"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." - Bill Shakespeare
For all of the uninitiated or simply ignorant, a few months back Tommy Buzanis and Chaim Witz took the 2007 Cubs Media Social by storm. Legends (and babies) were born, Dwight Smith was immortalized with the catchphrase "Aww shit, you know!", and plans were made between Tommy and Fat Z to christen David Beckham's arrival to MLS with a case of Tecate and a bottle of stolen Cuervo.
More importantly, a bond was formed between myself, Tommy and Harry Caray's widow, Dutchie Caray. She agreed to become, in no uncertain terms, our grandmother. We got our picture taken with her, telling her to put it up in her restaurant and just call us 'two former minor leaguers that didn't quite pan out'. Believable enough, we thought, as the Cubs have certainly had enough guys that fit the bill. Our relationship with Dutchie was rooted in respect, admiration and mass quantities of free booze. We ended the night with a hug and an open invitation to Tommy's houseboat and a promise to send her a photo of the three of us to be immortalized on the wall of the new Harry Caray's restaurant forever.
The impending write-up here on TMS was lauded by fans and critics alike, bringing fame and fortune to both the site itself and it's humble yet talented writers. Pulitzers were discussed in hushed tones and broadbands were increased to handle the overwhelming volume of unique page views.
But then, like an all too predictable episode of Behind the Music, things quickly began to spiral out of control. The much lauded arrival of Tommy Buzanis was over before it began, his alcoholism crippling his ability to write anything coherent, much less mend fences with his estranged son, Thomas Jr. The quality of the posts by the other bartenders also suffered, due to a combination of factors including but not limited to: out of control egos, drugs, grammatical errors, a glaring lack of timeliness, meddling girlfriends, long-winded diatribes, incoherent ramblings, inner turmoil, jealousy, rage and just poor writing. Soon the readers were all jumping ship, with millions of loyal Thunder Matt fans turning to Perez Hilton and Bill Simmons for their daily fix instead.
It was a dark time here at the Saloon, forcing many of the writers to seek gainful employment elsewhere. Chip Wesley took to selling Alyssa Milano's clothing line, Touch, door to door in the Quad Cities. Brant Brown relocated to Russia where he trained a group of rag tag insurgents for some sort of "coup", to be filmed and later aired on the CW. Governor Gray Davis went into hiding somewhere in the Northern California wilderness where it is suspected that he is solely responsible for at least a half dozen forest fires.
In need of fresh blood, American Idol-style auditions were held at a Hardees parking lot in East Moline. Only 3 people showed up, and for better or worse they now write for the Saloon. Actually all three were just there for lunch, but I offered to pay for their Monster ThickBurgers and throw in an apple turnover. My memory is hazy, but I may or may not have also threatened their families. One can never be sure of such details.
None-the-less, things were looking bleak. How bleak Chaim? Glad you asked. They were so bleak that we thought about shutting the whole operation down. Brant and I discussed perhaps starting a joint blog about the day-to-day lives of our cats.
Then one day, as Tommy Buzanis and I slaved away at our thankless jobs at a rather generic and undefined telephone call center, our lives changed forever. An envelope sat on my desk. This is strange as most of my mail comes in the form of a Molotov Cocktail. I turned the envelope over in my hands. Surely it was more hate mail. I debated just throwing it away, but decided that I could use some dark humor to start the day, so I slowly and deliberately opened the lipstick smudged envelope. A ray of light literally shot out of the envelope. I found this to be odd and a even a bit dangerous, but really thought nothing of it. I reached in and pulled out an invitation.
"Tommy, this is our ticket out of here. Dutchie hath called! Freedom awaits!"
I waited for an answer and nearly a minute went by before finally a older Mexican man emerged from a nearby stall and grinned at me sheepishly. Moments later, Tommy emerged from the same stall. Confused yet undeterred, I embraced Tommy and gave him a noogie.
"Do I have to shave?"
"You didn't see anything there with that Mexican guy right then did you?"
"What Mexican guy?"
At that moment, in that dirty men's restroom, Tommy and I decided that it was time to dust off our best pair of pleated Dockers and bring respect and dignity back to the Saloon. Here is our stab at respectability, which falls more into the category of mediocrity. What follows below is an account of the events that unfolded on Thursday, August 23rd at Harry Caray's restaurant in Lombard.
