This episode, in a slightly different form, was originally published in Unlikely 2.0 in March, 2007. It is included here to help new readers catch up to our returning column, A Sardine on Vacation.
Pellatier may not have another article available to meet the Sardine, who knew he was being searched for.
Despite the elusive fish’s spurning all publicity, Pellatier had seen enough articles to pinpoint who he is. Without naming him, Newsweek disclosed that the Sardine had been published in several magazines with modest circulations. Pellatier found issues from the largest of the publications and read several articles by “the man who was the Sardine,” all of them derived from the Sardine column but longer: “The Snail Eaters,” “Social Pets,” “Obsolete Innovations,” “The League of Non-Voters,” “The Health Utopia,” and “World of Stooges.”
Pellatier also discovered a play, “Joe Tragedy,” produced in several cities, which had been cobbled from several columns: “Three Hairpieces,” “Modern Tragedy,” and “Love’s Tropism.” The variance in these works outside the columns started with the suppression of the “Sardine” persona and paralleled the relationships among the people in the columns and the real people on which they’re based.
He even tracked down an early story by “the man who was the Sardine” that included Frank Weathers by name and an incomplete incarnation of Joe T.
Otherwise, there were no published books nor, upon checking twenty years of The Reader’s Guide for Periodic Literature, other newspaper or magazine feature articles. The column was his breakthrough work and now, impossibly, he wanted to give it up.
If “the man who was the Sardine” really meant it, Pellatier had no choice but to accelerate the pursuit.
At first, he wanted to be part of the Sardine’s crew and be known by hundreds of thousands of people – and maybe more if the rumor about a television series had validity. This single-minded desire had kept him going through the barren days when he met hundreds of people who had never heard of the column including the very people upon whom the characters of the column were modeled.
Not recognizing it at the time, Pellatier had changed after meeting the real Frank Weathers. Partly, he was let down by the reality that the Sardine’s characters didn’t meet in a bar regularly. The shift in focus on the person and qualities of the Sardine had taken him beyond just wanting to shake his hand.
In fact, finding out who he was hasn’t made the task of finding the Sardine any easier!
“The man who was McNulty” wasn’t talking and nobody else remotely knew the son. Apparently, his father had relayed much information to the Sardine.
Why was Pellatier compelled to find the Sardine? Was there something in, say, an unblessed column that would have given him the answer? Or were there remote familiarities weighing on his unconscious which had stimulated the curiosity cell? The last article perhaps? He also wondered how he could have maintained the search for so long a time. Had he been fired from his job? But when? Had one of Pellatier’s own columns not been blessed?
Getting his address was the easy part. Should John come to the front door? Would he be asked in, as if he were a member of the Newspaper-Reading Public? “The man who was the Sardine” had an unlisted phone number. Following him to a public establishment, however, seemed almost criminal and, sardine-onically speaking, “pun-ardon-able.”
The only chance he would have – or would avail himself of – was to visit a local bar, as he had done in Avalon, and hope to run into him. He was certain, despite never having seen him personally, he would recognize the old fish out of syndicated waters.
Pellatier also caught himself thinking that perhaps he was actually trying, by not knocking on his door, to avoid meeting the real Sardine. All the warnings against doing this very thing – warnings that the column would be adversely affected should someone reveal the Sardine to the public – should be heeded. Hadn’t the Sardine warned he would stop the column for this very reason; viz., increased media exposure and curiosity?
It didn’t take very long when the time they met had arrived.
Pellatier sat in the darkest corner of the bar at the Country House Tavern outside of Philadelphia. He sipped a drink and ate a salad and gave himself the opportunity to spot “the man who was the Sardine” first.
Yet, when this man entered the Country House, Pellatier froze in his booth.
He recognized the guy!
Or, maybe, he should have known him all along. Pellatier had nearly come to believe that the Sardine was his, Pellatier’s, doppelganger, or vice versa.
The truth, however, was more difficult to grasp. He had met McNulty’s son years ago. They may have even spoken. On a train to New York.
Only that wasn’t how the Sardine had presented it to the world.
John was the Italian boy on the train to Pisa with the head-phones. He knew it had to be himself because “the man who was the Sardine” started to speak about the book that Pellatier was reading. A detective novel.
Seeing him, Pellatier filled his mind with the echo of
“dum, dum, dum, dum,
and realized that he no longer needed to speak to the Sardine. That he would doing a stupid thing to approach him.
Being reminded – knowing – why he was there, in the column, on the train, and here, in the restaurant, now seemed enough.
Bob Castle, a.k.a A Sardine on Vacation has regularly published articles for Bright Lights Film Journal since 2000 and in 2020 his novel, The Hidden Life, was published.