Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Joe Baseball

"They can make an instructional video on how to play the game using this guy," Tom Verducci--America's sexiest announcer--gushes as San Francisco Giants rookie second baseman Joe Panik lays down a perfect bunt in Game 5 of the World Series. Panik squares around and perfectly deadens the ball down the third baseline for a sacrifice bunt before giving it a hard 90 down the first-base line. "Joe Baseball," Verducci continues, and I can feel myself swelling with pride as my favorite announcer nicknames my new favorite player.

Joe Baseball has to be a fundamentally sound player because he doesn't have any tools to fall back on. He has close to no power. Only nine hitters who came to the plate 250 times or more hit for less power than Panik in 2014. He came up as a shortstop so he probably has a decent arm at the keystone, but he's never going to win a Gold Glove. He doesn't run particularly well either.

When I first saw Panik play, I figured he might stick on as a utility infielder. With no power, no speed, and a swing that looked like it was built to hit weak, Manny Burriss grounders to second, well, it was hard to see a starting player with that tool set. Alas, I appear to have been wrong once more.

Joe Baseball gives himself a chance by putting the bat on the ball. The "hit" tool is his only plus tool, but in this day and age of increasing strikeouts, it's a tool with increasing importance. Nothing good happens when you strike out and Panik rarely strikes out: he finished 25th in avoiding the whiff, right behind that bat-to-ball God Buster Posey. His disciplined, controlled approach helped him stay in the zone: he was third on the team in avoiding chasing pitches out of the strike zone this year.

Panik doesn't chase many bad balls, he doesn't strike out, he makes solid contact, and he appears to play adequate defense at the keystone. While he isn't likely to keep hitting .343 when he puts the ball in play, and thus isn't likely to continue to be a .300 hitter going forward, he's still good enough to be the Giants second baseman of the present and future. It's a skill-set that served Marco Scutaro well for a number of years, and Panik has the advantage of hitting from the left side, meaning that he has the platoon advantage most of the time.

Panik, though he was a first-round draft choice, never made any top prospect lists coming up through the minors, and he was seen as something of an overdraft by the Giants. The up-and-coming Chicago Cubs are all the rage these days, but their two second-base prospects--Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez--who were far more highly touted than Panik, didn't do nearly as well in their first taste of the big leagues this season, largely because of their inability to put the bat to the ball.

While I'd put a 20-grade on his power and a 40-grade on his speed, Panik gets my highest possible overall grade: Yankee. In the book I'm currently reading--October, 1964 by David Halberstam--the highest grade Yankee scouts could give to their minor league players was "Yankee." What does "Yankee" mean in scouting terms for me? It means Joe Baseball: a clean-shaven, handsome man who plays the game the right way--whatever that means. I guess it means being able to properly lay down a bunt, knowing how to move runners, hustling down the line even though you aren't fast, putting the ball in play even if the contact rarely leads to extra-base hits, and all that other bullshit announcers who can't stand Barry Bonds like to harp on.

Whenever Amy G interviews Panik, it's obvious how nervous he is. A fun drinking game is to take a shot whenever Panik says the word "honestly." After the Giants won the NLDS, he said "honestly" six times in a three-minute interview that ended when someone mercifully poured booze on Amy G. "Got you right in the face," Panik said to her awkwardly.

Yet between the lines, the goober becomes a ballplayer. He isn't as good as Derek Jeter, and he's probably not going to be able to sleep with as many women as Jeter--or Verducci for that matter--but he's Joe Baseball and he's the best, not at baseball, but at the fundamentals of baseball. Bonds never bunted or moved a runner or hustled or got nervous in front of the media members whom he couldn't stand, he just turned the sport into an easy fucking video game and broke all the records. Thanks for nothing, Barry, you cheater.

Alas, none of us have the talent of Barry Bonds. Most of us are lucky to have one tool like Panik and have to spend our lives making a living off of our meager skill-sets. I couldn't run once the government starting spiking my water with Accutane, I could never throw, I didn't have enough power to play beyond high school, and my range was limited. Thus, when I see Joe Baseball driving a clutch double into the gap on the biggest stage, I see my shitty self and realize it's not so bad. If Joe Baseball can flourish on a team one win away from winning the whole fucking thing, maybe one day, Tom Verducci will make an instructional video of me doing something correctly. Hopefully it's a video of me making love to Verducci. I know that I can at least do that much well. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Kevin

All Kevin wanted was to be blogged about, which is why I never blogged about him. Everyone I knew was always getting upset with me for blogging about them, except for Kevin, who wanted an increased role. Everyone would always drop caveats on me like, "Please don't blog about that," as if I didn't have the good sense to leave certain things out. A few people, including Redacted and Himself, told me, "If you blog about me, I'll fucking kill you."

Who could trust a man who couldn't trust himself?

Kevin is The Professor's cousin, so I had met him at various family functions since I'm so much a part of the family that I'm in all of the family photos. Granted, I'm sneaking into all of those photos, but still. You can't choose your family, and sometimes you can't choose the white guy who pretends to be in your family.

Kevin's desire to be blogged about reminded me of Stephanie who, knowing that I was never going to buy her actual presents, wanted me to use my limited writing talent to show her that I cared. However, I didn't care. The only thing I cared about was Mike, and Stephanie's desire to be written about didn't fit into my needs, so fuck that. But then when she was gone, writing about losing her did fit into my needs, and when her brother told me to cease and desist, I said no thanks.