This would have all been posted much sooner, but shortly after this event, Tommy relapsed and ended up in a Cuban jail. Tommy had one phone call and he used it to call me collect. He was despondent ("Tell the team I let em' down") but was able to recall a few details about our fateful night in Lombard before heavily armed guards demanded that he hang up the phone. Unfortunately they were shouting in Spanish and the only phrase Tommy knows in Spanish is "Where is your nearest Applebees?" so everything was lost in translation. Soon a scuffle broke out (with Tommy repeatedly yelling, "Not the hair!") and the last thing I heard was Tommy shouting "You'll never take me alive!" A gunshot rang out and the phone went dead. I have not heard from Tommy since. Here is our story.
Chaim: We are hit with one of the more brutal thunderstorms in recent memory on the drive out. The rain is coming down in sheets and the screams of frightened babies are loud in Tommy's car. I'm pretty sure that is coming from the trunk. This is the type of storm where visibility is less than five feet. Lots of thunder and lightning. The thunder prompts Tommy and I to make many lazy 'Thunder Matt' jokes, none of which are funny. At one point a giant clap of thunder and lightning strike almost simultaneously, right above the car. Tommy turns to me and says, 'Seriously, I think we just got hit by lightning.' I'm in no position to argue. I gently weep.
Countless cars are pulled over to the side of the road but we soldier on, fearing that if we arrive too late, the chicken Parmesan will go cold as will Dutchie's heart. When we arrive we have to share Tommy's umbrella, which is large and green. My sexuality, already a question mark to begin with, is cast further into doubt. Upon entry Tommy finds that there is no 'umbrella check', so he tries to 'hide' it in the main hallway, commenting, 'What the over/under on this thing getting stolen?' We set the odds at a solid 60%, with Tommy himself taking the over. We check in at a table set up in the main hallway and they hand us a lanyard and tell us not to forget to pick up our autographed Ryne Sandberg ball on the way out. I try to cover my boner with my lanyard. I think it worked.
Tommy: During the drive, it got so bad that we considered building an ark. My Chevy Aveo's paper thin doors were the only thing protecting us from Katrina's brother, Hurricane Morandini. We decide that would take Dutchie aboard our ark and slowly work to repopulate the world. The hope would be that the fetuses would come out of the Dutchess' womb wearing glasses like Harry...needless to say we were pounding Beefeater gin as we were driving. By the way, Chaim's lanyard did little to hide his "excitement"...Let's just say Steve Stone was disgusted, his wife a little surprised, and Dutchie slightly aroused...so much so that she considered coming aboard our ark.
Chaim: Decadent. Like Ancient Rome, only instead of wearing robes, all of the middle aged guys wear size 3XL Tommy Bahama shirts to cover up their hairy guts. You've got the typical bar type area up front, but from there it turns into a overstuffed labyrinth, with hallways leading to various dining rooms of different sizes. The walls are naturally lined with pictures of Harry at various stages of his life. Harry posing with Elton John makes me happy. The best photo is a black and white one of Harry, in the booth, a cold Bud in front him, clad in only his boxers. I lament to Tommy as to why can't announcers do that anymore. Tommy surmises that Rick Sutcliffe probably has.
-Food and Drink
Chaim:Case in point as to why lunch is overrated. We aren't just talking about your standard buffet line here. Every conceivable food had it's own separate station. Steak station. Raw seafood station. Pasta. Roast beef. Chicken. Not one, but two chocolate fountains, both white and dark. As an interesting side note, Tommy actually refers to his genitalia as 'White Chocolate'. Tommy and I stake out a high table next to the mashed potato station and begin to load up on starch. Regular mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes. Any topping you can imagine from sour cream to marshmallows. Tommy and I stand in the corner, each with a plate full of mashed potatoes, nursing, scratch that, chugging Coronas. We look at each other and head up for seconds. Life is good.
They also have tons of liquor stations, all which are manned (womaned?) by ridiculously hot females. A Makers Mark station, a Bacardi Rum Station, a Level Vodka Station. One has an ice sculpture of Harry in which you can actually get a martini that comes out of Harry's icy hand. Actually, it looks like it comes out of his armpit, thus fulfilling one of my lifetime dreams, that of drinking alcohol from an old man's armpit. Check that one off my list.
Chaim: We spotted her at the beginning of the night, but unlike the Media Social, where you were in a confined space with maybe 50-100 people, the square footage and amount of people was multiplied exponentially. You had to pick your spot. She was the belle of the ball, but she was shy and tried to deflect the attention elsewhere. Unfortunately for Dutchie she was probably the most famous person there, so there was no one else worth turning your attention to.
We hover around Dutchie all night, waiting for our chance to strike. We don't want to be 'those guys' that interrupt a pleasant conversation with boisterous claims of dominance. We wait until a she is done talking to a group of well-wishers and then finally make our move. "Dutchie!" She recognizes us immediately and gives us the each an embrace usually reserved for small children and mall Santas. We tell her that we both live in the city now (for some reason at the Media Social I said I lived in Lombard) and she is happy for us. I begin to think that since this the second time that she has seen us together and dateless that she might think that we are Bosom Buddies (I'm Hanks to Buzanis' Scolari). Tommy reassures me that she is old and old people don't think like that.
