The Manti Te'o story doesn't have much to do with sports, but every sports fan seems to be eating it up anyway, and an entire industry is feeling the squeeze.
Ray's son, it seemed, could never grab a soda from the refrigerator without knocking his old man's lunch bag on its side. Ray opened the bag and examined its humble contents: a small apple, now bruised, a crushed baggy of potato chips, a smashed peanut butter sandwich. At the start of the school year, Ray had decided that one of them would eat a hot lunch every day, and that it wasn't going to be him.
He boarded the train to the industrial park and stood in a spot that was implicitly assigned him over his seventeen years as a commuter, the one with the handrail that rattled at every stop. Jimmy was there. He was younger, newly hitched to his old lady, a little Jimmy of his own on the way. "Hey Ray. Think there's maybe some work on the 'who cares' line?"
"Oh there's always work on that line. They still got you on the 'doesn't Obama have anything better to do than talk about sports?' line?"
"OK, bud, get with me over lunch. We'll get you a transfer form, get you out of that dump."
Jimmy smiled. Ray was the sort of fellow who was good to everyone, and was especially good to his people. But then, it was easy to have a sunny disposition when business was good. The Dismissive Internet Sports Fan Comment industry was the bubble that never burst. Ray looked out the window as the train made its final bend around the hill. The factory was there, monstrous and imposing as always, but today the smoke wasn't billowing.
Ray stepped in the locker room, and Henderson was all over him by the arm before he had a chance to grab his hard hat. "Ray, listen. There's trouble on the lines. They're stopped up."
"All of 'em."
"Well then, take people off the 'Who Cares' line and put 'em on the "How Is This News?" line."
Henderson shook his head. "You ain't hearin' me, Ray, you ain't f***in' hearin' me. They're all down. All of 'em."
"Jesus." Ray took the lift to the control tower. Everything was blinking red: the "Get This So-Called Journalism OFF My Facebook" line. The "Slow News Day, Huh?" line. The "Stick To Sports" line. Ray hit the intercom switch. "Fire up the Stick To Sports line."
The machinery started, sputtered, and ground to a halt. "OK, I'm gonna hit the manual override. Hard hats on, people." Again, nothing, and Henderson intervened. "Ray, listen, our guys been tryin' since last night. It's just all plugged up. Unless you want a warehouse full o' comment slurry, you gotta shut 'er down."
"We shut 'er down, our boys ain't gonna have any work today." As good as the Dismissive Internet Sports Fan Comment industry had it, its people on the lines still lived check-to-check. Ray knew that a day off meant a week of using the oven to heat the house. "I don't get it. We had that, ah, that Te'o story comin' in, right? Manti Te'o? It was a non-sports story that was all over every sports website. I thought we were gonna go bananas on that."
"I thought so too," Henderson said. "But people are carin' about that story. Everybody cares."
"Everybody? Even the 46-year-old white guys from Nebraska who don't like LeBron James because they keep thinking he's a rapper?"
"OK, well, break it out. Expand the market. See if we can ship these out to all sports fans who think Roy Oswalt is cool. Something."
"Alright then." Henderson picked up the phone and switched through to the operators down the pipe. "Hey, yes, Henderson. We're gonna try and re-route. See if we can feed any o' this to internet commenters who, ah ... ok, whose favorite baseball player is a two-pitch setup man because they think he's a Christian ... yes. Authorization code Charlie Delta six-four-three. Mhmm. Yes."
Ray watched the needle. Nothing was flowing. 180 psi, then 300, 400 ...
"Ray, max was 350. We're past the max, Ray, shut it down."
Ray picked up the mic, paused a moment, then switched to public address. "Listen, fellas ... we got some bad news. Turns out that everybody on the Internet got an opinion on the Manti Te'o thing." Jimmy interrupted, shouting from the "Thanks A Lot, Obamacare" line: "Even the guys running Windows XP with the Band of Brothers screen saver?"
"Even them. Even they're interested in this Te'o thing. They're forming opinions and everything ... we ain't ever seen anything quite like this ... least, I haven't. I'm real sorry, folks. We're gonna have to shut 'er down today. There's just no work for you today."
Ray was the last to leave that day. He watched from the window as the factory workers trudged away with their lunch pails, faces covered in comment soot. In two, maybe three days, things would go back to normal, he figured. There was always room for flippant, indignant, useless comments from wet-blanket sports fans.
"I Thought This Was A So-Called NEWS Site," Ray murmured with a grin, careful to inflect capitalization on every word. This industry was only sleeping. It would never die.