I am the worst person I know, and Kevin is at least better than that. He might even be good. The first time I really remember meeting Kevin was four October's ago at a house party he was throwing. He was 19 years old, a freshman at community college. I was 25 and had just pushed Stephanie away for the first of many times. The Giants were on their way to the club's first of several World Series appearances spanning a half-decade's time. All of the pretty girls at the party were on Kevin like white on rice. He's handsome with soft features surrounding his gentle, sunken eyes. He's probably, what, 5'10"? but he looks taller than that because he's skinny due to a worm in his stomach that devours most of his nutrients. He can do things with his hands that I cannot, such as cooking toast, murdering fish with his bare hands, and, like, building shit and fixing shit. Stop judging me, assholes; this is supposed to be about Kevin.

Recently, when I was trying to get Stephanie to fill the void again, she said, "I just wish you would stop being so hard on yourself." And I told her, "But Stephanie! There's just so much to hate! Like, I'll tell myself to be Good Mike at work, but then the second I show up there's a TPS Report I've already finished in my in-box that I now need to re-do because the powers that be cannot understand the TPS Report even though it is the most basic fucking thing on the planet, and then I've got to prove to them why this TPS Report that I've been doing every quarter for six years is in fact right and not wrong, and then they're e-mailing me about a client that is no longer my client due to the agreed-to one-third reduction in my TPS Reports flow as per the July 22 agreement made in good faith, and so I'm throwing files around and kicking things and swearing and calling Diamondstein and swearing, and who wouldn't hate themselves in that situation?"

Speaking of Diamondstein, when I was having this conversation with Stephanie, I drove past his exit and started yelling his name.

"Did you just see him or something?"

"No. I just love that fucker."

"Oh. I don't understand why you were yelling then if you couldn't see him, and I thought you said you needed to stop hanging out with him?"

"Yes, but that's because I'm a disaster. Diamondstein is a high-functioning degenerate. I'm a barely-functioning degenerate. Just because I'm a mess doesn't mean he's the problem. I'm the problem!"

"Why do you like him so much?"

"Because he's a smart-ass little fuck!"

A few weeks later, when I had managed to scare her off again, I was talking on the phone across our cubicle with Diamondstein. My new associate is at his desk in-between us talking to one of the executives at The Corporation about a TPS Report.

"Mike, why can't we ever catch a break? Galindo gets a ticket to the World Series and leaves work early, and we don't get a ticket and have to stay at work. It just isn't fair. Why do good things happen to good people like Galindo?"

"Diamondstein, you are so spot on right now. It's not just the World Series ticket and the leaving this place early that isn't fair. Why does he also get a house and a girlfriend, too?! And then Kyle over there has a dope new sweatshirt, and Chris has a new sweatshirt and a ticket to the Giants game, and we have nothing except for that 30-pack of Miller High Life in my car."

"When are we gonna catch a break?"

"I wish I knew. It just seems as though nothing but bad things happen to bad people like us."

The executive asks my associate what in the fuck is happening.

"Like, I think they talk to each other on the phone a lot during the day."

"But they're 10 feet away from each other!"

"Um, I'm not too sure. I'm sorry."

"Newbie, never apologize to these capitalist monsters!" I say. "They monitor all of these calls anyway with the assistance of the NSA, so they shouldn't act surprised. Now, can I get back to my call with Diamondstein, you nosy bastards?"

Later in the day, The Senor was ducking out early for his mom's birthday, and I didn't want to let him go, too. I had lost too much already in life: Stephanie, my dignity, now my job, Galindo to the Giants game, and now The Senor was abandoning me, too! I grabbed him and got his head under my chin. I pressed my lips against his head and kissed with him a year's worth of pent up passion. One of the managers saw me make my move on The Senor, so I immediately told everyone in the office what I had done, with the caveat that I would self-report my harassment to the Harassment Committee.

Friday evening, after several drinks and some puffs on that bomb chron, I filed the following claim against myself:

Dear Harassment Committee:

On the afternoon of Friday, October 24, 2014, in a moment of lustful passion, I kissed The Senor on the top of his head against The Senor's wishes. I deeply regret my actions although, to be perfectly honest, I kind of liked what happened so I don't really deeply regret anything but it seemed like the right thing to say.

It made me feel good to act on those feelings of lust for The Senor. I liked it ?

I've been drinking again.

I understand that like so many of my actions, this was not appropriate work behavior. It is not acceptable for a TPS Reporter with six years of experience to be kissing a TPS Reporter with one year of experience in the workplace against the wishes of everyone. Well, not everyone. I want to kiss him again. ?

In the end, I do understand that this behavior should end in my termination, and I gladly and willingly accept that decision. However, I will not apologize for passion.

Sincerely,
Mike

Shortly after sending the report against myself, Kevin texted me. "It's not my fault the Giants lost," he wrote, knowing that The Professor and I would look for people to blame after the Giants were defeated in Game 3 of the World Series.

"I know, Kevin. It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's my goddamn attorney's fault for blowing the game off to hang out with her home girls when I thought I was her #1 home girl and that we would be drinking black-market Four Locko's together. I JUST CANNOT EVEN with her right now, Kevin!"

Relieved, he replied with a picture of his handsome face at the game.

"Your eyes look dilated. Did you pop a bunch of greenies before the game?"

"No, it's just the shock of having spent all of my funds on a World Series ticket, but #YOLO."

"You also only die once of starvation from having spent all of your funds on a World Series ticket. #YODO."

"Fair, but it sure beats listening to Joe Buck."

"Boom. Clap. So true."

"I also blame your sister for moving to a commune with noted porn star London Keyes."

"I think that she actually just moved to a city called London which is in the country of England, and is still a student, and is not a porn star."

"London Keyes and I have a serious relationship going right now, and I think I know what I'm talking about."

"You've lost your mind again, haven't you?"

"Yes. But when I get it back, don't think I don't have a blog about you brewing."

I just remembered, Kevin is good! He lets me use his Netflix account when I want to binge-watch certain shows starring my ex and future wives. Then, his girlfriend will watch bizarre shit and blame it on me.

