July 22, 2011

A day off and I wake up late having not set the alarm clock, surprised it didn’t go off by force of habit. The kids are outside in the fire hydrant stream, sandblasting their chests. No surprise, this is Brooklyn. Someone’s bound to know a fireman with a key.

I don’t bother showering, just drink the o.j from the carton, lace up my sneakers, wait for green and cross-over while crossing Fifth Avenue. Aside from the children, there’s no one out. Women without air conditioners hang out on fire escapes like faded flags. Pet owners hover in thresholds letting their animals venture out like canaries. Either the ground is steaming or the sky is melting.

I’ve already broken a sweat when I get to the court. Save two brave souls shooting around under the oak tree, and the guy who’s dunking on the eight foot rim who doesn’t count- he never does- there’s no one to be found. It only takes a few moments  for me to realize the cotton t shirt will soon be a sponge, soaking up my sweat and throwing off my form. Today’s not a day for smothering defense.

I pace to the elbow, in-and-out, and around the back and shoot a few turnarounds, jab stepping , maybe mumbling after missed shots about my form; Sometimes I get away from myself and this is why I keep coming back. I make sure to elevate and follow through. I keep myself square. I keep my eyes up.  I feel it as the court shrink to a small cone that emanates from behind me and casts its focus on the square above the peach basket. I throw self-passes off the backboard. I dribble, shoot a few leaners and left handed hooks, then look over my shoulder, see the water fountain. I see the water fountain. I think about the water fountain. And before I know it I’m face in the water fountain, slurping, counting- why counting?- with my eyes closes, the seconds worth of water I drink. When I come up for air, they’re there.

“There there buddy, save the whales.”

Awesome. I recognize him. Some awe becomes some more when over his shoulder I spot his pals draining buckets, massaging the net like fastidious fisherman. Jerry Stackhouse, Allen Iverson and Mo Cheeks, looking to run some two’s.

“You down?”

I hesitate, letting out a long “ugh,” biding my time. But there’s no, “no.”

“You and my boy Mo,” says Iverson.

I acquiesce to what seems like unfair sides, and check it up then dump it into the post, and come off Mo’s  flank. I drop my shoulder and try to swoop but there’s no point. Well, point of contact, Iverson’s razor hip. Step backs and squirly passes, that’s my M.O. from here on out and I manage a few buckets to boot. Iverson powers through my hard hacks, finishing with flourish and insisting on free throws to follow. He makes his case in silence, solely through body language, and no one seems to mind. Mo in his old age is a trooper, hands still like a vice, heckling Iverson as he goes. “Turkey and cheese,” he says.  Jerry Stackhouse, well he spends most of his time in Iverson’s shadow.

We manage to make it a game of it, mostly on Mo’s account and I take the ball in at the point, yelling “point” and swinging it to Moe on the wing. Twice with the head fake then a back down dribble. A.I.’s  in the post and Jerry’s eye’s grow wide. Frantic, he slides across the lane, his hands raises. Arms fail like a windmill but somehow Mo manages to throw a ball that, even from the low block, has enough english to bounce at the shoulder and still hit me for a straight-away three. I pause, seeing Pistol Pete in my mind, set my feet and bend my knees. I watch the rotation, spinning back but moving forward. My middle finger is just about touching my wrist when the ball goes through. The net slows it just a bit and then the ball bounds off the asphalt again and again. I just stand there in my pose dripping, listening to the lessening interval of rebounds, slick and feeling some connection, as if the ball had found its way back home to the point at which it slapped; as if although it may settle at the end of its long arc, I could call it up if I wished- like a satellite.

“Play some two’s?”

I turn and see the three of them, fourteen years old at best, shooting at my basket. May well have been for the past fifteen minutes for all I know.

“Nah man, I retired. Bum ankle. Can’t run.”

“Aight,” they say staring at their shoes as if apologizing for them for not finding some action.

I slink into the corner of the chain link cage, lie back, breathe and wait to dry under the oak tree watching them kids so happy to be out of school. The birds are out. The other day I saw a blue jay and yesterday I saw a cardinal. As I stretch, I see one straddling the edge of the shade, pecking at the warm asphalt for anything edible.  Shirt on, I’m off, headed to the deli for a sandwich, turkey and cheese.


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