“Death is not the worst that can happen to men.” -Plato
There aren’t many things that scare me. I’ve been around a time or two and have seen some awful things. Sure, I’m afraid of death, just like everyone else. But, I think I’ve made my peace with it. There are things far worse than death out there. When I wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, filled with pure panic, it’s not death that’s staring back at me. It is something far more hideous. It is the number four.
You’ve seen a thousand fours in your life. They are everywhere. Four noble truths, four great elements, four horseman of the apocalypse, four letter words, the number four Bobby Orr, the list goes on and on. What they are used for is not important. It is what those fours ARE that is lurking behind every door, just behind the shadows, just out of reach. It is what those fours ARE that is haunting me. No matter how hard I try I cannot escape.
Because, you see, there are plenty of uses for the number four, but there is only truly one four. It is indivisible, it is unstoppable, it is perfect, it is irreducible and it is after me. I try to tell people what’s going on, but they don’t believe me. I explained my predicament friend the other day about my problem and he laughed. He drew the number four on a piece of paper and ripped it up. “Now you’re safe,” he chuckled.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Fool! He doesn’t understand. It’s not some absurd, half-witted drawing of the number four that strikes fear into my heart. I’m not scared of what can be done with four; I am utterly terrified of what it is. The perfect platonic form of four. Four in all its grotesque fourness. The ideal four. The world is filled with four imitators, trying to fake fournesss, trying to be useful, trying to help us count all of the pointless presences around us. But, I have SEEN four. The real one. The root of all fourness. And, worse, it knows I have seen it.
Oh platonic four, if I could take back that one time my eyes shot open in the middle of the night and I saw you hovering above my bed, I would. Everything was fine before that night. I wandered through this odd fantasy world of illusion that we call life with full belief in the forms that surrounded me. Then, I saw you and was forever changed. I had seen a lifetime of fours, but never any as perfect as this one. In that moment, I understood all other fours to be impostors. They did not have your straightness, they did not have your smoothness, they could not measure up.
What my eyes witnessed forever corrupted my being. At first, I looked for the perfect four everywhere. I needed to see it once more. I needed to know it and be connected with its truth. I wanted to be by its side. I wanted it to show me that there was more to this life than incompleteness and wandering. I longed for one more fleeting glimpse of its timeless perfection.
A horrible thing began to dawn on me. What if I wasn’t meant to see it? What if my accidental encounter had doomed me? What if the perfect four was looking for me with the same fury that I searched for it? All at once, I knew. I began to sense its presence everywhere I went. It was stalking me. Waiting for me to let my guard down. Hunting me.
I was at the supermarket looking at the oranges and suddenly; I saw it out of the corner of my eye. It was hiding behind the walnuts and almonds. Waiting to consume me whole. It sensed my glance and began to move towards me. I dropped my grocery basket and ran out of the store screaming. I didn’t stop until I got to my car. Which was the right key? There it was dashing across the parking lot like a rabid dog. No one saw it but me. It raced towards me. Finally, I pushed the key into the lock, got in the car and sped away.
I have been hiding from it ever since. Held up in a dingy motel room passing my final hours. I have this lingering sense that it knows where I am and is toying with me. Enjoying my suffering. Laughing at me. I went through a day or two thinking I could destroy it. I repeated 3 plus 1 equals 5 for hours on end. I figured if I denied the truth of its inevitability I could make it go away. However, my mind is no match for the perfection of its form. A mere string of thoughts could not slow its terrible, astonishing inertia for even a second.
I prepared for my final showdown with four. I would wait for it. I would catch it by surprise and break it into a million pieces. I would hit it with a hammer. Shoot it with a gun. Cut it up with a chainsaw. Melt it with a blowtorch. Something. Anything.
All resistance is absurd. I know this. Four is indestructible. It has no parts. It is endless and deathless. It wasn’t created and cannot be destroyed. It was here before we were and will be here forever after. If I dropped a million nuclear bombs on the world the number four sustain as much as a dent. It is beyond law, beyond meaning, beyond understanding. Unstoppable.
