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The Year in Sports

According to Freida Dean, Artist

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This is an interview with Frieda Dean, an artist who has lived north of Belmont near Halsted for three and a half years. Her apartment, a one-bedroom that she shares with her husband, Adam Crane, a violin restorer, is close enough to Wrigley that one can sometimes hear the roar of the crowd. It is crammed but neat, filled with a large easel and art supplies, antiques, vintage furniture, and Dean's handmade masks and oil paintings. On the kitchen wall are sketches for a new series of paintings. "Acorns on Planets"; on a counter is a small handmade frame covered with parts of chicken bones painted to resemble orchids. The air is of order barely reigning over chaos.

S.L. Wisenberg: Do you know what the Cubs play?

Frieda Dean: Well, I know it's either baseball or football. And I do sort of think they said that they lost this year and I have a feeling that it's probably baseball. Am I right?

SLW: Yeah. You're the only person who knows less about sports than I do. Does Michael Jordan mean anything to you?

FD: I've never heard of that name. It sounds like a religious figure or something. But I'm sure he's some baseball or football player, right?

SLW: Basketball.

FD: Oh. Just depends on the shape of the ball, I guess.

SLW: What do you know about the Cubs?

FD: One thing I do know is that the Cubs are continually losing, because of jokes I have heard. I've been thinking about the Cubs lately. Just being around, you see the big Cs on hats a lot. I've figured out why they're losing. They're losing because they're nothing but cubs. Little bears. So every time they go up to do their thing, they're just babies, not full-fledged, like Cub Scouts.

So I've had this fantasy they should change their name. They wouldn't have to change any of the graphics. It would be an easy transition. They should change the name to Cannibals. It would be so much more fun. They could go up to bat and the person looking at them could think, Cannibals, they're going to eat me alive. It would be very difficult to oppose a team like that. The cheerleaders could have great fun dressing up in grass skirts and wearing big bones in their hair.

There's been all kinds of cannibals, black and white, all through the history of the human race. I think it's all just a matter of survival, really. I think it's an abstract concept. It's much better than the Cubs, anyway. Little cubby bears.

The other teams stand for things that don't exist; Eagles and Tigers and Giants and A's, Reds and whatnot. There are no actual men who are giants or tigers. But the name is based on reality, just like cannibals really existed. Tigers exist--but they won't for much longer if people keep concentrating on sports and not thinking about the environment. We will end up not having any vegetables to eat because they'll all be killed, and there won't be any tigers, there will be no living things except human beings and we will end up having to be cannibals so maybe I'm somehow prophetic.

Think of it--all those fans, sitting in the stadium and carrying themselves a big old bone. It would be lots of fun, right? One of the few sports experiences I had was when I was invited to a Cornell hockey game when I was in Ithaca. And they said I should bring a newspaper. I brought a newspaper. When the other team won the whack or whatever it is, you know, you hold up your newspaper, and it's kind of like showing that you're bored. So practically all the fans had newspapers in front of their faces. Well, anyway, I thought that was kind of fun.

They don't have to become the Cannibals. It may not be appropriate, I mean, if it would offend anyone.

SLW: There are some teams that have the names of small creatures, like Cardinals and Blue Jays.

FD: They are more successful?

SLW: I don't know.

FD: A cardinal can fly and in fact a blue jay is a bird of prey. It does eat small animals. They're fairly fierce. A cardinal is absolutely beautiful. A cubby bear is cute. You think of a full-grown bear as being awesomely beautiful. A cardinal is jewellike. A cubby bear needs protection.

SLW: Do you have theories about the Bulls and the Bears?

FD: I'm not really sure what they play. I'm sure they do well for themselves, though. I don't know any of the names of any of the players. The name Mike Ditka, he means something to me. He's frequently being mentioned on the radio. He's a manager or owner. Is he running for public office now?

SLW: No. But he advertises every imaginable item.

FD: He owns a chain of restaurants?

SLW: He has a restaurant.

FD: I think a lot of managers are trying to get out of the business, and sports players are opening restaurants that usually serve a lot of beef. There's a transformation from sports to beef. I've noticed that trend.

