November 4, 2016 § 2 Comments
I grew up as a fan of the Montreal Expos, or ‘Nos Amours,’ as they were known. I went to my first game with my dad in 1978, not long before my sister was born, when I was 5 years old. I was transfixed by the experience at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. It was still new, it had not yet become the albatross hanging around the neck of the franchise. It was glorious. So were the hot dogs, consistently ranked amongst the best in Major League Baseball. I don’t remember who the ‘Spos played that day, I don’t remember the score. But I remember the centrefielder, Andre “The Hawk” Dawson. He quickly became my favourite player. Others loved Gary Carter, the charismatic catcher. Or Tim Raines, the left fielder. And eventually, ‘Le Gros Chat,’ first baseman Andres Gallarraga.
In 1987, Dawson left the Expos. His knees were bad and the notoriously horrible artificial turf at Olympic Stadium made them worse. He signed with the Chicago Cubs. For a brief moment, I shifted my allegiances. It made sense to me, I was a kid. Plus, I was a Chicago Bears’ fan, and had been since I first discovered the beauty that was Sweetness, the Bears running back, Walter Payton, 4-5 years earlier. So I got a Cubs cap. And I was a Cubs’ fan. But old allegiances die hard, and in my heart, I remained an Expos fan. Imagine my disappointment in 1994.
But, underneath, I remained a Cubs partisan, and experienced heartbreak after heartbreak. But then Major League Baseball colluded and Nos Amours were stolen from Montreal in a skeezy deal that saw them move, eventually, to Washington and the horrible owners of the Expos, Jeffrey Loria, get the Miami franchise, while the owner of the Miami franchise, John Henry, moved up to Boston to take over the Red Sox. I was angry and devastated. I swore off baseball. Even today, I refuse to recognize the validity of the Washington team.
And then, in 2012, we relocated from Montreal to Boston. And I needed to cheer for at least one Boston team. See, the problem is this: I hate the fucking Boston Bruins. Hate them. The only thing on God’s Green Earth I hate is that team. Cheaters. Liars. Dirty SOBs. Hate them. And that deep, abiding hatred for the Bs seeped out to the other Boston teams, especially the Patriots. But, when I was a kid, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox tended to be the two teams that rivaled each other for the AL East title. And I always cheer against the Jays, so, by default, I kinda cheered for the Sox. So, I took up a fandom for the Boston Red Sox. The fact that they play in Fenway Park helped. I love that stadium. And, they also won the World Series in 2013, which I appreciated, it being my first full year in Boston and all.
But I always kept an eye on the Cubs. In 2015 I tuned into a baseball game and watched it start-to-finish, without doing something else, but actually watched it, for the first time in forever. On 30 August 2015, the Cubs, beat the LA Dodgers 2-0. And pitcher Jake Arrieta got a no hitter. The last time I watched a complete baseball game was on 28 July 1991, when those very same Dodgers were victim to another no hitter, this time a perfect game, against the Expos and the brilliant pitcher, Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez. So I felt I had come full circle. I was still a Red Sox fan, but my affection for the Cubbies remained.
I enjoyed the 2016 baseball season. Both the Red Sox and Cubs were contenders, both won their division. Both made the post-season, though the Sox crashed out in the ALDS to Cleveland (I will not use that team’s nickname, as it is racist). The Cubs, on the other hand, made it to the World Series, against Cleveland.
On Wednesday night, the Cubbies won the World Series for the first time in 116 years. The last time they won was 1908. The last time they even made the World Series was 1945. In my lifetime, since Dawson signed there, they had met heartbreak after heartbreak. In 1989, they won the NL Central, but were easily defeated in the NLCS by the San Francisco Giants. They made the playoffs a handful of times between 1989 and 2015, and each time came up short. And let’s not get into that Bartman incident.
I was at a concert in Nashville Wednesday night, but kept checking my phone for the score. I was really caught up in it. I thought they had it in the bag when it was 6-3 in the 6th. But then, all of the sudden, it was 6-6, after Aroldis Chapman gave up a homerun. And it went to extra innings. And then there was a rain delay. All of this meant that by the time we got back to the car for the drive home, the game was still going on. We found it on the radio, and caught the final out and the victory. And it happened. The Cubs won the World Series.
