Out of My League
By Mildred A. Gleason
Upon request, some names and identifying details have been changed in the interest of privacy protection.
Dedicated to Daph, of course—for the times she put up with my bullshit and, more importantly, the times she refused to.
I sat back in the office chair until I heard a squeak which informed me that if I leaned any further back I'd tip over. "I don't like it," I said.
My editor, Cathy, clutching a pencil between her fingers from the other side of her desk, sighed. "And what exactly don't you like about it? It's cute, it's pithy, it gets across the idea that the story's going to be about the Pokemon League without being too obvious about it—it's just what we need in a title."
I twisted my face into a grimace. "But it's a little too pre-packaged if you know what I mean," I explained. "I mean, it's just to the point where it sounds kind of generic. And anyway," I added in a low mutter, "it'd be more accurate to call it 'Out of My Mind.'"
"Pre-packaged is a good thing," Cathy returned. "It lets people know what they're getting into." She rolled her eyes. "It's not like we haven't been over this before, Milly."
And we'd probably keep going over it. I scooched my chair a little closer to her desk. "…Did you by any chance get the list of titles I suggested?" I asked, attempting a casual air.
She wrinkled her nose as though I was referring to some nasty thing living in the wall of her shower. "I did," she answered distantly.
"…Well?" I prodded, knowing what the answer would inevitably be, but determined to incite it.
"They were, in a word," she said, wrinkled nose tilted high up in the air, "…awful."
"Oh, come on!" I exclaimed, sitting upward so rapidly that the office chair I was on let out a squawk as it rocketed upright. "'Please Don't League Me?' 'League Me Alone?' That stuff is gold!"
"More like fool's gold," Cathy responded dully. She reached over to a stack of papers until she found the one she was looking for and the flipped it over to the back, reading it over with a crinkled forehead. "And those weren't even the worst you came up with," she said, in disbelief as to how that was even possible. "I mean, 'If I League Here Tomorrow Will You Still Remember Me?'" she read incredulously. "Seriously?"
I regarded her carefully for a moment. "…Why don't you like good music?" I demanded coldly.
She took off her glasses and rubbed her temples. "We're not talking about good music—we're talking about bad puns."
I shrugged. "But that's the point. They're supposed to be bad. That's what makes them funny."
"Yes, but, and follow me on this," she said patiently, "to the people who don't get that they're purposefully bad they just end up looking… bad."
I pursed my lips, unable to think of a comeback. It's very annoying when she's right.
And she wouldn't leave it there, either. "Do you recall the article you wrote for the Goldenrod Gazette profiling breeders that got approximately no attention at all?" she asked. When I nodded glumly she continued: "And… what was that called again?"
I sighed. "'Extra! Extra! Breed All About It,'" I answered. "But that's not my fault. Breeders are just boring. A title can only do so much."
"And what about your piece on Pokemon Centers, hmm?" she continued, ignoring me. "The one that got mentioned on news stations as far away as Sinnoh and made it into last year's anthology? I believe it was called: 'Who's Paying For It?: The Price of Free Centers.' And… what did you want to call it?"
I grumbled something.
"What was that?"
"…'Bad Medicine and Chansey Budgeting,'" I said more clearly. "Either that or 'There is No Nurse Joy in PokeVille.'" I fidgeted in my chair. "Anyway, you've made your point already."
"Right," she said, a triumphant gleam in her eye. "So why don't you do your job and let the marketing folks do theirs—making your book look as good as possible."
"Alright, alright," I muttered. "'Out of My League' it is. I don't suppose you could add 'Out of My Mind and Out of Fruit Snacks' after it?"
"We'll see," she said in a tone that I knew meant 'no.'
For a moment neither one of us said anything. There was nothing but the click, click, click of the Newton's cradle she always kept on her desk for some reason I've never been able to figure out. Perhaps she wants to be driven insane.
"Well, now that that's sorted out, you'll need to see Teddy down in legal," she said, an acidic little smile at the fate she was consigning me to on her face. "He has a lot to say to you."
"I can imagine," I said glumly.
"And I'll be calling you shortly about setting up an interview at the Radio Tower," she said, smoothing back her mostly-grey-with-a-hint-of-amber hair. "I've been playing phone tag with Mary for the better part of a week, but I think they'll be able to squeeze you in some time shortly before or after the release."
"Oh… wonderful," I answered in non-sincerity mode. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy interviews. I love interviews even when they're nerve-wracking. It's just that the whole exercise takes on a different shade when the other person gets to ask the questions. That makes it seem somehow unfair.
"Don't do that thing where you undertalk for the first half of the interview and then overtalk all through the second half," she counseled, in the same tone my mother used when I was six to beseech me not to talk with my mouth full. "Just keep it nice and even. I've got a good feeling about this one, Milly. If it sells well then we might have a series on our hands—you could do the same treatment in Kanto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, maybe even Unova."
"Wouldn't that get kind of…" I mentally scratched out 'boring' and substituted with, "repetitive?"
"Not if you're doing your job right," she added pointedly.
I tilted my eyes heavenward, but decided not to make an argument about a hypothetical situation. After all, maybe this book will only be bought by my family members and those in need of a hefty drink coaster. No sense in worrying about now. "Right," I answered.
She turned over to her computer screen as though to indicate she was done with me, before imparting one last chore. "And get going on some kind of introduction to it. It doesn't have to be long, but we just need a little more foundation here at the beginning."
"Sure," I said, getting up and patting down my jeans to make sure I hadn't stupidly dropped my wallet. "I'll send you a prologue right away."
