I am sitting in the Slaughtered Lamb after playing a double-header. I munch wings, watch the flames flicker in the fireplace, linger over craft beer. I’m not on the roster for tomorrow’s game. Professor Kathy Crawford sits with her back to me, at a table across the restaurant.

She waits for her order, her stillness almost trancelike. Concentration runs from shoulder to shoulder like a cord. I’ve seen this before; she’s working on an equation. It might be something numerically esoteric, the kind of thing that made her reputation. Or it may be something mundane that she’s remade. You really can put toothpaste back into the tube. Love really is the answer.

Then she slowly reaches for her wine, not to lift and drink, but merely to massage the rim, her sensitive fingers brushing the fabric of the world. She touched my face that way once, making my body relax as I gazed into kind brown eyes. To her, it was the touch of friendship.

I didn’t follow her here, but I know that this is one of her places. I am not stalking, understand?

I stumble on my approach, almost upend a table. Smooth.

“This is a pleasant surprise, Chick Swede,” she says. “Join me?”

I sit. “Can’t stay long.”

“Have you invested?” Kathy asks.

It’s halfway through my second season, and it’s all but official that Major League Baseball’s normals experiment will end. I tell her about my stock portfolio, some real estate in Wyoming, the hub of which you now sit in, young lady, but which, at one time, covered 15 acres. I squat on land that used to be mine. Look around. No TV. No computer. Electricity that’s hit-or-miss. An outhouse. Pardons for that, by the way. This is Chick Swede. Nobody can call me normal now. Maybe subnormal. A couple of neighbors check on me, making sure I haven’t corpsed on them.

I trusted a brother-in-law, I trusted a friend, and I trusted my second wife. And yet, I am now in a better place than I’d ever been. And I still trust. You, for instance.

I don’t recall all of the conversation that led up to my declaring love that night, but declare it I did. You wanted something that your research couldn’t dig up, right young lady? For your documentary? Well, this is that something.

I want so much to reach across the table and touch Kathy’s hair, and yet I’m fearful of giving offense. Then, hell, I just say it.

“I love you, Kathy. I love you like crazy. I can’t think of anything else.”

Finally!

She draws back as if to say “Well!” She closes her eyes and shakes her head.

“Oh Chick, you’ve got lots of girls.”

“They mean nothing.”

“Now Chick.”

“Please just listen. I love you, and I know it’s insane. I pictured you with someone important: the mayor, a senator, another great scientist. But you’re with Larry Milton. Larry Milton! He’s not worthy of cleaning your toilet. You being with him; that gave me hope. And hope’s a dangerous thing.”

“Larry Milton?” as if it’s the most insane idea. Milton’s on Wife Three by this point; “the charm,” he tells the gossip columnists. He manages the Mets.

“I know you can’t admit,” I say evenly, which is how I roll when I’m pissed off. Does anyone like it when someone lies in his face? “That’s OK. But, Kathy, really? He’s a dishonorable man. He’s disgraced the game.”

She slaps the table. “He’s been exonerated, Chick. It’s unfair people keep harping.”

A scandal erupted a few years back when someone somewhere claimed Milton gambled on games. There’d been an investigation to find out if there should be an investigation, but the Mets made it to the World Series that season; nothing was going to stick to Larry Milton. He wrote a bestseller: Jab: How To Fight Your Way to a Championship. Milton boxed as a younger man, and wrote about how a boxing mindset makes a winner.

They also rolled out his eccentric Aunt May, who they’d fly in once in a while for home games that she attends as if they’re Kentucky Derbys—a wide-brimmed picture hat framing her handsome 70-something face as she sips mint juleps. Reporters love her. It doesn’t hurt at all that Spider-Man also has an Aunt May. Too cute.

Now Kathy says: “I am always here for you, Chick, you know that. But not in that way. Never in that way.”

I tug on my beer. The way she said “never”—I didn’t think Kathy could slash like that.

“He chews tobacco,” I say.

“Yes, he does, doesn’t he?” She laughs, and I realize that anything I say against Milton would seem an endearment. I glance at my image in the fun-house mirror centerpiece to see my face collapsing in on itself in rage. I feel faint. Breathe.

What I say next, I say slowly, with a voice a hitter might use to describe a pitcher. His fastball nibbles, his changeup’s the out pitch.

“Milton’s a whoremonger, and that makes you one of his little whores.”

Kathy squints like I’m a number that skews pages of equations.

“I’ll call Uber, Chick.”

