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A day in the life of Larry Culpepper

Get ready, the Playoffs are coming

Larry jerked awake with a start. The sheets were sodden with sweat again and his visor was down around his neck; his hair askew. He groped for the bedside table and clawed around and found it on the second grasp: the small plastic pouch of thick, sickly-sweet syrup. Pure six-to-one Dr. Pepper concentrate. He ripped the corner off the pouch with his incisors and squeezed the syrup onto his palate, swallowing greedily and then rubbing the residue furiously around his gums with one forefinger.

"Ice cold Dr. Pepper here" he said absently. He exhaled deeply and thrust the sheets away from his body and sat up on the edge of the bed.

He pulled his visor back up onto his head, roughly hand-combing his hair into place and securing it with the band of the headpiece. He fumbled again on the bedside table and picked up his flip-shade glasses and put them on, squinting in the morning light. There were sticky smudges on the lenses and he took them back off and wiped them, muttering "sonofabitch Palmer" under his breath as he did so.

Finally he stood and stretched. He sniffed at the underarm of his undershirt, decided it was clean enough. He pulled the wrinkled Dr. Pepper polo off the back of a chair and pulled it on, careful to avoid mussing his visor, then buttoned one button on the neck. He did the same with his wrinkled chinos, the pleats barely distinguishable from the many new creases caused by a week's worth of wear and rumpling. He then pulled on his plain white sneakers, already laced so he wouldn't have to bend down and tie anything. He hummed softly as he strolled out into the kitchen, pulling on his digital watch as he did so.

Standing in front of the fridge: banks and rows of bottles and cans. Diet, Regular, some Ten when he needed to boost his manliness. He grabbed a Cherry Vanilla, twisted the cap, and upended it, downing half in the first few gulps. He sighed happily and replaced the cap, grabbed his cell off the counter where it had been charging, grabbed his keys off the stand by the door and left home for the studios.

The limo was waiting, idling quietly out by the curb. He climbed in, nodded to Bruce behind the wheel, and started checking his phone as they pulled away, headed down the sunny streets for a day of filming. Two texts from his broker. A pic of his grandkid (he was proud as hell of Lil' Sweet and knew he'd make a great father). More spam from Palmer. He deleted it angrily. "And he wonders why I don't invite him to parties," he thought.

They pulled into the studio parking lot and Bruce let him out by the main entrance. Larry had polished off his Cherry Vanilla and left the bottle in the back seat for recycling. He was feeling chipper. He gave the limo a playful tap on the cab roof as Bruce pulled away and he turned and strolled inside.

Slipping into an easy routine: three hours of commercial filming went by like nothing. It was easy for him now, the drink tray fit him like a glove and was weightless. His back muscles had grown hard and bore the weight with ease. He was flippant with the guest stars, the give-and-take just fueling his spirit. He was rolling and everyone knew it.

Lunch in the break room and of course Palmer was in there, sitting alone at the corner table that everyone knew was Larry's. He strolled over there and stood towering over him until Jesse looked up meekly, bread crumbs speckling his perfectly-manicured beard.

"Hi Larry."

"Palmer. You're in my seat again."

Jesse looked around, nervous as a deer. There were no cameras; they were not filming. This was live and there was no security to step in and intervene on his behalf. He quickly gathered up his lunch items and shuffled away, hunched over as if to protect his food, or maybe just so he wouldn't drop it. "Sorry, sir," he muttered as he left the break room.

a life lived in awkward solitude

Larry sat down contentedly, kicked his feet up on the table, and texted Ron the intern to bring him his lunch.

Two lamb chops rare, roasted asparagus, and a jacket potato later, he was sated. He downed the second of two cans of Diet and belched contentedly. He checked the time on his phone and stood and stretched and strolled back out for an afternoon of filming.

Shit. Gary was directing. It was Gary's dream to one day dazzle the world with the revelation that Larry was Lil' Sweet's dad, but neither father nor son wanted to profit off their relationship. But the sonofabitch was persistent and wouldn't drop it.

"Hey, Larry!"

"Forget it, Gary."

And that was more or less how the afternoon went, weaving contrarian banter in between short takes and still photo shoots, Larry dishing ad-libs and growing his own legend. At three they broke for fifteen minutes and he had a large fountain Regular out in the atrium and he thought life just about couldn't get any better until he saw someone wheel past in a golf cart with one of the giant CFB Playoff signs. A darkness passed over him. "Sonofabitch," he muttered.

It wasn't the swindling that bothered him most: that was the cutthroat world of College Football, rife with backstabbing and everyone clamoring for credit. No, it was that no one believed that he was capable of developing the idea. But he had, he had done it one night, surging on a half-dozen bottles of Cherry: he'd drawn the flowcharts, hashed out the rough logistics, split the weighting of the polling factors, all of it. And all laid out in his yellow legal pad that he kept in a hidden pocket of his drink tray until one day during filming it had mysteriously disappeared. "Sonofabitches," he said, but it wasn't playful like before. He went back in for the last few hours of filming but the playful gait was absent from his movements.

The last shots were rough: he had been irritable and had downed three Diets by 5:30. Finally they wrapped and he walked out without a word, past Bruce and the waiting limo, on down out of the studio lot and onto a wide boulevard dotted with palms and white concrete. Just walking, thinking, stewing in regret and frustrations. He went into a convenience store and emerged with a 64-oz. fountain Regular, kept walking and muttering.

He came to a park as the sun was beginning to set way out over the Pacific. He was lurching by now, stepping awkwardly in the soft, loose sand as it crept into his sneakers. He sat on a bench and stared out across the vastness of the Pacific and wondered what it would be like to swim in that much Dr. Pepper, immersing your whole body in the cool brown bubbly refreshment, diving as deep as you dared and then gulping in huge mouthfuls of the sweet cold liquid at the heart of the ocean before rising softly back to the surface in a stream of soft bubbles to stare at the purple sky and breathe in the fizzy night air and listen to the whisper of thousands of tiny bursts of air as the swells of the Dr. Pepper rocked you to his last fading memories as the light went he punched the button for Lil' Sweet and he spoke to his son about this dream, about what could have been if he'd received his just dues, and Lil' Sweet told Larry it was okay; that he knew where he was, and that he'd be alright. Don't worry about it, dad...Lil' Sweet will give you a ride home again.