The Freak Winds Up Again
by Jenn Alandy Trahan
Issue #271 • November 12th, 2020•Buy Now!
Edited by Patrick Ryan
I meet Bomber the same night Tim Lincecum pitches his first career no-hitter, and I wish my brother could be here to see it. Not me flirting with Bomber at Buffalo Wild Wings (I’m ashamed my brother had to watch me cycle through so many guys, starting with O.V. Hanson, an outfielder who gave me his MVP medal in the ninth grade) but the players on the large-screen television in front of me: Scutaro, Belt, Bumgarner, all these grown men rushing the pitcher’s mound and jumping up and down like little boys around Timmy. Timmy, the two-time Cy Young winner. Timmy, the notorious pothead. Timmy, the four-time NL All-Star. Timmy, who could be a grown-up version of Dazed and Confused’s Mitch Kramer. Timmy, who looks so intense before each pitch, like he’s going to cry. Timmy, who looks like he could be related to me.
“You know his mom’s Filipino,” I tell Justin, the bartender, a New York Giants fan from Tampa. I’m not from around here, either, but Justin treats me like a local and always finds the right channel for my ball games as soon as I claim a barstool. My Giants have been slumping through a shit season but I’m a regular all the same, though I stopped drinking during games and just started ordering boneless wings at the bar, because it’s fifteen miles back to my single-wide in Grand Lake, mainly on two-lane highways, and I never remember the drive home.
Jenn Alandy Trahan
Jenn Alandy Trahan was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Vallejo, California. The first in her family to go to college, she earned her BA in English from the University of California, Irvine and her MA and MFA from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Jenn has received support from Carlisle Family Scholarships at the Community of Writers as well as from the Gullkistan Center for Creativity in Laugarvatn, Iceland. Her work has appeared in Permafrost, Blue Mesa Review, Harper’s, and The Best American Short Stories. A 2016-18 Wallace Stegner Fellow in Fiction, she currently teaches at Stanford and lives in Los Altos with her husband, Glenn, and their daughter, Teagan, who attended her first Giants game when she was nineteen months old.
Patrick Ryan on The Freak Winds Up Again
I’m not what anyone would call a sports fan. I never know who’s in or who won the World Series. I never know who’s playing in the Super Bowl (my ignorance is such that I just had to look up “Super Bowl” to find out if it was one word or two). I was walking through LaGuardia once when a crowd of people suddenly started screaming, and I assumed it was a mass shooting; turns out the World Cup was being broadcast in a bar and someone had just scored a goal. So when I first read “The Freak Winds Up Again” by Jenn Alandy Trahan, I had no idea Tim Lincecum was a real person who used to pitch for the San Francisco Giants. I didn’t even know there were San Francisco Giants.
The narrator in “The Freak Winds Up Again” is somewhat obsessed with Tim Lincecum. She’s also living her life in the shadow of her brother’s suicide. While her fandom serves as a helpful distraction from her sadness, it’s also intricately threaded through her healing process. There’s something of a magic trick happening here, I’d argue, because by the closing words of the story, Lincecum’s stunning achievements feel as intimate and personal as the narrator’s grief, and the pain she’s working through seems to be touched by the pitcher’s healing hands.
This story almost made me care about sports! It definitely made me care about the narrator’s love of baseball. During the editing process, I hopped over to YouTube and found the footage of Lincecum’s no-hitter against the San Diego Padres, and I got goosebumps watching it. An hour later, I’d happily gone down a rabbit hole of baseball clips. So I would say to you, as you embark on our new issue, that you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this story by Jenn Alandy Trahan, but you just might be one by the time you finish it. The narrator’s passion is infectious, and Trahan has a pitch that will sneak up on you. One Story is proud to usher “The Freak Winds Up Again” into the world.
Q&A by Patrick Ryan
PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
JAT: Back in grad school at McNeese, I got it in my head that I needed to workshop a story about Timmy Lincecum. The Giants won their second World Series title during my very first semester, I was wearing a Giants cap when I met my now-husband during my second semester, and then the Giants won the World Series again during my fifth semester. I had printed out this full-color photo of Buster Posey and Timmy (a moment that’s briefly touched on in this story) that I laminated and taped to the wall above my desk in the grad suite office I shared on the third floor of good old Kaufman Hall, as if I could somehow manifest a draft. A few months after I graduated, I finally emailed myself one incomplete sentence: “The second time Timmy Lincecum no-hit the Padres, ______ left me for a white girl. I was at Buffalo Wild Wings, watching the game alone.”
Two and a half years after that, I somehow find myself in my second year of the Stegner. The poet Peter Kline runs the Bazaar Writers Salon, this reading series that, pre-pandemic, used to take place at Bazaar Café in the city; it’s a chill, built-in opportunity for second-year fellows to read their work alongside acclaimed local writers. I’m next in the lineup, so to speak, it’s early March, the fellowship ends in August, and I don’t yet know where I’m going to end up. I’m dreaming about landing the Jones Lectureship so I can continue to stick around and teach, but I’m more overwhelmed with this fear of my time at Stanford possibly ending, this sense of impending loss of a place that had grown to feel like home. I think to myself, Shit, this could be the last time you even get to read a story to a crowd in San Francisco, so let’s read something about the Giants. Let’s finally write that Timmy story, this is your last chance. The first sentence I read out loud at Bazaar Café: “I met Bomber at Buffalo Wild Wings the same day Timmy pitched his first career no-hitter and, one month later, Bomber’s roommates, Deuce and Red, tell me they thought I was a hooker.”
