In 1995, the Mountain Goats recorded “Cubs in Five,” a short song in which John Darnielle sings about trying to reconnect with a former love. In the verses, he rattles off a list of impossible things—the possibility of finding intelligent life on the moon, the possibility of the Canterbury Tales shooting up the bestseller list—before concluding “And the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league / And the Tampa Bay Bucs will make it all the way to the top / And I will love you again / I will love you, like I used to.”
To me, the song is happy. Darnielle’s register is joyful, and he seems to be embracing the futility of his endeavor with glee. This thing probably won’t happen, he seems to sing. But it could, and isn’t the hunt what life is about? On the other hand, I know people who find it incredibly depressing. “The Cubs will never win the World Series, and love will never be reactivated,” they say. “Dude, the song is mega sad. What’s wrong with you?”
But regardless of your interpretation, one thing is inarguable: This year, the Cubs actually have a chance at winning the World Series, for the first time in 1908. Goddamn, it’s really happening! The World Series starts tonight, and features the Cubs playing against the Cleveland Indians. Should the Cubs pull it off, they’ll snap the most iconic curse in sports history, and give new context to Darnielle’s song. No long will rekindling one’s fragmented affection be a fool’s endeavor, because the Cubs will have done it. What more proof is needed to show that hope springs eternal?
It also got me thinking: What are the odds of the rest of Darnielle’s examples actually taking place? Below, I’ve ranked them in order of least-to-most likely to happen, to remind us that sometimes, the impossible can happen.
There is water on the moon, which might aid long-term lunar inhabitation whenever NASA gets funding. There is a dark side of the moon, which has inspired more bong rips than a frat party. Technically, there could be intelligent life on the moon that we don’t know about. Perhaps there are aliens in the core, perhaps (rips bong) they’re hiding their presence with advanced technology, fooling our sensors and spacecrafts, and perhaps (rips bong very strongly) they’re waiting until humanity has weakened itself through its endless wars and elections before giving the signal to their home civilization, which will then speed over in their war machines and rain hell on earth, bring the whole hellish experiment to a close. Probably not, though.
7. “The stars are gonna spell out the answers to tomorrow’s crosswords”
A shocking “not last” entry. It’s true that the literal answers to the up and down queries will not appear in the stars, inasmuch as the night sky as we perceive it is fixed for a few billion years. Those stars aren’t moving or disappearing for anything, unless it turns out we’ve been living in the simulation the entire time, and our creators get bored. That said: One could develop an astrological methodology to divine crossword answers from the constellations, and maybe it could work. It’s at least more probable than aliens.
6. “And Bill Gates will singlehandedly spearhead the Heaven 17 revival”
As far as SPIN knows, Bill Gates is not a Heaven 17 fan. (Inquiries were not returned by press time.)
However, maybe he hears “Cubs in Five”—his kid, or someone else’s kid plays it for him—and he laughs, finding it a fun novelty, before looking them up on Spotify. I had no idea, he thinks, after playing a few songs. “Let Me Go” kicks ass. He goes through their Greatest Hits, he goes through a few studio LPs, he gets obsessed with this defunct synth pop band. Before too long, he’s sending out press releases about how the Gates Foundation is diverting some of its anti-malaria money toward funding the permanent reunion of Heaven 17, who have performed sparingly in the 21st century. “We’re going to make this happen,” he tells a skeptical Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory. Using his connections, he books them on all the late night shows—their Carpool Karaoke segment is the least-viewed in show history—and manages to get them a near-headlining spot at Coachella.
“But the teens don’t know who Heaven 17 are,” Rick Coachella tells Gates over the phone.
“Book it, or I’ll literally bury you in my money,” he snarls.
Rick Coachella is right: The teens don’t know who Heaven 17 are, and the reunited band plays to 17 people on Friday night. (The Chainsmokers, playing on the main stage, draw all the attention.) The band is dismayed. “Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” they tell their billionaire patron. “It’s a new generation. Maybe it’s okay for our time to be over.”
Gates is sad about it, but he knows when the end is in sight. He pulled the plug on the Zune—remember the Zune? He gave up on making the Windows Phone a thing—remember the Windows Phone? Of course you don’t. He is not a man who is scared by failure. And so he sits backstage at Coachella, listening to “Closer” blare from dozens of yards away, grasping this latest setback. Eventually, he convinces himself nobody could’ve done it better, but at least he has the memories.
5. “And the Philips Corporation will admit that they’ve made an awful mistake”
Darnielle’s ire for the Philips Corporation is likely related to its popularization of CD technology, which apart from being an inferior audio format, inadvertently led to the downfall of the entire dang record industry. (If CDs don’t exist to be ripped to computers, then file-sharing platforms like Napster never get invented; you can do the math from there.) The company’s shares have dipped from its early aughts peak, but they’re still rolling in it—they’ve also spun off their audio and video business to Japanese company Funai Electric, which means the company just no longer cares about whether or not CDs were bad for the culture.