I feel its presence getting closer now. Through the trees. Into the parking lot. Past the couple putting luggage in their trunk. Up the back stairs. Past the ice machine. Outside the door. Inside the door. Across the room from me. Next to me. Inside of me. Finally….
Noodles O’Callahan is a bright, good-natured 8-year-old boy. He is a third grader at John Q. Poindexter Elementary School in Tupelo, Mississippi. He likes ice cream and pizza, loves his 2 pet dogs and dreams of one day becoming an astronaut. He is a healthy, happy young man who suffers from one terrible problem that deeply effects every aspect of his life. You see, Noodles is invisible.
Invisiblilty may seem to be a strange ailment for a young person to have, but it’s more common then you know. 1 in every 10,000 Americans are born invisible. These young people often are made to feel different and unwanted. In many cases, invisible children are ignored by everyone in their lives including their parents. People bump into them without bothering to apologize, they are never picked to play games with the other kids and in some cases they are not even picked up from school. People simply forget about them. Noodles is one of the forgotten. This is his story.
Noodles was in my kindergarten class three years ago. They train you for all different types of scenarios when you are at the Academy. You know how to deal with loud, aggressive children, you know how to deal with the ones who struggle to learn to read, you know how to work with the shy ones, but they never tell you how to teach an invisible child.
At first, I let Noodles keep to himself, ignored and avoided by other children. One student even stepped on his foot and did not apologize or even acknowledge he had done it. I let Noodles play quietly in the corner for a few hours, but after a while I couldn’t take it. I started calling on him during class discussions only to be met by an icy silence. The other students were perplexed as to why I was calling on a student that they claimed wasn’t even there. I was called into Principal Murphy’s office. When he asked me why I was talking to a student that didn’t exist, I nearly hit the roof. How dare he dismiss Noodles’ existence!!! What gaul the man had! I exploded at him. The nerve! To just pretend an invisible student didn’t exist was the worst crime an educator could commit in my eyes.
After that, I took an unscheduled vacation. I spent a lot of time around the house thinking about what had happened. Surprisingly, Noodles started showing up at my front door at 8 AM everyday rain or shine. He should have been in school, but I think he felt like he’d be better off spending time with and adult who actually paid attention to him. He would come in and have tea while we discussed what it was like to be invisible. That was nice. It made me feel like I was making a difference.
All of a sudden, things started to get very weird. Furniture started moving around my apartment. I knew he was breaking in to my house when I was asleep and trying to intentionally confuse me. He would start hiding things in places I’d never bother to look. My keys showed up in a flower pot, my wallet showed up in a pair of pants I hadn’t worn in months. One day, I woke up with a bloody knife in my hand. I have no idea how it got there. Noodles must have done it!
I spent hours in the interrogation room trying to tell my story to the police. They simply didn’t believe me. They claimed that I had stabbed Mr. Morganfield and put his head in my own refrigerator. In spite of the fact that Mr. Morganfield was a secret disciple of the Pod People and was planning to begin infecting the human race with a DNA altering virus, I would have never harmed him. Clearly, Noodles received the same information as me and simply acted on it. He had a good amount of pent up rage from years of being unnoticed and must have just snapped.
I now spend most of my days in a heavily medicated stupor eating different varieties of Jell-o. Noodles still comes to visit me. He snuck into my cell last night and began singing old Duke Ellington tunes. I told the guards to shut him up. They just looked at me like I was crazy.
These invisible children walk among us everyday. They are forgotten and unloved. Three years of eating Jell-o and staring at old episodes of Gunsmoke gives you a lot of time to think. When I am released in the year 2041, I plan on dedicating my life to helping them. Their story doesn’t have to end up like this. Help them. For Noodles. For me.