PR: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
JAT: In Tim O’Brien’s “Good Form” in The Things They Carried, the narrator says, “I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth,” and that whole book explores “story-truth” versus “happening-truth.” With this story, escaping to the “story-truth” of what happened to my own brother felt less arduous than trying to render the nonfiction “happening-truth” of real-life Timmy’s delivery, if that makes sense. So many sportswriters have already written about it, and I wasn’t sure how I could contribute something new to that conversation as a total outsider. I mean, I’m intimately aware of what it’s like to grow up with a sibling, become estranged from that sibling, and then lose that sibling to suicide, but I suck at sports, I’ve never played baseball, and I’ve never dated a pitcher who could tell me exactly what it feels like. This isn’t to say that writing more of the “story-truth” parts didn’t feel hard as hell, however, and I have you to thank for your help and encouragement.
PR: Were there any surprises during the writing? Another way I sometimes ask this question is, how different is the finished story from the one you originally set out to write?
JAT: Two surprises come to mind. When I started the story, I didn’t know the narrator was going to have a brother, or, rather, I didn’t know I was going to be writing about my own brother. The thing was just supposed to be an ode to Timmy and a way for me to talk shit on the Dodgers in public. In the original draft for that reading in San Francisco, the story opened with the narrator dicking around with Deuce and Red and then suddenly I’m writing, “I’ve not told them that I have a brother who looks like me because I used to have one and ‘used to’ doesn’t count.” Now that I’m talking to you about this, I find myself in the midst of another surprise: it sort of makes sense that the brother popped up during this carefree whatever scene, which was initially the first scene of the story; like many siblings, my brother and I goofed around a lot together. Throughout much of my life, he made me feel invincible.
Anyway, the next surprise came up during the editing process (the only time I feel like I have purpose as a writer, I realized, lol), when I was working with you, reading and re-reading this language about Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita and thinking about my husband flying back to Louisiana to help his folks after Hurricane Laura, only to have people here in California not even know what happened, not know how violent hurricanes can get, and not even understand the extent of the catastrophic damage done to Lake Charles. Thinking about all of this, I felt surprised by this notion that being at the mercy of a natural disaster could be akin to the fragility of mental health—this hazard of simply existing and being alive—but no one really wants to talk about mental health until a celebrity succumbs to suicide, everyone posts about how shocked they are on social media, and then people seem to forget about it again. On that note, Hurricane Laura and Lake Charles didn’t get much focused nationwide coverage at all, save for Ross Dellenger’s September article in Sports Illustrated and Rick Rojas’ recent piece in The New York Times. The vitriol in the comments section of The New York Times article share the same tone of the kind of flippant things that people say about mental illness. The finished draft reflects more efforts at touching on this idea of oblivion.
PR: Tell us a little about the role of siblings in the story. There are three sets that appear in one way or another, and the notion of sibling connection and responsibility act as a kind of shivering scaffolding for the narrative.
JAT: I had a habit of transcribing everything my classmates said in my workshops. I have to quote the brilliant Mark Hitz on this because he articulated things better than I ever could about basically everything but also about this piece: “The story is a lot about searching for true connections and family and permanence and failing most of the time...” and arguably siblings are our first “true connections,” or our “first friends,” as another former classmate, Luci Mireles, once said to me. I love this idea of siblings being built-in teammates, front-row witnesses to each other’s lives. There’s so much research on the impact that siblings can have on identity formation, and I like imagining that Timmy got stoked on baseball because his brother was into it. I like imagining that Red works the job he does because it means he gets to hang with Deuce, and I like to think that I enjoy teaching because it feels like I’m hanging out with younger siblings; so many of my students remind me of my brother. “Shortstop” is torn up over the roles she might have played or the roles she failed to play in her brother’s life, something that haunts her, not unlike the rat in Yohanca Delgado’s “The Rat.” I would be lying if I said that wasn’t true for me, too.
PR: Would you say that the narrator is filtering her grief through her love of Lincecum? Or has “The Freak” become her feel-good place to go to, mentally, in her sadness?
JAT: When I tell my students that I feel like writing has saved my life and continues to save me, this is what I mean: I could say that I filtered my own grief through writing and thinking about this story. The latter rings truer for the narrator, however. “The Freak” is her feel-good and foolish escape, for sure, and always will be.
PR: How long did it take you to complete this story?
JAT: I like talking about both drafting time and drawer time with my students, particularly since drawer time can be key to revision. Drawer time: two and a half years. Drafting time: three weeks. Being a member of a supportive community inspired and accelerated the process; I don’t think I would have written this otherwise. I was lucky that I had a story due in workshop two days after that Bazaar Writers Salon reading, and that deadline got me to draft the first half of this story. I’m lucky to have talented “mom friends” like Julie Tsai who help me believe that motherhood feeds artisthood and vice versa, something the late Eavan Boland very much believed in, too. I’m lucky to have workshop colleagues who help me feel brave, I’m lucky to have worked with Levinthals (namely Peter Lessler and Kaitlyn Gee) who still encourage me to be my “full self” on the page and off, I’m lucky to have an agent who believed in this story, and I’m incredibly lucky that I got to revisit this story with you and become a part of the One Story family.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”
PR: What are you working on now?
JAT: In the spirit of being my full self, I’ve been on Ravenna drafting and re-drafting my daughter’s PK/TK applications. Doing justice to her own full self (more happening-truth!) might actually be harder than trying to capture on the page the beauty of Timmy’s pitching mechanics.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
JAT: The McNeese Rodeo Team hosts an annual rodeo every October, and this ex-cowboy-rodeo-champ from Withee, Wisconsin told me I should come. It was my first semester at McNeese, I had never been to a rodeo before, and I felt self-conscious about going, so I started peppering him with questions. His answer—an answer that functions as both writing advice and life advice and an answer that I still strain to hear anytime I feel like an outsider, which is, dare I say, hella often—was “just be you.”