THE CHEESE STANDS ALONE

 

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When I can’t no more I go to poetry. When I hurt so badly I go to poetry. When there’s something so inexplicable in my life I go to poetry. It helps me in ways I’m never able to say but always seem to try. It’s the way I pepper my life.

If you find a quote or two in this column a little surprising all I ask is your indulgence.

It was the ’85 Bears season my freshman year and I was going to this small liberal arts college in Wisconsin that had a number of bars in its town, just like most of the towns in this wonderful state. It just so happened the most popular bar was also a bar owned by a Bears fan. Ah fate! Just my luck.

My thinking was that Bear fans would be there and I would root with them all the way to a Super Bowl victory.

Wrong.

Well, right. The Bears of course won, but where were my Bear fans?

I actually found more Packer fans there, not watching the Packers but rooting against the Bears.

Ugh.

That to me said a lot to me about Wisconsin’s feisty relationship with its brother of a state next door. FIB’s I heard a lot in school, and when I completely moved to Wisconsin after college, the distaste for this bordering state was definitely breathing and ruminating in its population.

I’ve been in this state for almost 35 years watching the majority of Bear games here and you might think it would be a no brainer to find a place where like minded masochists might be able to get away, not bother anybody and try to find something to cheer about with this horribly middling franchise. No.

It makes me think of Emily Dickinson when she says, “there’s a certain Slant of light/ Winter afternoons-/ That oppresses, like the Heft /Of Cathedral Tunes-.

Something about that heavy oppressing force that makes Wisconsin growl in the gristle like a badger to the bear invading its space. 

Wisconsin has so much rugged beauty to it, too. The rivers and lakes are so unbelievably muscled and present with achievement it can make drunk people feel like they own it all, if only for a fleeting, misguided moment. 

To be sure the people from Illinois want to be here and buy the land the state has to offer, and I think a lot of the people in this state have been sick of it for years.

Never mind all the economic boons the state receives from such a cascade of people coming to visit. There’s something proprietary about it. Something about it that says you can own our properties but don’t tread on me.

It also flavors the meat of this rivalry so that even a non partisan vegetarian can come to know that great smell cooking on the grill.

It was all encapsulated in the look of an animal faced freshman four inches taller than me, whose hatred for the Bears reached such a frenzy in that ’85 year he almost kicked the shit out of me for throwing a beer in his face, after I had enough of my ears being victimized all game by his bullshit.

When I was escorted out the back, I lost my place to go, and was subjugated to radios and small dorm room tv’s.

The vitriol behind the hatred is complicated, and in writing this I realize there are points I’m going to miss. Love is a so much better way to live. Hate is, well, just ask Dante about why he wrote “The Divine Comedy.” 

I find even after all these years of living in Wisconsin under the enormously prosperous reign of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, still the state likes to give Bear fans that extra pimpful nudge.

When you mention you’re a Bears fan they kind of apologize for you and say things like “I understand, ” or “oh I’m sorry.”

I think the dominance with which the Packers have beaten the Bears over the past couple of 25 years have made the Packer fans feel a lot like that cat that keeps playing with its dead prize, to make it more alive. Many try to console me now when the Packers quite routinely pull out the victory in the last minute.

Don’t get me wrong, the state is amazing. It is by far the greatest state of them all, by leaps and bounds the most generous, kindest, funniest people I’ve ever met. 

My dad liked to say about great people, “they’d give you the shirt off they’re back.” 

They never call themselves great, either.

I used to canvass door to door for various causes and the people I talked to whether red, white, black, brown, yellow, blue were genuinely interested in what I had to say. Even if they disagreed they would help me and many would also give a drink of water, a coke, something to eat, invite me in out of the cold.

They do what great people do instinctively. They care.

It was a template I recognized and it gave me the model I used in trying to become a decent man, throwing beers in obnoxious Packer fans faces during the foolishness of my youth notwithstanding.

I also have a confession. It’s taken me a while to work up to it and you might be tempted to think I’m a Benedict Arnold because of it, but I’m also a Packer fan in addition to being an enormous and even bigger Bears fan.

Not a very good Packer fan though, but one all the same. I too can find creeping up from within me a Bear fan rooting against the Packers, especially if it helps the Bears get in first place or make the playoffs. 

But I can also say I’ve been to Lambeau field twice. Great seats 35 yard line, 12 rows up. Great friend. Vince Lombardi statue. Parking in somebody’s front yard. The Lambeau Leap statue! Everybody walking like free people with beers in their hands in the morning. An absolute and unequivocal privilege.

I know it might look like I’m organizing a petition to stop the killing at the Roman Colosseum only to find me buying a ticket and cheering the carnage on in my little secret corner of the world. Maybe I am.

I understand paradox. Whitman teaches, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” 

While the Packers have 4 losses so far, and have got some obvious holes in their defense, I feel they will be the team to beat if the Bears are actually going to make the playoffs this year.

Rodgers makes the cheese stand alone.

It’s always so much healthier to root for a winner than a loser, and maybe that’s why I am at the very least one who always needs to be taking his medication.

Though I mingle and merge among them, I remain a Bear fan in occupied Wisconsin.