Bert Brilliant writes a column for The Daily Planet. Norman Naive is one of the young up-and-comers who sits a few desks away. Every few days, they go have Chinese food and good Dutch beer and figure ways to make the world a perfect place.
"You know what, youngster?"
"(Munch, chomp) What, Bert?"
"I could have done it."
"(Slurp, gobble) I'll bet I'm supposed to ask, in my sweetest tone, 'Done what, Bert?' "
"Your sensitivity is positively astounding, youngster. Yes, you were supposed to ask me that. And now that you have, I can answer: I could have been a big league baseball player."
"Oh, no! Poor Berty-Werty has been reading the stories about spring training in Florida. Been sitting around thinking that if he'd spent two months every year concentrating on hitting, he could have been as good as those bums on TV."
"Youngster, I haven't been thinking it, I've been sure of it. The end of February is the time of year this feeling gets in my bones, and . . . ."
"Bert, what you feel in your bones is the beginnings of arthritis."
"There is an ancient Chinese method of beating idiots to death with a pair of chopsticks, Norman. Very cruel. Very effective. But out of deference to the owner and the waiter, I'll restrain myself."
"I don't know how to thank you, Bert. Maybe if I gave you a pair of tickets to an Orioles game . . . ."
"I won't be bought for such a pittance. We are talking about human ambition and feeling here. We are talking about the road not taken. You are spoofing a man's dreams, Norman!"
"Spoofing? That sounds like one of the daily specials in Column A."
"Waiter! You see this man here? He gets the check. Today, and every day."
"All right, Bert. You finally hit me where I live. One more swallow of this delicious golden brew and . . . .All right, now I'm ready to listen."
"Norman, when I was in college, I faced a turning-point decision. I could hit behind the runner. I could go to my left. I could steal a base anytime I wanted. I could do everything it took to be an asset to any baseball team you've ever seen."
"But a girl stole your heart, right?"
"If only it had been something so simple, Norman. No, son. It wasn't a girl that stole my heart. It was a newspaper."
"Are you seriously telling me that you spent your extracurricular time in college pounding a typewriter when you could have been pounding a curve ball?"
"Well, Norman, here's how I saw it: I said to myself, 'Brilliant, how do you want to end up? Do you want to grow old in a drafty dugout in Tuscaloosa, spitting tobacco juice into a bucket and telling lies about Reggie Jackson? Or do you want to win hearts and minds? Right wrongs? Dominate doorsteps?' "
"Bert, after what those butchers disguised as editors just did to my series on Prince George's County, I'd vote for the tobacco juice."
"How typical of youth to be unable to see past this morning's pain! Norman, when it comes to me and baseball, we're talking about the pain of more than two decades. We're talking about how I might have been a household word. We're talking about how I might have made a Miller Lite commercial. You think they make Miller Lite commercials about columnists?"
"You keep shouting like that, and maybe they will."
"Norman, I'm shouting because I care about this! I'm shouting because late February is the time of Baseball Rebirth! I'm shouting because I would like to walk right out of this place, out of the yukkiness that's Washington in February, get on a plane to Sarasota and try my luck."
"So why don't you? You've seen those ads for Baseball Along Memory Lane. You know the ones -- Come and relive your boyhood fantasies with the 1955 Dodgers in Vero Beach, for only $2,500 and all the autographs you can collect. Hell, Bert, every investment banker and heart surgeon in the Western World is down there right now."
"Only $2,500? Is that what you really said, youngster? The next time I get $2,500 that isn't committed to something else -- like the Pepco bill and the mortgage -- I'll let you know."
"But it would be the right way to scratch this itch, wouldn't it, old man?"
"It sure would. Tell you what. I'll start saving right now. Fifty bucks a week. That's about what I spend in this place. If I brought sandwiches from home for a year, I could go to Florida in '87 and make my dreams come true."
"I'm rooting for you, pal. With all the spitballs I can summon."
Just then, the fortune cookies arrived.
"Next Thursday?" asked Bert.
"Next Thursday," said Norman.
And they shuffled back to the office.