I return from vacation. My arms are full. I can barely see over the things I carry. Brochures. Scuba fins. An elephant gun. Ideas. I have ideas.
“Look, boss,” I say, dumping the mess on his desk. “Great stuff here. Mountain climbing in Ecuador. A kayak race in Siberia. Tractor pulls in Idaho. Great stuff.”
He glares at me.
“OK,” I say. “Maybe the tractor thing isn’t great. But we can work with it.”
“What are you talking about?” he says.
“Ideas. Story ideas. How we can get through August on the sports pages.”
“You’ve been on vacation too long,” he says. “We don’t need–“
“I know,” I say. “We don’t need baseball. We say that every year. We don’t need baseball. The heck with baseball. The Tigers are lousy; the fans are bored. It’s been that way the last few summers.
“The problem is, with no other sports going on, we spend August waiting for football season to start, and praying for the Pistons to trade somebody, just so we have a story.”
My boss rolls his eyes. “Not anymore–
‘=You bet not anymore,” I say, reaching into my suitcase. “Not with . . . this!”
I yank out my pith helmet. I slap it on my head. I grab my gun. “Elephant hunting in Nigeria, boss. What a story! The season begins next Monday. Picture this: I go for a week, eat by a campfire, sleep under a dung tree . .
He stares as if I have crawled out of his toilet.
“Will you take that hat off, please?” he says.
And you ask why I take vacations. Rocket idea won’t lift off “Look,” he says, “you’re going to Toronto. Today. It’s about time you got back to work.”
“Canada! Great!” I say. “I’ve been reading up on Canada. Lots of white-water rafting. Lots of, uh, white-water rafting. Hey. They have Rocket Ismail up there. Maybe I could take him white-water rafting, and we’d–“
“Forget Rocket. You’re going for baseball.”
I laugh. “Baseball? Heh-heh. Good one, boss.”
Baseball? Since when has baseball meant anything in August? In Detroit? Come on. Not since 1988, right? Since then, come August, the only reason to watch baseball here is to avoid mowing the lawn.
Everyone knows that two years ago, by August, the Tigers were heading for the worst record in the majors. Everyone knows that last year, by August, the Tigers were so lifeless they put you to sleep.
And everyone knows that this year, by spring training, the Tigers were getting such bad reviews, even the Toledo Mud Hens were predicted to finish ahead of them. Detroit had no pitching, had no prospects, and would create enough breeze from strikeouts to launch a small aircraft.
Baseball fever? In August?
“How about this, boss?” I say, pulling out my bow and arrow and striking a Kevin Costner pose. “Archery. In Wales. Maybe I can write a series; city guy in the wilderness, learns survival, and . . . oops–“
The arrow shoots across his office. It pierces through my boss’s framed diploma, hanging on the wall. The one he got from correspondence school.
“WILL YOU STOP!” he screams.
“Sorry, I know how proud you were of that.”
He slaps a newspaper in my chest. A sports section. I try to avoid sports sections while I am on vacation. Otherwise, I am not on vacation, if you get my drift.
“Tigers close gap . . . ” I mumble as I read, ” . . . within 4 1/2 games .
. . Fielder hits 32nd . . . Phillips a star. . . confidence builds . . . pennant hopes rise . . . “
I look at my boss.
“It’s a joke, right?” How did this happen? It’s got to be a joke. The team that supposedly stunk so bad you wouldn’t go near it without a can of Lysol? The pitching staff with the cumulative arm strength of Barry Manilow? These guys are suddenly within breathing distance of the No. 1 spot in the AL East? They have a big series against the Blue Jays starting tonight?
“When did all this happen?” I say. “I go away on a measly vacation, and suddenly, the Tigers are winning in the bottom of the ninth, on pinch-hit home runs? A starting pitcher is 14-6? A relief pitcher is 9-2? When did this happen? How did it happen?”
“How should I know how it happened?” my boss says, returning to his paperwork. “It happened. Get on a plane and write some baseball.”
“But what about this?” I say, pulling out my scuba diving suit. “Shark hunting off the Australian Coast? I already did the research.”‘
“Research Mickey Tettleton,” my boss says.
“Field hockey in Ireland?”‘
“Horse racing in Morocco?”
I gather my stuff. I pack it in the suitcase. Wow. Am I stunned. All those ideas for saving August — no longer needed. Baseball has returned. I can hardly believe it. I am going to Toronto. I will write about these surprising Tigers. The fans will be happy. The newspaper will be happy.
I reach for my elephant gun and it goes off, blowing a hole in the office ceiling.
“I don’t believe this . . . ” my boss moans.
I guess the elephants will be happy, too.