Read A 52-Hertz Whale Online

Authors: Bill Sommer

A 52-Hertz Whale (8 page)

BOOK: A 52-Hertz Whale

Could you keep an eye on him at practice and please report to me if you find that he is uncooperative or unfocused? It would be much appreciated.

Thank you for your time,

Harriet Jenkins

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 20, 2012 at 6:23 AM
Subject: RE: Michael

Dear Harriet,

Yes ma'am, I will keep an eye on him and let you know if I notice anything. He has seemed a little distracted at times lately, but so have many of the players now that their workload in class has increased.


Jack Olmstead

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 20, 2012 at 7:20 AM
Subject: RE: Job News

Dear Darren—

You had me worried when I didn't hear from you. I thought you might have overdosed on sad love songs.

Things here are fine, I guess. Sam's back in school after a bout with mono, but he's been doing the homework he missed for the past two weeks during our labs in Bio so we haven't really gotten to talk. Someone has to make sure our experiments don't spontaneously combust. Funny you should ask about Sophia Lucca. Her grandmother has been MIA and I'm down to a C in Italian; I think that she may have made a pilgrimage back to the Boot. Sophia, on the other hand . . . well, that's a story. So here it goes.

Last Saturday when I reported to work for my gig as the Abominable Snowman, I was feeling pretty shitty. The week had yielded a major setback for my cause. Several whales beached both on the coast of New England and across the pond in the UK I had to give myself a major pep talk as I suited up in the arcade's back room, because at that point, I was pretty much disgusted with the entire human race, including myself. There I was, just like the British, who turned the beached fin whales into biofuel, chasing the Almighty Dollar instead of figuring out how to save a species. (Not that I make that much. My first Star Arcade paycheck was $40.72, which my mom made me use to buy a new fleece for school.)

Anyway, as I pulled the yeti mask over my head, I realized that someone (maybe Chin Piercing, my supervisor?) had fixed the eye holes, bringing them to my height. What was he thinking? That I would actually enjoy getting to see people making fun of me in addition to just hearing it? As if to confirm my suspicion, Chin Piercing paused from counting money from the cash register long enough to smirk at me as I lumbered out to the curb with my sign.

Within the first ten minutes of standing at my post, I saw at least five kids that I recognized. One kid flicked a wad of gum at me that stuck to my fur. His buddy practically had a seizure, he was laughing so hard. Another guy took my sign and wouldn't give it back until I growled like Chewbacca. (Given that I'd never heard of a Chewbacca before, this, unfortunately, took some trial and error.)

I felt like an A.S.S.—Abominable Snow Shit.

That was the kind of day I was having when I encountered Sophia Lucca with one of her friends, Becky or Sara (all blondes look alike to me). I was sweating so hard, my hair was wet. And then Sophia's like, “He's kind of cute.” Sophia steps towards me and I can smell her—all flowery with a hint of licorice just like her grandmother. She plucks the wad of gum from my fur and basically asks if she can give me a hug. A hug, man—and it didn't even take a death this time!

Before I can react, Sophia wraps her arms around me. She can probably hear my heart jackhammering away, even through the seven layers of faux fur, but at least she pretends not to notice. I drop my sign.

For that second, I'm not James. I'm an Abominable Snowman, and I put one paw on her back then the other. Of course, some jerk yells, “Get some, Bigfoot!” and Sophia blushes and bends to pick up my sign. After, Becky or Sara gives me a hug, too. All I remember about that is her elbows were pointy and her breath smelled like a sour latte. Then, just like that, it was all over.

I guess what I realized is that even the worst jobs aren't all bad all the time. It seems that's true of Testy Snobbin too.


James Turner

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 21, 2012 at 6:56 PM
Subject: RE: Job News

Dear J to the T,

A hug! Dude, I'm envious! (Let me tell you, it's doing wonders for my self-esteem to be living vicariously through a whale-obsessed ninth grader.)

