Paradigm Shift

As anyone on the south side of Chicago knows when Cubs fans die they go to hell. This was true for one Cubs fan who passed away earlier this year, we’ll call him Bob. My apologies in advance to all of you Roberts out there.

Bob was an unfortunate victim of a City of Chicago Department of Sanitation truck back in March, before his beloved Cubs had even begun their 2016 season. Upon his arrival in hell he was escorted to the section reserved for Cubs fans, a ballpark with an uncanny resemblance to Wrigley Field except that there is no Old Style and there are simmering sulfur pits where the bleachers would be. It’s a crowded place, standing room only and the inhabitants are compelled to wear paper bags over their heads. Even though they are in hell they are accorded the one comfort of anonymity.

The Devil usually doesn’t spend much time around this corner of his domain as he has more important matters to concern himself with. This year, however, was different. As the Cubs began to show signs of a legitimate run at the pennant in the over-world it was brought to his attention that the Cubs section of hell was beginning to experience odd disturbances.  This phenomenon has occurred before. Every few years the Cubs begin to show signs of life, hope grows and the negative energy gets thrown off kilter, but always things have been restored to a state of sustained misery. By late August of this year the situation in Cubs’ hell had reached a crisis, so much so that for the first time in many a year it required the Devil’s personal attention.

In the third week of August 2016 he popped in to have a look with his own eyes and noted that there was indeed something out of the norm.  In recent years much of the technology in hell has been upgraded to include “smart home” features. The Devil pulled out his Android phone ( in hell not even he can obtain an I-Phone) and accessed the climate control app to crank up the heat by about 20 degrees. On a lark he decided to stick around and observe the results. In spite of the now toasty 152 F temperature he noted that Bob still seemed to be almost… what was it? Was that a smile on his face? Puzzled the Devil decided to investigate this more closely. Rather than try to fight through the crowded aisles he spread his wings and let the heated updraft lift him above the section until he was hovering a few feet above Bob’s head. In spite of the paper sacks the Devil has the ability to see the faces of all of the inhabitants. He’s not always good with names, but despite the boast upon the entryway billboard, “Welcome to Hell, 7 billion served and counting”, he can honestly say that he never forgets a face.

“Hmm….you’re new, aren’t you?” the Devil bellowed down to Bob.

With an idiotic grin Bob replied ” Ah, not so much. I dunno…think I been here since March. What month is this?” Given that hell is generally an eternal proposition there are no calendars.

The Devil found himself oddly amused, rather than angered by Bob’s seemingly flippant reply. ” It’s August, fool. I’m more of an American League follower, so I usually don’t bother much with you over here.” This was true. How else do you account for the Yankees having won so many series? The Devil resumed ” So! How are you finding the temperature today?”

With his moronic expression still displayed beneath the bag Bob replied, in his best nasally Chicago accent ” Yeah, it’s not too bad. Kinda like one of those balmy Chicago days in May.”

This came as a bit of an affront, but the Devil chose to treat it as trifle and floated on to tend other more pressing issues in the Muslim section. There were always problems in the Muslim section! There were days when he regretted ever agreeing to take them. The importation of camel shit alone was a growing burden on the aging infrastructure. He made a mental note to stop back here soon and keep a careful eye on the situation.

Ten days passed to the very end of the month when he returned to find Bob and a number of the other residents displaying a disturbing set of emotions ranging from contentment to something almost approaching happiness. He certainly wasn’t expecting this, but no cause for alarm.  Like most CEOs the Devil is accustomed to being in charge and not easily rattled. He simply pulled out his phone, accessed the requisite app and cranked up the heat to 180 F. As he tapped the final command on the screen and closed the app he was feeling satisfied that this would achieve the desired effect. It was not because of any doubt, rather because he now recalled fond memories of just how much he enjoyed tormenting these people, that he decided to tarry there a bit longer. The sulfur was already beginning to bubble more rapidly and the distorting glimmer of the heat rising from the field signaled that the new temp commands had been accepted. If only he’d had this technology during the inquisition!

He observed that the veil of misery had mostly returned to the section, though clearly the full effect was yet to come. Curiously Bob still seemed unaffected. He obviously required a more personalized attention. The Devil hovered over Bob for the second time in as many weeks.

“Hey there, fool! Remember me?”

“Yeah, yeah….yer the boss, right?”

Pleased to hear his authority acknowledged a sneer formed upon his mouth as he replied. ” Damn straight, asshole! How ya likin’ it today?”

Beneath his paper bag Bob blinked the dripping sweat away from his eyes and cheerily volunteered ” Yeah, not too bad. Kinda like one of those sticky days in Chicago in late July, ya know?”

