THE STREAK • by Andrew Waters

We sat at the bar in Reno’s in downtown San Francisco. Do you think anyone will ever match it? Ice rattled in highball glasses and mixed with the exaltations of drinking men. Don’t you think that’s one record nobody will ever beat?

Joe DiMaggio winced, just for a second, long enough to deem the question inane. Smooth, suave, frosty Joe, not Yankee Clipper Joe, the ball player of flawless grace in the black-and-white photos on the wall. This was cautious Joe, man of the world, disdainful of it, sitting at the bar opposite me in a double-breasted cashmere blazer, perfect for the blustery October day, a baby blue tie, the whitest shirt I’d ever seen. I don’t know. He spoke with a cultured, gentlemanly sneer.

So what, I thought. My paper was paying for a three-day trip to San Francisco, and I didn’t care if Joe found my questions mundane. This was the stuff the folks back in Poughkeepsie wanted to know. Joe had agreed to the interview through a friend of a friend. Twenty minutes at Reno’s, that’s all I got. One rule: no questions about Marilyn. You ask about Marilyn, I was told, you’re out.

But with no Marilyn, that left only The Streak. Everybody knew about his business success, his charitable efforts and part-time job as a Yankees spring training coach, the elegant walls he’d built around himself to keep away people like me. And nobody cared.

The Streak. What did it feel like?

Felt like the best day I ever had, looking back on it. He smiled that devastating, wincing smile. A television played at the end of the bar, Dodgers versus Twins in the World Series, but Joe wasn’t watching. Day to day, it was a job, he said. That was it. Answer over.

Yeah, but it must have felt special, you know, kind of powerful, with everybody watching? How did it feel to know the world was watching your every move?

Something happened, a softening in those dark Italian eyes. A delicate bubble, thin as gossamer, surrounded him, his shoulders slackened, chin dropped, as if he dared not let it burst. That reminds me of Marilyn, he said tenderly. Something she said to me once.

The bar became quiet, like her name sucked the sound from it. Even the drunks turned silent in reverence to that sainted, busted blonde. I sat there still as a statue, my pencil stopped on the page, afraid to move a muscle, afraid I might break this sudden spell.

This was the same night we got into such a terrible row, he said, after Wilder had her parading around Madison Avenue like a common Tenderloin tramp. I don’t know how wives behave back in Poughkeepsie, but where I’m from, women don’t show themselves like that. All those people watching. The press. I hated it. She knew how I felt, of course, but I don’t think she cared. Something always made her stand up to me, like a contest, just to see who’d win. Fame, he said. Fame was the winner. He looked past me, out the window into something deep and blue.

But who is the loser?

He paused for a moment, smiled wistfully at a memory:

This was later on, back in the hotel room that night. We were serene then, spent, you know, like the ocean after a storm. Don’t you know those people are taking your soul? I said to her. Don’t you know they’ll take it all if you let them have it?

But Joe, she said. God, the little girl in that voice, the innocence buried deep down inside her I could never seem to touch. But Joe, I was just giving everyone what they wanted. What else could I do, with everybody watching?

With that, the bubble burst, the icy veneer crept back onto his handsome face. Funny, though, isn’t it, he continued, the melancholy pleasure of memory still lingering on his lips, the things we justify to ourselves for the eyes of others, the things we are capable of because the world is watching.

He lifted a finger and the bartender appeared out of thin air, put a finger of whiskey in a shot glass, and just as quickly disappeared. He slugged it down, looked at his watch. Twenty minutes or no, the interview was over. The Streak? He smiled grimly, the way I imagine a hangman smiles on execution day, whiskey bringing water to his eyes. Did it make me feel powerful? Quite the opposite. I feel empty, like I gave it all away.

Andrew Waters believes the apocalypse will happen on the Internet and wishes he could write like Raymond Chandler. He lives in Salisbury, North Carolina. His story, “The Girl With Rain In Her Hair” will be published in the Spring 2012 edition of Pamlico Magazine, the literary journal of UNC Pembroke.

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Every Day Fiction

  • The problem with writing about American cultural icons and Americana is that not everyone is from the States and much of the pop culture becomes dated anyway.

    I’m afraid I couldn’t get into this story, even though I’m quite long-ish in the tooth myself.

  • Well, I’m not American and I really enjoyed it! – But then, I’ve always had a soft spot for cultural icons, regardless of their nationality.

    I thought this was beautifully written, with some lovely turns of phrase.

  • Rose Gardener

    I don’t think it mattered if Joe was real or not. The story WAS very engaging in a people-watching kind of way. I especially liked the description of the memory bubble around him and how he wasn’t the stereotypical washed-up has-been, at least on the outside.

  • Rose Gardener

    Sorry for the capitals, I changed ‘is’ to ‘was’ with the cap lock on and hit send without checking. Blush of shame!!

  • It’s a very nice little vignette, but, please — quotation marks would help. Little hard to accept a newspaperman narrator who doesn’t use them.