The LeBron Hate Machine has officially been cranked up to 10. Welcome to The Narrative, sir! Here’s how the next five years of your life are probably going to go. Most of the mob will hate you today, that is for certain. They’ll say you’re no Kobe, they’ll say you don’t have Nowitzki’s heart, they invoke the ever looming specter of MJ. They tell you you’ll never be as great as the ones that they remember. You’re not old school. You’re not committed enough. You’re arrogant. You called your own press conference. You left the folks in Cleveland high and dry. You think you are bigger than the game. You need to be taught a lesson.
This will go on for a little while. Then, you will win. The Narrative will shift. You’ve learned your lesson. You’ve been humbled. You went back to basics. You did things the right way. You overcame the odds. You have been redeemed. You are a champion.
Once you’ve seen the puppet show once or twice, the strings become remarkably annoying. We’ve done this dance so many times before. Remember when Kobe was an obnoxious, spoiled kid who didn’t know his place? Remember when Dirk was a soft-boiled choke artist? Heck, do you remember when Muhammad Ali was a dangerous, radical anti-American draft dodger? What did they do to rehabilitate their image? They won.
Redemption awaits anyone who can help his or her team score more points then the other team when the big spotlight is blaring. Redemption is a pretty easy formula. Time plus rings. Not exactly calculus. If you doubt the truth of what I’m saying, just watch the lovefest that is waiting just down the road if Tiger or Michael Vick get to the Promised Land. It makes you wonder what OJ could have done if he still had a good 40 time.
Maybe this time it will be different. LeBron has an opportunity to do something that has never been done. There is one trick left that they haven’t seen. They need to be introduced to the true Man in Flight. The Running Man. The person who finally takes the Narrative by the throat and squeezes. LeBron James can become the first Post-Rational Superstar.
At first, LeBron would have to follow some very well-travelled ground. He could start on the path that trailblazers like Dennis Rodman and Charles Barkley journeyed before him. He could become the zany, outspoken Bad Guy. The Heel. The difference between these guys and a Post-Rational Superstar is that they stopped there. They found their niche and they road it to the bank. What I am suggesting would be far more radical.
Next season LeBron starts the show by cursing at a few fans, hanging with some edgy celebs, coloring his hair blue, punching a reporter, whatever. Once the mob gets used to that, he flips the script. He becomes a highly pious, deeply caring man. Donates a year’s salary to charity. Gets photographed helping an old lady across the street. Donates a kidney. Whatever gets them to start loving him again. Then, when everyone is comfortable, he slams on the brakes! LeBron joins the Communist Party, starts quoting radical Islamic clerics, gets a backwards cross tattooed into his forehead, and becomes every red-blooded American sports fan’s worst nightmare.
Once there have been enough Bill O’Reilly interviews calling him a monster, he flips it again. Begs the forgiveness of the mob. Saves a child from a burning building. Donates the other kidney. Starts a mission in Peru that saves victims of toxic megacolon. Gets himself photographed with the Pope. Figures out a way to cut unemployment below 5 percent. Captures and kills an Al-Queda leader. Once they get comfortable with the New LeBron…..BAM! He joins the Church of Satan, projectile vomits on a referee and pour yaks blood over his head after each win. He keeps flipping and flipping and flipping until people want to get off the ride.
And here’s the best part, LeBron….No matter what you do, if you win, they will find it in their hearts to rationalize your actions. They don’t see you for your game or your stunning personality or your greed or your kind heart or your selfishness. They aren’t watching you at all; they are watching what you represent. Your biggest fans just love you because they want to be associated with your victories and your worst enemies just want to take some measure of credit for your defeat.
Turn the mirror on the mob. Let them see them see the carnival in all of its venal absurdity. Don’t let them rationalize you. Run The Narrative off of a cliff. When they say they’ve had enough, give them more. Make every icon equally worthless. Destroy any logical assumption that can be made about you or anyone who comes after you. Give them everything and nothing all at once. Confuse them to death. Leave nothing standing. The one thing a superstar can still provide the sports world with is an understanding of how insane its basic cultural assumptions and beliefs are. And the best part is, if you win, they’ll still love you.