Rookie of the Year

The Running Matt

This column is reprinted from Unwinnable Monthly #107. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath, who adds any typos or factual errors that might appear within.

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When I was nine, I went to the movies with my best friend Shawn to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man. Before we could see the whole movie, someone called a bomb threat into the mall and we had to leave the theater.

When I was 40, I went to Amazon on my laptop and ordered a cheap paperback copy of Stephen King/Richard Bachman’s original version of The Running Man. Before I could read the whole book, my bedroom exploded, killing me and everyone else within a two-block radius.

Ahem.

Now, the thing is, what I didn’t know when I bought the book is that it’s almost entirely different from the movie. Not different in the fun and deep-dive way the King vs. Kubrick versions of The Shining are, where one has creeping animal topiaries and other notable but, at least in my mind, relatively trivial twists. And it’s not, say, the even slighter difference between the filmed version of “the hobbling” that occurs in Misery and the far more gruesome one in the book. No, the two Running Men have very little in common as characters, with wholly separate motivations, at least at the outset, and, while the apocalyptic gameshows they’re contestants in have the same basic premise, they diverge – dramatically – in their execution.

Even though the book came first, it’s like the difference between old-time arcade games and modern, open-world console titles. In the movie, there’s a game zone and boss battles. These battles are awesome and allow Arnold to deliver classic lines like, “Here is Sub-Zero – now, Plain-Zero!”

Even though the book came first, it’s like the difference between old-time arcade games and modern, open-world console titles.

But in the book, the whole world is at play. Without giving too much away, the first thing Ben Richards – not the purported Butcher of Bakersfield, by the way, but an impoverished, half-starved husband and father trying to scrounge enough money to treat his sick daughter – does is get fake papers and fly to New York. He then sneaks out of his hotel and anonymously buys a bus ticket to Boston.

It’s actually here where I put the book down for a bit. I wondered: Where in the world would I go to escape Hunters for 30 days, avoid getting recognized – there’d be a bounty on my head, after all – eat, drink and sleep, and still fulfill the inconvenient obligation to mail in videotapes of myself for The Network to air on the Free-Vee?

I’ve been binge-reading Stephen King books for the better part of the past year, with a stack of new ones ready to go at all times. After 4,552 pages and counting, this was the one concept, particularly in our political climate, that truly gave me pause (well, other than the child orgy in IT, but that’s something else entirely).

My initial conclusion was I’d get as far away from The Network as possible, then just walk from a random town into the woods, find a hole, and park myself there. How would I eat or drink? With my life at stake, I think I could get by on what little I could scrounge. Maybe I’d chance stopping for a jug of water and some chips along the way. But how would I mail the tapes from a ditch?

As the book says, on Page 248 in my copy:

He looked longingly at the deserted Development, thinking: It would have made such a fine hiding place

No good. He wasn’t supposed to be a hiding man; he was a running man. Wasn’t that what kept the ratings up?

Fuck.

So I kept reading. And I learned how Book Ben Richards bucks the odds to play the game, from blowing up buildings and squeezing down white-hot metal chutes to bullet holes and broken bones and epically brazen bluffs – and then to how it ends.

And that was when perhaps the biggest horror of “My Year of Stephen King” struck me:

While I could see the possibility of overcoming some of the challenges King’s characters face in his books, an episode of The Running Matt would not only end in my helpless, pleading death, but end in a flash – better measured in hours than in days.

Long live The Network.

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Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.

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