SLW: While Chicago was sports-crazy this summer--

FD: Were they? I didn't know they were.

SLW: What were your main preoccupations this summer?

FD: I was reading murder mysteries by Alice Mitchell. And I was making paintings of acorns on different planets. I was also making things like chicken bones. So we have the thread that runs through this interview. I was painting them. I also was doing a lot of going to flea markets and antique shows. I went to New York City and saw an exhibit at the central library there. It was absolutely gorgeous. It showed the whole history of botanical illustration. I went to the major museums. I did a lot of roaming around.

I read Solitude by Anthony Storr, several books by Mavis Gallant, and Rachel Ingalls's Mrs. Caliban. It's about a woman who falls in love with a lizard. I read three novellas by her, under one title, I See a Long Journey. I read the Oscar Wilde biography by Richard Ellmann. I feel a connection with Wilde--we have the same birthday. I discovered some paintings and I'm working on getting those appraised. My mother came to visit too. Neither one of us were aware of the baseball games.

SLW: Would you like to get rid of the Cubs and have Wrigley Field turned into something else?

FD: I don't think it's a matter of getting rid of the Cubs. The Cubs are pretty much an institution. I can't imagine them evaporating and going off and becoming something else, like contractors or dancers. I can't see them changing. I think we just have to make the best of them. They can start by changing their name and winning and then too I think they should stop all this parking around here and just have the game when people are at work, during the week. The thing is they're televised anyway and they could replay it for those who can't watch it.

SLW: They have night games. That's where some of the problems are.

FD: So they should stop doing that--

SLW: They just started.

FD: Well, see, it was a bad idea, though. It's an idea whose time has not come and they should sell those lights to somebody who could use them.

SLW: How do you feel about the White Sox?

FD: Oh, what are those? I have half a drawer full.

SLW: You haven't heard of them?

FD: No, what are they?

SLW: It's a team on the south side.

FD: What do they play?

SLW: Baseball.

FD: Oh, we've got two baseball teams? Oh no. I've got an idea. This is perfect, now that I know there are two. They should just merge into one and take the best of each and they might have a winning team.

SLW: What should they be called then?

FD: White Sox Cannibals. That's perfect. Why not? They can wear little white hats, bones through them. I would design them, that would be beautiful. Like little white felt hats with a bone, little cone hats with a bone that goes crosswise. It could even be papier-mache, it wouldn't have to be a real bone. They could have a little visor to keep the sun out.

SLW: Why did you never get interested in sports?

FD: I am not interested in sports because sports is not interested in me. I remember in grammar school they were doing some relay running and there was a stopwatch; I don't know how I got it in my hands but I had it in my hands and I dropped it. And the whole classroom just went into a giant roar against me that I had broken their precious stopwatch. Then after that, anytime there was any sports going on, everyone seemed to remember that stopwatch. And then my little brother played football in high school. He was very good but he crushed his knee and had a steel plate put in his knee. And then recently he was playing basketball with a friend and broke his ankle. My father tried to force my older brother all of his young adulthood to play basketball. He was interested in philosophy and other things. So anyway he was harassed to play basketball because he was six feet four and he wasn't interested in it. He persevered and never played sports. There was this bone of contention. Bone.

SLW: I got it.

FD: The thing is, later on my father had a heart attack and I went down to help him through this major crisis and it was during the World Series and I remember him just being glued to the television. I sat in the room just to be with him but I remember becoming just two inches tall in the corner because it was as if I didn't exist. He watched the World Series, though, and he died right after that.

Death and sports are intertwined.

Also in college I dated a major basketball player. He played for the University of Tennessee. I never recall going to see him play. I don't think he wanted me to. He said he'd get nervous or something, he wouldn't play as well. And the relationship didn't end all that great. I liked him and still do. I think the thing that I was attracted to about him was he was from New York City and I was totally enamored of his sophistication and kind of cosmopolitan airs.

I really loved him. I still do. Tom Leone. L-E-O-N-E.

If you're out there: Hi, darling.

He was six feet eight inches. He was gorgeous. He had that New York accent. I was in love with him.

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