hello, ball. ball!


coworker of mine, arliss, had been bugging me about playing noon ball ever since he saw me in the gym one night. "you play basketball?" he asked. "yeah," i said. "i mean, i try." he invited me to come play with him and some others, law students and professors. i told him i would, but i kept putting it off. i'd seen the people he balled with: some tall, some muscular, all physically fit. i knew that if i stepped out onto the court, i'd get squashed, embarrass myself, or somehow manage to injure myself.

he forgot about me yesterday. it was almost noon, and i saw him heading towards the stairs. "hey," i said, "are you heading to the gym?" it was a stupid question, as his gym bag, fleece sweatshirt and jogging pants were answer enough. "yeah," he said, "sorry, i forgot about you! meet me over there. it's the upstairs court." i told him okay, and then i went back to my desk. i stared at my ww2/star wars desktop, and i thought about whether or not i should actually do it. i could just sit here, i thought. i could just go somewhere and read. no! i have to do it!

i headed to the gym, and i changed in the locker room. i hadn't changed in a locker room since freshman year of high school. there was no one else changing in there, so it didn't feel weird. i went out onto the court, and there were nearly twenty people already shooting around. arliss pointed out who was good and who wasn't. he called someone the asian michael jordan, and he said that another guy wearing a canada shirt was probably the best player in the gym. i watched canada shoot for a little bit, and everything he threw up went in. he dribbled with purpose. his jump shot was impeccable, and every fluid motion of his ended with a swoosh.

by default, for the first game, i ended up guarding a law professor named mark. mark was definitely the oldest, slowest, and least fit player on the court. i was able to cut past him and shoot a layup, my only point for the entire lunch period. i ran up and down the court, and i realized then that i liked running more than anything. i liked the urgency of it, getting back on defense, the adrenaline, the rush of blood to the face, heart racing, palms sweating. running was a skill. if there was a wild dog with rabies chasing you, you'd better be able to run. simple as that. making a swoosh is nice, but really, what was the point of it?

after the third game on the other side of the court, our team lost, and we had to shoot threes to play. that i understand, and i like the logic of it. it wasn't my turn to shoot, and some little asian fuck must've thought i was going to, because he said, "ball. ball!" the little fuck yelled at me like i was stupid. like i was a dog. i knew that he just didn't want to screw up the rotation, but even so, right then, i could've killed him. he was just a stupid little asian with a flattop and a fade, and i didn't see why he had to bark at me that way. a regular person with a sense of decency would've said, "hey, my shot." when it was my turn to shoot, i tossed up a lazy air ball and decided i was done. the stupid kid had put me in a shit mood, and i walked away like a poor sport. like a baby.

i had worked up enough of a sweat that it warranted a shower. i stripped down completely nude and i got in, even though there were no walls and no privacy, and a butt-naked dude was lathering himself up nearby. by getting in, i felt i had reached some sort of closure, as this was an act i could never accomplish in high school. get a bunch of fourteen year old boys naked together, and you've got scarring for life. really, what were coaches thinking then?

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