An Accidental Identity Crisis

Twenty-three seconds into the accident, the nascent writer Joshua Alexander jumped for joy. Concentrating on the significant damage to the bumper of my Explorer proved challenging amidst the ever-maddening screams of “THIS IS MY MOMENT! I HAVE ARRIVED!” The poor kid who pulverized his car with my bumper, some student from George Washington University home on break, apologized repeatedly for his lapse in attention; though to be fair, I’m still not sure if he directed it to me or to the crumpled remains of his car. I consoled him, insomuch as I was capable with all the celebratory screaming coming from Joshua. To his credit, the kid remained stoic, clearly at war with the beside-himself-father in his head, taking complete blame when the officer arrived, while I stood at the back of my vehicle analyzing the damage.

“This is great. Fantastic. The best thing that could have happened.”

I countered that, citing that car accidents are not great watermarks of joy for anyone. Not that Joshua cared.

“This will pay for the conference. You should thank that kid.”

I hadn’t considered that. Granted, my bumper looked a bit as if the horrors of life had consumed its soul, leaving its remains to melt into a perpetual frown.

“It’s just a bumper. What do you even need it for?”

As far as I could tell, the moment offered an example as to the primary reason bumpers existed. If I learned anything from Bumper Cars as a kid it was to never play Bumper Cars with my older brother. He had this fixation on ejecting me from my car, or better, the entire ring. Of course, he also had a fixation with swinging me in circles from an arm and leg until my glasses flew off and I started crying, so maybe the Bumper Cars weren’t the issue. In the moment, however, I found my first appreciation for the lessons those ricocheting cars offered.

Still, I had a hard time arguing the point. It was just a bumper. What’s a bumper in comparison to a week’s worth of writing education that would certainly land me a contract with a publisher? Three days later, when the Insurance adjuster handed me a check for $1,100, Joshua’s elation caught up to me. The internal war began. Bumper vs. bills vs. writing conference. Bumper lost in the opening round, if for no reason than it shut Joshua up for a while, and the worst it could do was follow me wherever I drove, its downward slope of sadness perhaps warding off any other unwanted visitors. Bills … those were a trickier obstacle. Apparently, those are supposed to be paid? That’s what I’ve heard. Somewhere.

I guess I should probably mention I had quit my job three months prior in order to write a book. That seems important, in context. Bills and all. Sudden money at hand and the like. A lack of employment certainly made income a pestering nuisance in relation to actually paying for things. You know, the important things like bills. Food. Collectible Star Wars figures. Even writing conferences. Especially those lasting a week long and costing a thousand dollars. An amount I happened to have in my bank thanks to a careless kid fiddling with his radio at forty miles-per-hour as his car rudely greeted the stopped Explorer in its path.

Maybe I shouldn’t have quit my job, I thought for the one-hundred and thirty-first day in a row. As decisions went to this point in life, it ranked up there with the best of Not Good. Sure, I finished a first draft of the book (two if you count the less than stellar 1st person draft I finished in 21 days), and by the time the conference rolled around two months later I would have a good edit complete. The timing fit. The conference–my first ever–would offer me a chance to pitch it to agents and New York Times bestselling author David L. Robbins, who would be the judge in a fiction contest. My book, Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO was good, by my estimates. Okay, so I thought it was perfect. Something to behold. To cherish. To love and to squeeze and to call George. Surely the agents would agree and the whole suffering for my art thing would be worth it, just as I had envisioned. That singular dream in which I quit my job, wrote a book, went to a conference and BLAMMO … agent. Agent would become Publishing Contract. Publishing Contract would equal Advance. Advance would balance out Voluntary Unemployment. Success would follow.

THIS IS MY MOMENT.

Did I have a choice? Sure. I had many. Many, many, many, many of which began the day before I quit my job. Did it feel like it? No. No, between Joshua’s screaming and my inability to see the world of possibility as more than a single light at the end of a short road, the Universe basically sat on my head, declared itself the Master of My Destiny and urged the chariot onward. All of this wouldn’t have happened otherwise, right? Everything happens for a reason, after all.

RIGHT YOU ARE UNIVERSE!

Fueled by the need to risk it all, to bypass sanity in favor of chance (LIVE NOW FOOL!), I registered for the conference and submitted the first fifty pages of my manuscript for the contest.

Sort of.

Technically, yes? Officially … not so much.

The thing is … the thing I should mention is how incredibly tired of me I had become. I saw myself every day. In the mirror, staring back for that brief flash before looking away, lest I thought myself some kind of creepy pervert offering longing glances from the other side of the glass. I talked to myself incessantly daily (yeah, yeah talked … that’s the ticket), whether I wanted to hear me or not. I cooked for myself, cleaned for myself, got sick of my needy self and needed a break.