  • Andrew Waters

    This story was inspired by Gay Talese’s profile of Joe D. for Esquire Magazine. Anyone who wants a little more background can read it here:

  • J.C. Towler

    I don’t usually weigh in on stories we publish, but I’m making an exception this week for the “extended” Flash Fiction Day celebration to try to give our loyal readers and writers a bit of insight on the hows and whys of stories making it through the slush pile. I should add that my comments are not meant as a reflection of the opinion of the entire editorial staff.

    “The Streak” is going to irk a number of readers due to Mr. Water’s choice to eschew quotation marks. We don’t receive an abundance of stories written this way, and frankly it’s not a format I personally enjoy. That said, what the quotation-less dialog does have the advantage of unveiling the writer’s skill rather quickly. To make quotation-less pieces work you have to have a finely tuned ear that hears what your readers hear. If your dialog is not working, the piece falls apart quickly because your typical reader can’t make heads or tails of what is going on.

    I think “The Streak” is an example of the strong prose style that gets us excited when we come across it in the slush pile. The descriptions sing and every word feels carefully chosen to achieve a desired emotional effect or to help paint the scene for the reader.

    From a storytelling perspective, we always look favorably upon stories that give the reader a strong resolution especially those that “complete the circle”…some element introduced early on that the reader gains a new understanding of by the end. In “The Streak,” Mr. Waters pulls that off with a flourish. This story simply delivers.

  • MaryAlice Meli

    Very Chandlerish. Spare but beautiful. Powerful.

  • Good to see your personal insights this week to mark Flash Fiction Day, J.C., it’s always educational to view submissions from an editor’s VP. Thank you.

    Hands up, though, I’m one who found the lack of quotation marks initially threw me out of this excellent story that does indeed deliver in every other way.

    Regarding FFD, I hope my EDF friends won’t mind me mentioning that there’s still time – but only until 11:59 BST today, Tuesday 15th May – to submit to the FlashFlood Journal, also organised by Calum Kerr, and running on-line tomorrow in conjunction with the FFD celebrations. Details in my blog, here:

    BTW, I know “beautiful” is misspelt in the link, it was initially on the blog, too. (Bad day)


    8) scar

  • Paul Friesen

    I was also irked by the lack of quotation marks. As J.C. mentioned, it’s hard to pull off, but can be done. IMO there were parts where I didn’t know what was going on, or if the text represented something that was being thought or said, and if said, who was saying it. I also agree with Mr. Freeman that stories around cultural icons (in this case American) can make it difficult to sell your story to a larger audience. That all said, I did really like the arc the story took. The theme was solid, and for me that’s the most important part anyway.

  • A beautifully written piece.

  • Just to put in a couple of pennies belonging to me while confirming my lurking status, I will side with the “lack of quotation marks didn’t work for me crowd.”

    The story had moments of brilliance collapsed by punctuational faux pas. Sorry John… gotta disagree. The lack of quotation marks hurt rather than help this piece.

    I couldn’t tell the difference between internal dialog and the reporter’s questions. I was lost without the literary markers to act as a conversational GPS.

    Beyond that the cadence seemed a bit out of step I think as a direct result of the absent punctuation.

    I struggled to give this a three. Keep the two-cents.

    The Prodigal Scribe

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    This is a great story. Five stars.

    Me–not a sports fan. Didn’t matter. Thought the style was perfect for the story–perfect rhythm, perfect flow. Sometimes what looks like a stylistic misstep is essential for the feel of the story–and the writer has to trust himself. You know in your gut when you have it. Great job.

  • Gretchen Bassier

    I thought this was excellent. Once I got into the style, I had no trouble determining which lines were dialogue and who was saying each one. Subtle, emotional, and beautifully-written. Nice work, Mr. Waters! And thank you, Mr. Towler, for sharing your insight with us.

  • Andrew Waters

    One of my literary heroes, the late, great William Gay on not using quotation marks:

  • JenM

    Very good characterization, espically for Joe DiMagio.

  • Didn’t need quotation marks. Five stars…..

  • Beautiful, powerful writing. Well done!

    As to the quotation marks, I had a few comments, so I started a thread in the forum:

  • I appreciated the clarification about the quotes. I thought the dialogue was well-written myself, but still would have appreciate the markers in order to better orient myself in the text.

  • Swell story, Andrew. So nicely written.

  • Joanne

    I was just a kid when Marilyn died — which makes me fairly long in the tooth now— but my grandmother believed the DiMaggio-Monroe marriage to be a tragically romantic fairy tale, so I grew up hearing stories about how he left a rose on her grave every day (is that even true? I never thought to verify my grandmother’s story, and to be honest, I don’t really want to know.)

    So anyway, this story works well with the Joe and Marilyn of my childhood, which is why I like it. And it is well-paced and engaging. If I’m immediately drawn into a story, I don’t notice or care if it defies convention a bit, and that obviously happened here, because I didn’t notice the lack of quotation marks. 4 stars.

  • I could follow it superficially- I responded to the tone and voice changing so I didn’t need the quotation marks. But I didn’t get the references in this story. So I missed out.