Which Dead Celebrity are You? 

Ryan Ridge

Fiction
Excerpted from the upcoming novel, Coach! 


Untitled, Freddy Rodriguez


Around midnight the room phone rings. Coach is in a cotton bathrobe in a deluxe club level suite at the Ritz. He’s full afterglow: half-blitzed and totally in love despite his deep depression. He’s at the window swooning, admiring the dim lights of downtown Dallas offices in the distance. The cheerleader is in the shower. Coach is into the minibar gin again. The telephone is ringing.

Answer it, Coach.

No, Coach thinks, a drink first. Now that’s good.

But the room phone is ringing and that isn’t good.

Ringing and ringing.

Coach knows the meaning of the ringing. He knows it’s Steve from the front office calling to fire him. He knows he’s certainly fired after tonight’s fiasco. He knows his coaching career is through. Finished. Over. Done. Fork. Coach knows this much.  

Now what Coach doesn’t know is that it isn’t Steve from the front office calling to fire him and so when Coach answers he’s surprised to hear his assistant coach’s voice on the line. Tried you on your cell, Sheila says.

It’s dead, Coach says.

Truth is it’s turned off. He turned it off when the cheerleader shed her skirt and turned him on and now Coach hears the shower stop and pops a purple pill.

Quite a game today, Sheila says.

I didn’t catch the end of it. What was the final?

31-28.

We made it close?

Close? Hell no. We won!

We won?

Hell no. Just fucking with you, Coach. We lost bigtime. 45-6, I think. Look I’m just calling before the boys from the office call you. I wanted to let you know how much of an honor it’s been working with you these past few seasons and how much I’ve learned from your tutelage and how much I appreciate you giving me a chance. Most coaches wouldn’t have––

Cut the shit, Sheila. Am I history or what?

Ancient, Coach.  

Figured. Who’s interim?

I am. It’s why I’m calling. I’m calling to thank you.  

Don’t thank me. You deserve it. Don’t let them lowball you on salary either. They always lowball women on salaries. It doesn’t matter which field. It should be north of six.    

I’m already making six figures, Coach.

That’s six million.

For an interim?

Don’t accept anything less than three. And don’t buy into the hype. You’re going to be under a big microscope in the media on account of your anatomy. Don’t worry about it. Don’t buy into it. You’re the best assistant I ever had. You’ll be a great head.  

You know how to make a girl feel special, Sheila says. What about you, Coach? What are you going to do?

Don’t worry about me, Coach says. I’ll be fine.

Now the cheerleader reemerges in a towel and then the towel is on the floor and Coach is on the phone saying: I’ll be better than fine. Hey. You. Hello. Come over here and join me. Have a drink.

Are you talking to me, Coach? Sheila asks.

No, Coach says.

Who are you talking to?

I don’t know, Coach says. What’s your name? I apologize. I should’ve asked sooner.

Miranda.

Like the rights?

Uh-huh.

I’m talking to Miranda, Coach says. Miranda like the rights. And I think that I have the right to remain silent now. Okay?

Good enough, Sheila says. Later.

Later, Coach says to Sheila, hangs up.

Later: Miranda and Coach are on the bed with room service and white wine.

Let’s do a toast, she says.

Okay, says Coach, here’s to the king!

What king?

Fucking. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a two-time man. You’re something special.

I’m not special. I’m hungry.

Me, too. Pass the chopsticks.

*

That night Coach dreams of a ship in a bottle. The ship in the bottle is floating at sea. A storm. Lightning. Thunder. Huge waves crash into the bottle until the glass cracks and it’s just a tiny ship at sea in a storm. There is no captain. Then there is no ship. Coach sees the small ship sink into the sea. Then there is no sea. Just darkness. Endless darkness. Cue thunder.   

*

Coach can’t sleep after the ship dream. What’s it mean? Bullshit ship dream, thinks Coach. Bullship dream. Ha!

Since Coach can’t sleep or shit he sits on the commode in the dark reading CNN on his phone. The news? It’s not good. There’s a fire at an orphanage in Ohio. An alligator absconds with a baby at Disney. A volcano erupts in Europe. Everything gives you cancer. Meanwhile, wait for it… Wait for it… There it is. What is it, Coach? What do you see?

