Snowballs at the Speed of Sapphires

Morris takes a break from his pitching to get caught in the crossfire of a death-defying snowball fight. The perpetrators are a group of merchants known as the “Downtown Contingent.” This mysterious group of retailers occupies the rundown shops and boutiques in Town Square, and is constrained to some rather bizarre sales practices – not the least of which is being allowed to sell only one item at a time. Morris has never built a sufficient level of trust with any of these people since arriving in Silt Ridge, and he considers himself at risk in the raging firestorm of whizzing snowballs. He wonders if the men and women flamethrowers are missing him on purpose. Then he wonders if they are employing technology that was supposed to have been banned a long, long time ago . . .

Introducing . . . the Downtown Contingent

Snowballs Heat Up the Night

Whoosh! A snowball sizzles past my left ear at supersonic speeds. Whap! It explodes across a granite wall hard enough to cause pockmarks and dislodge mortar. Whoosh! Then another. Whap! Whap! Whap! And more and more and more after that.

After whiffing on my first two pitches with Noreen, I’m trying to blow off steam. I shovel the wide, sweeping marble stairs leading from the will call office of the Graphite County Opera House down to the Silt Ridge Town Square.


A Real Fancy Place – at One Point . . .

Town Square is a spellbinding plaza featuring an enormous, ornate fountain. It represents the convergence of cobblestone streets from all parts of town. “Where the Miners Meet the Merchants” used to be the rallying cry of this sumptuous retail district. A lot has changed over the last couple centuries: there was a time, when it was a real fancy place inhabited by stunning and magnificent horse-drawn carriages.

Who knows? Unless things get back up to speed, we may be returning to that way of life sooner than we think.

And I pose this to you: would that be such a bad thing?

And You Thought BOGO was a Hardscrabble Deal . . .

Arcane laws allow the merchants of the Downtown Contingent to sell only one item at a time. I know, I know . . . this can be very disconcerting, especially around Christmas, but hear me out: each business carries a single item that is one-of-a-kind in the world. One shop, for instance, may sell a single pair of shoes. A lone sequined dress from France might be showcased in the next establishment. The neighboring shop may have only one overcoat for sale.

The whopping price tags reflect their limited edition status. It’s the same for all the shops. There is never a “half-off” sale or Heaven forbid, “Buy-One-Get-One-Free” (the dreaded “Curse of the BOGO”).

Don’t Think You Can Get Away with This

In the past, problems arose when a merchant tried to sell more than one item at a time. This was considered underhanded dealing and poor business practice. It made everyone look bad. Offending parties were severely punished. No one wanted this to get out into the community, because then there would be a boycott. There was a great amount of shame if someone thought they were buying something that was one-of-a-kind in the world, and then found out later it was a false claim.

The snowball fight may have been an offshoot of the Downtown Contingent policing its own ranks. Someone might have gotten out of line, and punishment was merely being meted out in due course.

Soon though, snowballs start shattering windows, never a good sign. A couple of merchants are sprawled on the ground; a few stagger around dazed and confused.

Getting an Earful of Snow is never a Good Thing at 208 MPH

 I hit the deck just as a solo rocket whizzes past. This is getting way too close for comfort. Breathing heavily from my prone position, I looked up with a great deal of trepidation to check if the coast was clear.

And then I realize something . . .

The way they are throwing, they may have unearthed a stockpile of bionic arms.

Pitch #2: “The Weather Report Over/Under”

Morris falls flat on his face with his first pitch to Noreen in over a year. Venting his frustration, he shovels snow like a banshee in front of the opera house. He pauses long enough to pull a block of Verona’s exotic soap from the pocket of his damp overcoat. As he takes a deep and satisfying whiff of the peanut butter and garlic essence, he gets rejuvenated, and becomes like a racehorse chomping at the bit. He’s got to pitch a fit, and nothing is going to hold him back. Dripping snow, he hustles back inside and dials up Noreen in Chi-town, ready for Round Two. Will this pitch be the one to send him back to Burbank? Or does Noreen have something sinister up her slick, Chicago sleeve?

