Three Pieces of Creative Writing
A perfect companion for trying to leave your bed and head on a shiftless Sunday
We were almost done growing up
Sometimes Riley would pass by the Gilbert Fair to watch the kids play at the high striker game. Who are the men out of the boys? the MC beckoned. And one by one they paid with their tickets and gave the base a good whack with the mallet. Sometimes the climbing puck would catch Riley’s eye, though what his eye really saw was the crowd that had gathered round the players. But even then when he looked he didn’t see an applauding crowd. Instead a throbbing mass came together and took on other forms like a set of clouds or shadows, and left much up to his imagination.
At the fair we are always close to being either celebrated or forgotten, he thought. Delighted or distraught, inspired or rejected. And in spite of the all prizes and games to be won we rarely acknowledge the fair as our one true chance at fame and fortune. We would rather stroll about and spend our pennies on candied apples, or spun sugar.
He asked a boy on the outskirts of the crowd whether he liked to box, and the boy shrugged and said he would rather lose a fight than to stand idly beside one. The answer came across as deceitful, though Riley couldn’t think why, and also strangely encouraging.
There was a queue to wait in, and as he approached the line Riley sized up his adversaries. Mutts and strongmen who would surely fail to ring the bell, and more men who retreated into the fairgrounds and boys whose egos were diminished in the evening silence, a time when not even the MC was allowed to speak, or knew what words he had to be spoken.
Riley whistled as each man, young and old, fell short of striking the bell. Test your strength! the MC croaked one last time.
I’ll have a go, Riley said.
The MC turned to him almost mechanically and smiled an empty smile, his tongue dry and wilting after hours of good salesmanship. He recited his gimmicks. Ladies and Gentlemen… Step right up…
Although he didn’t have a ticket, the mallet found its way into his hands. The smell of thick molasses lingered in the air, and Riley wondered how he hadn’t noticed that tonight everyone wore a mask and costume. It was a true Carne Vale, he thought. He felt painfully underdressed, and weak.
The crowd had formed a tight circle around the post, and although they cheered him on, he understood that they were all against him.
But who would compete in this game if not for fear of another? he asked. The emasculation of loss threatens every competition. Every loss ends in a man’s bitterness.
Every defeat. Every disappointment. Every false step, checkmate, foil, deficiency, and thoughtless risky exploit. All with the same result. Unless, he said and held his breath. Unless, he repeated once more, and struck down with all his might.
What lingers in pillowcases
Notes from the Fictitious Player
From John Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern’s Theory of Games and Economic Behavior:
Let us express this mathematically. We do not consider variables extrinsic to the game. Our procedure will be long and you won’t understand it. We have already spent considerable effort, and we face a conceptual problem. Maintenance of the theory is paramount and the process of having to start all over again would be very iscouraging. The procedure is a very simple and natural one. It consists in introducing an additional player who is assumed to lose the amount which the totality of the other players win. He must, of course, have no direct influence on the game. The game is ruled by coalitions. Participation of the fictitious player in any coalition would be completely contradictory to the spirit of the game. The fictitious player is no player at all. How can he then be a desirable partner in the coalition? Is he anything but a dummy?
This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 02, published August 24, 2010.