The King and the Commoners

This article first appeared in the July 2014 of The Grand Salami.

By Jim Caple

King Felix stepped onto the castle balcony and gazed out at his kingdom, taking in the beauty of the white-capped mountain ranges on both sides, the sparkling blue waters stretching toward the ocean and the green forests spreading to the horizon. He also carefully averted his vision from the eyesore of the nearby tunnel-digging project, still stalled and going nowhere (why had he listened to his advisers on that idea?).

He listened to the echoing cheers of the adoring subjects standing and chanting in the courtyard below and smiled. He had chosen wisely to settle here when every adviser had insisted he move his throne elsewhere, usually to the east.

King Felix sighed blissfully. It was good to be king, particularly in a land so magnificent as this. After several minutes, he returned inside the turret. It was evening. Time for his next meal.

He took a seat on his throne and clapped his hands, signaling his servants to bring forth the meal harvested from his vast kingdom. What would it be this time? Chinook salmon and Dungeness crab from the saltwaters to the west? Fine vintage wine from the vineyards to the east? Succulent berries and crisp apples from the surrounding farmlands? Or perhaps the mouth-watering cheeseburgers in orange wrappers from the neon-lit drive-in located just north of his castle and west of the university?

Unfortunately, it was none of those foods. Instead, it was a large platter of picked-over bones and reheated bits of leftover broccoli, along with a half-empty goblet of water. It not only wasn’t a meal fit for a king, it wasn’t fit for a supermodel on a crash diet.

KingFelix2“Seriously?” King Felix asked, turning to his jester, Jack Z. “This is all you have for me to eat? A meal of what, 300 calories or less? Again? How many more meals am I to be left hungry?”

“A thousand par­dons, your ma­jes­ty,” Jack Z said, bowing before his ruler. “Former Top Chef Ken­drys said we weren’t offering him enough money and replacement chef Jus­tin once again burned the tur­key while sous-chef Brad was unable to settle on a dish from his cookbook filled with reci­pes. But I assure you, they will do better next time.”

King Felix waved his hand, dismissing the excuses. This was nothing new. His incompetent kitchen staff always left him starved. While other rulers, such as the ailing King Sabathia, received enough to keep them fat and happy for years, Felix had to make due with scraps and crumbs that wouldn’t even fill up a hummingbird or an Olsen twin.

Rather than focus on this, however, he instead asked Jack Z to bring him the receipts from the most recent tax collection. Felix eagerly looked forward to counting the gold coins. Perhaps there was enough to bring in a new kitchen staff before the July 31 deadline.

JesterJack“I must apologize once again,” Jack Z said. “There are no new funds at this time—the treasury is empty again. I’m afraid Chancellor Hart of the Exchequer is ailing again from gout and unable to raise any taxes among the citizenry. But he and Secretary Saunders promise they will do so just as soon as they are healthy and that the treasury soon will be overflowing.”

King Felix shook his head in disappointment but he should not have been surprised. He had worn the crown for a decade now but no matter how magnificently he ruled, his staff never mustered ample support in return. Although he always remained hopeful, Felix had years ago grown accustomed to being shut out.
He was growing tired of Jack Z’s attempts to cheer him up. Every year, Jack Z promised that the new servants he brought in would solve everything and bring Felix the rich support he so fully deserved. And every year, they failed to do so. Not even draining the castle coffers to lure Sir Robinson from the New York kingdom made a noticeable difference. It was as if Felix was ruling in a long-ago era, when there was plague and pestilence and the Black Death and no designated hitter.

King Felix dismissed Jack Z from the throne room and sat on his throne in silence. He tried to look at the bright side. Why, a few years earlier, he had been named monarch of the year despite winning only 13 battles due to an embarrassing lack of support from his army. Perhaps he could do so again. Or perhaps he would win more battles with more perfect performances in which he did not allow a single opponent to reach (and establish a) base against him.

Whatever it took, he would do so. He had to. He was the king. Besides, it could be worse. He could be king of San Diego.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can find his stories on the MLB, Olympics, Tennis, and W pages.