Recently, Kevin, The Professor, Kevin's Sister, and Kevin's Girlfriend were on a family vacation that I deeply regret not attending even though I invited myself. Kevin and Kevin's Girlfriend were about to get into some Netflix when Kevin noticed a documentary about a guy with erectile dysfunction.

"Did you watch that?" Kevin asks her.

"No, definitely not. It must have been Mike."

"Oh, right. That makes total sense because he's always writing about magic blue pills and Rodney's."

"Obviously."

When I found out that Kevin's Girlfriend had wrongfully accused me of watching this inappropriate  film, I immediately texted Kevin, "When the rooster crowed three times, Kevin's Girlfriend betrayed me. I didn't watch the dick doc."

"That's what you say, but I'm launching a full investigation, you monster!"

"I have nothing to hide."

"Mike, you're a predatory sycophant."

"I am what they say I am, but I still didn't watch that movie. I started leeching off someone else's account when I found out you were letting your sister use our account."

"Our account? You've never given me a dime."

"I give you free blogs!"

"Everyone gets your blog for free."

I am starting to worry about the youth of this country. I'll be 29 years old soon, and Kevin is what, like 23? My God, can we really trust the future of this country in the hands of Kevin's generation? I don't think so.

Still, there was hope for the kid. He was the only other person in North America besides me who still used a Nokia Go Phone, and that showed a tremendous willingness to follow a great leader like me, Mike the Blogger. Unlike his sister, Kevin's Sister, he wasn't doing insane things like moving to London to study asinine concepts like "mental health." I felt responsible for pushing her away, too. Before she moved to London, we went to the beach for The Professor's birthday, and while I don't remember what happened that day, all of the pictures show her looking suicidally depressed. The only thing I can recall is telling her not to tell my attorney how much I alcohol I had consumed.

"Why not?" she responded.

"Because instead of being my attorney, she tries to be my therapist."

"You obviously need a therapist."

"Therapy and all that crap is a made-up, capitalistic, bourgeois Ponzi scheme. Besides, my attorney says I have Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which is why I refuse to blog about Kevin even though all he wants is to be blogged about, but Stephanie and her therapist have already diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder even though the therapist has never met me, so I already have a crutch and would like for my attorney to just keep me out of jail and spare me the psycho babble."

"You're a sociopath and I'm moving to London."

"You leave London Keyes out of this. She's a wonderful woman."

And then Kevin's sister disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again, even though The Professor claims to somehow be able to communicate with her from a whole different continent, as if a Nokia Go Phone would even allow for something so post-modern to be possible.

Kevin wanted some hot pics included on the blog about him, but my Nokia Go Phone recently collapsed and the pictures he sent are gone. There's a picture of him with a fish he recently murdered, but we already know he's more of a man than me and don't need to rub it in at this point.

Speaking of Kevin, where has his cousin Redacted been lately? Where are the Redacted's and Nacho's of Yesteryear? It seems like Redacted has been down on Mike the Blogger ever since I told him that I cared more about the Patriots game than a Giants NLCS game. I told him, "Tell no one." He must have told everyone, because it's on my fucking blog now. Also, The Professor told me, quote, I was with you. I saw you watching the Patriots game the whole time, idiot, end quote.

To which I replied, "COME ON! NO WAY."

Redacted and Kevin's Sister are apparently missing because of me, so sorry about that, Kevin. But it's like I tell my 37 bosses: when you hire a five-tool TPS Reporter or a five-tool blogger to blog about you, there's a cost. Sure, you don't have to compensate me, but you have to put up with the world's most petulant, whiny, angry, resentful, childish, vindictive, delusional person. Yet who files better TPS Reports than Mike? Who writes better blogs than Mike? Who jays off to London Keys more than Mike?

Was it worth it for Kevin to lose Redacted and Kevin's Sister in the making of this blog? Of course it was. They may be gone, but now the name Kevin will live forever in infamy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Timesheet

This morning, I'm supposed to complete my timesheet to account for my time yesterday. I decided to get a little creative with my description:

TPS REPORTS ADMINISTRATION; TIMESHEET; DRIVE TO WORK; STOP AT A COFFEE SHOP FOR TWO HOURS DUE TO HEAVY TRAFFIC; TEXT DIAMONDSTEIN: 'TRAFFIC IS HEAVY, MAN. LIFE IS HEAVY, MAN. GONNA BE IN A FEW HOURS LATE.' MID-MONTH BILLING CHANGES; COMPLAIN VOCIFEROUSLY ABOUT ABSURD, ASININE, MID-MONTH BILLING CHANGES; CONTINUE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT SAME; VARIOUS CALLS WITH TOMMY DIAMONDSTEIN ABOUT MY PETULANT FEELINGS; CALL WITH THE SENOR ABOUT ADULT FILM-STAR PETER NORTH, A TRANSCRIPT FOR YOUR RECORDS:

Mike: Senor, back in my day, the adult film industry was just higher quality stuff. I was the proud owner of a VHS copy of the film Head Over Heels Part II starring Peter North. And let me tell you something, Peter North never showed up to work two hours late like I did today.

Senor: No, of course not. He had a real passion for his profession because it's a great profession.

Mike: You're a get-it-guy. You understand. His life wasn't devoid of meaning and purpose. He paid attention to the little details in his work. He finished the job correctly. He did the job right. There was a certain pride that oozed from the man.

Senor: And a certain something that oozed from somewhere else.

Mike: Indeed.

Senor: When I was in high school, I bought some blue pills from India to help me in my quest to be more like Peter North. I just wanted to last 45 minutes like that big fella.