“I’ll get my own ride.”

“Chick, I am sorry, but I just don’t love you. You’re like a little brother.”

She should have just slapped me. I stand and barrel through the bar (“Watch it!” “Where’s the fire?”) out into a downpour that can’t beat on me hard enough. Streams rush toward sewers already overflowing. It reminds me of the gullies back home that led to the pond. Nobody told me rain was coming, but I welcome it. I want the heartache drummed out of me.

Young lady, did you ever experience rain like that? Rain mixed with unrequited love? I had seen some of my friends lovesick, and I could never understand. I was raised on a farm, and I’ve watched all kinds of different animals copulate in so many different ways. Animals don’t know about unrequited love.

Throughout this bullshit obsession with Kathy, I kept telling myself about how many thousands of women there are in the world; hell, how many thousands there are in the stands on bobble-head giveaway days. I’d get over it. The more I said it, though, the more space it occupied—the Pink Elephant. No, it’s not another Village bar. It’s how the shrinks describe obsession. Tell someone to think about anything but a pink elephant, and guess what he thinks about? You can’t think your way out because it’s thinking that’s gotten defiled. Prayer doesn’t always work. Or it always works, but God says no sometimes. The more you tell yourself, “This makes no sense,” “Snap out of it,” or “Cancel those thoughts,” the more it keeps eating at you, like a cancer that’s missed a few meals.

Every mental trick, I tried—even moral ­self-righteousness. Here was a married man cheating on his third wife. And here was a young woman running around with an older married man. “Chick,” I say to myself, “what happened here is that you bumped up against two dishonorable people.” I realized years later that in my own way I was just as dishonorable.


But none of this is what you came here for, is it young lady? I just wanted to give you something you can’t get from research. Isn’t that what you need? I know, I know, you expected a baseball story.

OK, then.

The first time I met Kathy Crawford is when they flew me to New York City from Duluth, and Duluth seemed like Babylon to me. Yeah, there were still family farms back then. One day, I’m a twenty-five-year-old college dropout fixing fence and rolling the coop; the next, I am checking into Washington Square Hotel.

Damn right I’m intimidated. That meeting: Bill Gillett, the baseball commissioner, me, and that rat-bastard Milton. Milton chews, and he tries to sneaky-spit into a plastic cup that he’s laid on the seat beside him. I can’t eat.

“Chick Swede, welcome to major league baseball!” Gillett announces.

“I am honored, Mr. Gillett.”

Milton glowers, taking my measure, and I catch a faint whiff of Listerine mixed with last night’s bourbon. He should welcome me to the Mets, but he doesn’t. It’s a snub I won’t notice until years later.

Denseness can be a blessing.

“We gamble,” Gillett says. “Focus groups seem split, and the ones who hate the idea, really hate it. Still . . ..”

“We got to do something,” Milton says, that high-pitched voice fluttering out of a stubbly face.

More talk, I nod enthusiastically, and others—assistants and lawyers—keep coming in and shoving papers at me that I sure as hell sign. One million dollars. You crazy? A woman sits on a chair against the wall—jotting, looking up, adjusting her glasses. She’s maybe 35, and pretty. Her quiet intelligence makes her prettier. Her black hair is styled in a page-boy cut. Her body fills out a canvas bag, and women do that for two reasons: shame or shyness.

Toward the end, with all the contract stuff gathered into a folder, Gillett salutes her.

“This is Kathy Crawford, by the way, Chick, the brains behind this craziness.”

I’ve heard of her. Professor Crawford won a MacArthur Fellowship—the genius grant—in statistics a couple years before. That’s why MLB picked her to develop the algorithm, and that algorithm found me.

“I think you covered everything, Bill,” Kathy says. Her voice is firm, but her face a bonfire. I am not the shyest person in the room after all.

But it’s Kathy who walks me through the hotel lobby after the meeting. Snowflakes wave through windows like mittens. I am dying to explore the city.

“You’re flying out tomorrow, right, Chick?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“This shouldn’t hold you back,” she says. “They’re calling for maybe three inches.”

“I’m from Minnesota.”

“And please,” Kathy continues, “not ma’am. Makes me feel old. Kathy. And Chick? It’s going to be OK.”

I just got me a million dollars, so I know it’s going to be OK.

And that’s how I became the first of the normals to give those fans an idea of just how elite major leaguers are. Compare them to a normal athlete. Yep, I was the first, and now I’ll be the last since “Iron Man” Beckley died. Alfonso. Al. Uncauterized crazy. The artiste. Did you talk to Iron Man before he shuffled off? Dying’s the only thing that shut him up.