Bummer that she didn't know it was you, and that there was a mass of fur between you and her, but a hug nonetheless.

Thanks for your continuing updates on the plight of whales. I mean that. To be honest, I didn't care much about Salt or any other whales when you first started dumping tons of information about them on me. And I thought I did a pretty good job of showing I didn't really care, but you just kept on writing about them, going on and on. And on. That took spunk.

I suppose it's possible you just didn't read the cues that I didn't give a crap. Maybe it was accidental spunk—uh, accidental persistence, let's say—but still commendable. You've brought me around on whales. It's amazing the crap we humans subject them to. They seem like dang fine animals and deserve better treatment. Glad there's people like you looking out for them. As always, keep fighting the good fight. Maybe I'll join you in it someday by making a cool whale doc. I just put
The Cove
(not whales, I know) and
in the ol' Netflix queue.

Fair warning, though: no matter how much you end up helping whales, the human race will continue to disappoint you as long as it exists. You ever thought about that saying, “Nobody's perfect”? It's actually the key to explaining the plight of whales and people. All right, let's start with the premise that no one's perfect. We'll call that a given. There's a fancy logic word for that, but I can't remember it. Anyway, not a SINGLE PERSON alive right now on this planet is perfect. But just for argument's sake, let's suppose that they're really close—they're not, I'm living proof—but let's imagine this extremely rosy scenario. Every human on Earth is dang near perfect. Guess what, though: there are approximately 7 BILLION of us on the planet! So if every swell person does, say, one little shitty thing per month to another person or to a whale or to themselves, we're already talking about 84,000,000,000,000 (84 trillion, but I thought it was worth seeing all the zeros) shitty things per year! And people AREN'T all that swell. And this thought experiment doesn't even take into account accidents, mistakes, and good intentions that end up causing incredibly shitty outcomes!!! (For incidents of all of these, please consult chapters 1 through 730 of
The Story of How Darren Effed It Up with Corinne

But all hope is not lost. Though I may be loveless, I am not workless. Check it:

You know how I was paraphrasing all the writers' ideas and writing them on the whiteboard? Well, the show's been tanking pretty much all season, so ol' Rob/Bob has been on a rampage lately. The whole writers' room is on pins and needles waiting for his next screed, so they barely even notice I'm there. So I started getting a little frisky with my paraphrasing, not only
what they said and writing it on the board, but even trying to
what they were saying, until finally, Rob/Bob looks up on the board at the end of a meeting and says, “Hey, who said that?” And they're all like, “Not me.” And he was all (to me), “Do you remember who said it?” And I was all, “Well, no one said that exactly, but Will said X, and Karen kind of proposed Y, but I figured if we kind of took this part from X and that part of Y, then added in another reversal where the fat, lazy dad actually teaches the nerdy, uptight daughter something about relaxing and being okay with who she is instead of her teaching him that he's mostly a crappy father, which he learns in EVERY SINGLE EFFING EPISODE IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER, it might be kind of cool.” He says, “Cool. I like it. Darren, guess what: you're on first.” (This is Testy Snobbin speak for “You're writing the first draft.”) My draft is due at the end of the week! Ahhh! Gotta go so I can write!

This ain't the Great American Documentary, but it's a chance to tell a story, so I'm pretty psyched. Wish me luck. (Really, do. I'm not just saying that.)

Signing off,


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 22, 2012 at 2:07 PM
Subject: RE: Job News


Congratulations on getting picked to write the draft and good luck. That's pretty huge.

