Editor’s note: Bishop’s Babbles “Mis-History” are often complete works of fiction. They are meant for the entertainment of the reader. Any names, characters and incidents portrayed in this work are fictitious, satirical interpretations of any real-life persons or events.
You might have wondered where I’ve been the past few weeks. For a little while so did I; the days since my last story have been full of adventure, romance, goats and Italians.
In other words, it’s quite a doozy. Let’s start from the beginning.
I was looking for inspiration. This section, here on the O’Zone is where I get to live my life, but yet I felt like a failure. My heart and joy had been stolen, and I was consumed to be the top-read story on the site.
In short, I lost sight and it almost cost me my life. I was thinking, what story could I write that would get clicks and would get my name with the stars, and then I saw it. Out of the corner of my eye one day in the newsroom, SportsCenter was on. John Buccigross was talking about a man who was truly a ghost, Steve Bartman.
To some, he’s a god. Throughout all Miami, whose Marlins benefited from him, Bartman’s name is praised like the Madonna or Tony Montana. He’s almost a martyr in the sense. To the uninitiated, Bartman was a Chicago Cubs fan who on one fateful Chicago night in 2003 lost his team the National League pennant and sentenced them to an indeterminate amount of suffering.
Neither head nor tail had been seen of Bartman since that night. People had seen Bigfoot more than him. It was said he might not have been real at all, but rather the personification of all the Cubs’ curses. Whether he was real or not, I had to find out.
I started in Chicago, at Wrigley Field.
A group of us at the O’Colly had a chance to go to Washington D.C., but I chose to forgo the trip to the capital and rather head to the Windy City. The O’Zone was too important.
It was my first plane ride, and it was the first of many firsts in this trip. While my compatriots headed to Reagan Airport in D.C., I chartered to O’Hare. Little did I know my luck in my story was about to change.
The man next to me on the American Eagle Flight 6969 was none other than future NBA Hall-of-Famer Chris Andersen, known to the common folk simply as Birdman. I had written about Andersen only a few weeks before and yet here he was, my seatmate on this legendary excursion for fame, fortune and most of all, recognition from my boss, the Lord of Locust Grove, Oklahoma, Dekota Gregory.
Because extreme fear of heights and the cramped quarters of the plane, my heart began to race. I frantically tried to think of something else, but my mind imagined someone on the wing. Before my inner William Shatner could come out, Chris asked me something, a question so simple, yet so beautiful in his dulcet tones.
“What’s up, man, is this your bag?” The 6-foot-11 center said, pointing to my green backpack full of Bartman knowledge.
I nodded. He proceeded to pick it up and hand it to me.
“You better hold this, you never know when someone’s going to spill their orange juice or something,” he said.
I replied with a thank you and then said I knew who he was, as I had seen him one time before as a youthful sophomore on my way to Steamboat Springs, Colorado in the summer of 2010. He drove a camper and was on the way to Lawrence, Kansas. I never thought I would see him again, yet here he was with an NBA championship ring, dozens more tattoos and a shirt with none other than Steve Bartman’s face on it.
How could I not have noticed it? Why was the headphone-wearing, turtleneck enamored Cubs’ fan on Chris Andersen’s wife beater.
“Hey little dude, you all right?” he inquired. “That’s cool that you’re the one fan who knows me, but you’re all spaced out. Need some drugs? I snuck some on the plane.”
“No Birdzilla (this is his new nickname, only true fans of him know),” I said. “Why do you have Steve Ba….”
Chris immediately covered my mouth.
“Sssh man, don’t you know we’re on a plane to freaking CHICAGO? And yes, this is he. Are you a searcher too?”
Over the three-hour flight, Chris proceeded to write messages to me on my notebook about The Quest. (He used the notebook so no one would overhear the word Bartman, though I doubt they would fight Birdman. He was already wearing the shirt so what was stopping them?) A quest I had never heard about but apparently existed. Small groups of Bartman sympathizers looked to find Bartman and release him from his anguish so the Cubs could win.
He asked me if I was a believer, and I replied no, but I was actually a middling writer at a fledgling site called the O’Zone. He asked why would I go through all this trouble for a site such as this.
My reply, and I would never forget it, was simply the only thing that could cause a man to go to the ends of the Earth to find a ghost.
“Clicks, baby, clicks.”
When we stepped out of O’Hare, I went to hail a cab so I could head to Wrigley Field over on Waveland Avenue.
Birdman stopped me.
“Hey little man, how about we travel together? I know where to go. You get your story, and I get the adoration of a city. I just want fans, dude. And what better fan base than the entire universe?”
I agreed with Birdman. I had followed him throughout his career and I noticed a serious lack of love for Andersen. He was one of the most dominant players of his generation yet was unknown aside from his tattoos. It was almost as if the NBA was rigged against him.
“Alright, Bird, lead the way, hombre,” I said, speaking in his dialogue.
We took a cab not for Wrigley but rather to the South Side – White Sox territory. We were going to the Billy Goat.
