A feckless Chicagoan traces the amusing episodes in his moderately working life (circa 1961–79) and the steps that led to his many, many unscheduled departures.
In 17 sequential stories, Manderino (The Man Who Once Played Catch with Nellie Fox, 1998, etc.) takes his nameless hero from delivery boy at a South Side meat market (where his dad’s a butcher) through stints as altar boy, ditch-digger, ballplayer, Art Institute security guard, Vista worker, Indian tutor in South Dakota, and umpire (not to mention eight other gigs) to his final destination as a writer. It’s a rough trip. Clearly not meant to do whatever it is he’s doing until he gets to writing—and what kind of an end is that?—the well-meaning lad never seems to catch on that well-meaning is never enough to see a body through the workday, much less the workweek, or that well-meaning is what gets you onto an Indian reservation, where you actually get named No-Name (shorthand for “something like Many Roads or Many Jobs”), make a mortal enemy in a baseball game, fail to connect with kids at the tutoring center who need someone many times more squared away than you, and finally leads you to a disastrous session in a sweat lodge. Not only does the guy have well-meaning problems, he’s got that other literary bedevilment: he’s nuts for baseball. Nuts enough to take the Greyhound to a tryout camp in Florida, where he doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance, and much later to try out as an umpire and get literally laughed out of the game. It would all be exhausting except that Manderino is a funny writer, and his hero never stays in one spot long enough to put the reader through really brutal humiliation or life-threatening introspection.
Pretty funny. Even funnier if you’ve been this route.