Mike: You're a man after my own heart. I met a girl I loved very deeply once, but it's always hard for me to act on my love for the ones I love and much easier to make it with the ones who drive me crazy. So I bought my own blue pills from India to increase blood flow. They didn't work.

Senor: I never got to find out with my pills. My parents confiscated them.

KICK A TPS REPORT IN ANGER; LONG FOR STEPHANIE; MORE CALLS WITH DIAMONDSTEIN; E-MAIL MANAGER TO COMPLAIN ABOUT NEW PROCEDURES; COMPLAIN TO ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN WHEN A SECRETARY "ACCIDENTALLY" POURS WATER ALL OVER ME WHILE PUTTING A TPS REPORT IN MY IN-BOX; WRITE A BLOG POST ABOUT COWBOY JOE; CHECK THE SCORE OF THE GIANTS GAME; EAT A PIECE OF CAKE; DRINK A CUP OF COFFEE; POOP; DRIVE HOME; FINISH A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA; CONTEMPLATE MY OWN UNBELIEVABLE STUPIDITY AND INTELLECTUAL VACANCY; LONG FOR STEPHANIE; WIDE AWAKE; CAN'T SLEEP; FINALLY FALL ASLEEP; 5 A.M. ALARM GOES OFF; THANK GOD I'VE GOT ANOTHER HOUR; 6 A.M. ALARM GOES OFF; I THINK IT'S THE 5 A.M. ALARM AND SHOT IT OFF ACCIDENTALLY; HAVE A DREAM THAT I'M BACK IN THE NEW JERSEY WOODS HAVING A CATCH WITH STEPHANIE AND DR. PARK; I TEACH DR. PARK HOW TO THROW A BASEBALL; HE THROWS A PERFECT STRIKE TO ME AND SMILES; I WAKE UP THINKING I'M LATE; I SHOW UP ONLY 15 MINUTES LATE TODAY INSTEAD OF TWO HOURS; IT'S 8:31 A.M. AND I'M GOING TO TURN IN MY TIMESHEET FROM YESTERDAY AND START PROCESSING TODAY'S PROCESSES; I WILL DO IT WELL, AT LEAST IN THE BEGINNING, BECAUSE MY HERO SHOWED UP IN MY DREAMS LAST NIGHT; I LOVE HIM FOR THAT.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cowboy Joe Cain

A fictional guest post by Cowboy Joe Cain

When I recently moved to the East Bay to live with Diamondstein and The Senor, I didn't realize that there'd be a fourth roommate who came and went from time to time. The first time I went to check the place out, he was there: this handsome man with incredibly striking blue eyes. On the backyard porch, he shared a glass of wine with Diamondstein.

After I had moved in, one Sunday, this fourth roommate came over to watch football with us. The Senor was at a wedding with his girlfriend Nicki Manaj (sp?), so it was just the three of us.

Diamondstein told me that "Mike" was coming over. "Is that the guy with the pretty blue eyes?" I asked.

"Um, like, maybe? I'm not too sure. Probably."

He arrived with a hat full of hummus, chips, and salsa in one hand and a 12-pack in the other. He was wearing a gray New England Patriots tee-shirt.

"Did some grocery shopping, fellas," he said as he put the beer, salsa, and hummus in the fridge.

"Is that from The Corporation?" Diamondstein replies.

"It sure as shit is! The Newbie was rolling up around 2:15 as I was walking out, and I hear him yell, 'Mike, come meet my girl!' I roll up to their car all hung-over and haggard with stolen goods on my person and hat hair going everywhere in the wind. The Newbie goes, 'This is that blogger I was telling you about!' I was like, 'Yup, that's me, Mike the Blogger. Just doing some grocery shopping. The blogging isn't so lucrative.' She probably knows I'm a junkie."

"It's good to be a junkie," Diamondstein says.

I was doing some studying for class on the couch while they watched the football game. When Mike saw that I was reading some Dostoyevsky his big baby blues pierced right through me.

"Sensuality is a storm, my friend!" Mike yells at me.

"What?"

"You'll find out when you read The Three Brothers. But you already know."

I knew I was going to like this kid, and he knew he was going to like me.

"Have you heard of my blog yet, Cowboy Joe?"

"No. What's a blog?"

"I'll find you on InstaBookFace and you can check my shit out. Hell, I always use that as a pick-up line. It's never worked."

That night, I fell asleep to Mike's blog. I had thought his name was Mark, but apparently it's Mike. The next morning, I asked Diamondstein, "Is that shit real?"

"What shit?"

"Mike's blog."

"Most of it."

"I like his writing. It's good stuff....But, is he actually depressed? Or is that part of the shtick?"

"It's somewhere in between, I'd say. He's probably more prone to depression than others, but I think he's pretty high-functioning. I guess he just can't get over Stephanie. Thinks too much and feels his own feels and whatnot."

"Who the fuck is Stephanie?"

"Oh God. You'll soon find out."

And I would find out indeed. A few weeks later, on another Sunday, I asked Diamondstein when I'd get to see Mike again. I had gotten further into the blog and I had some questions I needed to get answers to right away.

"I don't know, Cowboy Joe. I think he's working today. I'll call him."

Mike arrived less than 30 minutes later.

"Diamondstein, Cowboy Joe, what's up fuckers?" he says as he enters the apartment, heading straight for the fridge, without stolen groceries in tow this time but with a copy of a book.

"I thought you were working today?"

"I gave it a good-faith effort. Put in 60 solid minutes of plus-plus TPS Reporting. Then I started fighting with Stephanie and had to get the fuck out of here and numb this pain."

"Oh Jesus."

Mike grabbed a handful of beers from the fridge and headed outside where The Senor and Nicki were catching some rays under a clear, blue, early autumn sky. I followed him down the stairs into the backyard where he sat back and joined in--monopolized, perhaps--the conversation with the young couple.

