Paul Sawyer, real name Saul Sauerberg, pushed through the door and walked deliberately to Gerome’s desk. He put up his hands sideways like a field goal post. The gesture probably meant something else to him.
“I assume you’ve seen the piece,” Paul said through the uprights.
“I assume everyone on this floor has seen it.” Gerome folded his gnarled, brown hands. “I got it as an e-mail attachment, and I barely know how to open those.”
Paul got to pacing, shutting the door like an afterthought on his circuit between the window and his managing editor’s wall of plaques. He paced like this before shows. It was how he warmed up. “I assume you’ve seen it because you summoned me here. But I would have come anyway. I was on my way here when you were calling to have me come in. You were the first person who came to mind when I read the piece.”
“I’d think of the writer. If a pretty lady didn’t like me as succinctly as she didn’t like you, I’d think about her before any wrinkly black men. Now I want you to verify this for me. Is she right? Did you use methamphetamines last year, while under contract?”
“The gall. The bile. The various mythical juices this woman must possess to quote me out of context, and try to paint me as some junky riding a corporate account.” He broke his pacing to wave four fingers and a thumb. “I will have you know that at least five of the quotes in this piece are entirely fabricated.”
“Was the one about meth entirely fabricated?”
The pacing resumed. “She wanted an angle. I mean, why interview a sports journalist? Newsmakers make bad stories. It’s incestuous. It’s masturbatory. I only did it because Kendal said it’d draw more attention. Get me out there, get new eyes. Eyes always help. But it’s clear she only asked so that she could claim things about me. Unsubstantiated things that could damage my career if people in this company take them out of context.”
“You’re saying you used meth out of context?”
“I’m saying that she did not take a single sentence from my mouth and put it where it belonged, and I’m frankly insulted that this company would believe this borderline hearsay, this transparent case of libel, before even consulting me.”
“I’m sorry. Were you expecting the network heads to meet you in my office?” Gerome put a palm on his desk, as though affirming it was tangible and not an illusion. “I am consulting you. You’re facing me and we’re exchanging words in our shared language. What I think is our shared language.”
“This company should have more faith in me. I could have jumped two years ago. I could have jumped last year. I could have gone to NBC Sports. I could be Keith Olbermann right now. But I stuck with the girl who brought me to the dance. Do you know I’ll have been here five years this March?”
“Five years.” Gerome shook his head. “If it’s relevant, I’ve given twenty-three and I have no idea when my anniversary is. I say ‘if it’s relevant’ because I’m older and I know in your position it looks like I’ve had more years to hand out to corporations. But I’d like you to answer if you smoked pot.”
“I know you’ve worked here twenty-three years. Look at those awards.” Paul tapped one, and the noise it made disturbed him. He only gestured to the others. “You’ve earned them all for this company. I respect that, I respect the work. That’s why I’m coming to you.”
“You’re coming to me because I summoned you, and possibly because I can fire you.”
“Out of admiration for all your work in journalistic integrity. Because reason matters to you. Reason, ethics and journalistic integrity. You’re not going to let someone oust me from a position I put my heart into just so she can get more hits on her blog. You, of everyone in this building, will understand a man undermined.”
“Paul, in 1996 I was aggressively addicted to cocaine.”
Paul stopped pacing.
“I spent more than your current salary on it, and twice did lines of it off the backside of a Forbes 400 CEO. If you want to narrow it down, it was one of the female CEOs. My wife and children have forgiven me and I’ve undergone treatment in secret, but I actually still crave to this day, in the adjacent century. It took someone very powerful and patient to save my life. I’m telling you this because you’re making me crave it right now. Also because I think if I tell you this, you will answer me: at any time during your contract with the company we both work for but do not value more than the livelihood of a good man, did you use illicit substances?”
Paul sat. He smoothed out his pants aggressively. At some point the creases had gone uneven and needed pinching.
Every year I write The Riren 100, a comprehensive list of the top hundred pro wrestling matches in a year. The last couple years it has received pretty amazing syndication, and this year it's expected to appear on a batch of front pages. Since I get a lot of confused feedback about it, I'm opening up this source post. I'll link any place it's appearing, and if you have any comments you can feel free to leave them here.