So, I sent Joshua Alexander to the conference. I’m not sure if I thought he would generate better results, or if it would simply be nice to not be me for a week. Truthishly, I can’t really recall a specific thought of why I should do such a thing. Maybe I took a back seat to the process and Joshua jumped in. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’m just weird like that, I suppose.

Regardless of reason–and likely absent it as well–I made my way to the conference full of cheer and lofty dreams, toting my completed manuscript in a wooden box as if it were the lost Ark of the Covenant. I checked in under my name since Joshua, for all of his robust enthusiasm, still lacked both an ID and a bank account, settled in and made off for the Opening Remarks with another hundred plus writers. All of whom were likely themselves because they were smart that way. I sat next to a behemoth of a figure–a tall, muscular man stretched out across two chairs. As I have established, socializing is not my strong point. Joshua, on the other hand, seemed to have no issue with the complexity of Hello and jumped right in.

“Hi. Joshua Alexander.”

Good for you, Josh. Well done.

The man shifted, shook my hand, introduced himself as David L. Robbins and immediately launched into praise for my submission, about how he had planned on finding me to discuss it, and stating his wonder at the luck we would sit next to each other.

It’s possible, at this point, I considered dropping the Joshua persona to ensure Mr. David L. Robbins, New York Times bestselling author, knew who I really was. I offer the possibility of such a though only because I don’t particularly recall if I though much of anything at all. Not with Joshua in charge.

THIS IS MY MOMENT.

So, I let him run with it. Let him talk throughout the Welcome, carrying the conversation onward into my work, its strengths and weakness, the nuances of the craft of writing, echoing David’s belief that conferences were vital to the growth of a writer, and I don’t know, tacos or something. It went on for hours. The next day David even invited me to go watch him golf in between sessions. I became the envy of the entire conference, buddied up to David like a excitable, loyal, puppy. Everyone knew my name, curious about what I wrote, how I had managed to so quickly win the favor of such a notable author.

They were the best two days of Joshua Alexander’s life.

They were, in fact, the only two days of Joshua Alexander’s life.

On day three, David woke up and decided to invite good ole chum Joshua to breakfast. Strange thing though. The front desk had no room for a Joshua Alexander. David insisted they were wrong. Had them check and check again, taking potential misspellings into account. Nope. No Joshua. Confused and slightly embarrassed, David fell into full research mode, following the trail of Joshua Alexander to one Zachary Steele, in room whateverever. He called me. He grilled me. Questioned what reason a man with my name would possibly have to go under any other name, then laughed at me. For the rest of the week. As he told each and every person about the ludicrous tale of Zachary “Joshua Alexander” Steele. For the next few months, as we kept lines of communication open. For the next few years as our friendship grew, as he became a mentor to me as a writer. To this day, some sixteen years later, as the memory pops up and he needs a good laugh at my expense. His last words on this planet to me may very well be, “Tell Joshua I said hi.”

I will always accept life as a never-ending ride of Cause and Effect. For instance, I make really odd decisions, the effect of which tends to rail off into the deep recess of Shitsville. I get to relive them, marvel over them, and perhaps even grow from them, but damn. Just damn.

Every once in a while, despite myself, I get to follow a train of Cause and Effect that isn’t all bad in the end.

I quit my job to write a book, with the express purpose of getting said book published, thereby jump starting my career and minimizing the damage caused by Voluntary Unemployment. In order to facilitate this, I decided I should go to a conference to get noticed. Unable to afford said conference due to having no job, I made use of accidental money to fund my way. I changed my name for no reason, met the author I wanted to meet, made a sizable impression both due to my work and the fundamental identity crisis masquerading as me, and made a friend of David L. Robbins. David created James River Writers in Richmond, Virginia, invited me behind the scenes, to their conference, gave me time with other notable authors (um, hi there Tom Robbins) and awesome people, and taught me the craft. All of which made me a better writer. Fueled by the need for more, the hunger to be better in all aspects of life, I made other questionable decisions, one of which netted me a bookstore I called Wordsmiths Books. During my tenure as owner of Wordsmiths, I met a publisher interested in Anointed. She published it. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a good review. My career as a writer found first gear.

THIS IS MY MO … oh, wait. No.

SEVEN YEARS FROM … is that right? Seven years? Sevenish years, you say? Right.

SEVEN PLUS YEARS FROM NOW WILL BE MY MOMENT.

Sometimes the wrong way can be right. Just, like, way longer.

Talking Baseball

I just applied to become a full-time baseball nut.  MLB.com is going to send someone to NYC for a full baseball season, where they will watch baseball all year (every game to some degree, every day), blog about it, vlog about it, tweet about it, yell about it, talk about it, be interviewed about it, and…well, you get the drift.  I’m stoked.  A full, non-stop, ridiculously busy year of baseball.  To which of the baseball Gods do I need to beg and plead?  Anyway, there was a two-part essay, and I thought I would share it here.

