The noon sun broke early through the writer’s window. It fell across his face like the white-hot glare of a thousand pissed-off editors, especially if those editors were using Twin Turbo hair dryers on the high-heat setting and also directing the sun’s rays onto his left cheek by way of a large magnifying glass.
“Ow,” he muttered to himself. “Also: ohhhhh.”
Roused into an aching sense of awareness, he opened his eyes and felt the wet goo beneath his face, his body. He groaned. Was it some kind of stew?
“Oh,” he muttered, again to himself. “Also: ewwwww.”
Granted, he had woken in someone else’s vomit on several occasions, often three or four times in a single morning, but until today, never his own.
No, never his own.
After showering, and also after tossing his vomit-covered business attire (i.e., terry cloth robe) into the neighbor’s yard, he brewed a cup of Sanka and returned to his desk. There would be no moonshine today. There would be only Sanka – no, wait. There would be only Folgers. Folgers Instant! Because Sanka, he suddenly and depressingly discovered, has no caffeine!
“Stupid Sanka,” he muttered. “No wonder I couldn’t stay awake.”
Sipping Folgers now, he sparked up the laptop and looked back on the previous day’s work, none of which, currently, he could even faintly recall.
In an instant his eyes went wide, like ocular pantomimes of Vaudevillian shock.
“Whoa, what the hell is all this?” he said to himself, the same self – well, no, a different self entirely – who had authored this carnival of the truly bizarre.
“Secret time portal?”
“Billy and the Giambisaurus?”
“Drew Butera in ‘The Ballad Of Gregor Blanco’?”
And that, he realized, was just Part 1.
“Oy,” he muttered. “Also: ugh.”
And yet despite his disgust, he was committed to the finishing the story. “It’s what the readers would have wanted,” he said, “if either were still reading.”
And so, turning to the list, he read the remaining entries – the last straggling few of the story ideas he had solicited from NotGraphs readers on Sept. 26.
First, just to see how long this endeavor might last, he read the final entry:
What are the most average players in any given year? Of all time?
He was grateful, indeed, that the entry had arrived after the 5 p.m. deadline.
“Because who do you think I am,” he muttered, “a sober Jeff Sullivan?”
Upon returning to the first of the remaining entries, he quickly realized that V really is for vendetta. Indeed, for several months, one particular reader had been especially irate about editor Carson Cistulli’s decision to strangle the life out of NotGraphs. And here, via serial killer-type prose, the reader proved it.
Throughout his entire life, Carson Cistulli has not been normal. In the showers after ninth grade gym class, Cistulli learned that a distinct leftward bend to one’s penis was not “normal.” In university, Cistulli learned that nervously scratching one’s face like a two-bit meth head because of an anxiety disorder also was not “normal.” As a grad student, Cistulli learned that losing one’s virginity at 27 was, unfortunately, not normal. Nothing about Cistulli was normal. Everything about this guy was abnormal.
Here, the reader inserted a photo of Cistulli playing racquetball.
Next, the reader tried to pin the whole thing on the writer himself.
So, as a friend and colleague, I, John Paschal, have taken the liberty of normalizing Cistulli for the first time in his life.
Here, the reader inserted a photo of Cistulli resembling a butt pimple.
“Hmm,” muttered the writer.
After giving the information to Interpol, he moved on to the next suggestion.
He groaned. “Who do you think I am … a writer for TechGraphs?”
Devoted, he endeavored to make it work: After gorging on a meaty feast in the seaside town of St. – or, rather, San – Olga Francisco, Royals outfielder Alex Gordon moves in the dark of night to the piers outside AT&T Park. Apart from the roar of 40,000 fans and the drone of the TV trucks, the night is quiet – suspiciously so. Alert to threats, Gordon looks around – at the kayaks, the concourses, the parking lots – until his eyes fall upon an elite team of vegans rappelling down the stadium on strands of organic linguine.
“Oh, yeeaaahhhh,” said the writer. “Take that, TechGraphs!”