Pitch #2: “The Weather Report Over/Under”

[pdf-embedder url="" title="Pitch 2aab"]

Sideline Sycophants

Morris needs to cool down. That pitch is his first in over a year, and he shows that he’s more than a little rusty. He also has forgotten how debilitating a pitch can be; particularly when you’re ill-prepared. That’s okay, spontaneity has to count for something. In order to quiet his nerves, he switches on the antique analog radio on the shelf above his desk. There, the comforting voice of Hadley Codfaldt can be heard, broadcasting from the state-of-the-art studio just up the block, reaching half a billion people around the globe – when, of course, the satellites are working. Instantly, Morris feels the warmth of Hadley’s friendly voice, calming his frayed nerves and settling him down . . .

Hadley Berates the Federation: Let The Cheering Begin

We pick up Hadley as he builds to a “polite” rant.

Getting the Ol’ Fangs Out

“Our last caller spoke about the End Times Football Federation and the position it currently finds itself in. Well, if you ask me, they succeeded in bringing all this morass down on themselves. For decades the ETFF was top dog. No one could touch them. Now, with a prodigious litany of blunders, they are crumbling like a cheap house of cards, and losing market share faster than a spare tire punctured by a snake’s strong, long and venomous fangs.”

Anyone Been to Dubuque, Ireland?

“Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t help matters one iota that the league has expanded like maggots on a month-old flank steak. It’s bad enough the league has ballooned to 98 teams. And you know the owners aren’t going to stand pat on that. It’s one hundred or bust. They’ll probably stay with that number long enough that it takes to sniff out some new investors, then BLAMO, we’re into our next major market like Dubuque, Ireland – or wherever – you know what I’m talking about. Of course, we know it’s all about the international markets these days . . . and it’s all about the sacred Benjamins.

“As a sidebar, I think the uniforms have reflected the general downturn of creativity and enthusiasm, once the hallmark of the federation. When a single stripe down a helmet is considered revolutionary, you know you’ve basically sucked all the air out of the room.”

Those Wily Politicians are at It Again

“Which leads me to a very obvious and long overdue subject: the federation must allow fans to start cheering again. Now, I realize that the initial ruling was made with all good intentions. We didn’t want any of our star players to get their noses out of joint by being booed for their piss-poor performance on the field – excuse me, I meant to say less-than-desirable performance.

“If that weren’t bad enough, the politicians had to poke their noses under the tent and deem it a crime if you so much as barked the cheddar on your grandstand seat at one of these events. This gets me so riled up it makes me want to scream – which of course would not only get my banned from every stadium across this great and fruited plain – it would possibly get me thrown in jail.

“It also galls me to see the treatment these high-priced prima donnas get from their respective coaching staffs. You know how it goes . . . so-and-so throws an interception. Instead of being berated on the sidelines for yet another bonehead play, they are treated like royalty. Everyone, including the mascots and trainers, are bowing and scraping.”

Hurt Feelings in Montana? – Better Suck It Up

“Kudos to the defensive coordinator from the Montana foothills who let the linebacker know who was boss after that blown assignment the other night. Well, the fans couldn’t help themselves and actually started cheering when the coach went off on the player. Then, when the player broke into a crying jag, the whole stadium erupted.

“Their punishment? The owner made them do community service for the next four consecutive Saturdays, operating heavy-duty equipment in clearing land for a new shopping mall! I ask you, where is the justice in that? It just goes to show, we need to take matters into our own hands. If we could just stand up and boycott the federation that would go a long way in proving our point.

Not Feeling Your Shopping Mall

“I know . . . I know. We’re incapable of turning our backs on this grand tradition that we’ve become so mightily and insidiously attached to. Bottom line: we as fans need to reach an understanding with owners and federation officials. Maybe we could ease into cheering again a little at a time, for instance within the two-minute warning. Then expand from there. But if I’m forced to build a shopping mall for the lousy crime of making a little noise, you got a budding revolution on your hands, bucko – and I don’t care how many billions you’re worth. And another thing, who cares if our favorite players take to the airwaves and berate us fans all night? Are we that weak to let it get to us?

“But enough from me. Let’s go to the phones and see what our loyal callers have to say.”