Six years ago, at midseason, many of the wives of coaches who were born or worked in Ohio got together and decided to send their often absent husbands one book each, with the hope that they would take time out of their busy schedules to think and reflect on the season that was, and their husbands had promised to read them. The idea, as Ellen Tressel put it, was to let their husbands to know that they were thinking of them and that they should be thinking of themselves too. Or, as Mary Pat Pelini put it, "it's so those idiots get their heads out of their rears and stop eating so many damn sunflower seeds."
Many coaches, both active and retired (or fired) were still involved. Shelly Meyer once sent Urban a copy of "Marley & Me", with every passage relating to the death of the dog underlined several times in red ink. Carol Stoops shipped her husband a copy of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," but Bob neglected to read it. And for several consecutive years a very sarcastic Beth Holtz sent Lou a series of books about tongue twisters.
Now, this year, Jim Tressel eyed the package sitting on his desk with some suspicion. Ellen had told him that the book was inspirational and should help him out in his daily life. She had also said it was by one of his very favorite authors, CS Lewis. Still, Jim wasn't sure. He never had much free time, especially now, but a promise was a promise. He sighed and opened to the first page.
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.
Jim's eyes widened, surprised. Is this really what Ellen thinks of me? I know everyone says I need to be more fashionable and "with it," but she's never seemed to mind. Of course, she'd never said anything either. Maybe that was what she's getting at, Jim mused. Maybe this character is just as stubborn as I can be sometimes. Jim was intrigued, and read on.
'Is it the part of the police department to harass me when this city is a flagrant vice capital of the civilized world?' Ignatius bellowed over the crowd in front of the store. 'This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft. If you have a moment, I shall endeavor to discuss the crime problem with you, but don't make the mistake of bothering me.'
The story Jim was reading was set in 1960's New Orleans, a city he had only visited twice in his life. Once, to coach his team in the National Championship, and another time, much earlier in his life, to see Mardi Gras (where he quickly got a headache and spent most of his vacation in his hotel room, sipping apple juice and listening to Louis Armstong records). No, Jim realized, this is probably about those comments I made last year about OSU fans being miserable. That was harsh, just like old Ignatius here is being too harsh on his own town. Jim continued to read.
By now Ignatius Reilly had caused his mother to crash her car, and due to their dire financial straits, was forced to get a job at a pants factory. Whereupon he almost immediately tried to incite a worker riot in an effort to impress a beatnik named Myrna living in New York City. None of this Jim could make heads or tails of.
Ignatius flipped his camera into action and aimed it at the banner and the workers. 'Will all of you please wave your sticks and stones again?' The workers complied merrily. Myrna would choke on her espresso when she saw this. 'A but more violently now. Brandish these weapons fiercely. Make faces. Scream. Perhaps some of you could jump up and down, if you don't mind.'
Ah ha! Vindication. Ignatius, an oaf, was exhorting his "team" (if you will), to act in exactly the opposite way Jim had always coached; with recklessness, and without thinking. Thanks, Ellen. Sometimes I really do want to yell and throw my headphones, if only because some of those crappier coaches make it look so darn cool. Well, I won't. You're right. I'll be just the way I am.
Of course, the worker's riot fails, and Ignatious is now forced to become a lowly hot dog vendor. An occupation that involves walking. Which he does not like.
Ignatius limped around Mr. Clyde to illustrate, his desert boots scuffing along the oily cement. 'Stop that, you big slob. You ain't crippled.' 'Not completely as of yet. However, various small bones and ligaments are beginning to wave a white flag of surrender. My physical apparati seem to be preparing to announce a truce of some sort. My digestive system has almost ceased functioning altogether. Some tissue has perhaps grown over my pyloric valve, sealing it forever.'