The real athletes were all assholes, by the way. None of them talked to me in the two years the experiment lasted. I couldn’t say that then, of course. The PR people would have tasered me. I filled a role: “I’m one of the guys.” “Fellows have been great.” “I’m making friends.” Not one gave an effort, I tell you. I tried to interact a few times, but they dead-eyed me.

I wasn’t friendless. I got along great with the ushers, food court people, the grounds crew, even Mort Ginger, the clubhouse manager, who’d been there forever. They loved me because, as you can see, I just like bullshitting.

But what’s a normal athlete? It couldn’t be someone who never played the game. And it couldn’t be anyone in the minor leagues, for whatever reason. I did a little high school, a couple of years of college ball. So of all the millions of regular guys out there who played baseball a whit, why was I chosen to represent the normal? And doesn’t that make me abnormal?

I’ve given myself dispensation for this interview. Usually? I am silence. And prayer. And meditation. I read a lot, too—detective novels, sometimes. It’s a guilty pleasure. I’ve been sober for 34 years. I am an old man waiting to die. Eighty-seven. Got some repenting; I need to repent. I do. How’d you even find me, young lady? Well, I suppose anybody’s findable these days, even hermits.

That’s OK, you need to rein me in. I wander.

Let’s see. Normals played a quarter of a season: 41 home games. They stuck me in center field. They stuck most of us in center. They figured that’s the least chance of getting hurt, although some of us got hurt anyways because, here’s the thing, we wanted to catch that dang ball. We wanted to prove we belonged even though our entire purpose was to show that we didn’t. That’s called human nature, young lady.

And when we’re batting, we’re hacking. Normals stood in there 20 times a season. Rule. I got one hit in 40 plate appearances. Iron Man was the only one who got an extra base hit—a double. Plus, he made it to first nine other times because he’d purposely step into pitches. And he got hit more than nine times. Sometimes he’d lean into a strike, but they don’t give you first for that. All that pain, but Iron Man seemed to revel. When most people see something coming at them at 95-miles per, they duck.

Now, my hit. It happened early on in my second season, a few months before that night in the Slaughtered Lamb. It was Mother’s Day. The clouds drifted pretty. The breeze was pretty. The echoes in the stands were pretty, and my swing, for once, was pretty. I connect. Sweet! I hustle up the line, and they think they can get me when I make the turn, except I don’t. I run it out as if it’s an infield hit, even though it had been a bullet up the middle. I feel as if I’d just beaten somebody who usually isn’t beaten. For once the fans—all those sideline mommies in the sun—cheer for a normal. I bask. The flag in center is the sound of one hand flapping. St. Paul said: “So great a cloud of witnesses.” That’s how I felt.

I savor it. In fact, I savor it so much it’s unsavory. Hours later, after the weight room and showering, I stride back up the tunnel and onto a field now lit by the overheads. The grounds crew do their thing—the cleanup going on in the stands.

A few call out: “Way to go, Chick Swede!” But none come over. They let me have my moment. I loiter behind the plate and look to where my liner landed. I’d seen the replay, maybe more than once. Yes, it was more than once. Like I say, I savored.

“Great hit, Chick!”

I swing about, and there’s Kathy.

“I didn’t mean to startle you, Chick.”

“Oh, no. No, you didn’t.”

She smiles. I am embarrassed because she might have heard me murmuring.

“You showed them!”

“Thanks, Miss Crawford.”

She laughs. “Miss. I must have really flummoxed you.”

She’s in her business casual, but her hair’s down for once, and the lights tender her face. She’s tall—six feet slender. She strides more than walks.

“Do you do this often, Kathy?” I ask, gesturing to the thousands of empty seats.

“Not too. Only when the Mets are in town.”

I, of course, have by now many times gotten to see what she’d been hiding under that Amish bag of a dress she wore back at the signing. It’s a runner’s body—erect and proud, small, athletic breasts, sinewy legs. She’s a cross between a decathlon junky and flower child, wearing either sneakers or Birkenstocks. Occasionally she wears dress shoes, like tonight. She places a hand on her hip and tilts one foot so the pointed toe of that high-heel shoe points down. As she regards me, it occurs to me that she is the most quietly curious person I’d ever met.

“You live in New York?” I ask.

“An apartment not too far from Columbia. I bicycle to work. I’ve got it good, Chick, and I know it. In this quiet, I remind myself of that.”