The Devil was uncertain whether Bob was just exceedingly stupid or if he was trying to deliberately provoke a violent response. Almost like a reflex, with almost no thought given to the action at all the Devil flexed his tail and whipped it behind Bob to insert the barbed tip firmly into his rectum. With a leering smile on his lips the Devil inquired ” How ’bout now, fool?”

Bob grimaced and then groaned. Through clenched teeth he replied ” Ooh! Yeah, these benches are killin’ me this year! My hemorrhoids are flarin’ up. Son-of-a-bitch!”

” Good! Good! Thats what I like to hear!” Satisfied that he had finally corrected the imbalance the Devil went on to a 1:30 conference with the Catholic bishops. He’d been skeptical of this lot, but had to admit that they had really proven to be team players, a welcome addition to the staff.

Nearly a month passed with no further alarms from the Cubs section and the Devil had almost put them back out of mind. Daily status reports indicated the return of some irregularities coming from the Cubs section. A late September staff meeting with Caligula, Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer listed this as a possible action item and was briefly discussed. Hitler, whose counsel the Devil had come to increasingly rely upon since 1956, assured the committee that this, like the panics of ’98, ’01 and ’03 , would also pass. Historically the higher Cubs hopes rose the more precipitously they would ultimately fall. Probably nothing to worry about.  The same had occurred last season too. The Devil was inclined to agree with the assessment, though the mocking nonchalance of Bob stuck in his head. He instructed the staff to keep him apprised of any further developments.

Through the month of October the data remained concerning yet confidence of the Cubs eventual fall still prevailed. On October 11 when the Cubs defeated the Giants in game 5 of their National League Division Series and advanced to the League Championship Series alarms began to sound.   These alerts had become fairly common over the past 20 years or so. Every few seasons the Cubs would show something to raise hopes, but always it proved to be a false alarm. With this being the second year in a row that they were mounting a credible run the alarms demanded closer attention.  This year, with the US Presidential election entering its home stretch between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Devil’s attentions were focused upon that drama and thus the Cubs situation remained in the hands of his subordinates. This was a professional operation, after all. If it came to it the Devil, as an individual, and hell, as an organization, were equipped to handle multiple crises.

When the Dodgers blanked the Cubs in game three to take a 2-1 lead it was believed that the crisis had passed.  A wave of pessimism swept over Cubs hell and the negativity was nearly restored to its proper balance.  With the final presidential debate looming the Devil breathed a sigh of relief that he could remain focused on that contest. Soon Hillary would win the election and order would be restored to the underworld.  It was times like these that it was good to be the king!

On the night of October 22 that new-found confidence was shaken. The Cubs had blanked the Dodgers 5-0 in game six and were now headed to the World Series for the first time since 1945. An emergency staff meeting was convened in the wee hours of the morning on the 23rd. The Devil was tired. Election years were especially taxing. Now he was pissed and he wanted answers. Not only were the Cubs going to the series but they were set to face another perennial loser, the Cleveland Indians.

This was the full staff this time: Hitler, Caligula, Dahmer, Saddam (the junior member), Bundy, Pol Pot, Khomeini, Stalin and Degaulle. Tensions were high and nerves taut in the conference room as the Devil made his entrance in full combat fatigues.  Beads of perspiration formed on Hitler’s forehead, his eyes nervously darting about the table as he fidgeted with a sheaf of folders in front of him.  Paper was still the medium for records and reports conducted in the conference room. Situated deep within the bowels of hell laptops and tablets were worthless as the wi-fi signal was unable to penetrate this deep and ancient cavern.  The staff waited breathlessly for the Devil to start the meeting.  Though he put on a veneer of calm control there was an iciness in his tone as he opened.

“What the fuck is going on here, people? I’m hip deep in shit with this election, I got Putin trying to screw the pooch in Syria, Assad trying to score brownie points with me slaughtering his own people, the Iranians still pulling their shit, all of this….” he gestured here with a wide sweep of his clawed right hand for emphasis, ” …and I gotta take time out to deal with fucking baseball!?”

Several staff members shifted nervously in their seats, not daring to raise their eyes at the Devil but anxiously stealing glances at each other across the table. The Devil in his customary fashion on such occasions left a long pause for dramatic effect, letting the lingering silence scream with the same volume as his sonorous voice.  They were never certain how much of it was real and how much was mere drama. This was by design, of course. Always best to keep them off balance. Each member of this team brought their own unique qualifications, but the nature of each was such that they were never to be trusted completely.  Fear was the best remedy for this and what greater fear than the unknown? The Devil sensed that he’d succeeded in instilling enough of that fear and given the gravity of the situation now relented and dropped the pretense, getting down to the business at hand.

