After a perusal of Dan Jenkins’ “Stick a Fork in Me,” the well-versed classes of book reviewers — themselves having displayed great knowledge and learning through prose — would unquestionably be inspired to piece together something along the lines of “uproariously funny.”
Such an unrestrained endorsement would then, of course, be punctuated with an obligatory exclamation mark before being sent to press.
But when it comes to Jenkins’ newest title — or most any of his “uproariously funny” fiction, for that matter —reviewers must dig far deeper than the profundities of erudite Northeasterners.
You need profane and provocative, sprinkling in a few obscenities inspired by hour four at the heir to the Oui Lounge. Only then will you get something more fitting to describe the immensity of the work now complete and the wit and wisdom of the Fort Worth native, author-hero of the life and times of so many of our fictitious sports heroes.
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When describing edgy, you’ve got to go edgy.
As in, you gotta read this [obscenity deleted]. It’s [obscenity deleted] hilarious.
There we go.
“Stick a Fork in Me” forces one to reassess any assumption that the octogenarian Jenkins — closer to 90 than he is 80 — is in the twilight of his career while turning the pages of a story about an athletic director in the twilight of his career at “Western Ohio.”
Pete Wallace is ready to move on to a well-deserved retirement. For almost all of the book’s quick-turning 223 pages, he is waiting for the college’s board of trustees to consider a retirement package commensurate to 15 years of dutiful employment that has also been very fruitful to the university. During his tenure, Wallace has guided the Cheetahs from mid-major to Power 5 and all the financial windfalls that come along with it.
Unbeknownst to Pete, despite his plans to grow leisurely into his golden years with his golf-crazed, sassy wife at his side, life, as it’s known to do, throws three curveballs that not only change his plans but force him to start all over.
Yet, before we know all that and while waiting for the board’s decision, Pete reminisces about his career and the many amusing potholes athletic directors face along the way.
To no surprise that this is where Jenkins best employs his biting wit, which wins the day.
Pete ruminates about his start as a college football coach and the various tap dances of ADs, who each day are forced to balance the emotional needs of high-maintenance football coaches, the “personal problems” of student-athletes, “alleged” academic fraud, Title IX, and the “needs” of big donors, to just name a few.
“We handle a big contributor like Hobo delicately,” Pete says. “We drape him in bowl game rings, championship rings, game balls, autographed jerseys and helmets, and framed photos of him with various personalities, including the current Miss America … a Miss Ohio who had been a student at the Big U. for 15 minutes, and who is rumored to be a candidate for Hobo’s fifth wife.”
The “devout” season ticket holder … he’s “easier to please.”
Some of these stories have a hint of TCU purple, Jenkins’ beloved alma mater. Pete’s recollection of a dropped baton at the NCAA track and field championships mirrored a disastrous episode with the Frogs in 2000.
The conversation that followed between Western Ohio’s Jamaican teammates is presumed to be only the work of the imagination of the author, however.
Jenkins leaves his best stuff for the reasons Pete has tired of his job: Political correctness (long an issue in Jenkins’ gun sights), and the takeover of American universities by modern liberal elites and professors.
Pete is Jenkins’ Moses, trying to lead universities out of this wilderness while confronting a leftist professor planning a protest and another young man marching against the mascot “Red Cloud” while Pete was the AD at a university in South Dakota. (What ensues is, well, an uproariously funny scene.)
In another setting, Pete takes a call from one of his “moles” on the board (every AD has two, Pete asserts) to check on the status of his retirement on the agenda. It was moving along, an “Eddie Ralph” assures him.
The board was stalled in a debate on granting life tenure to three professors “who'd been organizing uppity foreign students to raise hell on their behalf. Eddie Ralph was sure I could guess who the professors were. I could.
“One was sure to be Dr. Irene Randolph Richardson, an English professor who taught a course called The Non-White Novel, and a second course labeled Hemingway and the Overrated Caucasians.
Another one had to be Dr. Foroud Azad, our very own Iranian. He taught a popular course called Disguises, Bombs, Weapons and the Fun of Terrorism.”
The third was “our North Vietnamese scholar,” who went by a name that, Anglicized, sounded much like an American idiom that started with an “F” and ended in a “you.”
“His specialty was a course in American imperialism, and he had authored a best-selling memoir with a catchy title: ‘Hey, Yank — Your Napalm Cooked my Breakfast.’”
Ah, yes, pour me another, bartender. You gotta read this ….
Stick a Fork in Me
By Dan Jenkins
Tyrus Books, $24.99