The first half, in 500 words or less, was a bit about myself and why I dearly love baseball so.  This is what I wrote:

The day that I die, I will bequeath to this world a heart with one seam and two hundred and sixteen stitches.  As it is, I’m quite certain that when I was born—I arrived one week early in late June of ‘72—I did so in a desperate need to avoid closing out the first half of the season in utero.  No self-respecting baseball fan wants to be born during the All-Star break.  I grew up on a diet of Reggie, complemented that as I aged with sides of Garvey and Cey, spent the glorious span of summer reliving the celebrated games of years past with a whiffle bat and tennis ball, and ultimately found there was no greater joy, no greater love than settling into an uncomfortable seat with a hot dog in one hand and a program in the other.  I came alive as spring rolled in, overcoming what most people now refer to Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I always just called the Offseason Blues.  I lived in Florida.  It wasn’t cold.  There just wasn’t any baseball, and the internet wasn’t even through Rookie League yet.

I wrote my first short story when I was twelve.  It was a heroic tale about a young boy who twisted his ankle while walking to the championship game.  It was a horrendous injury, one that left him certain there was no way he would make it to the game, much less play when he arrived.  It was heart-wrenching.  I poured my soul into that story, and cheered the boy on when he mustered the courage to fight through the pain, make his way to the field, and bring home the deciding run when all seemed lost.  I was convinced this was the greatest tale ever told, and no moment in life would ever best it.  Four years later, Kirk Gibson hit his limp-legged shot into the seats in the ’88 World Series off Dennis Eckersley, and I wasn’t entirely sold that he hadn’t intentionally stole my thunder.  Of course, it was historic, and I became less interested in vengeance with every fist-pump, every painful step he made around the bases.  I let it slide, and decided I should at least make do with the chops I’d been given.  I might not have to limp (though I could if I needed to impress the girls), but I could string the words together to someday write the best baseball story ever written.

There are no words to adequately express my love for the game.  Now two books into a career as an impoverished author, I’ve decided the only reason I want to make Trump-town cash as a writer is in order to own a franchise.  I never evolved as a player—though I’ve had quite the career in my mind—but I live and breathe this sport.  I have to be involved in it every day, every year, and relish every moment of every game I see.  I’m Gonzo.  Baseball is my chicken.

Right.  Part two asked what I believed this year’s big story would be.  And so sayeth I:

Albert Pujols and his forthcoming pile of Genie’s gold is going to be in everyone’s ear this year, whether he wants it that way or not.  The Yankees are going to sob loudly in their room after being jilted at the Prom by the two-headed stud-monster of Cliff Lee and Andy PettitteAdam Wainwright is the latest in what now totals over 150 Major League pitchers who have had, or are scheduled to have, Tommy John surgery.  Young phenom Bryce Harper is on the trail to projected glory, soon to join a promising future in the nation’s capitol.

All of which will create a generous buzz between now and October.   And yet, we’re going to spend this year talking about four pitchers and what they mean to the history books, what they mean to the game, and what they mean to a franchise racing against time for one more run to glory.  In Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee, the Philadelphia Phillies have a quartet striving to equal, or perhaps best, the pitching staffs of the ’93 and ’95 Braves, and the ’71 Orioles.

In Halladay, Oswalt, and Lee alone, the Phillies have 3 of the top 5 pitchers in highest career winning percentage, with a minimum of 100 starts, in baseball history.  They have two (Halladay 2.67, Lee 2.98) of the four pitchers over the last 3 seasons with sub 3.00 ERA’s and 600+ innings.  And Cliff Lee, well, all he’s done over the past three years is rank 6th in wins (48), 7th in ERA (2.98), and 5th in IP (667.1).  Toss in his stellar record in the postseason (7-2, 2.13), and his run in the second half of 2009 with Philly (7-4, 3.39, 4-0 in the playoffs), and you have reason to believe the Phillies have the making of something historically special.  If that doesn’t sparkle your fireworks, and if the idea of pitching in a notably hitter-friendly park makes you squeamish, it’s important to note that of the top 6 ERA’s in Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies now own 3 of them (Oswalt 2.10, Halladay 2.21, Lee 2.52).

The Phillies head into 2011 with the reigning NL Cy Young winner in Roy Halladay (ahem, no-hitter in the playoffs, ahem), a pitcher in Lee who only walked 18 men last year while striking out 185, Roy Oswalt, who only went 7-1 with a microscopic 1.74 ERA after being traded mid-season, and Cole Hamels, who may be a bit sporadic and reminds one a touch of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, but had an ERA last season of 3.06 with 211 strikeouts in 208.2 innings.

There may be questions about the Phillies age, whether or not their bullpen can save a frog from jumping, and whether or not they can stay healthy enough, and score enough runs, to win a championship, but one thing is rock solid certain.  Everyone is going to be talking about how this rotation stacks up against history.

——–

I WANT THIS JOB!