He hadn't shaved in weeks; he looked tired. He was tired.

"Mike, you don't look so good," The Senor greets him.

"I'm not so good. Everything was going great yesterday. Left work and caught some rays and waves at Stinson Beach. Took a long walk on the beach. Read some of this book," he says, pointing to the novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. "Got some writing done. Then, I made the brilliant decision to call her, and here we are."

"Well, why the fuck did you do that?" The Senor asks.

"I don't know. If I had any self-control, we wouldn't be here, but I don't, so we are. I don't know. I guess I just thought that I could make it 2006 again and then everything would be okay. I had this idea of quitting my job and heading to New York City and then invading the Garden State from there, where my hero would be waiting. But I know that all my hopes are just misguided fears at this point."

"What happened?"

"I told her that I was coming, and she said okay, and then today she said she'd have to reconsider. And I was all, fuck that. I am the decider. Besides, I don't want to be where I'm not wanted."

"Then why did you want to go?"

"Because I thought I could go there and re-create the person I imagined in my mind eight years ago. Fuck, she was so much smarter than me then. Hell, she still is. She could've been a doctor or a lawyer or a professor; she could've been anything. I don't know even know what she does now. I guess the draw at this point is that never-ending thought of what might've been. If I had only done things differently, if I had only studied more in school, if I had only been smarter, if I had only been better, than we'd have made it. But I wasn't and so we didn't and a year-and-a-half later I still can't let go. Then again, if she did come back, there'd be a whole new, different set of the old fears, and I'd just push her away again. But she understands me, and on some level, I think I still understand her, and even if what we understand in each other isn't necessarily good, that basic sense of knowing and being known is more than I can say for a lot of people."

He's into his third beer now and he's squeezing the book as though he can win back her love through literary fiction. He's read 27 books since she left, since he told her to leave--sixteen months in the abyss wondering where it all went wrong, realizing where it all went wrong, and never being able to get it back yet always knowing it wouldn't be any better if he could.

"You've got to let her go," The Senor says with his agreeable girlfriend nodding in agreement.

"I know. I know. There's a lot of things I need to do but cannot summon the will to do."

He opens the book and searches for answers that, even if they came, he would never be able to put into practice. I couldn't understand why someone who had made-for-TV looks, who was a talented writer, who was a funny, likeable person could allow himself to be swallowed up so completely by a woman who, for all intensive purposes, barely existed in his life at all.

So I asked him.

"Sensuality is a storm, Cowboy Joe. It swallows you up completely to where you lose all control. It's worse than any drug or mind-altering substance. It's the worst kind of mind-altering substance because it seems so rational, so controllable, but then I play with the fire and burn my hands every time and wonder what the fuck happened."

"Why don't you just find someone else? You look like Tom Cruise or something."

"I've spent my whole adult life chasing Stephanie's when I should've been investing in myself, as if she would fill the void and mask the insecurity."

I had never seen a person quite so broken up before. I had to get ready for work, so I left Mike at the table where he sat with his beers and book. After I finished getting ready, I could see him still in the backyard with the book on his chest. He was leaning back in the chair and staring up at the sky, thinking thoughts of God knows what.

A lone squirrel sits under the tree a few yards from Mike, neurotically chewing on his nut encircled by both paws. Mike looks down and catches the squirrel's eye. The squirrel quickly panics--he drops the nut with his eyes still locked on Mike's and scampers up the tree on to the fence. Mike's eyes follow.

The squirrel thinks he's the prey, but Mike is the least likely predator I've ever met. After following the squirrel's movements for a few minutes, Mike buries his head back in the book. I can hear him start to read aloud from my window, "...when she still believed the meaning of a thing was limited to a few tersely worded clauses, but nothing, she now knew, could be defined in exclusion, and every bug, pencil, and grass blade was a dictionary in itself--'that long-tailed, bug-eyed squirrel is a dictionary in itself' he interrupts while trying to reconnect with his new friend--requiring the definitions of all other things to fulfill its own...Life: a constellation of vital phenomena--organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation."

He puts the book back on his chest and sits back. A look of relaxation comes over his face. A solitary man sits in my new backyard staring up at the heavens with hopes of solace, the rest of the crew sits on the couch watching football, and I head to work hopeful that my new friend can find a way to conquer the demons that have controlled him for so long.

If he had conquered them in the past, it never held for very long. Maybe on this day, on this peaceful Sunday, under the squirrel's favorite tree, he'd find the strategy that had long eluded him.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nine Innings and 29 Years at the NLCS

It's Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals. I'm 28 years old. I'll be 29 in a month. I'm in Section 311 with my father.

On the video board in center field before the game, President Obama is commemorating the 2012 team on its second championship in three years in addition to the club's organic, fair-trade, GMO-free vegetable garden in center field. The paternalistic President believes eating vegetables is important, though--ironically--his administration has continued to subsidize high-fructose corn syrup. Maybe instead of growing vegetables in the outfield, the Giants could start growing weed for sale. That way, the next time a Jose Abreu comes on the market from Cuba, we can avoid getting outbid by the lowly Chicago White Sox. The corporatist, Orwellian joke gets worse when the big board hashtags #StrongerTogether and #OctoberTogether at us. What the fuck does that even mean? I can't imagine A's fans having to deal with the President of our corporate state reminding them to eat their vegetables and then having to read meaningless garbage on the scoreboard like stronger together and October together. Lou Seal, the Giants mascot, is an even bigger joke. To make matters worse, any time there is a rally during the game, I can't see anything, because everyone in front of me is waving their Big Healthcare Company orange rally towels as if we're Steelers fans now.

