Fred Vogel

Posted on December 18, 2017

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Max Mellon

Max got his first job tossing newspapers onto porches, planters, and roofs. Every penny saved from the route went to buying baseball cards, which he collected with a passion. “One day there will be a Max Mellon baseball card and it will be worth a million dollars,” he proclaimed, to no one in particular.

Max’s father never saw the need to diminish his son’s aspirations. He thought everyone should have a goal; his having been a rock and roll guitarist before losing a good chunk of his left hand in a saw mill accident.

Max’s mother saw things differently and was unapologetic with her terse words. “Max, you need to get over this crazy idea of being a baseball player. Plan your life with attainable goals. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re God’s gift to baseball. If He had wanted you to play baseball for a living He would have given you a ballplayer’s physique. And He most certainly would have made sure you were born in some place other than Wisconsin.

“Bob Uecker was born in Wisconsin,” Max countered.

“My point exactly,” his mother shot back. “End of story.”

In high school, Max’s physical limitations soon caught up with him and his dream of becoming a ballplayer came to an abrupt halt. He joined the school newspaper and contributed articles on the boys’ sports teams. The only other member of the writing staff was Sonya Sanchez, who reported on the girls’ teams. Max had many sexual encounters with Sonya, although she was never present for any of them. Their nightly sports-related phone calls usually ended with Max furiously whacking away under the sheets.

Max went on to study Journalism at the University of Wisconsin, covering socio-political issues for the school’s paper, The Badger Herald.

He first laid eyes on Nancy Bricker during his junior year. While Max’s politics leaned to the left, Nancy was the daughter of a right-wing multi-billionaire. Max asked Nancy out. She laughed. He was undeterred. He asked her out again. And again. And again. Eventually, Nancy found a quality in Max that turned her on – persistence.

Nancy’s dad, Harvey Bricker, was the CEO of Hardy-Chandler, the same corporate giant who had been fined in excess of two-hundred-million dollars for supplying the war effort with faulty materials at exorbitant costs.

Harvey was a big shot U. of W alumnus. He put his heart and soul into the school’s athletic program and wouldn’t think twice about bribing anyone who could tilt the playing field in the Badger’s direction. He was just that kind of guy, and his daughter, Nancy, admired the hell out of him.

Nancy’s mother, Tillie, hated most everything about her life, including her husband and her bratty daughter. She also detested her weekly tennis partners, whom she considered her nearest and dearest friends.

The need for money can lead the most noblest of men down a seedy path. Max’s seed was planted by Harvey Bricker. Unaware of Max’s political leanings and impressed with the young man’s writing abilities, Bricker offered Max the golden opportunity of writing weekly articles in the Wisconsin State Journal, a newspaper co-owned by Bricker. The one catch – the articles had to have right-leaning messages. Max thought himself a principled young man who couldn’t just be bought as if he were a government official. In the end, Max found a way to accept the offer without compromising his own values. He decided to write for both the Journal and the Herald.  Max took the pseudonym Robert George, the first and middle names of his Wisconsin baseball hero, Bob Uecker. And just like that, Robert George became the popular, though ultra-reclusive, new voice of the left, while Max entertained followers on the right. Every word Max wrote in the Journal would be ridiculed by Robert George in the Herald. While Max presented good arguments and initiated many volatile volleys, the words of Robert George would always shine through brightest, but never enough to raise the suspicions of Harvey Bricker, who found himself appalled, yet somehow intrigued, by this Robert George fellow.

After graduation, Max shunned Wisconsin and bolted to California, leaving Nancy in the Midwest dust. Max’s departure was scorned by Harvey Bricker, who prayed for Max to meet his demise in the form of a magnitude ten earthquake that would send “all those left-coast radicals” plummeting into the ocean, separating themselves from those more civilized. Bricker was a firm believer in the doughnut-hole theory, whereby only those living in the middle of the country were worth saving, while those on the periphery, including both coasts and “those northern frozen-assed idiots”, could go straight to hell. He felt bad for the good folks of Texas but thought they were too close to Mexico to be worth saving.

After Max’s departure, Harvey tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with Robert George, hoping to recruit him to the other side.

In California, Max moved in with his Uncle Harris, who was living in West Hollywood with his longtime partner, Ozzie Bakewell, the noted political cartoonist and former City Councilman.

Max wrote voraciously every day. His distrust of religion became his main focal point. He felt there was an ample amount of political pundits opining their views, but not nearly enough commentary exposing the hypocritical religious zealots of the world.

When Max’s collection of stories, The Rise and Fall of the Catholic Cult, was published, he understood verbal abuse and countless nosebleeds were sure to follow and that controversy went hand in hand with the written word. He was ready to face the Christian rock music. He wanted to stir the pot and, as far as he was concerned, the hotter the habaneros the better.

While on a promotional tour in San Diego, Max was nearly pummeled to death by Jesus freaks out in the street.

He was accosted by a flock of nuns outside Portland, Oregon’s iconic doughnut shop, God Nuts, where their best-seller was a cross-shaped jelly doughnut with chocolate piping spelling out, He Dieted for Your Sins. Max got a kick out of sticking his tongue deep into the doughnut’s center, inciting, possibly even arousing, those feisty sisters.

The acrimony continued when Max published his follow-up collection, Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, and God (The Never-ending Quest for Legends and Myths in Today’s Society).

In Salt Lake City, Max was assaulted by an elderly veteran wielding a silver-plated walking stick, shouting from the top of his fragile lungs, “God died for your sins, you lousy bastard. I hope you and yours rot in Hell!”

The animosity followed Max all the way back to Wisconsin. While attending a family reunion, his eight-year-old nephew rushed up to him, kicked him repeatedly on his shins, and screamed out, “There is a Santa Claus, you son-of-a-bitch!”

Priceless moments, waxed Max.

And it wasn’t just Max’s religious works that were causing a fury. His off-off-Broadway play, Screw the World, I Want to Get Off, alienated just about every other segment of society.

Life was good. Max felt he was on the right path to making a name for himself. His folks were proud as punch. Even some of his Midwest relatives admired his West Coast celebrity, even if they didn’t appreciate his satirizing their God.

Yet, for all his success, Max felt a void. He wondered whatever became of his one-time writing partner, Sonya Sanchez. A quick Google search showed Sonya was also living in California, covering sports for the Daily Breeze, a local paper in Redondo Beach.

Max contacted her and was thrilled to learn she had been following his exploits and antics. She found his stories a hoot. They met at Starbucks and talked for hours, discussing everything from sports, politics, and religion, to their provocative late night phone conversations (Yes, Max Mellon, two can play at that game).

In terms she knew he would understand, Sonya told Max she was ready to give him an official tryout. Knowing full well Wisconsin ballplayers had always been underrated, Max was more than willing to step up to the plate and hit one out of the park.

****

Fred Vogel‘s stories have appeared in Literally Stories, Crack the Spine, Literary Orphans, Subtle Fiction, Clever, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon.

 

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