Dear Everyone,

By now perhaps you know me. If not, let me introduce myself once again. I am an Earth Ball or cage ball, which is a large inflatable ball most often seen in junior-high-school locker rooms. I reside in suburban Baltimore, about 20 minutes from the city’s downtown. Some days I sit in here and the kids go to the field, but when the weather is bad and outdoor play is impossible, I am possible.

My existence is, generally, a happy one. This is true of most athletic equipment. I have never met a baseball glove who didn’t have a steady stream of optimistic commentary about the world (always delivered, of course, in the high-pitched, high-paced voice common to baseball gloves). Bats, too, are generally upbeat, if also generally narcoleptic. There was, briefly, a soccer goal heaped in the corner of the locker room who suffered from crippling insecurity, but that’s soccer for you. I have a theory that explains the prevalence of good moods in locker rooms. Athletic equipment, by and large, feels useful, and there is no known substitute for the pleasures of usefulness. As someone once said, “If I can fill the lives of others, I am full myself.”

Someone? Well, it was Coach Parker. He is one of the few people I know. He has been here in this locker room five and maybe six days a week, excluding some summers, since I arrived. Prior to that, I was, briefly, in a school in Delaware that I did not like very much. I can’t say why, exactly. I don’t mean that I refuse to say why. I mean that I do not know. Claymont seemed, on the face of it, to be a perfectly nice place. The children were polite and happy. The school seemed dedicated to physical education. There was a hilarious little jockstrap hanging up on the walls by the showers who kept us all in stitches. A coach there, Coach Tarnopol, was verbally abusive and liked to say, “What are you, stupid?” to the kids. One day he showed up with an angry red spot on his forehead. It was the size of a quarter, at least. The jockstrap, whose name was Archibald Menzies—jockstraps all have elaborate proper names, whereas you can just call a glove “glove” and a bat "bat"—took one look at him and said, “What are you—Jupiter?” (They say that nothing is faster than the speed of light. But what about jokes? Sometimes they seem to be.) Still and all, I didn’t like Delaware. I came here to suburban Baltimore and immediately felt at home, and that sense was only increased by the presence of Coach Parker. Though we have never spoken and he would be surprised to hear it, I consider him a friend.

What do you do with friends? You treasure them. You watch them and feel the bloom of your own happiness. You try to look the other way when they embark upon a torrid affair with Coach Ortega, who is quite leggy and appears to have breast implants. (Earth Balls know when something is additionally inflated.) And then sometimes you watch those same friends as they head down a self-destructive path, toward a site of ruin from which only a man too strong to have gone down that path to start with could ever hope to return. When this happens, there is nothing you can do but feel a great pain in your heart.

That is what is happening now.

The source of my pain is Sean Hannity. How many times in my life have those same words been spoken, not just here in suburban Baltimore but across this great nation of ours? Too many to count, since I can only count to four. Sean Hannity is a man on the radio and television. He has a syndicated radio show during the day and a national television show at night. If you so wished, you could spend four hours of each and every day listening to Sean Hannity. Coach Parker has, from time to time, so wished. For years, I thought that his relationship with Sean Hannity was similar to my relationship with Archibald Menzies. He amused me, and I rewarded him with my attention. He played the fool for real gold. I assumed that Sean Hannity was Coach Parker’s foolish jester, a jockstrap in human form. And, in fact, that seemed to be the case. Sometimes Coach Parker would switch off Sean Hannity’s show and listen to another talk show, usually about sports, and that gave me a warm feeling of fellowship, because I am in the sports business. But then Coach Parker started to listen mostly to Sean Hannity, and then to listen only to Sean Hannity, and he was also reacting to it differently. Rather than laugh or guffaw or chortle or chuckle, he began to nod his head slowly, and sometimes to say, “You don’t hear this kind of truth anywhere else.” I was confused at first. But I came to understand that Coach Ortega, who had been on and off with Coach Parker, had gone back to her other boyfriend, who was a trigonometry teacher, and that her one attempt to explain had ended in a thuddingly inappropriate joke about a scalene love triangle. Coach Parker’s insides were boiling with pain and rage, and in that crippled state he turned to Sean Hannity. I cannot say that I blame him entirely, but I fear for him. He just sits in the office now and listens to the radio, at louder volume than he once did. He’s no baseball glove.

To me, this has been a double disaster, first because I lost a friend to the black dog of depression, and second because the entire locker room is now filled with Sean Hannity’s voice. Archibald Menzies once told me about synesthesia. He was quite intelligent when he wasn’t clowning. He explained that sometimes a sensory phenomenon will appear in the wrong category: for example, a sight will have a sound, or a sound will have a color. In this case, a sound has a smell. Hannity’s voice carries the unmistakable odor of rancid bacon. It is not a pleasant smell. Some days it makes me want to roll all the way back to Claymont and give it a second chance.

Why is Sean Hannity so noxious? A better question would be “In what ways is he not?” It is my way to offer specifics. I am not a cheap-shot artist. I do not respect the broad brush. And yet, I cannot think of anything in particular that is bothering me about Sean Hannity more than the general fact that he is Sean Hannity. I am not proud of myself for this failure. I think it is hard to concentrate because Coach Parker has the volume of his radio turned up so high. I need to do something to concentrate. Was yesterday volleyball day or baseball day? I can’t remember. Maybe if I count, that will calm me down. One, three. No. One, three. No. One, one, three. No! This is too frustrating.

OK. It is about five minutes later. I am calmer. A kid came in to talk to Coach Parker and stood in front of the radio, which damped the sound a bit. The temporary respite gave me a chance to think of a specific reason that Sean Hannity’s voice smells like rancid bacon.

It occurred this past Tuesday, when Sean Hannity was complaining about the way that liberals have demonized George W. Bush rather than take responsibility for their own actions. “If your dog bites you, it’s not your dog’s fault. It’s not your fault because you ripped the bone out of its mouth. It’s George Bush’s fault.” He continued, though his point was painfully clear. “If you get pregnant, it’s not your fault. It’s George Bush’s fault. It’s Bush derangement syndrome.” It is very clever, this trick of taking a nonexistent problem and making it seem more real by wrapping it in the official-sounding name of a fake disease. It is not necessarily what you would expect from someone with advanced nitwititis.

But that’s not even the thing that makes me angry. A little later, he returned to this same topic, and took up the argument once again that George W. Bush has done wonderful things for the United States. Here is what he said. “You take the Iraq-war controversy out of this presidency … in every other aspect the Bush presidency has been successful.” There were some other words in there. That’s why I used the three dots. I counted them. Three. But the other words were not that important, and if I had included them I might have diluted the monumental stupidity of this utterance. If you take the Iraq-war controversy out of the Bush presidency, then it’s successful? Well, sure. And if you take the big out of an elephant, it’s tiny. And if you take the meat out of a steak, it’s a salad. And if you take the beauty out of Sophia Loren, she’s an eyesore. I mean, are you kidding me? There was a bat sleeping on the floor and I tried to wake him up so he could share my outrage, maybe even go over there and smash up the radio, but I had no luck. Like I said, generally narcoleptic.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. I was up all night worrying about Coach Parker. I hope he gets Coach Ortega back, or finds someone else, because it will help him get rid of Sean Hannity. As soon as he gets rid of Sean Hannity, I can have my friend back, and we can listen to sports talk radio. But this is not only about me and my welfare. Sean Hannity is not good for Coach Parker. Sean Hannity drags him down, in more ways than I can count. Sean Hannity is not fit to hold his Archibald Menzies.

Earth Ball