I was down in Atlanta yesterday running errands. Wearing my Cubbies hat. And had all of these conversations with people. Everyone kept asking how it felt. I felt a little bad, not being a die-hard Cubs fan, but, I still found myself saying that it didn’t feel real. It doesn’t. It doesn’t feel real. I can only imagine what a real Cubs fan feels.
December 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
We’ve been watching the American version of Shameless off and on for the past year. The American version is based on the British show, but is set in the South Side of Chicago. It is centred around the big and cacophonous Gallagher clan. The patriarch is Frank, played by William H. Macy. Frank is a drunk asshole. There’s no other way to put it. His wife, the children’s mother, has up and left. The family is held together by the eldest daughter, Fiona. There are 5 more children, the youngest of which is 2 (and somehow African American in a family of white Irish Americans; this is never explained). Fiona scrounges and scrimps and saves to keep food on the table and the roof over the heads of the other Gallagher kids. The house is possessed by the Gallaghers through dubious means, involving some welfare scam on the part of Frank. Fiona is left to scam to keep the family together and to keep the rest of the kids from ending in foster care.
I have to say, I enjoy the TV show, though occasionally it hits kind of close to home, in that I grew up mostly poor with an alcoholic and abusive step-father. But, this show is a rather complicated look at poverty, particularly white poverty in America. It also dovetails nicely with Michael Patrick MacDonald’s points about South Boston. The show is set in Canaryville, the historically Irish section of Chicago’s South Side. Canaryville, like Southie or Griff, is rather legendary for being both Irish and hostile to outsiders.
As I watch the show, I can’t help but wonder if Shameless romanticises poverty, portrays it accurately, or stereotypes poor people as scammers. I find myself torn every time I watch it.
On the one hand, the Gallagher clan and their friends struggle everyday trying to make ends meet, but it seems they’re always able to put aside their money worries to have fun. No, they don’t get drunk (except for Frank) and they don’t do drugs. But they do have a lot of fun, there’s a lot of wisecracking, and teasing. There’s also a lot of scamming of pretty much anything that can be scammed, from welfare officers to schools, to businesses and anyone else stupid enough to get involved.
When I was growing up, my life wasn’t exactly as glamourous as the Gallaghers, but it’s not like we spent our entire lives miserable because we were poor. And the “system,” such as it were, was there to be scammed. To a degree. It was not like anyone I knew scammed welfare or Unemployment Insurance (as Employment Insurance was once called in Canada), and so on. Scams tended to be smaller scale. Like scamming free rides on the bus or the Skytrain. Life wasn’t one thing or the other, it wasn’t black and white. It was complicated.
And this is where I think Shameless is a brilliant show. Obviously there is some mugging for the cameras and the creation of some dramatic storylines for entertainment purposes. But it represents the life of these poor white trash Irish Americans in Canaryvlle, South Side Chicago, as complicated. Their lives aren’t all of one or the other. They live lives as complicated as the middle-classes. Perhaps more so, because they’re always worried about having something to eat and having gas to heat the house. In the end, Shameless represents the poor as multi-faceted, complicated people, who are pulled in various different directions according to their conflicting and various roles (as breadwinner, daughter, son, friend, lover, etc.). In short, at the core, their lives are no different than ours. They are, essentially, fully human.
Too often, when I see representations of the working-classes and the poor in pop culture, whether fiction or non-fiction, these representations are nothing more than stereotypes. Poor people are lazy. Poor people are scammers. Poor people are dishonest. Poor people are victims. Poor people need help. And so on and so on. In reality poor people are none of these things and all of these things and more. In fact, the poor are just like you and me. And, at least in my experience, essentialising the working classes does them a disservice.
And this is where works like Shameless or All Souls come in. MacDonald complicates our stereotypes of Southie. He shows us the complications of the impoverished Irish of South Boston, and he makes it impossible for us to stereotype. In the end, Shameless does the exact same thing.