How Many Hats

By Todd Herges

Each year around this time,
when the “0-for-August” jokes return
and the Cubbies’ fade begins,
thoughts of a famous postman
rise up to haunt and amuse me.

Joe Doyle was a man who delivered the mail
in rain and sleet and snow,
and on his route was the Tumble Inn  –
a downstate Illinois tavern –
home to all fans of both Northside Nine
and their great crimson rival.

The year ‘69 held a season of fun that
was special and fine for Joe:  his team
seemed a lock for the pennant …
until that Miraculous cloud,
like the rainstorms at Woodstock,
rolled darkly across his landscape.

On one infamous day that September –
as I sat in my Kindergarten class
learning of Apollo astronauts, the Aquarian age,
and letters and numbers and shapes –
Joe with his mailbag walked somberly,
I suspect, down Hickory Street toward the bar.

I’ve often wondered what went through
his mind on that hot Indian Summer morn
as he noticed the strangely full parking lot,
the parking meters on the street out front
all paid, the pregnant surprise party silence
lurking behind neon beer signs in the windows.

There’s not much doubt
what came out of his mouth
as he walked in a huff through the door
and into a smiling wall of Cardinal fan faces,
each one full of good jeer.

I’ve been told it sounded something like
“To Hell with ALL of ya!”
as the flung mail fluttered through the air
and fell like scattered bitter tears to the barroom floor –
as he turned his back on fellow fans of the pastime
and walked out the darkling still-open door
before it had yet banged shut.

Twenty-some years later Joe died.

He was honored by Cub fans and Card friends
alike – the Diehard fans more somber, I suspect,
with inklings of dread at sharing his fate:
he’d lived his long life whole and true,
full of joys and sorrows, pleasure and pain,
children and grandchildren, fortune and fame,
without once enjoying a single, solitary, goddamn title.

Yet still, before the casket lid shut,
a familiar blue cap was laid on his chest
and then moved to the top of his head.

Each year around this time
when the “0-for-August” jokes return
and the drive for the pennant kicks up
dust for the Cubs to chew on,
I’m often led to wonder
how many other hats,
with that same old circular C,
rest quietly underground, waiting.

Published 8/28/09

Published in Chicago Cubs, Fans, History, Lyric, St. Louis Cardinals, The Game Itself, Youth | Link to this poem | No Comments

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