"We?'' Ochocinco asks.
"I don't know. I'm having fun. I could care less what we're doing,'' Ochocinco says.
And away we go. Talk about making it hard on yourself.
He has a book out. It's been awhile. He hasn't written a book about himself since 2006. (Confession: I wrote the first one.) Ochocinco is on the cover, flipping double birds.
"You wanna know why?'' he asks.
Sure. Surprise me.
"I'm killing two birds with one stone,'' he says. "You notice I'm smiling extremely big. That's for my supporters. The critics, those that hate me, that's what the birds are for.''
In the book, Ochocinco tells of his estrangement from his family, his indifference toward his four children by three women, his admiration for "smart'' drug dealers, his aversion to blocking, and why Bill Belichick is a better coach than the coach he plays for in Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis. It's a romp in Me-ville that's 100 percent pure Chad. You wonder why anyone would want this stuff in any book, let alone a book with his picture on the cover. People have sued for less.
"Why'd I write another book?'' Ochocinco asks. "To let them inside.''
To let who inside?'
It's easy to laugh at this. It's easy to see Ochocinco as selfish, preening and narcissistic. The whole diva receiva catalog. Few NFL players have changed their names; none has carved a Mohawk into his hair and colored it orange. No other receiver visiting Green Bay has leaped into the Lambeau stands after scoring a touchdown, or declared himself a Hall of Famer before the fact. Within a month after Ochocinco started a Twitter page, he had more than 100,000 followers. He's constantly reinventing himself. For better or worse.
(By the way, he'd appreciate it if you called him Esteban now, not Chad.)
The official explanation, the one from Esteban himself, is that he's having fun, and he wants to let the rest of the world into his VIP lounge. That's partly so. Beneath the party, though, is a pathological need for attention and affection. All he needs is love, love.
Here's what happened to the life of his own party. At the age of 5, his mother left him. Paula Johnson was living in her mother's house in Liberty City, Fla., a tough Miami neighborhood, with Chad and his younger brother Chauncey. Chad's father was absent. Chad never knew him. Paula was going nowhere fast. She decided to make a break, to Los Angeles. She took Chauncey and left Chad with his grandmother.
Paula Johnson recalled the scene for me, three years ago.
"I know you're OK here,'' she told the 5-year-old. "I don't know what I'm going to do. Why would I take you? I'm leaving you here with everything you need.'' Then she scooped up Chauncey and spent three days on a Greyhound bus.
Imagine the hole left by that parting. A 5-year-old who doesn't know his father is left by his mom. Ochocinco still refers to his maternal grandmother as "Mommy.''
In the new book, he boasts of his "huge-ass'' house. Until that house was completed, Ochocinco spent every offseason living in Mommy's house in Liberty City, sleeping in the same bedroom where he grew up. The child ages, earns fame and fortune, yet remains haunted by a moment from more than 25 years ago. Ochocinco has spent his whole life looking for love.
Excerpts from the book, to be unleashed in its entirety Oct. 27, aren't especially shocking. Ochocinco has kids out of wedlock, he didn't go to class in college, he has a big house and lots of cars. His love for himself is as undeniable as it is fragile. Standard pro-jock stuff.
It's his need to "let them inside'' that's the issue. It seems desperate and sad. Telling the world he's a reluctant father, while littering the pages with F-bombs, like graffiti on a subway wall, won't make him more lovable.
"What else is in the book?'' I ask Ochocinco after the Cleveland game. He caught two touchdown passes, and at age 31 he's in Pro Bowl form. The Bengals are off to a 3-1 start, even as their offense herks and jerks.
"My sex tapes,'' Ochocinco says. He's joking. Evidently.