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Scott Ostler

This Is Real Serious Business, So Don't Accept Substitutes

October 15, 1987|Scott Ostler

I went to the dentist. Something was different. His hands were dirty. And his nostrils looked different.

"Hey," I said. "You're not Roger. You're not my regular dentist."

"All the dentists are on strike," he said.

"Then you're not even a real dentist, are you?"

"Sure I am. I got a white smock and Reeboks, don't I?"

"Where are your diplomas and licenses?" I demanded.

"I don't need no stinking diplomas and licenses. I coulda been a real dentist, a damned good one. I flunked outta teeth school, because I never got a fair shake. Steal one lousy car! So I became an auto mechanic. But now the dentists are on strike, and this is my big chance to show the world what I can do.

"Just relax, Pal. This won't take long. Root canal was my specialty in teeth school. Nurse Nancy, hand me that sharp, pointy thing."

The assistant sprang into action.

"I'm not a nurse," she said, "I'm not a Nancy, and that sharp pointy thing is part of my manicure kit."

I suddenly remembered I had to be somewhere else.

"Hey," my new dentist yelled after me. "If you want to leave that tooth, I'll have it filled by next Tuesday. If I can get the parts."

Badly shaken, I stopped off to pick up my dry cleaning. The woman behind the counter looked different.

"The dry cleaners are on strike," she told me. "We're not as good but we try real hard."

"Hey, my brand new sport coat has big grease spots all over it!" I said.

The woman seemed puzzled.

"Of course, sir. The instructions said you wanted it spotted."

I decided not to leave my tux.

I stopped at the supermarket. Crossed a picket line of checkout-line baggers. Inside, the substitute boxperson carefully packed my potato chips under my watermelon and enthusiastically slam-dunked my eggs.

"All I ever wanted was a chance," he said.

"Don't worry about the eggs," I said. "I was going to scramble 'em, anyway."

I needed to relax, to escape. I dropped by the book store. Did some browsing.

I said to the clerk: "Say, all these new novels start out, 'It was a dark and stormy night.' What gives?"

"Novelist strike," said the clerk. "The publishers have called in scab writers. The publishers figure the public will buy anything they put on the shelf, as long as it has a nice cover and lots of references to sex and violence on the back."

"Even on the aerobic workout books?" I asked.

I bought a Scrooge McDuck comic book and headed for the last refuge of reality--a football game. I'd been out of the country for a few weeks and I'd really missed pro ball.

"Hey, our team has picked up some new players," I said to the guy sitting next to me on the 50-yard line. "I don't recognize any names."

"Strike teams, Buddy," he said. "Great caliber of ball, though. Guys are looking sharp. Only three of them blew the snap count on that last play."

"Wait a minute," I said. "You mean the real players are striking, so the owners replaced entire teams at a moment's notice, and they're charging full price and putting the games on TV like real games?"

"You catch on quick," the guy said. "It's great football, real spirit out there."

"Great football? The quarterback is from Flubber State, and the linebacker is from . . . "

"That's right, he's from Juilliard. What a human interest story, eh?"

A flying bag of peanuts crashed into the side of my head. "Regular peanut men are on strike," the guy explained.

"This is crazy," I said. "This isn't football. Football is a game played by individuals who have been painstakingly molded into a unit, a single entity, a brotherhood of butt-kickers who have learned one another's moves and moods."

"You ought to write novels," the guy said.

I continued. I was on a roll.

"Football is a game of highly developed skill and unity, not a shirts-and-skins frolic between strangers you rounded up before lunch. I mean, why not put your mailman out there?"

"He is," the guy said. "Pretty fair running back, too. Nothing stops him. Neither rain nor . . . "

"Be serious," I said. "This isn't football. It's trick or treat, with everyone dressed up as football players."

"Bullgrits," the guy said, amiably. "John Madden's up in the booth drawing pictures, Jim Tunney's calling the penalties, the Cleavagettes are leading the cheers. It's real ball, Amigo. And if it wasn't for the players' union, the so-called real players would be out here, too."

"If it wasn't for the players' union," I said, "they'd be out here working for five bucks an hour, no pension and BYO Gatorade. The owners would be squeezing the players like a soggy bar rag. Say, you look familiar."

"I'm the team owner, Sport. Can I buy you a beer?"

"I don't think so," I said. "I just remembered, I've got a dentist's appointment."

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