Bud Selig paid me a million dollars to hand-deliver an All-Century Team ballot to J.D. Salinger.
It sounds incredible, but remember, those were strange times: it was the baroque period of the Steroid Era and Bud Selig was the most powerful man in America. He had reduced the strike zone to the size of a Chiclet. With a single sheet of MLB stationary he made Brady Anderson a home run hitter and Moises Alou a sex symbol. It has been said that in that era Bud Selig was so powerful, when he called the Minnesota Twins, Tom Kelly reached for two things: a 9 mm and a roll of toilet paper.
After sealing the deal with Selig, I called Jim McCarver to see if he was interested in the mission. Thirty minutes later, Jim McCarver and I parachuted out of an F-16. Me and the Vermont turf had a smooth first date. Not so for Timmy: he impaled his leg on a weather vane on his way down. It was gnarly, ruining McCarver’s best pair of Wranglers and compromising his ability to carry out the mission. I dragged him into a nearby barn, gave him a Vicodin and a flare gun. That night as I crossed into New Hampshire on foot, something came over me. It was an indescribable feeling, but the last time I felt it I was covering the Summer Games in Atlanta. That was July 27, 1996.
For the first three weeks of my mission, I perched in an Eastern White Pine across the street from the Salinger compound. I was dressed as a mailman. My plan was to spot Salinger’s Toyota Land Cruiser coming down the driveway, confirm my visual sans binocs, hop down from the tree and head towards the compound mailbox. It is a dogged state for a broadcast journalist to be reliant upon the whims of the fortuitous.
The first time I saw Salinger, it was about eight days in and the Land Cruiser was already halfway down the driveway. I was so busy scraping a melted Snicker bar out of the bottom of my fanny pack that by the time I hopped out of the tree I realized that I had left my ballots wedged in the nook of a sturdy branch. I dove into the ditch for cover. I don’t think he saw me.
Four days later, I had just closed my eyes for a tree nap when I thought I heard the sound of an SUV. It was then that my entire body spasmed and I fell out of the tree. I had kicked my shoes off while I was asleep and my socked left foot landed on a very sharp pile of rocks. The rocks cut into the soft part of my foot. I had to seal the wound with super glue. I never determined the source of the noise. I think it was a bird or maybe one of Salinger’s neighbor’s piglets.
In the wake of those two incidents, I began to feel like Chico Lind in a twelve pitch at-bat with Tim Wakefield. I drank six red bulls a day. I didn’t sleep. A few days later, Selig called me. He told me I had two days to get results or he would cancel the check and bring in Jose Lima.
Message received, commissioner.
That night I took a room in Cornish. I stayed in my room, got drunk, and watched Forrest Gump. It triggered a memory of a story Tony LaRussa told me after the 1988 World Series. It concerned David and the Bible. There was a time when David lived on the run from King Saul. In those days, when his very survival was threatened, David pretended to be mucho loco while eating at King Ashish’s palace. When I woke up I saw that I had written a note above the bathtub ring in sharpie: “It takes leprechaun mask to get the unicorn man.”
The next morning, I bought a riding lawn mower and saddled up with copious amounts of Mr. Pibb. I drove the mower back and forth on the road in front of Salinger’s house. This did not summon Salinger.
The next day I got braver and mowed a series of symmetrical curlicues from the beginning of the gravel driveway to the koi ponds next to the tennis courts. This did not summon Salinger.
The next day I spotted smoke pouring out of the top of the big house and two sedans parked in between the trampoline and the pool. I thought to myself, the stage is set, Costuz, you have an audience and five horses under the hood. It’s time.
I raced past the stone lions near the gates and towards the mandarin grove adjacent to Salinger’s concrete bunker. I must’ve been going fifteen MPHes when I ran over those mandarin saplings. This did not summon Salinger.
The next day I boarded my mower and headed straight past the rock garden and into the flowerbed. I left a few of the more Monet-looking flowers for love’s sake but cut down the rest. This did not summon Salinger.
I couldn’t take it anymore. Salinger was a god without ears. I turned off my mower and looked behind me. In the last week, I had decimated the landscape of the Salinger compound and had nothing to show for it. Drunk on the wine of conquest, like so many conquistadors before me, I climbed Salinger’s porch steps and rapped on the door three times. Several hours later, an old man, skinny and tall like an industrial broom, opened the door. He had a navy revolver tucked into his pants.
“Who the hell are you?”
This message was delivered via Dylan Little whom you can follow on Twitter, where his tag is @orangehunchback. Dylan says, “please remember Joplin. To make a ten dollar donation to the Salvation Army text the word “Joplin” to 80888.”