"I'm in your thoughts? Maybe you should have concentrated harder during the surgery. This scar is way bigger than the doctor said. By the way, did you imagine that guy clearly? Tight ass. Or I was medicated and it was actually an IV stand. I don't know, I wasn't paying attention, but apparently you were because you imagined my entire life. God, my entire life. When I rear-ended that bitch, and then she turned out to be my student loan officer? That time the circus took out a restraining order against me? How did I not see it sooner? I am in your thoughts, and you're fucking crazy. Get on some ritalin and start imagining me getting laid by a cheerleading squad already."
[Once again at the booth. MEGATRAN, a Chinese knockoff of Megatron made from blue plastic instead of white, sits on the center, using a flame jet from its index finger to warm a plate of nachos, from which everyone at the table is eating. GRUFF STOVER sits to MEGATRAN’s right, MEGATRAN’s giant cannon slung over GRUFF’s shoulder. GRUFF strokes it possessively. SAMID sits to MEGATRAN’s left, wearing a chainmail bikini. ARYANA sits to SAMID’s left, in a pink tuxedo.]
Gruff: Why’s The Incredible Hulk got to be white?
Samid: He’s green.
Megatran: All the newspapers say he’s white when he turns back into a person.
Aryana: How come it’s white? The only people who are actually white are albinos, and we don’t call them white. I’m kind of sandy.
Gruff: Why can’t The Incredible Hulk be black?
Samid: Because he’s green.
Gruff: When he’s a normal person, he could be black. You don’t know.
Aryana: They say he’s a physicist. David Banner or something.
Gruff: There aren’t any black physicists? What about Neil deGrasse Tyson?
Samid: I really don’t think he’s the Hulk.
Ayrana: I thought he was an astronomer.
Gruff: The Incredible Hulk is not an astronomer.
Megatran: Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist.
Gruff: He could have been bombarded by astro-rays. That made the Fantastic Four. If it can make The Thing, why can’t it make The Incredible Hulk?
Megatran: Because Neil deGrasse Tyson’s job is on the ground. He has never gone into space.
Gruff: You don’t know that. He could have gone to space, got hit by giant green rays, then covered it up. That’s why you don’t know he went to space. The point being if some white Banner can be the Hulk just because of his physics project, why can’t Tyson by the Hulk because of his?
Samid: Under that logic, I could be Hulk and have covered it up.
Gruff: No you couldn’t.
Aryana: You’re not black.
[SAMID gapes at ARYANA. GRUFF snaps his fingers victoriously.]
Gruff: See? Woman’s got it.
Aryana: Because sometimes a lady knows when to jump on a side. [She raises a fist] Hulk smash puny logic.
Samid: Logic is tumbling away from us.
Aryana: In fact, I’m willing to suppose something. [She looks to Gruff] There is only one black man who can’t possibly be the Hulk.
Gruff: Damn straight.
Megatran: Neil deGrasse Tyson?
Aryana: No. Barack Obama.
[GRUFF snaps his fingers victoriously once again]
Gruff: Lady has it.
Samid: And how do we come to this?
Aryana and Gruff: [in unison] Because he’s Superman.
Under the tree in pink wrapping paper, a doll that whispers once a day to her new best friend. Tonight it’ll say “Hold the pillow over Baby Sam’s face until he stops wiggling.” Tomorrow it’ll say “Crush up Mommy’s pills and put them in Daddy’s bottled water.” Or some variation. By New Years, they will have the house to themselves.
Grandpa Odysseus hates carolers. We didn’t understand, for he was otherwise festive. The one post of his bed was a tree, and every December 1st he decorated it so bright you could see it from space. He gave uncanny gifts. Last year I got a dried out Cyclops eye, and Threnody got the prettiest fleece you’ve ever seen. For the dinner he always orders prime cuts from Old Circe’s Farm, which is a long way to go, even if it is succulent. He’s never met a door-to-door salesman he couldn’t con, and he’ll swap stories with Jehovah’s Witnesses in the foyer all day. His only gripe is Christmas carolers. Barely able to walk, he’ll fight his way down to the docks and we have to tie him to a mast to keep him still. You’d think a war vet would be scared of something a little more challenging than two or three little carolers.