Barry Bonds throws out the first pitch much to the dismay of the man sitting next to me, who angrily protests that Bonds was a steroid user. It seems to me that booing Bonds for steroid use would be like booing the Pope for being a Catholic. To be shocked that a player used steroids during the steroid era reeks of the worst kind of ignorance.

It's shocking to see Ryan Vogelsong pitching in the NLCS after the debacle that was his season last year. I thought he was completely finished, that the velocity he lost would never come back. It's more shocking to realize how much I don't know. Worse is realizing how much I've pretended to know. The little that I do know, which consists mostly of a game played by grown men in pajamas, can easily be measured. All that I don't know is immeasurable. My knowledge is like one grain of sand on the beach, and my ignorance is the rest of the beach and all of the ocean and the limitless sky overhead. Vogelsong pitched the clinching game of the NLDS last round, and his velocity is 90-94 mph tonight. However, he doesn't have a put-away pitch, and the Cardinals knock him out after putting nine base-runners on and plating four in three innings.

Shelby Miller, the lengthy, live-armed Texan with mid-90s heat and a power curve--every high school pitcher drafted out of Texas is legally obligated to throw in the mid-90s with a power curve--isn't fooling the Giants, either. The Giants plan is to attack the fastball early in the count, and it works. They knock Miller out in the fourth with two runs to cut the deficit to 4-3.

It's 2002 now, 12 years earlier. I'm 16 going on 17, a junior in high school, a running back on the varsity football team, 20 pounds lighter, chiseled--I can do a few reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. It's Game 4 of the NLCS. I'm with my father a few sections over from where we are tonight. With two outs in the bottom of the 8th inning and the Cardinals and Giants tied 2-2, Tony LaRussa intentionally walks Barry Bonds to get to Benito Santiago. Santiago launches a two-run homer to give the Giants a 4-2 lead that they'll hold in the ninth to go up 3-1 in the series. Kenny Lofton will single in David Bell for the winning run in Game 5, and the Giants are headed to the World Series for the first time since 1989.

It's 1989 now, I'm 3 years old going on 4. I can't remember this, but the story goes that my mother yelled at my three older siblings and me to stop shaking the car as we prepared to go somewhere. We weren't shaking the car; the Lomo Prieta earthquake was doing the shaking that would wipe out Game 3 of the World Series between the Giants and the A's. I don't remember the series, but I do remember skipping school to watch the documentary Champions by the Bay several times throughout my childhood. Each time, the Giants keep getting swept by the A's somehow.

It's 2010 now and I'm at work at The Corporation. I'm supposed to be there right now, but I ditch out of work early to meet my father in Alameda for the game. I get lost going to Alameda because I always get lost. Mac, my co-worker who was always promising to help me with my embarrassingly horrendous sense of direction, is on the phone with his wife, who is in Europe. He announces the final inning of the NLCS Game to her, finishing in his loud Bostonian voice with, "THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS ARE 27 DEFENSIVE OUTS FROM GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!" My co-worker, Dennis, also a huge baseball fan, points out to Mac that the Giants could get 27 defensive outs and still lose their next game and not go to the World Series. 

Back from the past to the present, the Giants score three runs in the sixth to take a 6-4 lead. Buster Posey is clearly ailed by a bad back, and although he hasn't even hit so much as a double thus far in the postseason, he's doing his best Tony Gwynn impersonation with base hit after base hit. Every move manager Bruce Bochy makes turns up roses: Joaquin Arias gets a pinch-hit single to start the two-run rally in the fourth, Juan Perez comes off the bench and works a walk to start the game-winning rally in the sixth. Rookie Matt Duffy lays down a bunt in the sixth. Up and down this roster, I see 25 gamers who will do a job for the ballclub, who will grind it out and find a way to win and advance, even if that means mostly just hitting the ball to the DH at first base Matt Adams, who can't control his large body. Before the Posey single makes it 6-4, leadoff man Gregor Blanco and second-place hitter Joe Panik get the fourth and fifth runs in by grounding the ball to first. On Blanco's grounder, Adams throws home late as Perez scores. On Panik's, Adams tags the bag before throwing wildly to second, which doesn't give the shortstop a chance to tag Blanco or throw home, where Brandon Crawford scores what proves to be the winning run.

It's 8 p.m. I've been at the stadium for almost 4.5 hours, the game is three hours old, and we still have to get these Midwestern Simpletons out nine more times to win this game. This game, this series, is an unfathomable grind. I'm absolutely spent already.

Yusmeiro Petit saves the game in the middle innings. He strikes out the side in the fourth and gets the game to the seventh inning. Petit only throws in the 87-89 mph range, yet the opposition continually swings and misses as if he's throwing 95 mph. Does he hide the ball well, or is it just great location and command?

Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla are the four relievers who have been on this roster for the five-year run beginning in 2010. As a good sabermetrician who has read Moneyball twice, I know that three-year deals for relievers are terrible ideas. I hated the Affeldt, Casilla, and Lopez contracts, yet where would this team be without that bullpen?

Casilla allows a two-out single to Matt Holiday, and the man behind me says, "It's never easy."

He's right, nothing is ever easy. Life has always been such a struggle for me! Oh, how I wish I could express myself sometimes! But, I can never find the right words.

I normally hate the late mid-day, that time after work and before night falls where everything is stuck in a traffic jam which we can never escape. But this is how that time should be spent: under the blue-gray, falling fall sky, at a stadium surrounded by the Pacific, with the hills of the East Bay in the distance, with the Bay Bridge peaking above the stadium imitating the industrial eyes of God, as the Giants deploy their even-year magic on the envious opposition.