"…And don't make me look bad in this one!" she added shrewishly as I made my way out the door.
"Of course not," I called back, and sauntered out of the offices of Johto United Press. I tried to recall then, just when and how this modest little project spiraled completely out of my control.
I can't say with certainty exactly where it started because it sprung up from different directions. Oh, the eight-part interview series I'd been hoping to do with Johto's gym leaders seems like an easy place to put the blame. And I can't say that that wasn't a huge part of it. But that was practically a fluff piece. I knew I wasn't the best choice for a context-less set of interviews with trainers who actually know what they're talking about. I'm a zero-badge-winning trainer. I probably would've ended up asking them if they enjoyed skiing or if they were dating anyone. Pure human interest, almost nil Poke-interest.
For my money, my aforementioned article on Pokemon Centers is more to blame than that. When you get right down to it, the Pokemon Center system is a safety net for the many, many minors hoboing it around the country chasing the dream of being the very best. My article questioned the sustainability of a free system like that and critiqued what I saw as out of control spending (did you know there are some Pokemon Centers with saunas and free massages? Screw my local spa! I'll just put on a backwards baseball cap and claim I want to be a Pokemon master! Pass me a loofa and some fancy bath salts.)
But despite my bitching, moaning and occasional kvetching about the bloated system and where the funding could and should be going… I must admit that, deep down, there is something very necessary about it. I mean, forget the very basic function of healing Pokemon. What we've got here are a bunch of scraggly little ten-year-olds running around completely unsupervised—many of them on their own for the first time in their itsy-bitsy lives. They need a safe place like a Pokemon Center as a shelter from the dangers of the real world, which include humans, wild Pokemon, and their own stupidity.
And because of that, the whole thing got me questioning the wisdom of letting a bunch of prepubscents drop out of school to take up the art of vagrancy. Foolish, I know! But I'm hardly the first person to bring that up. There are whole groups focused on taking down the Pokemon Journey tradition, or at least mandating that the licensing age is raised from ten—Parents Against Underaged Training and the Stay in School Campaign are just two that I could mention. And, of course, the other side has their own advocacy groups: Parents of Future Pokemon Masters and Coordinators For a Better Tomorrow being the two major ones.
It's a divisive issue and, really, it has "Mommy wars" (a phrase that gets some journalists salivating) written all over it. But who's to say which one is the worse parent? The one who lets her kid leave home at ten with nothing but a Totodile between him and the evils or the world or the one who keeps him in a gated community with a tracking chip lodged in his stomach? …Probably the tracking chip one, because that's kind of messed up, but still! Is it worse to be underprotective or overprotective? History seems to weigh in on this on a case by case basis… and sometimes with disastrous results.
But is the league challenge worth the risk? Is teaching kids the values of hard work, friendship, and map-reading worth sacrificing their safety (and not teaching them any more than basic arithmetic)? I've met people who, win or lose, credit the league with the people they are today. Just the same, it doesn't always turn out that way. I'm not even talking about the heavy stuff—the real tragedies that can happen along the way. Let's save that for later, when I have the time and space to be really good and angry about it. Some people neglected their education for a dream they'll never fulfill—some people are still obsessed with that dream long after its obvious to everyone that it's too late.
Some people, and this is a completely random example, got lost in the forest and ran home crying to Mom with a scraped knee and a permanent terror of many-legged things with feelers.
No one you know, I assure you.
But what was I to do with this concept? Interview some newbie trainers? Didn't sound like something I'd want to do. I've gone on record many times as saying that children smell. That they are covered in a layer of dirt and viscous slime—like grubs. Not yet fully metamorphosed into their adult forms.
I do not say this to children themselves, because I do not wish to be kicked in the shins or have flaming shit left on my doorstep. You understand, I'm sure.
And, alright, all that about children is probably an overstatement. There's many a lovely, well-adjusted school-aged kid out there who doesn't pick their nose or neglect basic hygiene. But even talking to them didn't seem like it'd be enough. I was curious about the trainers, but it was more than the trainers I was thinking about. What about the road they traveled? Their Pokemon? The obstacles along the way? What can you say about something that is essentially a professional sport that's overrun with children? What do you say about the League? How did it get here, why is it this way, and will it always be this way?
I never thought I'd actually put on my boots and walk that road again, even if it was just as an observer. Though, I don't know how much of the road you could even say that I walked initially. Route 34? A little bit of the Ilex Forest? I'm not even sure my childhood journey even counts as a Pokemon Journey. But yet, I seemed to be poised to go over that trail so many others had passed through.
I wasn't going to do it. I really wasn't. Because I don't like, you know, children, or walking for prolonged periods, or camping in the woods, or wild animals, or pollen, or uncarpeted surfaces or anything really. But I kept collecting information. I kept planning. Not seriously! Oh no! This was just a… hobby. Just something to take my mind off my real projects. I wasn't going to really take it up.
…And then, somehow, at the end of all that not-at-all-serious research and preparation I found myself with a mountain of data I couldn't justify not using, a fully drafted and accepted proposal, a generous advance, packed bags, and the dumb realization that this was going to happen.
"Oh, and make sure to get someone to go with you," I recalled Cathy telling me over the phone many months ago when the project was just beginning in earnest. "You should know by now that you're not interesting enough to sustain a narrative by yourself."
"Thanks for the reminder," I croaked grimly, my throat a husk of nerves and bad health.
"Good luck out on the trail," Cathy trilled. "Be careful a Spinarak doesn't crawl into your sleeping bag and lay eggs there."
I'd like to think I responded with something pithy and clever, but in all likelihood I probably just let out an inarticulate groan and hung up.