“Busy?”

“I am working on a project now that’s pretty interesting.”

“This, what you’re doing here with baseball, is slumming,” I decide. Gillett calls her the Numbers Nun. “It probably gets in the way of your important stuff.”

She beams, joy suddenly blossoming like video of a rose on fast forward. “Chick, are you kidding me? This is the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me in my life! Yes, even more thrilling than the genius award. All this glamor and drama! I never thought I’d be so near this kind of lovely tumult.”

And, young lady, here’s something else your research did not find. Right then—that exact moment—is when I realize that I love Kathy Crawford. Her exuberance only seals it because I may have loved Kathy from the get-go.

Kathy Crawford is thoughtful, humble, generous, and intelligent, and I’d come to realize that intelligence outranks her other sexy traits. There is nothing logical or rational about it, this love. Is it ever rational? With anyone? It just happens. You fall in love, and everybody thinks “love” is the important word, but it’s not. “Fall” is the thing—loss of control.

“Kathy . . .” I begin, turning fully toward her, about to step closer.

Just then, a whistle blows from under the bowels of the stadium from near the offices.

“I need to go,” Kathy says, and even in the orange bath of the overheads, I can see she blushes. I want to ask, “Boyfriend?” but I don’t dare.

I’ve heard that whistle. It’s Milton, and as Kathy scampers off, I kick the turf. I’ve come to hate that man. He treats me human, maybe the players treat me human, and, hell, maybe even the fans treat me nice. But whenever he looks at me, it’s like he’s smelling shit.

They shut down the stadium lights, and the darkness is near complete, except for the walkway bulbs that always burn. It’s time to go.

Did I mention that I was going to be an artist, too, young lady? Yeah, just like Iron Man. Well, no, nothing like him. I did that one on the wall as you enter and that one over the mantle—a landscape and a self-portrait. I’ve done hundreds over the years, and they’re all boring. I guess whatever made Iron Man crazy enough to step into a 95-mile per made him crazy enough so that people bought his shit for what?—$300,000 a pop or something? Who buys colored sponges and broken plates pasted on canvases?

I wasn’t crazy enough, obviously, except for my obsession with Kathy Crawford. I begged her forgiveness after my outburst at the Slaughtered Lamb. She said we could perhaps get back to normal someday, but what I said and—most of all—the look on my face when saying it, disturbed her.

“It really makes me uneasy, Chick,” she texted me. “Camille Paglia wrote ‘Young women today do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.’ Well, Chick, I do understand it. And I came near it that night.”

That’s ironic. She’s with Larry Milton, a Neanderthal if ever there was one, and yet Chick Swede—the blue eyed, blond haired Boy Scout from Minnesota—is the savage. On us, she slammed the door, locked it, threw away the key. Done. And yet, and yet . . . I still didn’t give up hope.

In fact, hope gripped the entire city that summer, as the season came down to the last game between us and the Phillies. Winner takes the division. It was a bright, beautiful Sunday afternoon in September—playoff atmosphere. The MLB already ruled that normals wouldn’t be coming back the next year. This is my last circus. I bask.

Since the Slaughtered Lamb, my relationship with Milton curdled. Kathy must have told him. We’d had words a few times, exchanged some growls—something unheard of for any player of Milton’s; he just wouldn’t stand for that. But for a normal to backtalk? I kept expecting him to call me into his office and chew me out. He never did. I wasn’t worth the risk of any bad publicity. He’d be rid of me soon enough.

This last day of the season, I step into the box during batting practice. Strange what you remember. Some seagulls circle around the edges of the bleachers, calling lonely in a stadium that in a few of hours would be overflowing and raucous. A few fans dot seats here and there.

One of the coaches lofts a few in, and I connect nicely. I’ve learned a little something in two years. I’ll never be a major leaguer again, but I’ll be the toast of many beer softball teams in the decades to come. After one hit, I look about to see Milton skulking over.

“Get out of there,” he spits. “Let a real ballplayer get some cuts.”

“I get five more minutes. That’s the rule.”

“Fuck the rules. You’re not playing today or ever again. Forty-one games. You had them. Now get out, chickie, chick, chick. You’re done.”

I once worked a job on a pipeline in Anchorage, and they made me see a shrink about impulse control and anger management. This was years later—long after baseball. It surfaced for the first time that day of the playoffs. This strange dark energy runs up my legs and pushes me by the small of my back toward him.