Top Sports headline: Dolphins’ Coach Flips

Coach clicks on the article but can’t bring himself to read it. He feels his face flush and his stomach drop as he scrolls past the article, past a picture of himself dumping an ice bucket on himself on the fifty-yard line at Cowboy Stadium, past the paragraphs of replacement coaching rumors and substance-abuse speculation, and instead Coach clicks the link at the bottom of the page to take a celebrity quiz.

Which dead celebrity are you?

Take the quiz to find out!

Coach gets Elvis Presley.

Makes sense, Coach thinks.

He gets Elvis Presley because he gets Elvis Presley. Coach can relate. He conjures young Elvis gyrating on an ancient Magnavox. He pictures drunken Elvis shaking hands with Nixon in the Oval Office. Comeback Elvis in a jumpsuit in Hawaii. Fat Elvis eating a fried peanut butter sandwich on a Graceland couch. Dead Elvis on the toilet. He sees himself in this image. He thinks of his twin brother Kevin who’s in the process of dying in Memphis himself.

Kevin is alive, Coach mutters as he crawls back into bed. Long live Kevin.

Miranda sits up and says: what time is it?

Coach pops another purple pill.

Time to roll, he says.

You want to roll again? she says.

Let’s roll, he says.  

They roll.   

Again.

*

Right here, Coach.

Where?

Right here.

Here?

No, here.

Here?

Yes.

Gotcha.

That’s it.

Okay.

Slower.

Okay.

Slower.

Okay.

That’s it.

Good?

Yes.

Still good?

Yes.

How about now?

Yes.

Yes, she says! Long live the king! Long live Kevin!

Stop narrating, Coach.

Sorry. I’m trying not to.

I’m trying to.

Hey, did you know that Elvis called his penis Little Elvis?

No.

That’s the rumor. They also say he’d played racquetball the night he died. He’d had a court installed at home. But he died on the toilet not on the racquetball court.

You really want to talk about Elvis right now?

I am Elvis. I took the quiz, baby. Watch this. I’m all shook up.

Impressive.

Thanks.

*

Same night. Different dream. Coach dreams he has a nervous breakdown on the sidelines in Dallas. He dreams his team is losing big. He dreams he trots on out to the fifty-yard line and dumps an ice bucket on his own head. He dreams he’s subsequently chased by a gang of referees and later absconds with a cheerleader on a golf cart. He dreams, but it also isn’t a dream. Coach dreams reality sometimes and this is one of those times.

*

Next thing it’s noon. Coach crawls out of bed in his birthday suit and staggers to the door to put out the room service tray but as soon as he peaks his head into the hallway he’s accosted by a cluster of journalists encamped by the nearby elevators.

Coach, one says, a word?  

Hyena, Coach says. How’s that?

And then he slams the door.

When he returns, he’s wearing a Dolphins visor, aviator sunglasses, a white cotton robe with a royal blue Ritz Carlton insignia, and Nike running shoes with no socks. He’s holding an unlit Cuban cigar.

Five minutes, Coach says.

Rick Simmons, ESPN. Can you substantiate rumors that you’ve been released from the Dolphins organization effective this morning? Scuttlebutt is that AC, Sheila Kuzac, has replaced you. Any merit?

Released, Coach says, dismissing the claim with his cigar. Isn’t that what happens to well-behaved convicts? I don’t think that the owners had me incarcerated by any means. They weren’t holding me captive. They were paying me millions.

Danielle Brennan, FOX Sports. You’re speaking in the past tense, Coach. You said they were paying you millions. Does this mean you’ve been terminated?

Terminated. I love those Terminator movies, Coach says. My mission is to protect you. Come with me if you want to live! Hasta la vista, baby.

Please, Coach, answer the question.

Who’s asking?

Bill Samuelson, CBS Sports.

Okay, Bill Samuelson, CBS Sports, I’ll tell you this: I’ve heard nothing official from Steve or Jorge or the Williams sisters, but I spoke to Sheila last night and she was under the impression that she’d been promoted, which leads me to believe that I’m indeed hasta la vista, baby!

Rick again… A loss last night secured you a special place in history, Coach. You’re now tied with the ’08 Lions for most losses in a single season. Yet just last February you won the Super Bowl.

Is there a question in there somewhere?

