Traded! Relationships and Contracts

Simon Rich’s “Trade,” in last week’s edition of Shouts & Murmurs, proved to be as […]

Ethan Richardson / 6.7.11

Simon Rich’s “Trade,” in last week’s edition of Shouts & Murmurs, proved to be as comically thought-provoking as it was touching, comparing fictionally the pain of break-ups with the world of professional baseball trades: the sinking revelation that in both worlds there are the bipolar forces of loving commitment and legal expectation. It seems in both arenas (professional sports and relationships) the loyalty lying in “being together” more often than not finds itself usurped by the stacking of statistics and callous demands on performance. The story uses the ESPN-savvy vocabulary of waivers and contracts and clauses to give a portrait of post-break-up Josh, a guy coming to grips with abandonment and the laws that led him there.

When Kate had offered Josh his contract, he was so excited that he barely bothered to read it. He realized now that he should have perused the fine print. According to the trade clause, he had seventy-two hours to get his stuff out of her apartment. His Sexual Privileges were completely revoked, along with Hugging Rights and Injury Sympathy. It was insane. Why had he given her so much power in the first place?

He was struggling to get through the clause on Mutual Friends—the footnotes alone were five pages—when he heard a knock on the door. He took a long, slow breath and opened it.

Kate’s new boyfriend smirked down at him. He had tattoos on his neck and was wearing a scarf and shades, even though it was summer and he was indoors.

“ ’Sup,” he said.

Josh forced a smile. There was no reason to be impolite. It was an awkward situation, but what could he do about it?

“ ’Sup,” he responded.

The two men shook hands, reached into their pockets, and exchanged keys.

Josh is a victim to laws before which he had been impervious to, in the name of love. And yet, when he can’t bring home the bacon in the power categories where Kate was hoping he’d deliver, his dismissal is as unfeeling as that of a sour business transaction. That is, until a trade goes well and he meets someone who wants to do business differently. What’s different? A team (or new relationship, i.e. Lisa) who knows your weaknesses at their worst, and finds them acceptable–even adorable–regardless, and is willing to take you on despite them, as you are. No foible is hidden, and yet nothing is lost; in fact, all is enhanced in their being known. The exchange is too well-written to abridge:

A mousy girl named Lisa opened the door and looked Josh up and down.

“Is now a good time?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said, her voice a little shaky. “Come on in.”

He put his bag down on the rug and looked around. Her apartment was a lot smaller than Kate’s, but at least the TV was bigger.

“Is that a flat screen?”

She laughed.

“My last girlfriend hated TV,” he said. “Especially my favorite show.”

“ ‘Jersey Shore,’ right?”

Josh winced. “I didn’t know that showed up in my stats.”

She held up a copy of Josh’s old contract. “Everything’s in here.”

Josh held his breath while Lisa adjusted her glasses and flipped through the pages.

“You really should have negotiated for more,” she said.

“What do you mean? It’s not a good contract?” Josh sighed. He had always suspected that Kate had screwed him with that clause—but he didn’t have any other long-term contracts to compare it with, and he’d been too embarrassed to ask his brother if it was normal.

“And this Emotional Support clause is pathetic. One Career Pep Talk a year?”

“That’s low?”

“Yes. Girlfriends are usually required to give at least one a month. Why didn’t you hire a lawyer?”

Josh threw up his hands.

“Because I’m an idiot,” he said. “Because I’m a worthless idiot.”

He picked up his duffelbag.

“You know, you don’t have to take me!” he said. “I know there’s a release clause. You can just put me on waivers.”

Lisa laughed.

“Why would I put you on waivers? I traded for you,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“The trade was my idea.”

Josh slowly put his bag down.

“It was?”

“Yes. I mean . . . Kate didn’t exactly argue when I made the offer. But I set the whole thing up. I don’t have a lot of relationship experience, but I can spot a good deal when I see it.”

Josh felt a swelling in his throat. He was embarrassed all of a sudden—and he realized that it was because he was about to cry.

“You think I’m a good deal?”

She flipped through his contract.

“Sure,” she said. “I mean, some of your stats are low. Like . . . these Sex Numbers. It’s something to work on.”

Josh nodded.

“But your crossword skills are through the roof. You’ve got a solid job. Great taste in TV.”

She leaned forward and kissed him.

“And you’re cute.”

“I am?”

I think so.”

She crumpled up his old contract and tossed it in a wastebasket.

“But that thing is ridiculous. I can’t hold you to it.”


“Yeah—I’d feel like a monster.”

He was so grateful he grabbed her hand and pressed it to his lips. She giggled.

“But wait!” he said. “What are we going to do about a contract?”

She ran her fingers through his hair. Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out a blank piece of paper.

“Let’s start from scratch.”

He wrapped his arms around her, laughing with relief. There was nothing like joining a new team; there was nothing like Opening Day.