Tournament at The Cage by Uri Baruchin
March 25th, 2001
Basketball City Chelsea Piers
There Were Horses
A pick up game at Basketball city. Cold Sunday afternoon. The academy awards that night. Dreading them. Miserable but psyched about the game. We ended up playing four on four full court. On the other team were the guys I play with in my league, on my team was one guy I play with and also a young guy with quick moves and a shot. We ran, and the quick guard was feeding me in the post. The ball went to me. Bucket after bucket. I was like, See, pass me the ball!
I was in the right frame of mind for basketball– pissed off and frustrated about things in general and a few things in particular, hating life and kind of loving it because there is this ball and when I put it in the hoop… but on defense, the old problems. The one guy who most explicitly never passes me the ball, and who is a very good ball player but, you know, he pats the ball too much, well, he got off some good shots in my face.
Three games, we lost all three. I’m always scoring high on the losing team. I felt like Patrick Ewing.
In the locker room after I got in the a conversation with the quick guard who was feeding me in the post.
“Feeding me in the post!” Sounds like I’m a fucking animal.
Anyway, once got my freezing and suddenly “Oh my God there are all these black guys in here” miniaturized dick inside my underwear, me and the kid, the guard, who was this dark black guy, young, little goatee on his chin, we got to talking while we got out of our b-ball clothes and went back into life, one clothing item at a time, and it turned out he was a senior in high school but didn’t play on the team because of grades.
But he seemed really smart. He had those thin wire smart glasses. I don’t know, he seemed smart and I said if he wrote a college essay that had personal character he’d be ok and get into a good school. Really, in that vague jock speak locker room chat I was trying to say something about being an individual and not saying what you think they want to hear. But I mostly felt like an idiot trying to get the point across, sounding extra white because there is nothing worse than a white guy endlessly sounding down. The inter-human warmth is always better when you don’t try to put it in words, at least in the basketball context. I think he understood the good will and it was good and I said good-bye.
There’s an equestrian center next to basketball city. It was dusk, the Empire State Building had blue lights, a dark blue against the faint light blue of the fading sky. And for some reason there were two horses out there, just watching the world, standing on the dirt.
July 29, 2001
How To Stop Time
You hear the phrase, it’s like gym rat, same idea.
So I’ve been playing a lot. Going to gym a bit, too, because… really it’s because I want to make my game better. But it’s messing up my ball handling, what little flow I have.
Welt on eye from b-ball, just finished a three hour session. It’s almost my only enthusiasm, basketball. I am reading this fantastic book, How to Stop Time, Heroin from A-Z, by Ann Marlow. In some ways being a basketball junkie has similar properties of time stoppage.
Yesterday at the end of a close full court game a guy came down the court, bounced the ball on the ground, jumped, and dunked on my head, basically hit me in the face with his sneakers. Today I had a stocky six two guy on my team who respected my game, good give and goes, and I scored all day until the last game when we finally lost. I am such a head case. I need encouragement and it’s never enough.
September 19, 2001
Horatio Street Basketball Court, West Village
There were clouds coming from the south. The wind was picking up. The sky darkening at seven. Soft summer long gone. I sniffed the air like a dog.
“You smell that?” I said.
No one did. The clouds were just clouds and that acrid smell of dust… who knows what that cloud that engulfed lower Manhattan for a week was made of?
We were playing ball. People were playing ball. My game has become stiff(er), but I will get back into the groove. The clouds were just clouds.
Thomas Beller is a writer and founder and co-editor of Open City magazine and mrbellersneighborhood.com. He teaches creative writing at Tulane University, and you can read his tweets at twitter.com/thomasbeller.