I’m in first place, and I don’t know why. I’ve never been in first place before. My entire life, I’ve always been more of a last place guy. Little League baseball, computer solitaire, Twitter raffles where complimentary bath towels are given away. I lose in all these activities. Now I’m leading my NCAA bracket by four points after the first round, and I have no idea how to handle it.
I’ve been filling out NCAA brackets for somewhere between 26 and 147 years. I’ve lost track. I was filling them out from the womb before I was even born, and I’ve still lost every single year. Even the years when I just competed against myself by filling out a second bracket titled “Other Paul”, I’ve still always lost.
I’m a man who has grown to love losing. There’s a calming nature to familiarity, to a routine that happens every year at the same time, done the exact same way. Losing makes me feel calm and safe. Losing completes me. Losing is a soft blanket and a warm embrace. I’ve become as good at losing as a vacuum cleaner salesman with 40 years experience is at selling vacuums. When I started winning this year, it was like coming to work and finding the store filled with goddamn washing machines.
I can’t explain my sudden success. I made my picks the usual way – based on pretty uniform colors, teams named after zoo animals I like, and the attractiveness of each school’s representative in Playboy’s Girls of the Big Ten issue. Yet I’m still winning somehow. The only reasonable explanation is that God’s picks this year – the actual outcomes of the games – are so incredibly stupid that no rational human being could have a successful bracket.
Perhaps God is bored, and enjoys seeing my basketball fanatic friends lose to a guy who hasn’t watched a game since the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first season. Perhaps He saw me yawn and change the channel to cartoons halfway through the first game and said, “Paul doesn’t remember which teams he chose in his bracket, and he thinks Gonzaga is located in Puerto Rico. He has built an ark of stupidity, and I shall make it rain.”
It’s fitting. I don’t even like basketball. There are too many squeaky shoes. It gets on my nerves. Do the floors need to be so smooth and shiny? Can’t they just leave the wood untreated so the squeaky noises stop? It’s like if football games required the field to be mildly electrified, so all game long you’d steadily hear guys yelling “Ah fuck!”
I’m going to complain about squeaky shoes on the messageboard for my NCAA pool. It will make the other guys even more bitter at my unwarranted success.
First place feels different than I imagined. There’s this strange feeling of contentment brewing inside me that shouldn’t exist. I don’t know how to handle these strange new feelings. Giving me first place is like feeding chocolate to a dog. Sure, I like it and eat it up, but it’s not something I’m supposed to have. My body isn’t designed to handle success, because my fragile ecosystem is used to a steady diet of failure. Someone needs to grab a stomach pump and remove this win from me before the end of the tournament, or my internal organs may seize up.
The other people in my NCAA pool must be dumbfounded. How does the guy who named his bracket “Beverly D’Angelo Vaginal Fart” end up in first place? I’m clearly a man who takes nothing seriously and takes every joke too far. Shouldn’t I be dead from trying to microwave Hot Pockets without taking them out of the box first?
My idiot savant nature has certainly been impressive this year. I predicted the S.F. Austin upset over VCU because SXSW is in Austin and I’d like to get drunk there someday. I predicted Dayton over Ohio St. because Dayton’s is a department store I remember fondly from my youth. I picked Stanford over New Mexico because I visited Albuquerque once and it was a big shithole full of meth heads. I predicted North Dakota St. over Oklahoma because green is a very pretty color.
Do I deserve to win? Absolutely not. Will I win? Probably! Life is shitty like that. If I do win, I plan to enter all sorts of other events in which I have no business participating. World Cup Soccer brackets? I’m in. Westminster Dog Show judging? I’ll submit an application. Head chef at Burger King? Don’t mind if I do! That little conflict in Crimea? Pancakes can solve that. Everyone loves pancakes and they make people sleepy. Nobody cares after pancakes. Boom. Conflict over.
Please, someone defy God’s everlasting will and take this success away from me. I don’t want to win. Winners have obligations and people to talk to and admirers bothering them for locks of their hair. Losers get to stay home and eat cookie dough ice cream. Help me get back to the cookie dough ice cream one. Someone tell Florida to lose so I can return to my comfortable mediocrity.