We make a bit of idle chit chat with the Dutchess and she tells us that not only did she receive our photo that we sent her of the three of us, but that she has it at her house. We get excited, thinking that it is blown up to ridiculous proportions and hanging above a roaring fireplace, next to a giant painting of Harry, but then, thinking about the statement 'it's at my house' is perfectly logical, as truthfully, where else would it be? She just left off the whole, "...lining my cat's litter box" part of the sentence. We wish her well and bid her adieu, hoping to receive hand-knitted Cubs sweaters for Christmas.
But no. The Mayor then gets back on the mike and goes on for a good five minutes more, mentioning the fireworks no less than a half dozen times. Keep in mind, we're in the midst of a storm that would do any one's Hurricane Fantasy Team proud, but the Mayor is determined to get these bad boys in. I think he personally financed these fireworks. Well, while he is still talking, the three piece Jamaican band (irony - three old white people) begins to play, thinking the Mayor is done. The Mayor is visibly frustrated. He motions frantically for the band to stop and pleads with people to let the band know he wasn't done talking. To comic effect and the giddy pleasure of Tommy and I (who seem to be the only ones that are noticing this), no one is noticing the Mayor's frantic cries for help and his face is turning as red as Thunder Matt's flowing mane. Finally, the band notices this crazy man on the edge and reluctantly stops playing. It's like when the music stops and then you just hear crickets. The Mayor then happily chimes, "Don't forget about the fireworks!"
Tommy, a proud Montini High School grad and Lombardian, wants to meet the Mayor and get his picture with him. I say to Tommy, "I'll give you a buck if you ask him if he's heard if there is going to be any fireworks." Tommy says, "I will happily take your dollar."
Thus setting up the following conversation between Tommy and the Mayor of Lombard.
Tommy: (shaking Mayor's hand) Hey Mayor, good to meet you. Tommy Buzanis, I went to Montini High.
Mayor: (looking confused) Oh, that's great. So did my daughter. What year did you graduate?
Tommy: So, I haven't heard, are there going to be fireworks tonight?
Mayor: (not sensing sarcasm) Oh yeah. I was just telling everybody. They're gonna be great.
Tommy: That is tremendous. I love fireworks.
(long awkward pause)
Tommy: Can I get my picture taken with you? That would be a thrill.
Mayor: (again, looking confused) Yeah, sure.
Like an overweight paparazzi, I pop out from behind a cocktail table and snap a photo of them which I believe Tommy has as his screen saver.
Chaim: John was old and drunk. John was me in 35 years.
Tommy: John was overheard telling Norm Van Lier that they competed against each other in high school basketball. Norm did not buy it. Later, John told Dennis Savard that he played a little minor league hockey in the 80s. Savard punched John in the groin. Another highlight came when John told us that we needed to go over to the Bacardi table and say hi to Katie. Jumping at the chance to oogle over mojitos and scantily clad women, Chaim and I made are way over. There, Katie told us her actual name was Courtney and she met John at a piano bar in the city, where he was wearing the very same Hawaiian shirt he was sporting at the party - true story.
While at the Bacardi table Chaim and I decide that we are probably the best looking guys at the party. This is not saying anything - the vast majority of the men there were overweight and balding. Most had seen action in the Korean War, while others were proud to say that they were in the stands the last time the Cubs won the pennant. Needless to say, we had few takers when Chaim, myself, and John bellyed up to the bar and offered to buy a round of jager-bombs for the group - Scotch was the drink of choice for these old-timers that you can be sure of.
Tommy and I stand outside and talk to some drunk guy around our age who works for a Bud distributor and tries to tell us that Bud is basically taking over the world and leaving a path of destruction in his wake. He sees that we are drinking Red Stripe and claiming he has never had it (since he only drinks Bud), he asks Tommy for a sip. Then, after going on and on about the domination of Bud, he suffers an emotional meltdown and admits that his job sucks and he is unhappy with his life. Tommy and I inch towards the door. I long for the comfort of a shared umbrella and a Dutchie lullaby. There's always next year. There's always next year. (Dramatic pause...aaaaannnnddd...scene!)
Pictured, L-R: Dennis Savard, Jim McMahon, Steve Stone, The Mayor of Lombard. Those guys in the back aren't important.
That's right, the Bears mascot Staley was there. He has a higher passing rating than Rex Grossman.
These fireworks need some Cialis.