sliding into home plate on an area rug. Solo? High pop-ups or pitching practice against the concrete steps. One of my favorite photographs from my childhood is of me and my friend Titus, grinning giddily, standing on my driveway, his arm around me, both of us in winter coats, not a single leaf on a tree, each of us wearing our baseball glove. As a popular line of t-shirts (one of which I, thankfully, never owned) would later come to say, Baseball is life- the rest is just details. This was how I lived. 

It’s 2003 and for the second consecutive year I’m living in what I guess you would call my first “real” apartment- still college, still campus housing, but no longer the dorms; I’m in the newly formed (by us) P.E. House with some of the least “P.E.” guys and girls I know, and it’s an absolute gas. We’d undoubtedly have been loath to admit it at the time, but we’re pretty much the center of the hipster-ish (the word still makes me cringe) universe on campus. I specify “on campus” because the truly committed had already moved to Logan Square by then. So our merry band of indie children convince or dupe or scam the housing department into believing that WE are best fit (pun absolutely intended) to live in this beautiful home and host various Physical Education-related edutainment events for the DePaul student body (see previous note re: pun).

In the P.E. House, as in every home environment I’ve lived in before and since, I was keenly aware of my unique position between multiple worlds. Where previously things like color and culture and creative ambition may have been the barrier, here I was suddenly, for the first time in my life, the sportiest, bro-iest person around (yes, me, the 5'8", 150, not very strong human you’re thinking of). Because, see, the P.E. House, like every “cool” thing that existed from 2002–2012 was thoroughly drenched in irony, so the idea of anyone living there actually watching or caring about professional sports was pretty much a non-starter. And it was there, in the fall of 2003, surrounded by my dear friends and housemates, they of the baguette and brie parties and indie bands and Truffaut marathons and basement shows and some stuff that I actually was mature enough to enjoy back then, that I watched the Cubs clinch the National League Central Division title.

(I want to be clear here- I did then and still do truly like, and in some cases even love, my P.E. House-mates. I chose to live with them and I’m still close friends with almost all of them. Two of them are, in fact, hugely dedicated Cubs fans, but back in those days the ways in which people were willing to define and delineate themselves were far less fluid than they are today. The above descriptions aren’t meant to be insulting- they’re simply intended to illustrate the divide). 

Wait, they don’t love you like I love you.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I remember Aaron and Milan saying they saw them open for another band and that they were incredible. I remember Travis saying their “singer sounds like sex.” But at some point I heard them and then I heard them a lot and then I listened to them a lot and in 2003 when the Cubs were great and In Dusty We Trustied and Kerry Wood was the best he’d ever be and Jim Hendry pulled Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton and Randall Simon out of a hat, I was listening to Fever to Tell on repeat. It’s a brilliant, beautiful, brutal album- a classic of the era, maybe THE classic of the era- and the heartbreaker, ballad-ish Maps is a standout track.

They don’t love you like I love you.

Call it insecurity. Call it fear. Call it youth. But before, when I was younger and dumber, I was territorial about everything I loved. Everything my family did was right- exactly and only the way we did it. Hate your friends’ new friends. The books and bands and records that mattered to me mattered more to me than they could’ve ever mattered to you. You don’t get it. You wouldn’t get it. You don’t know how it is. And so it was with the Cubs. Their struggles were my struggles; their victories my self-esteem; their story my being. When some buddies from back home came to visit me at the P.E. House to watch Game 4 of the NLCS, we mocked and scoffed at every question or comment anyone else made, reveling in our superior knowledge of the game and of the team. And after they defeated the Marlins that night, Tommy and Pat and I hit the town, approaching randos in Cubs gear on the street, removing our ragged, sweat-stained Cubs hats, and putting them in the strangers’ faces while screaming things like “this is what 20 years of fandom smells like” or, like the trolls that we were, insisting that they answer our “questions three” re: obscure Cubs factoids from the 80s. The defining characteristic of my fandom was that it was mine, not yours, and it could never be yours, and yours could never be as good. They don’t love you like I love you. 

It’s 2016 now and the Cubs are good. They’re very good. And they’re special. And they might be on the brink of doing the whole damn thing, but even if they don’t, it’s different now. They’re everywhere, all the time. Everything is. The underground is over now (or never existed anyhow). The Yeah Yeah Yeahs barely exist. Beyoncé Knowles has become not only the most successful pop star on the planet but one of the most important and influential artists and creatives as well. And on a record that plunges the depths of identity and soul and race and love and heartbreak and reconciliation, she sings, “hold up, they don’t love you like I love you.” And it’s quite something to hear a woman who is everywhere at all times and all things to many people insist on the singularity of her love. To say, yes, they all feel it, but they don’t feel it like I feel it. They don’t know what I know. Sure, they all hang a W flag on their front stoop, but why don’t they know that they’re supposed to take it down after a loss? They might cry if this thing doesn’t end how we hope it does, but will they wake to write about it thirteen years later? They’ll celebrate, no doubt, but will they feel what I feel? And doesn’t it make me somehow more if I can convince myself that they feel less?

I don’t know. I think, or, at least, I hope that I’m a little bit better than I used to be. I’m not as territorial. I embrace “bandwagon” fans now because why not and what’s wrong with someone finding something new to take pleasure in? We’re all bandwagon fans. I know that indie and alternative and hipster and underground and popular and bandwagon and latecomer and mainstream are all just names for The Other and I’m trying to avoid those. And to convince yourself that a record released on Interscope in 2003 is or was somehow more artistically credible than a record released digitally in 2016 is no different than thinking that there is pride to be taken in declaring arbitrary rules and barriers to being a fan of a particular professional baseball team.

They don’t love you like I love you. And that’s ok.