I grab a rope to steady myself as the spray of salt water stings my face. The murky, acrid waters swirl and froth, splashing against the moldering, fuzzy sides of our vessel. The orange, faded sun lurks in the gloomy sky somewhere, sending just enough light through the seemingly eternal clouds to illuminate an ocean stinking of mediocrity, disappointment, and frustration.
all around me are familiar faces
worn out places, worn out faces
The haggard, ache-painted faces of thousands of my fellows stare dismally at the deck of our leaking ship, our hands occasionally fumbling with the locks at our feet, making sure they’re nice and secure. Our sun-bleached Bears replica jerseys are in various states of decay, some stinking more than others. Old greybeards, wearing little more than orange-and-navy tatters, cast piercing, haunting glares ever-forward, silently mouthing the names of every Bears first round pick that has failed them.
bright and early for their daily races
going nowhere, going nowhere
The ghost of George Halas wanders the deck in a silent, floating vigil, dutifully handing out three pieces of hardtack per man, occasionally patting a shoulder in comfort only to find his immortal digits passing through the suffering soul aboard the goodship McCaskey. Some have already fallen to their knees today, their choking sobs muted from the winds off Lake Michigan, clutching their framed photos of middle-finger-jabbing Mike Ditka. Captain John Fox emerges from below decks, his typical curdled expression shaded by the threadbare tricorne resting upon his balding pate. In his arms he is carrying an enormous dusty tome from which he reads several names.
their tears are filling up their glasses
no expression, no expression
Those called smile with a joy that reminds me of a child’s innocence. The are taken with little ceremony to a colorless wooden plank which juts out several feet off the deck of the McCaskey. One by one they slowly shamble to the end of the board, the chains and shackles of the others clinking impatiently behind them, waiting for their turn which may never come. Dowell Loggains, resplendent in a poofy bicorne hat, slowly loads the ball into the chamber of his pistol, ignites the fuse, and presses the barrel directly into the lice-eaten scalp of the first man called on Fox’s list.
hide my head I want to drown in sorrow
no tomorrow, no tomorrow
The report of the gunshot echoes eternally across the dead waters of Lake Michigan as the first corpse of the day tumbles into the briney deep. The process repeats for several hours, punctuated by the giggles of Loggains. With a dry cough, Captain Fox signals the end of the list, and Loggains waddles back below decks, Fox following close behind. Those of us left alive shamble back into our assigned places on deck, double check the tightness of our oily chains, and resume staring out into the distance. At the bow of the ship, my eye catches Ryan Pace, wearing a stately navy boat cloak which billows in the chilly breeze as his gaze ventures pleadingly at the faint, impossible horizon.
and I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had
Beneath Pace’s feet, Jay Cutler is chained to the prow of the McCaskey. His emaciated remains show only faint remnants of his former double-chinned visage. With each dip into the oily blackness, Jay re-emerges, his damp hair blinding him from taking in any view, any faint glimmer of light. Cutler gasps out another choking breath of tainted air before once again plunging briefly into the brackish lake. He isn’t alone. To his left, the smiling, fat-faced cherub of eternal hope; to his right, the polished bronze statue representing potential.
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
when people run in circles it’s a very, very mad world
From the crow’s nest, a screech of “New season!” is heard, and the clatter of chains is detected on deck with a renewed vigor. Those of us who have only been aboard a dozen or so seasons still dredge up the flickers of meager joy, rising to our feet and rubbing our cracked hands in worried angst. Most of the grizzled elders stay seated, some don’t even bother to look up. The darkness on the horizon is indeed a new season, and I wipe the salt from my eyes to get a clearer look: I see clouds of Super Bowl confetti, ticker tape cascading down from skyscraper windows, the smiles of millions beaming up into the late winter blue of a Chicago sky.
Before my eyes, the twinkle of optimism fades into a wordless fear, as the enveloping nightmarish storm overtakes the McCaskey, lightning briefly illuminating the sinking faces of the thousands aboard; the rumble of thunder only faintly masks the sounds of the ship taking on water from below decks. As the weary horde adjusts our chains and begin to fruitlessly bail water in over the side, we see in the distance Captain Fox, Mr. Loggains, & First Mate Fangio in a jolly boat, escaping secretly into the rainy mists. No words are spoken.
The rain comes, and with nods of angry, dismal assent, we continue our bailing, seemingly without end. The waterline of the stormy seas seems much higher now. I stumble to the swollen, oaken deck.
There to take my hand and bring me back to my feet is Ryan Pace; his kind features holding promise of better times to come. I briefly smile back and meet his pinched grin, but into my hands he returns the bailing bucket, strolling back to the ship’s bow. Through the wind and rain I hear him speak.
“My Captain does not answer,
His lips are pale and still
My father does not feel my arm
He has no pulse nor will.”
I close my eyes. The darkness is comforting. I can’t bring myself to open them again. For now.