Would a corporation ever admit making a mistake? Probably not. However, life is long. Perhaps on their death beds, the Philips Corporation executives will consider their role in changing the face of the entertainment industry, and be overcome with guilt. The people were right, they’ll think. Lana Del Rey does sound better on vinyl. No one will hear it but God, but that’s all that matters.
4. “And The Canterbury Tales will shoot up to the top of the best seller list and stay there for 27 weeks”
After a string of box office disappointments, Michael Bay’s agent convinces him to start mentoring children at the Los Angeles community center. “You’ve got to get in touch with the kids,” he says. “The kids are the connection to what’s new and good. Remember Transformers? Okay, they were young kids turned old, but the point is the same.” Reluctantly, Bay agrees.
In reality, it’s not all that bad. It’s always nice to have an excuse to drive down the Los Angeles expressway, the roof lowered on Bumblebee, his custom Corvette, the wind in his hair. The kids aren’t so bad, either. Sharp, for the most part. Sharper than he was at his age, that’s for sure. He gets to thinking about his legacy, and the future. Maybe the Hollywood celebrities he spends so much time with aren’t off base; maybe there is hope for the planet.
One afternoon, he comes to the community center and sees Derrick, one of his favorite kids, reading a book. Bay is surprised to hear himself asking: “What’s that you’ve got, buddy?”
Derrick, a precocious seventh grader, holds up the cover. “It’s this weird book they gave us in English class. The writing is all old and funky, but I guess I kind of like it. Our teacher says it’s, like, the oldest collection of stories in the world. She said it popularized the legitimacy of the English language narrative, or something. We’re adapting some of the stories for our spring play.”
Interesting, Bay thinks.
Meetings are had; deals are made. CANTERBURY is announced as a joint motion picture venture between Paramount and Hasbro. It’s an adaptation of The Canterbury Tales, in which multiple characters tell their eventually intersecting stories, though obviously, some liberties must be taken. It’s not the 14th century, after all. You can’t literally adapt The Canterbury Tales, come on. Book blogs are obviously skeptical, given Bay’s pedigree, but in a series of interviews, he insists he’s on the level.
To be honest, Bay never finishes the book. Most of the stories are cut entirely. The screenplay is a patchwork of ideas from Hollywood’s happiest hacks. Eventually, Mark Wahlberg is cast as Brian M. Knight, a brash Boston father attempting to reunite with his ex-wife despite the meddling of a romantic rival. Shia LaBeouf is cast as Jack C. Cook, whose story is famously without conclusion in Chaucer’s story. There is a lot of screenplay revision. Perhaps Wahlberg’s character could stop a terrorist attack? Perhaps LaBeouf should do… something?
After some hemming and hawwing, and expensive screen tests, Hasbro suggests another idea: What if we just make this a Transformers movie with the twin stars of the franchise? The idea is obviously appealing. More meetings are had; more meetings are made. Upon announcement, the book blogs are even madder, though nobody pays attention. Whatever, Bay thinks to himself, as he looks at his fattened bank account. In the end, Transformers: Fuck Yeah grosses hundreds of millions of dollars. The kids at the community center love it; they love the toys, too. Because of WGA rules, it carries a credit at the beginning of the movie: Based on the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. As a result, the book re-enters the New York Times best-seller list, and stays there for 17 weeks, though nobody finishes it.
3. “And I will love you again / I will love you, like I used to”
2. “And the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league”
The Cubs were not cursed, despite what local lore tells you—they were just really bad for a really long time. Then, they hired baseball genius Theo Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox in 2011, and gave him carte blanche to make them no longer suck. In five years, Epstein cut dead weight from the roster, drafted smartly, made savvy trades for big returns, hired the right managers, paid for the right players, and transformed a moribund team into a surprisingly excellent squad of young bucks and battle-tested veterans that should compete for multiple championships, even if they don’t defeat the Cleveland Indians in this year’s World Series.
So, it was that easy. But not to get ahead of ourselves: Anything can happen in the coming week, and even the coming years, because sports are cruel. They are habitually awful, and will only disappoint us. However, the idea of the Cubs winning the World Series is no longer as impossible as it was when Darnielle recorded his track. And if the Cubs do pull it off this year, he’ll have to record a new sports-related track to encapsulate the ceaseless optimism felt when considering something that’s very unlikely to happen. “Bills in One” might work.
1. “And the Tampa Bay Bucs will take it all the way to the top”
This already happened, back in 2003. Miracles are real!!!