What went wrong this season?

Two words, Coach says, special teams.

Special teams?

That’s right, Rick. Special teams’ gaffes cost us eight wins. We should be eight and eight right now. Wild Card contenders. But we lost three kickers and a punt returner.

And sixteen games.

That’s right, Rick. We lost three kickers, a punt returner, sixteen games, and some claim I’ve lost my mind.

And your job.

And my job.

What’s next for you, Coach?

Last night I dreamed I was on a sinking ship. The thing was it was a ship in a bottle, but it still sank like a stone.

Does that mean you’re not optimistic about your prospects with another team?

I don’t know what it means. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

*

Here’s what happens: Coach and Miranda run up a two-hundred-dollar tab at the Rattlesnake Bar and then Coach tries to convince her to run away with him. It’s Monday night and Monday night football is on all the televisions: Colts / Jets. It’s a boring game. Baseball score: 3-0, approaching half.  

Let’s jet, Coach says. Come on.

I’m engaged, Miranda says.

I’m married, Coach says.

Aren’t we a pair?

Soon to be divorced though.

Reassuring, Miranda says. Let’s say I do go. Where are we going?

For starters: Graceland.

Why?

Why not? I want to pay my respects to the king. Also: my brother, Kevin, lives in Memphis and he’s dying. I’d like to see him before that happens.

What about my career?

I tell you my brother is dying and you ask about your career? What career? You said you’re making a grand a month cheerleading and meanwhile bartending at the Cabaret Club to make ends meet.

I didn’t say I bartended.

Whatever. That’s no way to live. I’ll hire you.

You’ll hire me?

That’s right. I need a new personal assistant. I pay three grand a month.

What about benefits?  

I’ll comp all travel. Plus fifty a day per diem for entertainment.  

Now it’s halftime on television and Coach sees a clip of himself earlier in the day giving an impromptu press conference in a Ritz Carlton bathrobe and tennis shoes. He’s thankful the televisions are muted so he can’t hear what he’s saying.

Coach, Miranda says, are you listening?

No, says Coach. What did you say?

I said: what about Blade?

What?

My fiancé.

I’ve never met a dude named Blade. What’s he do? Stab people for a living? Mixed Martial Arts?

No. He’s a Dr. Pepper middleman.

Is their headquarters here?

Close. Plano.

Plano. I don’t care for the sound of that. Sounds real boring.

It is.

Well, call Blade and tell him you’re off to Memphis for the week. Tell him it’s business. He’s a businessman. He’ll understand.  

I’m sure he’s asleep.

At nine PM?

He goes to bed early.

Blade sounds like a real dull dude.

He’s sweet.

If he’s so sweet why does he let you work at the naked ballet?

I’m my own woman. I do what I want.

Fair enough. You want a job?

Maybe.

We’ll have to do a formal interview then.

When?

Now.

Right now?

Yes, I only have one question. My question is this: which dead celebrity are you?

Hmmnnn, Miranda says. I’ll have to think about it.

Think about it, Coach says.

She thinks about it.

On the television now is Coach: an old picture of Coach, a mugshot from the time he was booked on a DUI. It must’ve been a decade ago, after his first failed marriage, and it’s not a very flattering photo but there it is. It’s him. It’s Coach. Across his forehead some network asshole has photoshopped the word “fired” in blood red letters. Fired. Coach is fired. Tell him something he doesn’t already know.  

Miranda appears to be thinking still. Thinking and thinking. Eventually she says, Lindsay Lohan. If I were a dead celebrity I’d be Lindsay Lohan.

Lindsay Lohan, Coach says, isn’t dead.

Not physically, Miranda says, but in other ways she’s dead. I’m dead like that.

Okay, Coach says. Fair enough. You’re hired.


Ryan Ridge is the author of four books, including American Homes (University of Michigan Press, 2014), which was The Michigan Library Publishing Club’s inaugural book club pick. His fiction and essays have appeared in Santa Monica ReviewMississippi ReviewPotomac ReviewLos Angeles ReviewNERVEDIAGRAMPassages NorthSalt Hill, and elsewhere. An assistant professor at Weber State University,  he lives in Salt Lake City, UT and edits the literary magazine Juked. He is currently at work on a novel, COACH!, an excerpt of which is published here.