Casilla strikes the next batter out looking, and the Giants are, once again, 27 defensive outs from the World Series. They get those 27 defensive outs, and Travis Ishikawa--who had nearly retired after being released earlier in the summer and looked like another Brian Sabean ode to nostalgia later in the summer when the Giants signed him off the scrap heap--launches a pennant-winning three-run homer. Mid-summer acquisition Jake Peavy sprints out to greet Ishikawa as he rounds second base and approaches third. Peavy is blind and didn't know the ball had gone over the wall. Ishikawa thought he'd be out if he touched the psycho running towards him whom he didn't recognize. He avoids Peavy and heads for home, and the Giants head to Kansas City for a shot at their third championship in five years. Ishikawa touches home, and the camera cuts to Sabean up in his GM suite, already in tears. The gruff man who has constructed this incredible run cannot handle this euphoric moment.

It's 1993 now, and I'm in the front yard playing imaginary baseball by myself. Solomon Torres and Dusty Baker have just conspired to ruin my childhood with a season-ending loss to the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine. That 1993 team won 103 games and didn't make the playoffs. The 2014 team, in this brave new wild car era, won just 88 games. With eight postseason victories, they're still seven wins shy of that incredible '93 team. Life is never easy and it's never fair. There will always be some bureaucrat in middle management or Washington DC trying to make it even less fair.

I guess I've had that rebellious view of the world since an early age. That's why I created an unimpeachable world of imaginary baseball where reality could not interfere. Thank God I created Brian Sabean, Bruce Bochy, and this continuous band of lunatics to save the final years of my never-ending childhood.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Searching for Mike the Blogger

by Von Leigh

When I was hired by The Corporation, I met with The Boss, Galindo, and some other bosses. The Boss did most of the talking, as I recall.

"Von, the reason we're bringing you in is to infiltrate the unit and execute the TPS Reporter Mike the Blogger."

"How exactly do you want me to do that?"

"That's up to you. The bottom line is that we need you to terminate his command."

"Terminate?" I ask. 

"Terminate with extreme prejudice," Galindo replies.

I stared back with a blank look.

"He's out there operating totally beyond the bounds of human decency," Galindo continues. "Play the tape."

I'll never forget the first time I heard that voice. His words cut deep into my soul, and I'll never get those words out of my psyche.

"DIAMONDSTEIN, THIS IS A BUNCH OF FUCKING HORSESHIT. THIS IS TOTALLY ABSURD. I'VE GOT TO PROCESS TOO MANY PROCESSES. ALL THIS WORK AND IT'S NOT LIKE WE'RE GETTING RICH. MADITZA, YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP OVER THERE. I'M TALKING TO DIAMONDSTEIN AND I CAN'T HAVE YOU FUCKING CHIMING IN WITH YOUR BLOGS AND TEMPER TANTRUMS. I'VE BEEN DOING THIS SHIT SIX YEARS SO YOU SHOW ME SO GODDAMN RESPECT, YOUNG LADY.

DIAMONDSTEIN, WHERE WERE WE BEFORE MADITZA SO RUDELY INTERRUPTED US? OH, RIGHT, FUCK THIS SHIT. I CAN'T DO IT ANYMORE. WE NEED TO HEAD OVER TO PIER 15 AND GET MY FUCKING MEDICINE. THEN WE NEED TO START A UNION AND REVOLUTIONIZE THIS PLACE. IF HIMSELF ISN'T GOING TO TAKE MY CRIES FOR HELP SERIOUSLY, MAYBE HE'LL START TO UNDERSTAND WHEN I LAWYER UP WITH A GOOD UNION REP!"

"As you can see, Von, he's gone totally insane. He's out there leading a band of drug addicts, alcoholics, porn hounds, sex junkies, and food fiends to the end of the earth. I mean, just today, after the Giants beat the Cardinals to go up 2-1 in the NLCS, he's running around the office like he's Jake Fucking Peavy, screaming and yelling like a madman. He's out of his mind. I saw him pick up The Senor and start humping him like a hooker right in the cubicle. This type of behavior cannot be tolerated.

"Your mission is to befriend Mike the Blogger, earn his trust, and then terminate his rogue command."

"Yes, sir. He's clearly a very insane, dangerous individual."

When I interviewed to join Mike's band of lunatics, he was wearing black and orange sparkly Giants sandals, jeans, and an Indecision 2012 tee-shirt that was too tight for his expanding mid-section.

"Von, let me tell you something," he said. "This is the graveyard of ambition. This is where dreams go to die. I used to be a Bleacher Reporter and now I'm a TPS Reporter. If you think this job is the beginning of the rest of your life, then you're a lot dumber than I thought. But this job is a lot like David Foster Wallace said in that book, not Infinite Jest but the other one, 'We fill pre-existing forms and in changing them, we are changed.' It's some pretty dope-ass shit, my man."

This guy wasn't just pretending to be Jake Peavy, he was Jake Peavy. He didn't have his fastball anymore, but he was out there operating with plus-plus want, guile, moxie, pitch-ability, and intensity. The guy had been through so many battles it was no wonder they thought he'd gone insane. But the more I got to know Mike the Blogger, the more I realized he wasn't insane at all.

In fact, I could sense that when I started a running club--which he joined much to my shock and dismay--that he was on to me from the beginning. He wanted me to terminate his command; he wanted to be taken off that wall once and for all.

But what do you do when the man they've hired you to kill becomes someone you begin to love? How do you kill a human being you were paid to hate but learned to love?

He called me early Sunday morning and said, "Von! Mike the Blogger here! Hey man, really sorry I'm not gonna make it in today. Woke up with some real bad nightmares last night and couldn't get back to sleep. Had a weird dream that I was back in high school and Stephanie was transferring to my school from New Jersey to ruin my senior year. It was awful. It felt way too real, man. This is what I get for ditching Diamondstein and having a sober Saturday. Anyway, the Patriots have a big game today and Belichick says I might get some snaps, so I'm gonna sit this one out buddy."