When Birdman and I stepped out and saw the famous haunt, revered by Sox fans and rebuked by Cubs fans for its origin of the curse of the Billy Goat, we were amazed. A statue of Bartman was stationed outside, his arms fully outstretched for a ball he would never catch but still would carry with him for the rest of his life.
We entered, and instead of waiting to be seated, walked to the back where Birdman lifted his shirt to show a burn in the shape of the Sox logo. Apparently to gain access to talk to William Sianis IV, the descendant of the curse bringer, one had to undergo an initiation only White Sox fans could think of.
It’s too gruesome to talk about but let’s just say it requires a bare spot of skin, a wood bat emblazoned with the Sox logo and the arms of Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas to swing it with.
When we were allowed to the inner sanctuary, Sianis and Bird talked for a while. Bird showed him the Bartman shirt and Sianis became enraged, shaking his head furiously.
“You,” The burly Italian said to me. “You better have a better reason for being here than this washed-up, meth-dealing basketballer.”
“I’m a writer, for a site called the O’Zone,” I said. “Let’s just say this Bartman piece will make us legit and most of all, it’s going to bring in a whole lot of clicks.”
“Ahh, well why didn’t you say so?” Sianis replied joyously. “Clicks are what makes the world go round. Chris, why didn’t you tell me you were traveling with a businessman. Alright, I will tell you how to get to Bartman.”
“Really, just like that?” Birdman asked. “I thought White Sox fans hated the Cubs and never wanted them to win.”
“Nah, my grandpa did. But I’m really indifferent,” Sianis said. “To be honest, you guys are the first people to come in here during my tenure as curse keeper. I guess everyone’s afraid of Frank Thomas.”
“Not me,” Bird said. “Years of getting hit in the post, getting hit with a bat by Frank Thomas was only a flesh wound, I’ve endured worse.”
Sianis nodded his head in understanding. We began to smoke cigars and learn where the man known as a myth was being held for safety.
The ship was loud and uncomfortable. Captain Barkhad Abdi tried to make it a bit more enjoyable for us, but it was still awful.
After we had left Chicago on our way to Italy, the Sianis’s homeland and more importantly, Bartman’s hiding place, we had encountered a spot of bother.
Neither Bird nor I had passports and couldn’t fly internationally. Bird had let his expire years ago after his stint in China, yet he said he knew a guy who could get us to where we were going. During his suspension from the league back in 2006, Bird had to find work when he wasn’t playing in China.
He started working with a Somalian pirate outfit dedicated to pirating the right way. They still stole ships, but they didn’t kill anyone. Birdman said it was hard work, but he made it sound legit. I decided to believe him, astounded by how this trip had turned out.
A week had passed since I left Stillwater, and it was the first of several weeks I would fail to have one of my stories up. I felt sorry for my readers and more importantly, Dekota, but I knew that in the end it would work out.
I told Birdman to call his Somalian friends to come pick us up. He made the call.
After we had met up with Captain Abdi and his crew outside Miami, we started the weeklong journey to Italy. Bird, who used the codename Crash with the pirates back in the day, felt like he was at home again.
“Man, sometimes I forgot how good the pirates life is for me,” Birdman said.
“Yeah, it’s not bad,” I replied.
I soon regretted that decision, we had no food as Abdi had mistakenly commandeered a Hastings ship which was full of now-useless merchandise because the store had gone out of business. Luckily we had water, so we made do, but it wasn’t a fun trip.
Finally, near the end of a trip that felt as long as the length of “The Revenant,” we landed on the shores of Sicily.
Once we had made it to Naples, home of Cleveland Indians player Mike Napoli, and also the best red wine you will ever taste, Bird and I stopped to rest.
Our destination was near and we no longer needed the moped we had ridden across the countryside. We started walking the streets, and the view was so magical it almost made me forget what I was on a mission for.
Then I saw it.
“La Goata de Bartman” was the name of the café, and in it were dreams and memories of a man longing to go home but accepting of his permanent purgatory.
A few patrons were inside, only locals. No Cubs fans could be found here, true Italian pizza doesn’t hold a candle to Chicago-style so there was no reason for them to visit the city of Naples.
When Birdman and I walked in, the patrons stopped and stared at Bird’s tattoos, but then turned back around. Even in Italy, he was a nobody.
A young dark-haired woman named Appolonia worked the counter, and she inquired if we needed anything to drink. We said no. Bird then proceeded to pull out the shirt with Bartman’s face on it, Appolonia’s face went pale as a sheet. She yelled at the patrons to leave and then slammed the door shut when they finally did.
“The prophecy, you’re here to end his pain!!!” Appolonia said.
She picked up a copy of the local paper and on the cover it had Cubs’ players rejoicing as they had just beaten the Dodgers to go to their first World Series since 1945. They would be playing the Indians and Napoli, what a coincidence.
“I’ve waited all day Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Tuesday, you have finally shown up,” Appalonia said. “It was written that when the Cubs made it again, Steve would be freed of his shackles.”
