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  • Lucky Charms
  • John Domini (bio)
Bartleby, the Sportscaster. Ted Pelton. Subito Press. 73 pages; paper, $14.00.

We begin with hairpins and end with a bad dream of a predator bird. The trajectory would make little sense, it would sketch an imagistic hairpin of its own, except that the subject is lucky charms, always a nutty business. What's more, the context is Herman Melville's swift reduction of the human spirit, Bartleby, the Scrivener (1853), a text that indeed takes anything like luck and tosses it to the vultures. In this case, though, we've got Bartleby, the Sportscaster, Ted Pelton's hommage and send-up. The appropriation earns a spot beside its source; it makes a worthy companion, by and large because it gets into material like the screwy things we look to for good luck.

Pelton airs out the cubicles and cellars of the original. He brings speed and wit to the core paradox of one man refusing any sort of connection while making another ever more desperate to help. Melville's eponymous copy-clerk anticipates Franz Kafka's worker-bug, and the narrator watching him flail has nothing like real power, either. Yet at Bartleby's passing (penniless, in a basement full of garbage) his harried former supervisor speaks of "kings and counselors"—a citation from Scripture that reflects on the narrator as well, since he too has achieved a kind of nobility. This trajectory, from antipathy to fascination to fellow-feeling, provides the skeleton for Pelton's reanimation. But both storyteller and subject now hold very different positions, the kind of work that, famously, gets a person out into the sun, far from the urban canyons. These guys aren't just sportscasters; they're baseball men.

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With a fine jawbreaker of a baseball moniker, in the narrator's case: Ray Yarzejski. Since Melville's narrator did without a name, this detail alone makes the new Bartleby a friendlier business, and Pelton's man is, indeed, everyone's invisible friend. He's the longtime radio voice of the New Bedford Arcturions, an AA club based (not at all coincidentally) in an old whaling town and named (ditto) after a navigational [End Page 22] star. Ray's an old widower, comfortable now with living alone and with working the games solo as well, but then Bartleby appears, the new color man assigned by the team's new owner. That's Enzo Simonelli, another variety of well-worn Americana, a corporate greed-head who "treated the baseball team like it was an annoyance." Anyone Simonelli sends into the booth is no friend of Ray's. Yet if the sportscaster's first name suggests assertion and celebration, his last name sounds a lot like acquiescence: "yessir." The tension provides suspense, despite the material's familiarity.

As for the new Bartleby, his fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. He's the antithesis of a color man, "a cipher," like "you could've shone a light at him and it would keep on going out the other side…." His single spoken line remains substantially the same as 150 years ago: "I'd rather not." Thus, when Simonelli insists on more from his new employee, when Bartleby has to come out from behind his laptop and contribute on-air, his reluctance triggers Ray's moral crisis.

By then, the old sportscaster has discovered that his silent young sidekick can be a lot of help, "going bananas with the statistics—though lifelessly bananas." Ray's told the boy "you're OK by me," and he hits on an imaginative (though doomed) solution to the owner's demand, putting clichés in Bartleby's mouth: "As Eddie Stanky used to say, 'Oh, those bases on balls!'" Such talk is central to the pleasures of this classic revisited. To Pelton's vehicle of consciousness, the players are "fellas," and a prison guard is "fat and full of himself as Babe Ruth at Christmastime." A few passages do putter along unengaged, like Ray's reaction to his firing: "I'm not one to mope about things…or to spend too long...


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pp. 22-23
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