The Pretenders

6 Feb

–What kind of name is that?
–It’s a good name. Old school.
–His name is Shirley.
–That’s right. Old school. It’s what they used to name boys back then. I know a Tracy, too.
–What, like…Spencer?
–No, Tracy’s his first name.
–It’s strange. Shirley. A man.
–He’s the father of that Maury guy. You know Maury? With the shit TV talk show?
–That’s his father.
–Jesus, he must be…what…
–He’s been writing baseball for over seventy years.
They stood out in the newsroom, behind the thick glass, and drank their coffees and looked in on the editorial meeting in Ratner’s office. Gollust had his shirtsleeves rolled up and a pen clipped to the breast pocket. He was going grey at the temples. They both liked Gollust as managing editor. He was an old fashioned writer from Cleveland who’d done a couple of decades with the Plain Dealer before coming out to the coast. He very much dug Thurber and always liked to talk about Sherwood Anderson:
–Died of peritonitis after swallowing the toothpick of his martini. Chee-rist!
Gollust ran a great newsroom. He literally stood the entire time in the middle of the giant space, and thumbed through interminable, inky copies of the Times, the Post, the Wall Street Journal, Plain Dealer, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Philly Enquirer…it was endless. All the while he’d be cleaning up  copy or sending it back with his trademark baseball notes: “foul ball, you’re behind the count one and two” or “bunt! bunt! bunt!” Gollust loved his Cleveland Indians.
–And what in hell kind of name is Herb Ratner. Herb. Like what? Rosemary? Dill?
–It’s short for Herbie or Herbert.
–Old-school name, right.
–Listen, you hang around here ten more years, they’ll make you bureau chief. They’ll send you out to China or Latam.
–Ten years?
–You’ll be the youngest bureau chief in the entire service…
–Ten years.
–It’s nothing. Look at Ravi or Andrei. They’ve been here writing on this desk for two decades plus. Three, I think, for Ravi.
–I don’t want to be them. I don’t want to be Shirley Povich.
–He writes about baseball, for chrissakes. He’s famous. He goes out to the Old Ebbit Grill with fucking Larry King. Plays canasta with the Capitol Hill boys every Friday night. The hell’s so bad about that?
–I mean Ravi. Andrei. I don’t want to be here chewing on some goddamned tea leaves all day and smoking Dunhills.
–You wouldn’t. You’d be bureau chief.
–I don’t want that.
–You don’t want anything that’s hard. You just pretend you do.
Gollust looked out into the newsroom through the thick glass and motioned for them to come in.
–We all pretend.
–What do you think they want?
–I don’t know.
–That CN you wrote on the FMLN in Salvador really tickled Gollust, you know. Maybe they’ll give you some kind of award or something.
–Yea. A plaque.
–Maybe they’ll give you that post in China.
He laughed.
–Let’s go already, they’re waiting.
They went for the almost transparent door to Ratner’s office.
–Hey listen, I heard Naifeh is running Assignments now. For Asia and Africa.
–This isn’t going anywhere…
–Did you hear what I said? About Naifeh? Besides, it’s a good exercise in dialogue. In conversation.
–Yes. What do you think they want in there?
–Slow boat to China. Or? A plaque. Or? The plague.
He laughed.


2 Responses to “The Pretenders”

  1. Slyboots 06/02/2008 at 8:33 PM #

    One of my dad’s friends was named Lynn. He was a guy. He owned a bar called “Lynn’s”. I think he could kick anyone’s ass.

    I am fond of the wordplay between the characters- and that they keep on track without meandering too far from the original conversation. Tight.

  2. (S)wine 07/02/2008 at 12:04 AM #

    I also knew a Tracy (male) in high school, only he went by “Steve.” I don’t get the connection, seeing how his middle name was John. Anyway, I’ve always thought Shirley Povich was unique, even for that era of naming males with seemingly female monikers.

    On some other hand, I think this piece isn’t really going anywhere (and one of the characters even says so at the end), so I just treated it as an exercise in dialogue.

    Some days you have hits, and others you have misses.
    As the Big Lebowski would pontificate: “Strikes and gutters man…strikes and gutters.”

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