“Shackles?” I asked.
“Not real shackles, but metaphorically,” Appolonia said. “You see Steve sold his soul to see the Cubs win but he didn’t say to win the World Series. He just said win. So when the Cubs won the division series back in ‘03, technically Steve’s debt was paid. He was forced to watch his Cubs fall apart once more, but this time at his hands. Steve has lived with that ever since.”
Birdman and I looked at each other, stupefied, saddened to hear this tale of woe. We told Appolonia we were here for Bartman and that it was time to release him.
She nodded her head, her eyes watering and went into the back room. When she came back, a disheveled man with sunken eyes, leathery skin from the Italian sun and a beard, freckled with gray walked out. On his head were a pair of headphones. He wore a turtleneck with the sleeves cut off.
“He hasn’t been allowed to change since that night aside from cutting the sleeves,” Appolonia said. “The shirt and headphones are permanently stuck to him, with the play-by-play of 2003’s Game 6 on repeat. It’s part of his punishment for selling his soul.”
Bartman looked at us and his eyes twinkled a little, he picked up a pencil and paper and wrote a question.
Did the Cubs’ win?
We wrote No, but they’re in the World Series, playing the Indians.
He replied Christ! It had to be the Indians, the second-most tortured franchise. Lord, I hope this works.
He went into the back and brought out a bloody towel. He proceeded to unwrap it and the stench almost overcame me. It was an old piece of haggis. Appalonia explained it was the only piece of the Billy Goat that was still intact and for the curse to be lifted, someone had to eat it.
Since everyone else had done so much to get me here on this journey, I decided I would bite the bullet.
I picked up the bloody 71-year old piece of meat and took the first bite. I immediately almost gagged. It wasn’t the taste, although it tasted most closely like asparagus chili on the 4th of July. No, it was because of the weight of the food. Once I started to swallow, I began to get all these memories of what the Cubs had suffered through over the years.
I’m not a baseball fan myself, I want to make that clear. I enjoy the occasional game, but that haggis made me cry more than anytime in my life. I kept eating, becoming more depressed with each bite. However, two hours later I was done.
I pulled myself out of the puddle of tears and saw everything was still the same. Bartman began to shake his head, weeping. It hadn’t worked.
“What the ….” Birdman got cut off by a shaking inside the café. A hell demon in the shape of Moises Alou appeared and grabbed Bartman before pulling him through the goat shaped hole in the floor from whence he came.
Birdman, Appolonia and I were confused.
We sat there, staring at the hole. My journey had ended in futility. I would never be able to explain this to Dekota without proof.
Appolonia was crying. Apparently she and Bartman had loved each other and had just been waiting for this day to claim true happiness.
Birdman sighed and ripped off shirt.
“You know, I’ve waited my whole life for the opportunity to be appreciated and I’m not going to let it end like this,” He said. “I’m going to get Bartman, and I don’t care what hell demon stands in my way. I’ve faced worse before. Don’t worry, baby (he said to Appolonia), I’ll get your loverboy back.”
Birdman then proceeded to jump into the depths of Hell. The hole closed up and the café was empty. Appalonia and I sat there and waited.
The depths of Hell aren’t as bad as people imagine, or at least that’s what Chris Andersen said to me after he came back.
Apparently while Appolonia and I waited up above, seeing the Cubs go into a 3-1 hole in the Fall Classic, Birdman battled with all of Hell. They brought the heavy hitters: Hitler, Genghis Khan, Franco and even Ramsey Bolton. It was pretty intense.
In the darkest time, Birdman dug deep within himself and looked for the happiest moment he could think of.
All the horrible memories of his life and childhood emerged. He kept trying to find something but the despair was too much. Birdman thought he had lost until he heard a single word, “Rosebud.”
That was it, he later explained to me. Birdman remembered the county fair in Iola, Texas, where he had ridden his pet pig, Rosebud, to a win in the annual pig-racing contest. Somehow, behind all the tattoos, it had gotten lost.
Birdman got up and won the fight, but we wouldn’t know until a little while later.
When Kris Bryant threw a ball to Anthony Rizzo to earn the Cubs the victory, the ground shook beneath Appolonia and me. Birdman emerged from the Earth with actual wings and in one arm, a sledgehammer that he had used to fell the hell demons and in the other, a youthful, exuberant, clean shaven and suit wearing Bartman.
Appolonia cried, I smiled, Bartman laughed and Birdman beamed.
We had done it.
That’s the end of my tale.
Despite the World Series win and all the goodwill from it, Bartman decided to stay in Italy with Appolonia. Nobody needed to know his story.
I only tell you it now because I wanted to explain where I had been all these weeks. I apologize to you the reader, but you will have your Babbles again. This is me promising you.
And if you were wondering what happened to Birdman, some might say he plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, coming off the bench, I know better.
He flies among the stars, awaiting his time to be called again, happy to know for the first time in his life, he has fans.