Larry Milton is 20 years older than me, some inches shorter, and 30 pounds heavier. But he’s never forgotten how to box. Young lady, a regular guy, even a big brawler (which I wasn’t) doesn’t stand a chance against a real boxer.

Crack! Crack!

He hits me right on the bridge of my nose, blinding me. I drop as if I’d been pulled to the ground by rope. I taste the dirt. If we’d been anywhere but in an open stadium with dozens of witnesses, Milton would have stomped me. Through my grogginess, I look up and can barely make out his cold, predatory stare. He not only would have beaten me, he would have cooked and then eaten me.

Players hold him back, but he isn’t fighting it. He smiles.

I say, “You’re not worthy of her.”

“You’re cracked,” he says, squirting tobacco juice on my arm. “The show’s gone to your head.”

“You tell your wife about Kathy Crawford?”

Now the players really do have to hold him.

“Piece of shit. Get up so I can knock you down again. We’ll do it until it becomes monotonous.”

One of them says, “Milt! The press!”

“Aunt May’s in the stands!” another warns.

Someone grabs me and hoists me to my feet.

“Let’s go, pal,” he whispers. It’s Iron Man. He’d run over from the Phillies. He leads me back to the dugout and down to the locker room. My teammates look away. I glance once in the stands and see the old lady with the Kentucky Derby hat. Did Aunt May witness what her precious nephew just did to me?

“If she did, she’d have called it defending himself,” Iron Man says. He pats me on the back before he goes.

The Mets win the division that day—walk-off homerun in the eleventh. It was one of the classic games that I only got to see later in replays. After the beating, Mort Ginger leads me to the showers and keeps telling me how much of a son-of-a-bitch Milton is. Young lady, the only thing more depressing than unrequited love is getting your ass kicked by somebody you despise and who’s the rival for that love. I did what seemed to be coming more and more naturally to me. I moped.

I intended to go home, but instead the first stirrings hit me of what years later would become a depression so deep that it would keep me bedridden for days at a time. Mort shows me a room near the lockers that everybody thought held supplies but in actuality was turned into a secret break room for some of the staffers—complete with fridge, microwave, munchies, chairs, couch, and a cot.
Mort had given me a spare key. In fact, Mort had given me a spare key to everything. Mort and I had had a few beers together on more than one occasion, and I reminded him of his son who no longer spoke to him.

I sleep through it all—the back and forth of a dramatic game. The cascades of cheering and exaltations by 60,000 delirious fans. The unhinged celebrations afterward, with the fireworks and drunks falling into each other’s arms weeping. All the pagan pageantry that accompanies the cult of sports. None of that rouses me.

Whispers wake me. I hear two voices right outside the room. When I recognize one, I roll off the cot and stand next to the door.

“Aunt May. Some aunt.”

That was Milton.

“Your aunt knows what’s good for you, Larry.”

“Aunt May the enabler,” Milton says.

“You pay her, right? Runs in the family. Miltons are all hooked on money. You all gamble. And she stands out. What, you think we want Tony Soprano out there signaling you it’s time to meet?”

“How do I make this go away?”

“Easy peasy.”

“What’s this?”

“It’s a list of 26 of your biggest fans who are willing to shell out mucho dinero for a copy of your book that’s dedicated specially to them.”

“What’s this other?”

“The dedications for each name. Exactly as written. We don’t want some trophy wife being disappointed by the gift she’s giving daddy. Especially since that gift cost daddy a shitload.”

“By when?”

“Make the time Larry. You wanted it to go away? This is how it goes away. And Larry? Speaking of going away? The professor and you, that ends.”

“I know.”

“She’s too smart, and I hear that goof from Minnesota suspects.”

“He doesn’t know shit. She’ll never admit anything. I have her under control.”

“He suspects, Larry, and even if he didn’t, she makes the boys nervous. She’s way too smart. Stick to the hos, Larry. That’s your speed.”

“She’s coming now.”

“Remember.”

I remember. I remember wondering why they can’t hear my breathing or the racing of my heart, both of which rev to extremes with the next voice.

“One of your wholesome friends, Lawrence?”

Yes, I feel creepy listening. I feel the creepiness these years later. A gentleman would have torn himself away, but I couldn’t. And when Milton breaks it off with her not too far into the conversation, Kathy weeps. I fist up.

But I can’t beat Milton, can I? I won’t tell you exactly how that short conversation went, young lady, though I recall every word as if they’re stinging bees. When they finish, I sit on the cot, then lay, and then I actually fold into a fetal position.

