Willy Wonka has an especially creepy moment when he asks Charlie what happens to the boy who got everything he ever wanted.
“He lived happily ever after,” Wonka says.
The lack specificity is disturbing, especially since they’re flying in a glass elevator after a traumatic tour through what is essentially a sweatshop. It hints that there is such thing as utopia and that a chocolate factory is not it — or, at least, that just owning the factory leaves something to be desired.
Usually we want things to happen in the world and they don’t happen. The most poignant example is in sports. Fans want a certain outcome, but the large majority of them don’t get to see the world move in that way. So when it does happen — when your team does win the championship after a 30-year drought, which happens to perfectly bookend my life — you get to experience something that is rare: Bliss.
I always felt it was silly to tie so much of one’s life to adults playing games, but it isn’t really about that. Our world moves in many ways that are satisfying or gratifying, but not perfect. We often get outcomes that are close enough. But when the Royals won the World Series, I got the outcome I wanted. For an ever brief second with two other Royals fans, the world had done exactly what we wanted. We, of course, had no bearing on how history played out. It was just the universe working itself out in this magical way, even though it had to work itself out in some way and it just happened to be this one.
I don’t like using sports as a metaphor for life or for anything beyond what it actually is. I covered sports for long enough to know that it isn’t a microcosm of our society; it doesn’t capture poverty, sickness and inequality. Instead, sports alleviates it; it distracts us from it. There are winners and losers and heroes and villains, and it gives us something to talk about. The stakes are low, but maybe that’s exactly why we can invest so much of ourselves in it. The worst that can happen is that the team loses and we all go home and drink; the best that can happen is that we see a cosmic event in which the world turns on a dime for our desires. It’s hard for me to say that without sounding like I’m making it more than it is. But just to make it clear, it is the organized and professionalized equivalent of a pizza falling from the sky and landing in your hungry hands. There is nothing romantic or glorified about it; it’s just something unlikely happening in your favor.
But back to Wonka’s question of whatever happened to the child who got everything he wanted. We don’t get to see what actually happens to Charlie. But if his world works the same as ours, Charlie probably went back to the school the following day. He probably had homework and his grandparents probably passed away eventually and perhaps his mother found a new husband, whom Charlie would’ve had to get along with. But maybe we can give Wonka the benefit of the doubt; maybe he knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he’s saying that when you get everything you want, it isn’t actually everything you want. But even so — even if it’s just a baseball team winning a few games or a small promotion at work — maybe he’s saying we’re allowed to lived happily ever after. We’re allowed to enjoy it. After the Royals won, it seemed especially empty. My initial reaction was, “This is it.” I hugged my fellow Royals fans, got in a cab and went home. It was 1 a.m. The view from the Manhattan Bridge was, as always, beautiful.