“Alright. Adolf? Sit-rep, quickly!”

Hitler opened the folder on top of his stack and licked his lips. He opened his mouth to begin to speak, then halted to clumsily retrieve his reading glasses. Properly adjusted at the bridge of his nose he began. ” The Cubs have defied the probabilities since game 3 of the divisional series. We have reason to believe that this is due in part to Trump having secured the Republican nomination, but in any case the actuarial tables still point toward their defeat.  I would remind all of you again that this is the first world series berth they have gained since the year I joined the staff here. They lost in that contest and odds favor their doing so again. The Indians, on the other hand, though they have been unsuccessful, have at least earned several trips to the series during that long drought. Their roster has more players with championship experience and…..” he paused here for dramatic effect and beamed about the room with a triumphant look, “… the mayor of Chicago is, as you all know of course, a fucking Jew! Our best data has the Cubs chance for victory fixed between only an 11-18% chance.”

Khomeini and Saddam nodded appreciatively as Hitler spat out the words fucking jew with such utter contempt. DeGaulle, another dedicated anti-Semite, likewise reacted with approval.  He and Joseph Kennedy had been discussing this with Henry Ford over tea just last Thursday.  The Devil’s face betrayed no reaction one way or the other.  He moved on briskly.

“Pol Pot! Where are the Asians on this whole thing?”

The diminutive Pot squinted from behind his inscrutable visage, his look fixed upon no one in particular and weakly croaked ” We don’t give a fuck. Like you say, boss. Its fucking baseball.”

The Devil fixed him a smoldering glare but offered no other response.  He made a note to himself that when this had all passed he would want to move up Mr. Pot’s annual performance review. Pot was a highly capable administrator, easily the least scrupulous since Stalin, but he found that his sour attitude was wearing thin on his patience. He looked about the table, processing  the attitude of the staff as much as any data.

“Dahmer? Bundy? What about your posse? Anything to add?”

Dahmer just mutely shook his head. Bundy, in his nauseatingly obsequious manner bared his pearly white teeth and offered ” No, nothing to add here my Lord.”  That Bundy. Always sucking up. A real prick. The Devil often thought if he’d ever had a son he’d want him to turn out like Bundy.

He searched the faces of the staff, rhythmically tapping a lone talon upon the onyx tabletop. This might be a situation that called for the special talents of Caligula. He was, since Judas Iscariot’s demotion to shit shoveller, the senior staff member after all.

“Cal? We have anybody on this Cubs roster morally compromised that we can leverage? I mean more than normal. Bestiality, pedophilia, an Oedipus case? Anything of that nature?”

Caligula raised his arms from his flowing robes and casually examined his manicure. He was going to have to go back to that Vietnamese girl next time! He cleared his throat and replied in his stentorian voice. ” We’ve, ah… looked into this at some length. There are some suspicions, but nothing has been confirmed yet. We’re still digging.”

There it was. That was always what had most impressed him about Caligula. You didn’t need to give the man any direction. You could always count on him to do the job right. The Devil nodded. ” Mmm. Thank you, Cal. See that you do. Time is running short. Do you need any more resources?”

Caligula nonchalantly returned his hands to the folds of his robes where he was likely playing with himself. ” No, nothing we can’t handle. I’ll turn up the heat, don’t worry. When we have something you’ll know.”

The Devil was not entirely comforted by what he had heard from his team, but they were a capable group.  Hitler’s analysis of the historical probabilities was reliable . Due in large measure to his own dedication to his job history did have a dependable tendency to repeat itself. That and the fact that the average human being was so self delusional in their thinking that they rarely learned from their mistakes. Being entirely honest about it, as contrary to his nature as this was, this was the one thing more than any other that had assured the long continuing success of his franchise. The Devil was thorough to a fault. His clever mind raced through possibilities to be certain that all the bases had been covered. He grinned to himself at the pun, leaving his staff to wonder at the source of his amusement. Another brilliant gem leaped to the forefront of his mind and he determined how he would conclude this council.

“Alright then. As this is an emergency conference there are no other agenda items slated. Does anyone have anything else that we should cover? Anyone? Syria, the Philippines? Chuck what about you? Anything new brewing in France? You’ve had a banner year!”

Degaulle fingered his mustache and offered a modest nod to acknowledge the compliment, but quietly replied that no, he had nothing new to add.