Maybe I doze or my mind just races too much, but I hear Mort Ginger ask: “Son, are you beaten?” But Mort’s not there; he’s long gone. I’m hearing voices, but at least they’re friendly voices.

I leave the supply closet and head toward the front offices. I catch up with her coming out of a ladies’ room, still sobbing.

“Kathy!”

For the first time, I hold that angel as she shakes in my arms. Her hair is soft against my cheek and a fragrance of lilacs. It doesn’t last long.

“Kathy, he’s not good enough for you.”

She pushes away. “Chick, please stop saying that.”

“You will be happy again.”

“Yeah, I can get all the dusty-musty academics that I want. They all love me, all those brittle egos. But that’s not what I want. Let me go. I need to be alone. I’ll be OK. I’m a genius, don’t you know.”

“Yes you are, indeed, Professor Crawford.”

She softens toward me again, just a bit, as she swipes a clinging tear.

“You’re a honey, Chick Swede. I’ll be OK.”

I might have thought for a moment that this would be my opportunity. Milton’s out of the picture. My shoulder’s always there for Kathy Crawford. But she limps as she leaves—dazed in the manner people are who walk away from an explosion they’d survived.

I start after her again, but stop. I turn and begin heading back to the supply room, but stop. I walk down toward the field entrance, but freeze.

Pay attention, young lady, because here’s where your documentary breaks yet even more new ground. Eventually in the darkness, a plan forms. Milton keeps a safe in his office. I have the key for that, too. That’s where he put those lists, I figure. I get those papers, I hand them over to the prosecutor’s office, those boys connect the dots, and Larry Milton goes the way of Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson. I may never win Kathy Crawford, but I’ll at least get some satisfaction.

I cannot say this next part. God says it through me. I creep down the tunnel and through the locker room toward the manager’s office. I had put a piece of duct tape on that one key, so there’s no fumbling. I open the door and flick on the light. I moan, fall back out, and then force my way inside again as if swimming against rapids. Her Birkenstocks lay on the floor against each other as if arranged by a photographer. When I look up, I realize right away that there’s no use in lifting her legs. I’d seen enough death on the farm.

“Kathy!”

I don’t know how in hell one of the guards don’t hear that, but it’s my only outburst. She’d pushed open one of the popcorn tiles of the ceiling, tied an extension cord around a pipe, the other around her neck, and then kicked the chair out from under her. The fact that she’s tall helped her pull it off. She’d laid her glasses on the center of his desk.

She wanted him to find her. That’s why I back away, turn out the light, and lock the door. I will not deny her that.

Milton did find her, the next day. Milton entered with a couple of his coaches, so I suppose that’s why he couldn’t burn those lists. I don’t know, exactly. But they found them, and that proved to be the undoing of Larry Milton. He was banned from baseball, and he lost Wife Three. Even though they’d signed a prenup, her lawyers outboxed his, and eventually, Milton died the way you know—alcoholic, drug addicted, destitute, alone.

Ah, now, I see that look on your face. Sure, you could describe me in almost the same way. Except for this, young lady. I am rich in what matters, and I am never alone.

Years later, I hit bottom from the drink. Salvation came in a dream. I am again opening the door to Milton’s office, and I again see the Birkenstocks. Again, I look up and see her face, a dark shroud.
In that dream, Kathy slowly raises her arms and extends them with palms outward. Blood drips from nail holes. That’s when I found the Lord, young lady. That’s what saved me. I loved her dearly, and too young she left us. Thomas Merton says, “Despair is the absolute extreme of self-love.” I don’t know about that. It leaves out all the sad psychological aspects. So, Kathy Crawford becomes for me a spiritual contradiction—the patron saint of suicides. I believe she crossed over into light by the strange lawless grace of God’s mathematics.

Oh, I know what people may think. Here’s an old crackpot who lived a messed-up life, and now he’s afraid to die. So suddenly, it’s the Lord this, and the Lord that.

Believe what you want. You found me because you wanted to get my story. This is my story. Although exactly how I’d gotten to that point in this life will always be a mystery. The computer forensics guys could never retrace Kathy’s algorithm. Oh, maybe they could have, but it would have been another Mars mission. No one wanted to invest that much. When the experiment folded, people lost interest. Us normals became an asterisk, like that midget who batted once in 1951.

You have your story, young lady. Whatever happened to Chick Swede, the first of the normals? Well, I ain’t dead yet. Print it on a T-shirt, and shoot it into the stands.