I can't remember, did I tell you that I keep having this weird dream about Salt? It starts with me and a bunch of cetologists on a research vessel. I spot Salt lobtailing near the boat and we all can tell he's in trouble because it's really shallow. The scientists try the standard technique used to save navigationally impaired cetaceans and turn on a recording of whale songs, hoping to lure Salt back out to deep waters. But he's not stupid (after all, whales have more spindle cells—the cells that control our awareness of self, right and wrong, emotional attachment, etc.—than people). Salt knows the recording isn't his pod and he cuts through the little breakers, moving toward the shore, still fascinated with the shallows. The boat is panicked and NOAA's network affiliate (the whale Coast Guard) is still 50 miles away. That's when I start singing. My vocalizations help Salt find his way to safety and deep waters. And no joke, Salt answers back, slapping his pectoral fin on the water. In the dream, it's the coolest thing, man; I totally speak Salt's language. The mutual understanding between Salt and me puzzles and amazes the other scientists, who have studied the songs for years and written lengthy papers in prestigious journals on the smallest and most insignificant discoveries. I am their hero. The Jacques Cousteau of the whale world. And I end up saving Salt's life.

Pretty cool dream, huh? You should put that in your TV show. Psych (Urban Dictionary, 2012)! Gotta go. Kitchen timer. Pecan pie's ready.


James Turner

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 22, 2012 at 3:45 PM
Subject: Smell

Dear Stanley:

Even with the Blue Oceans Glade freshener I bought yesterday, my office continues to smell worse than a week-old picnic left near brackish tidewater. Do you have a moment to check the mouse trap that you put behind my desk?



From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 22, 2012 at 4:21 PM
Subject: RE: Smell

Hi Peter:

Not till later. Someone keeps flushing sanitary stuff down the women's commode despite the signs and now we've got a major problem. You think your office smells bad, walk by the ladies room. Only reason I'm checking this damn email instead of helping my new guy clean up the mess right now's I'm waiting to hear from the plumber.

—Stanley P. Duckett

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 22, 2012 at 5:32 PM
Subject: Mystery Solved

Dear Stanley:

I think that the odor that I smelled in my office was coming from a rotten banana I located in the bottom drawer of my desk. So you can check that off your “to do” list. Mystery solved.

Speaking of mysteries, I finally got to speak with Elsie (after calling multiple times and hanging up when Angry Guy answered). The phone reception wasn't great because she lives on a boat docked in the Gulf with her boyfriend, who I guess she met at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Angry Guy's 45, so ten years older than her, never finished high school, and did time in the federal pen for armed robbery. But he's “a real peach,” plays checkers, draws pen and ink landscapes, and plays the guitar. They might even get married once they save enough for a ring. Elsie talked and talked. She's seven months sober, eating vegan, practicing yoga, writing her memoir, fishing with Angry Guy, and collecting seashells to sell to nautical shops. The only time she was quiet was when I told her about Dad. They never really got along. He always hated how she called or visited just when she needed something and how the something she needed was usually money. It really got under Dad's skin and they would butt heads about her “lifestyle choices” (drug use) a lot.

Anyway, Elsie WAS the one who sent the shells. She was worried I might be mad at her for missing a couple of birthdays and Christmases. For not coming around. Somehow, any anger that I had felt toward over her the past two years (and yes, I'd definitely been mad) melted when she said she missed me and hoped I would come visit her. Before we got off the phone, she told me to give her love to Donna. I guess that's how little I said during the call. Elsie had no idea that Donna and I got divorced.



From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 24, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Subject: I extend my hand in marriage to a piece of heated bread

Literally. But figuratively,
I propose a toast.

To me. Yeah, I know that sounds a little cocky, but I think it's important to celebrate one's accomplishments. I just finished writing my episode for the show, and frankly, it's awesome!

So let's go out on the town tomorrow after work. Vapor Bar sound okay?


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 25, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Subject: RE: I extend my hand in marriage to a piece of heated bread

First, you're a menace to the English language.

Second, I will go with you to Vapor Bar if, and only if, you take your laundry out of the dryer before we leave so I can do mine. If this sounds familiar it's because I've been telling you this for the past week.

Congrats on the writing,


From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: October 26, 2012 at 9:49 PM
Subject: RE: Job News

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