Mike the Blogger came in last Friday looking a little haggard and hung over and ranting and raving about someone called Stephanie whom he used to date, and her father whom I guess he lost in a tragic custody battle after the breakup, though that doesn't make much sense.

"DIAMONDSTEIN! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! IT'S FRIDAY, BUT IT'S NOT FRIDAY BECAUSE I'M SUPPOSED TO COME IN THIS WEEKEND BUT I CAME IN LAST WEEKEND AND I'M HUNGOVER AND IT'S 9 A.M. AND I CAN'T LIVE LIKE THIS AND WHERE ARE THE STEPHANIE'S OF YESTERYEAR?" I overhear Mike yelling into the phone at 9 a.m. last Friday.

And on the other end, even though he's only 12 feet away, I hear Diamondstein reply, "I don't think our fathers ever loved us!"

"That is just a great point by you, Tommy," Mike replies. "Just a great point. And, let's not give our mothers a free pass here."

"So true, Mike. My mom was never around, either!"

"Tommy, my mom threw my murdered cat in the trash can when I was six years old, and then went back to work! I gave that woman a free pass for too long. Ya know, we didn't choose to be born!"

"Oh, that is so true. I didn't ask for all these genetic deficiencies and intellectual limitations and nurturing issues that have left me here, a 24-year-old man who spends way too much of this time with you, a degenerate 28-year-old man who acts like a petulant 14-year-old overly emotional, whiny shithead all day."

"OH FUCK YOU, DIAMONDSTEIN. HOW DARE YOU TALK TO YOUR ELDERS LIKE THAT. YOU BETTER LEARN SOME RESPECT. OH FUCK! OH NO! THEY WANT ME TO DO SOME WORK NOW. FUCK THIS FUCKING BULLSHIT. WHAT A LOAD OF ABSOLUTE CRAP? WHY CAN'T I CATCH A BREAK? WHY DON'T GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO BAD PEOPLE LIKE US?"

"Because we're bad people?"

"AND BECAUSE OUR PARENTS NEVER LOVED US! MY ATTORNEY'S PARENTS JUST LOVED HER TO DEATH, AND LOOK HOW WELL-ADJUSTED AND NOT CLINICALLY DEPRESSED SHE TURNED OUT!"

"But, like, wouldn't it be weird if our parents had loved us and hugged us and disciplined us and shit?"

"It would've been fucking terrible, Diamondstein. Every second would've been pure hell. But that doesn't mean my attorney didn't catch all the breaks!"

"To be fair, your attorney is a black woman, and you're a privileged, white, Christian male, so you can't really say what you just said."

"DIAMONDSTEIN, FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST, I THOUGHT YOU WERE A GOOD REPUBLICAN, NOT SOME BLEEDING-HEART LEFTIST. YOU'RE A TURNCOAT."

"You're right. She thinks she's so much better than us because she doesn't drink $2.99 boxed wine, but we're the good ones, not her!" 

A lot of people wanted Mike to shut the fuck up, but I hadn't been there very long, so I wanted him to keep going. Each insane thing he said was more entertaining and fucked up than the last. They said he'd lost his grip on reality, but he hadn't. No, Mike's reaction to the absurdity of life and TPS Reports was the most sane thing I'd ever seen. He was going to keep pushing that boulder up the hill each and every day, but he was going to do it with extreme contempt and scorn for the powers that be.

At the end of the day Friday, I overheard Mike in Diamondstein's cubicle.

"I'LL TELL YOU WHAT TOMMY GUNS, I THINK OLE MIKE WILL BE HERE A LONG TIME. YUP, I REALLY DO. I THINK I GOT THIS THING WHOOPED PURTY GOOD. LET'S SAY WE HEAD ON BACK TO THE CASA AND REALLY GET BLACKED OUT TONIGHT. I THINK CLUB MALLARD CAN USE TWO GOOD WHITE CHRISTIAN MALES LIKE OURSELVES VOMITING ALL OVER THE PLACE TONIGHT. WHAD'YA SAY, MI AMIGO?"

And like that, at 4:37 p.m., they were off, like bandits. Every impulse was their downfall. If they had the self-control to avoid places like Club Mallard, maybe they could've made something of themselves. Maybe it was too late already. I don't know. This is a different world we're living in now.

Mike will be 29 soon and, if all goes according to plan, I'll murder him. Alas, I don't think I can pull the plug on this grandma. No, I think Mike the Blogger will live a long time. I've gone back and read all of his blogs, and he is getting better.

At the same time, it's hard for me not to see this blog of his as another delusional pursuit The guy is not the sharpest tool in the shed. I have a hard time envisioning him writing something truly worthwhile in this lifetime. It seems to me that he'd be better off giving up that racket, accepting Jesus Christ or some other slave mentality into his heart, giving up the booze and the hookers and the dope, and trying to get through life in the capitalist grind believing a different set of lies.

In the end, we all lied to ourselves to try to be happy. That's why Mike was so fucked up: he didn't want to tell anymore lies in a world where the truth made you anxious, then depressed. He wanted me to terminate his command as soon as possible because he feared deep down that if he walked away of his own accord, he'd never get another opportunity to lead the troops again. But The Corporation was done with him. If Mike would've processed half the crap and given them none of the shit, they'd probably have given him a raise and made him general. Instead, he processed the crap but did it while kicking and screaming, and no one wanted a headache. Mike was a headache that would never go away, so they hired me to make it all stop. The only problem was that I had infiltrated the unit and become one of his followers. If they wanted to take the TPS Reports away from Mike, if they wanted to take the ball from Peavy, they were going to have to hire a stronger man to pull the plug on Club Mallard's favorite son.