"Tell me your deepest fantasy," she whispered. "Anything."
His cheeks flushed red and hot. He looked down at his shoes in embarrassment.
"I'd like to clear some cap space," he said.
I've never understood the appeal of fantasy sports.
They're not really sports fantasies, after all; they're business fantasies. Management fantasies. And a fantasy of office work, even front office work, never made much sense to me.
He thought for what seemed a long time. Then he closed his eyes and spoke. "First I'd like to dress in some khaki pants. You know, the ones with the pleats. And a team polo shirt. Or maybe a button-down oxford with an embroidered team logo. Yeah. Yeah. And some black walking shoes. Drive to a facility. They always call it a 'facility.' Then I want to sit through four or five consecutive meetings in a room with no windows. Maybe with accounting, then with legal. Player evaluation. Budget projections. Just meet. Meet until we run out of coffee. Oh, man," he said almost to himself, "spreadsheets." He paused to breathe. His lips were dry. "Then lunch -- in the cafeteria maybe, or off that falafel truck. Then I'd like to, you know, get on the phone. I'd like to get on the phone and stay on the phone a long time." He looked straight at her. "Then I'd trade Albert Pujols."
As the failures of your baseball lineup and the high hopes for your football roster cross on the calendar, maybe it's worth remembering we live in the great age of fantasy, fantasy past and fantasy future, and that fantasy football and fantasy baseball barely qualify.
Vampires and zombies and werewolves, "Twilight" and "Game of Thrones," "Orphan Black" and Magic: The Gathering, "True Blood" and "Final Fantasy XIV," Miyazaki and C.S. Lewis and Comic-Con and Harry Potter, Beowulf and "50 Shades of Grey," "Lord of the Rings" and "Transformers" and "Star Trek" and "The White Queen" and Western culture up to its neck in fantasy, up to its eyeballs; even the reality shows are fantasy: Oz and Alice and Peter Pan, meet "Duck Dynasty" and Donald Trump, the best of it and the worst of it; Edgar Rice Burroughs on Mars with H.G. Wells, Watchmen and the Dark Knight, Sax Rohmer and Jules Verne and Dr. Who and Dr. Fu Manchu all waiting for their movie deals; Bradbury and Heinlein and Lovecraft and Dick, Gatsby and Luhrmann and a million science fictions, otherworldly cops and robbers, swords and sandals and cowboys and Indians and robots and sorcerers and Dungeons and Dragons and no end in sight. Even a new Walter Mitty.
But fantasy sports, bound up in the small drudgeries of big business, seem the opposite of Thurber's perfect little story about the dynamic imaginary lives of a henpecked salaryman.
Pocketapocketapocketa, his starjet raced through space trailing a shower of sparks and debris as the torpedoes ripped through its hull. His crew began to panic. "Sir! We can't outrun them! We're outnumbered and outgunned! What are your orders?"
His grip tightened on the ship's great wheel.
"Damn it man, not now. I have to email these offer sheets to the commissioner before 6!"
Whatever happened to adventure? Whatever happened to glory? To weirdness? The biggest sports book of the last 10 years, "Moneyball," became the biggest sports movie of the last 10 years -- a movie in which the most climactic and exciting scene is the successful completion of a telephone call.
In a nation so often undone by its collective fantasies, this would seem the measure of a certain dullness of appetite. A pallor of imagination.
A book of bookkeeping! A fantasy of accountancy! Of capital! What could be more exciting than a transaction? In honor of Labor Day then, a fantasy of clerical work.
* * *
"Here, hurry. Take the Lodestone of Infandell," she said, pressing the small jewel into his hand. "It will protect you." It seemed alive somehow, resonant and burning with purpose in his palm. The plague dogs were nearly upon them. "It is a weapon of untold power," she said, breasts heaving, still breathless from the chase. "It came from the unbottomed star mines of Cal-Dor and was a timeless thing before man ever drew breath. A gift of love to the Lorelei queen from sea-girt Lord Bonomo, it was the central stone of her imperial diadem. It was stolen by the Trickster Prince and brought here on the space barges of the Hyperium to make bright the terrifying nights and to warm the ice palaces of the Kanee-Kee. Then betrayal and murder and the Long Darkness of the Clans. The stone was used to lay waste to a thousand generations of learning and hope before it was lost. Ten millennia later it was found in the entrails of a mystic gyrfalcon and given over to the care of The Keepers. From my father and my father's father it came to me.
"It increaseth fourfold the bearer's wisdom," she said. "It raises by magnitudes strength and courage and makes a master tactician of any who touch it. Potions and second-sight, +1 with a 70 percent improvement in healing. +2 for jumping and the holding of breath. Also tumbling and cartwheels if thou roll 8 the hard way. It grants invisibility.
"In the last extreme, when all is lost, call down the Incantation of the Handmaids of Slorth, and from this small stone will blaze great destruction in every direction, a sacred, blinding fire of righteousness. If you are brave and pure of heart a scouring conflagration will surround you and lay waste to everything within a thousand versts.
"Like me, it makes a king of any man who holds it. I'll draw them off. I love you." She kissed him hard and ran for the forest. A second later, the dogs were on her.
"I will surely use it to pay down my keeper-league luxury tax," he said into the screaming trees. "Thanks."