“Alright, I want all of you to stay on top of this and text me if you have any new developments. I don’t need to remind you all of the gravity of this situation. A Cubs victory in the series could have catastrophic results for us all. Adolf? I want you and Uncle Joe to round up Tupac and the rest of his crew. We have six days before game 3 at Wrigley. You send their black asses to Chicago to round up some thugs for a drive by. If it all starts going south I want a team ready to put a cap in those Cubs. Got it?”

Stalin and Hitler nodded their silent assent and the Devil dismissed the meeting.  He remained there alone for several minutes, idly stroking his pointed beard and admiring his reflection in the highly polished onyx tabletop. He was feeling more assured that they had this under control, but still…. That idiotic grin on Bob’s face haunted his sleep.

Game one was comforting with the Cubs shut out 6-0.  With game two also in Cleveland the odds favored the Tribe jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the series. With the next three games at Wrigley they might need it. For a time he considered attending game two in person. He’d always liked Cleveland. Definitely in the top five destinations in the US. This was too much of a risk, though. It could be construed as an overt effort to influence the outcome and invite unwanted help for the Cubs.  The Devil knew that God could give a shit about baseball as a rule. No sense in drawing the attention.

The Cubs managed to even up the count in game two, but the next two nights seemed to bear out Hitler’s analysis. With a 3-1 lead the Indians could finish it in game five. The added insult of having their long hopes crushed on their home field would be enough to restore utter misery to Cubs hell for a decade at least! But the Cubs survived their last night at home with a 3-2 win.  Spirits in hell were still high, though. Only one game away and the next two nights, if needed, at Cleveland. Everything favored the Cubs being vanquished and hell would remain safe for another year.

 

The Devil and his entourage celebrated their high holiday of Halloween by surrounding Cubs hell with crate upon crate of Cubs bobble-heads. Anyone who is anyone in hell showed up and skewered the bobble-heads upon stakes and set them afire, taunting the suffering Cubs fans cruelly. It was a veritable orgy of a voodoo-like ritual. If there was any glimmer of hope left in the hearts of Cubs fans it was heavily veiled by a cloud of shame and despondency. It was looking like it would be business as usual; in hell and in major league baseball.

The following night was game 6 in Cleveland and all eyes in hell, except for Cubs hell of course, were on the game. At the start of the ninth inning, with the Cubs leading 7-2, the Devil was doing a slow burn. When the Cubs hammered two more runs in the 9th he’d had enough.

” Son of a bitch!”, he shrieked.  From that distant corner of hell he heard the buzz of excitement coming from Cubs residents. ” WTF! How do they know? I’m gonna fix this shit right now!” The Devil roared from his seat and soared about the vast caverns of hell as he dialed up the climate control app on his phone. As he descended over Cubs hell he cranked up the heat to 360 F and hovered overhead to observe the licking flame and boiling sulfur. ” Ha! That’ll fix those assholes! ” As he admired his handiwork he noted that Bob, although constantly hopping from one foot to the other and waving his arms frantically, was still wearing a beatific smile. His brow creased to a furious scowl and he swooped down low just over Bob’s head.

“What the fuck are you grinning about, you asshole?” the Devil demanded.

Continuing his tormented dance Bob replied between gasps for air ” Hey…<huff>, hey there….<huff-puff> Just like….<huff-puff>…a….steamy…<huff>…..August…..after- <huff-puff>….noon….<huff>….at Wrigley!”

The Devil was not amused. ” Oh, you think so, huh asshole? Well you just keep dancing like that for the next 24 hours and I’ll check back with you then. We’ll see what tune you’re singing then, you wise-ass!”

The following night in Cleveland it was a tight game. The Cubs jumped ahead, but through 6 innings the Indians kept within reach. Then came the rain delay. The Devil consciously maintained calm, but a sinking feeling began in the pit of his foul stomach. The game resumed, the 7th inning passed with no additional score. In the bottom of the 8th the Tribe tied the game and the minions of hell sat through a nail-biting, scoreless 9th that took the game to extra innings. Game 7. Tied game, tied series, extra innings, all of the makings of “one for the ages”. The Cubs scored two runs in the top of the 10th to take an 8-6 lead. Now it was up to the Indians.

They closed to within one run and the Cubs dug deep into their bullpen for a saver. When the Cubs made the final out a stunned Devil was rendered speechless. The lights went out, the furnaces choked and a sheen of ice descended over every square inch of hell. In the distance he heard Bob’s manic cries echoing in the darkness. ” Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!”

A week later Donald Trump won the presidential election. Hell is closed and the dead are up walking around in Washington DC.

 

 

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