Jim knew that CS Lewis and Ellen were both absolutely correct. Sure, the running game had been much maligned this year, and Saine, the presumed starter, had to be moved to a different role in the team. But much like Ignatious' pyloric valve, things weren't as bad as Jim or the fans might've thought. Boom Herron is fast becoming more and more reliable, and after all, this is Ohio State dammi... Jim paused, reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter, placing it into a jar neatly labeled "FOR SWEARS"... This is Ohio State gosh darn it, and we'll figure out the run. It'll happen. And heck, everything else, too. The secondary, the d-line, everything. We'll work it out. Also Ellen had really been on his case lately for eating too many hot dogs.
'That's it prof. You said it better than I ever could. You're a really educated guy.' 'Oh?' Ignatius was very pleased. 'There may be some hope for you yet. Hot dog?' 'No, thanks.' 'Then pardon me while I have one. My system is petitioning for appeasement.'
Jim rolled his eyes. Okay Ellen, I get it.
Later, as Ignatius ends up involved in yet another incident, this time an actual riot, he appears in a photo in the morning newspaper.
Mr. Clyde looked at the morning paper and fired Reilly. The big ape's career as a vendor was finished. Why was that baboon wearing his outfit when he was off duty? One ape like Reilly could demolish ten years of trying to build up a decent commercial name. Hot dog vendors had an image problem already without one of them passing out in the street by a whorehouse.
Jim was stumped. Whorehouse? Maybe it's Ohio State that has an image problem? He had been at OSU for ten years now. Maybe this was a comment on the influence of agents, destroying the good name of a generally clean football program. Santonio Holmes was recently accused of this. Maybe that's what this is getting at. It's symbolism, right?
But then again, Jim suddenly remembered, Ellen doesn't normally like symbolism. Jim recalled that they were watching Dancing With The Stars one night, and how furious she'd gotten with the choice of the show to use a blue filter for a flashback sequence, to show how sad the runners up had been. SEPIA! SEPIIIAAAA!! she had screamed at the television, and Jim smiled inwardly at the memory.
No, something fishy was definitely going on here, but Jim soldiered on to the end of the book.
At this point, facing being kicked out of his home by his mother's fiancee and friend, Ignatius finally finds salvation by means of Myrna, who offers to take him to New York City.
He rolled down the window an inch or two and breathed in the salt air blowing in over the marshes from the Gulf. As if the air were a purgative, his valve opened. He breathed again, this time more deeply. The dull headache was lifting. He stared gratefully at the back of Myrna's head, at the pigtail that swung innocently at his knee. Gratefully. How ironic., Ignatius thought. Taking the pigtail in one of his paws, he pressed it warmly to his wet moustache.
Gratefully. Ironic indeed. Jim knew that once Ohio State won against Purdue many fans would be back on his side, grateful to have him around. And he too, would be grateful for them, to have their support once again. Jim closed his eyes. But it's entirely possible we lose to Iowa. And then what? Well, the Boethian cycle starts over. The wheel of fate turns once more. We hate and we love, we win and we lose, over and over again. Jim smiled and inhaled. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
Wait. No. That was stupid. All of this was stupid. Very, very stupid.
Jim quickly turned the book the the front cover, and looked for the authors' name. Who the hell is John Kennedy Toole?! (a sigh, another quarter for the jar) Who the heck is John Kennedy Toole?! Jim should've known from the beginning. In none of his other books had CS Lewis written about pants factories or flatulent hot dog vendors. And so many swears! So that was it. There had to be a mix up of some kind. But with who? The only wife Ellen had seen recently was... oh, well of course, Jim thought. He's the only one it could be.
Jim picked up his phone and dialed it, and after seven rings a jowly, irritable voice answered with a low "Hello?"
"Hi Mark, it's Jim. Yeah, I think our wives got our books switched with that whole read and reflect thing. Yes. Yes, tell Mrs. Mangino not to worry about it, I'll just pick up another copy. Thanks. Talk to you later."
Jim hung up the phone, glanced sideways at the book, and picked it up. Well, he thought, it's no Winner's Manual, but it wasn't bad. Jim stood up, book in hand, and placed it on his shelf, humming "When The Saints Come Marching In" all the while.