Death and Football

[Content note: Jokes about death and violence]

This is a true story I wrote in 2014. I’m publishing it on the request of Penelope Laurans, who received it from Anne Fadiman after the story was told at a dinner commemorating the very strange history of Yale football. Of my 273 blog drafts, it was perhaps the one I least expected to publish, but life is also very strange.

If you aren’t sure whether to read this, go to the end and look at the photo. Then, if you want to know the story of the photo, read this. (Spoiler warning.)


It was an October Monday, the night of The Yale Record’s weekly meeting.

We were brainstorming slogans for t-shirts to commemorate the 130th annual Harvard-Yale game (“The Game”), and preparing to sell said shirts so that we might someday commemorate the magazine’s second straight year of not being in debt.

The administration often threatened to take away our office if we didn’t toe the line, so we had to abandon our best idea: John Harvard crucified on the letter Y.

After that, we held a public vote, and resolved to print t-shirts with the two most popular slogans. It doesn’t matter what they were. What matters for my story is the third:

“Whoever wins, our lives will end equally … IN DEATH.”

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The Lightning Bat of Jason Jones

Jason Jones was not a natural athlete. He barely scraped by, even on his high school baseball team. But he’d always dreamed of playing in the majors. And he had a good heart. That’s the most important thing, in this kind of story.

One fateful night, as Jason walked home from practice, rain began to pour. Thunder boomed. Lightning struck a nearby tree. (Well, the thunder came after the lightning, of course, but it’s more dramatic this way.)

The tree caught fire, but was soon extinguished by the rain. Jason knew fate when he saw it. He took a sturdy chunk of lumber from the lightning tree, then carved it into a bat — which he just called “the Lightning Bat”, because he wasn’t a natural nomenclaturist, either. He wasn’t a very thoughtful boy in general. But we did mention the good heart, right?

Anyway, thoughtful or no, Jason was a mean hand with a lathe, so the bat came out smooth and powerful. At his next high-school game, hit a ball so hard it almost disintegrated on its way over the outfield fence. A few spectators noticed a flash of light at the moment of contact, but they all figured it came from the camera held by a stranger in the stands.

The stranger turned out to be a major-league scout. After seeing that phenomenal home run, he bought young Jason a ticket for the next train to Cleveland. Soon, the boy was up to bat for the Indians, who occupied the cellar of the American League standings and were willing to try just about anyone.

(The employment contracts in those days were loose and flexible. Things are different now, for reasons that will soon become clear.)

# # # # #

Jason stared into the eyes of Tommy Castro, the ace of the Boston Red Sox. Confidence surged through his veins. He held the Lightning Bat over his shoulder, practically twitching with anticipation.

Castro wound up and fired. A fastball.

Jason still stood with the bat over his shoulder. He hadn’t moved an inch. He hadn’t even seen the pitch go by. Strike One.

Another fastball. Jason swung and missed by a mile. Strike Two.

(As it turns out, a major-league pitcher is much better at throwing than a mediocre high-school batter is at hitting, even if the latter wields a bat charged with the force of a thunderstorm.)

Another fastball. Low and outside — just a bit too far outside. Ball One.

Jason still couldn’t see the damn thing. He felt his dream draining away. But the bat sparked and buzzed in his hands, beckoning him to give it one more try. Power swelled up in the barrel. The sweet spot began to glow.

Another fastball. Last chance.

Jason swung the Lightning Bat harder than he ever had before. By some accident of timing, he connected, with a crack that deafened the crowd and a white-blue flash that struck them momentarily blind.

It was a line drive, practically sideways, foul from the moment of contact — and fast. So fast that the ball obliterated a section of the stands above the Cleveland dugout, leaving a forty-foot crater that crackled with electricity.

Thirty-eight people died, and Jason Jones went to prison for the rest of his life.

# # # # #

Eight years later, under new management, the Indians finally won a World Series. By that time, the scout who found Jason Jones was working as a forest ranger in Alaska, spending his nights alone with a bottle of whiskey and a radio tuned to anything but baseball.

There was one silver lining: Nowadays, high-school athletes around the country learn from their coaches in an annual, mandatory lecture — at least in public schools — not to mess around with elemental magic. That shit is dangerous.

This story is a revised version of a submission that reached the final round of cuts at Flash Fiction Online. Thanks to the editors for their helpful comments!

 

Hacking LinkedIn For Fun (But Not Profit)

In the summer of 2014, I worked at a recruiting firm. This meant that I was on LinkedIn for most of the day, reading thousands of profiles.

LinkedIn profiles aren’t much fun, unless they’re the profile of someone you can’t hire.

(Exhibit 1: The programmer who is so confident and secure in his job that he’s formatted his profile as a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet.)

 

I can be hired. Sometimes, I even want to be hired. So I can’t totally sabotage my own profile. Still, I wanted to have some fun with LinkedIn.

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20 Alternatives to Punching Nazis

20 Alternatives to Punching Nazis

I won’t rehash the Nazi-punching debate that rolled over America last week. Good sources include thisthis, and this.

After reading way too many articles on the topic, I still don’t endorse Nazi-punching.

When punching “the right people” becomes an option, the punchers often end up punching a lot of other people. And punching Richard Spencer in particular gives him much more publicity — even sympathy, in some cases — than he’d receive otherwise.

But it’s not helpful just to claim people shouldn’t do something to Nazis. Or to certain other groups of people who endorse ideas they see as existential threats.*

My views here are closest to those of Darth Oktavia, a longtime anti-fascist who writes:

“The nazis love getting into fights with antifas, because that’s their home territory. What nazis hate is parody […] they could save face with a traditional fight, but they cannot save face by starting a fight with people who are only showing what huge jokes they are.”

So, in the spirit of parody: here are some ideas for bothering Nazis, turning Nazis into laughingstocks, and making Nazis feel terrible — all without leaving bruises, and hopefully without running the risk of a felony assault charge.**


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Daniel Radcliffe Memorizes the Lyrics to “Alphabet Aerobics”

This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is completely intentional. Except for Emma Watson, who seems like a perfectly nice woman. Inspired by One More Thing.

 

 

Azkaban

“Artificial amateurs aren’t at all amazing. Analytically, I assault and amaze…”

Daniel Radcliffe pressed “pause”, then “back”. He glared balefully at his iPod.

“No! That’s not right.”

He pressed “play”. The song began again:

“Now it’s time for our wrap-up. Let’s give it everything we’ve got!”

Daniel nodded in time with the beat. This time, he thought, I’ll get past “D”.

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