Fiction

Plants

One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand… Ricky hasn’t been the same since he hit it. Sixty million views combined on the big three. TikTok’s most popular trend. You can’t scroll anywhere without seeing him. Ox said that he caught Gritz jerking it to the video in his office. He could hear his knockoff Cartier rattling like a jackhammer, he said.

Monday morning, Gritz crammed the whole pigpen into his office and showed them what the people at home saw. Then he showed a series of the most popular edits.

Ricky choking underneath the words: “Me whenever I suffer the slightest inconvenience”.

Ricky choking underneath the words: “My girlfriend’s dog with a peanut allergy after being left alone with me for the afternoon”.

Gritz paused on Ricky wearing an LA Raiders jersey, clutching at his throat, turning blue. “This is what we are here for, moments like these! This is Yellowstone!”

Gritz believes that sort of thing when he says it, but it’s like, yeah, nah, take it with a grain of salt. Ricky just choked on a hot dog during a prime-time game and now he’s the belle of the fucked-up ball.

“Look there, what do you see?”

Gritz zoomed in.

“Henry, what do you see?”

Henry didn’t get it. He’s useless. Still too busy scratching the rash on his chin from the strap-on beard he had to wear for his Abe Lincoln spot. They had him sit behind home plate at the Rangers game chugging beers till he couldn’t walk anymore.

It’s 1863, you and the boys have just ended the Civil War and there’s a barmaid in the ale house you’re going to go give the four score and seven years ago speech to.

“Look at it!”

Gritz zoomed in so we could all see.

“Co-ca Co-la,” he said, making every sound rounder than it should be, his lips not touching at all. “They’ve got a campaign made out of it already, ‘Coke, always there when you need it’, and they’re doubling-down on ads at every LA game.”

All of this because Ricky caught lightning in a bottle and choked on a hot dog.

It wasn’t planned. Ricky’s go-to is to pretend he’s asleep while holding a beer on the verge of spilling. He’s pulled that schtick at MLB games, Premier League fixtures and even Wimbledon. It invites captions like “How close I am to having a menty b” or “That one friend promising not to spill the goss after a few drinks…”

For a guy who used to drive buses, he sure does have a stranglehold on the tracksuit-pants-and-evening-wine market.

One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand… We sat watching Ricky turn blue for another half-hour until the pigpen cleared out.

“Trav, got five?” Gritz said. The time line still up behind him, updating every time a new post about Ricky came through.

“Trav, how’s your brother?”

When the kid with the nut allergy falls asleep first at the sleepover…

I shrugged my shoulders, said not good.

“Insurance won’t cover it?”

Chewing, invented in 1601. People in 1600…

I shook my head.

When she says if you swallow, she will too…

“Shit, sorry to hear.”

The autistic kid when you tell him to spit out the crayons in his mouth…

I don’t know if he was sorry, though. Given where I’m standing now. Gritz likes me as the Down on His Luck Dad. Thinning hair, pot belly, alone at the game. Sometimes I get paired with Out of His League Wife or Embarrassed Daughter, but a two-piece is harder to pull off.

The moment I walked in, he said that’s what I was. That was before I even told him the sob-story of how shit went south with the government job. How the exec video-called us to say there was no need for a team of writers, that all our work could be done by some younger prick. Before my brother Leonard got drunk and jumped in front of the 351 and practically sawed himself in half.

“It’s easy,” he said to me at the time. “You just sit there in the crowd, they put the camera on you, and you do something that people will share online.”

Then he said, “It’s just throwing a bunch of shit at a wall and hoping it sticks. No one knows what the next thing is. If they did, they’d have done it themselves.”

My first bits were things like falling down the stairs while carrying trays of food, throwing my drink in the air out of excitement and having it land on my head. I guess I’m slapstick, but at least I’m not one of the commercials they got in every stadium across North America wearing mime make-up, staring at the camera with a psychotic smile on their face for nine straight innings to spruik this new Mime Serial Killer docuseries. Well, at least not yet.

If all goes well today, I’ll be safe for another however long. That’s what I took from Gritz in his office. It’s why I’m out here now, freezing my ass off in this A’s jersey, looking at the grey clouds overhead. It’s why I’ve got this umbrella up with no one else around after Nick Darby from Channel Four said that a huge storm front would come through this evening. It’s why my search history reads people who survived lightning strikes and do rubber soles stop lightning. It’s why I’m closing my eyes, thinking about Gritz saying, “That’s fucking Yellowstone!” as the time line ticks over behind him. It’s why I’m counting the seconds between the sky as it lights up and the clap of the thunder.

Someone: Don’t be shocked when I tell you this news, Me: already knowing the news, but still acting shocked…

My five-year-old brother after I tell him it’s fine to get toast out of the toaster with a knife…

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 3, 2024 as "Plants".

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