The night after Hurricane Ike, the Cubs/Astros game moved to Milwaukee. Panels blown off the dome roof in Houston. Carlos Zambrano, the hotheaded 27-year-old Venezuelan, at times genius Cubs pitcher, was on the mound. After the Cubs lost in the playoffs last season, I saw Zambrano the next day driving on inner Lake Shore Drive in a black rag top sports car with big gold sunglasses. I was on a bus that pulled next to him going south, caught in traffic. He stuck his finger out the window and pointed at my fellow passengers and I, like we were the man. A huge smile cracked his face, and the bus laughed in gridlock.
This season, Big Z is an ace on the best team in the National League. He talks to himself and the sky when on the mound, and tonight he sent the first six batters back to the dugout with K's next to their names. And he kept coming; masterful control and precision, light dusts sweeping corners of the plate and off speed pitches that made Astros Major Leaguers seem like little boys swinging on a giant--silly and purposeless.
At some point this evening, water still ankle deep in the streets of Albany Park, I wish Pat Hughes, the Cubs radio announcer, would stop mentioning it. I have a TV, and could've turned it on, but I started listening to the radio while washing dishes and folding clothes, and though the game was an hour and half north on I-94, I didn't want to jinx it. So I just kept busy with housework. I refused to pick up the phone on the chance someone would mention what was happening.
I knew my brother wouldn't call. We live across the street from each other. His wife is due to give birth in the first round of the playoffs and he made sure the hospital had TVs in the delivery room. I knew he wouldn't call for the same reasons. We didn't want to utter what was obvious in the face of history. It's like screaming at a gymnast mid tumble, or a golfer mid stroke, or your accountant mid scribble when they have figured out how to give you a bigger break, you celebrate before its official, like the rookie receiver from the Philadelphia Eagles, whose touchdown was called back because of his eagerness. I wanted to block the possibility from my brain.
And then it happened on a 3-2 fastball to Darin Erstad, a journeyman from North Dakota who spent time with the White Sox. And for the first time in my life, a Chicago Cubs pitcher sent all batters in nine innings back to the dugout without a hit. The Cubs fans who traveled to Milwaukee erupted and tears pooled my eyes 'cuz it is September and there is still magic in these cooling nights and what is better for the hopeful than reason and Derrek Lee knocked an RBI double tonight and his bat is returning to life and my brother's wife is having a little girl and my not-Jewish-girlfriend made kugel tonight and the Cubs are more than a handful of wins ahead in the NL Central and less than handful toward their magic number.
And I called my dad, a Cubs fan since 1943, sixty-four years and counting of loss and heartbreak and I am calling him to hear the excitement in his voice and want him to tell me about Zambrano or maybe remember a story about Banks, his childhood hero. But he is frantic on the phone. His voice stressed and tried, as if screaming, but not at the TV. Something about his computer and AT&T.
It is Sunday night. My dad is a dog walker. His schedules froze or his computer is broken or internet down and his small business, an operation he started eleven years ago in his sister's extra bedroom, continues to teeter on collapse.
Tomorrow is the workweek. Tonight he doesn't have time to talk. He didn't have time to hear the game, the first no-hitter by a Cubs pitcher since Milt Pappas in 1972, when my father was still married and R.J. Grunts recently opened and he managed there and the sea ahead still seemed clear. He will be 65 in November. And doesn't know how to use computers and pays out of pocket for health insurance and has no pension or IRA or 401K or equity or liquidity, but hustles to income. He walks the dogs of people who have things he doesn't, like condos and savings accounts. He picks up their dogs' shit in plastic bags. He has found a hole and niche in the system, the American Dream, which has no net.
He invented this hustle, as he has reinvented himself time and again. A teacher and coach, restaurant manager and owner and pizza delivery man in his fifties, wind breaker salesmen, life guard, small-time entrepreneur, with a city-sized heart his doctor encourages him to care for more.
Even if the Cubs win the World Series, he will still have to collect the ten dollars or so he charges per walk to pay his rent. He will stay working like most of this city: check-to-check. There is no stopping. There is only Monday morning, or the call of the third shift or the side hustle or moonlight. There is little time to celebrate glimpses of near perfection 'cuz clients will call or customers order or bosses will inquire and want and companies will demand and expect and the world keeps swinging, regardless of Zambrano's no-no.
Friday night, WGN re-ran the game. My father watched sitting on the floor in the living room of the house he rents, petting his dogs, Little and Lucy. Well before the last out, I am certain, he fell asleep.