Grabbing his potato gun – no, his meat-and-potato gun – Gordon launches a relentless assault (and a-pepper) on the vegans, who, tasting meat for the first time in years, collapse in puddles of their own and other people’s vomit.
Satisfied, though strangely hungry, the writer moved on to the next idea.
… the story of a lion cub who watches the betrayal of his father and mother, leaves the kingdom and finally returns to reclaim the throne rightfully his from his maniacal uncle after joining a ragtag group comprised of a warthog and meerkat and falling in love with a fellow member of the pride.
The writer shook his head. “Well, that’ll never work,” he said, emphasizing his point by continuing to shake his head in the manner of a person who, to emphasize a point, shakes his head. “And here I thought the idea of the Royals making the playoffs was preposterous! But this – this is a total nonstarter! I mean, you might as well make a movie about a beautiful princess who turns everything she touches into ice, or a collection of monsters who, in truth, are really sort of cuddly and kind!”
The writer kept talking to himself. He’d had two cups of Folgers.
“Hell, even if somebody were to come up with a cute catchphrase such as ‘Hakuna Moustakas’ or ‘Herrera Matata,’ it would still be preposterous.”
Happy to leave that nonsense behind, he moved on to the next three ideas.
Baseball dirty jobs.
“Hmm,” he muttered.
…a recurring character that assesses the Barry Zito-ness of any situation.
“Huh,” he said.
Area man with known public bitterness toward MLB.TV and blackout rules considers it might be fun to have (MLB.TV?) on the final weekend of the season.
“Heh,” he added.
Despite having had to fill in Stinky Pete’s blank, he decided to give it a try.
The area man, known now as Stinky Pete but for years as “area boy” and “area teen,” sits back in his Barcalounger and clicks on the Magnavox TV. The room smells of wet socks, wet underwear and wet socks that have been knitted into wet underwear, but Stinky Pete doesn’t care. Here on the season’s final weekend – indeed, the World Series! – he cares about only one thing, apart, that is, from declining to buy room deodorizers, et cetera.
“Yes,” said the writer, nodding. “I think I’m onto something here.”
Onscreen are the images he’s waited for, baseball images, not of the World Series but of his favorite and season-ending show, Baseball Dirty Jobs, hosted by former big league pitcher and all-around free spirit Barry Zito.
“Epic,” the writer went on. “Hemingwayesque!”
Stinky Pete watches, then, as Zito pays a visit to the man who cleans the fromunda cheese from the jockstraps of players in the Pacific Coast League. Strumming his guitar, Zito winces. “Regarding the Zito-ness of this situation,” he says, “I give it a negative 2 – on a scale of 42 to infinity.”
Kicked back in his Barcalounger, Stinky Pete then watches as the ex-pitcher visits the laborer who plucks the dead insects out of Jayson Werth’s beard.
“That’s a minus 1,” says Zito, sitting in the lotus position and dying his hair green.
Suddenly, while eating stale pizza crust and drinking a warm Natty Light, Stinky Pete hears a loud knock. Reaching down, he picks up a shoe and throws it at the door in efforts to open it. It works. The door swings open, and into the room comes a surge of sunlight and afternoon breeze, followed by Barry Zito.
“Dude,” says Stinky Pete, glancing at Zito. “This isn’t actually my job.”
The writer nodded. This would work. It would have to.
Turning back to the list, he read the final suggestion.
Awards for the best NotGraphs commenters.
“Uh-huh,” he muttered.
This was it, he realized. Sobriety had rendered him conscious of reality and its fated offspring, mortality. Hollywood would not offer its carpets, red or otherwise, and tales of Giambisauri and Stinky Petes would end here, on a screen that would soon go dark. It wasn’t epic, really. It hadn’t been Hemingwayesque. It was just a narrative, written and possibly received, like all the others, like all the rest.
“Uh-huh,” he muttered again, to whomever. “You know who you are.”
John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.