• The Big Book of Useless Saturdays

    Brock Clarke

    Summer 2020


    I am watching a football game on television. It's snowing there, where the game is being played. It’s also snowing where I live. I mean, not in my living room, but outside. I can see the flakes through the window, which is just to the left of the television set.

    "Hey, look," I say to my son as he walks into the room. I point at the television. “It’s snowing there too.”

    He smiles. I know that smile. It’s the smile he smiles right before he says that I must be joking.

    “You must be joking,” he says. He pauses to see if I am, but once again, no. “There,” he says, “is here.” He points at the television, and then he points out the window. I look at the television, then at the window, then at the television, until I finally understand his meaning: the game on television is being played in the same city where we live. And I knew this. The game is sold out. That’s why I am watching it on television. I’m even wearing the team’s jersey, a fifty-year-old man wearing a football jersey, a little tighter than it was the previous year.

    “There is something wrong with me,” I say, to my son, but he isn’t in the room with me anymore. A second later, I see him, through the window, throwing a football to himself in the snow.


    “There is something wrong with me,” said my mother. We were in the waiting room in her doctor’s office. At the opposite end of the waiting room was a very large rectangular fish tank, gurgling. There was only one fish inside. We were the only people in the waiting room, even though, relatively speaking, the waiting room was as big as the fish tank. It looked as though someone had anticipated a lot more fish, and sick people.

    “You’re an old woman. Of course there’s something wrong with you,” is what I didn’t say.

    “I’m not ready for you to die,” is what I didn’t say, either.

    “Let’s just see what the doctor has to say,” is what I said instead.


    My father was himself a doctor, a world-famous oncologist, who devised the radical treatment—“The Radical,” so-called—that while not exactly curing cancer made it so that most people who had the disease could live with it for a long time. After he retired, he traveled all over the world, giving talks—always on a Saturday—about The Radical. Talks about how he had done what he had done, and how he hoped it would it would inspire other people to do other great things too. After a few years of this he died, on Grand Cayman island, of gout. But before he did, he gave talks at convention centers, memorial halls, hospital operating theaters, colleges, and universities, but mostly at all-inclusive golf resorts.

    He asked my mother to come along with him on these trips, because he was afraid he’d be bored and lonely. And my mother did—come with him, that is—and found herself bored and lonely. And so she wrote a memoir, also world-famous, about that experience, called The Big Book of Useless Saturdays.


    This was the first sentence in my mother’s world-famous memoir: “At the Aloha Ridge Grand West Wind, my husband is everything, and I am nothing, and both the chicken and the shrimp are coconut encrusted.”

    Brock Clarke is the author of eight books of fiction, most recently the novel Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? His stories and essays have been published in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, One Story, Southern Review, the Believer, Ninth Letter, and the New England Review, and have appeared in the annual Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South anthologies and on NPR’s Selected Shorts. He lives in Portland, Maine, and is the A. LeRoy Greason Chair of English and Creative Writing at Bowdoin College.

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