Jumat, 13 April 2012

TOO LATE FOR THE HAIGHT by Peter Nolan Smith

The bus from Sacramento crossed the bay in light traffic. Most everyone in the Bay Area had off Memorial Day. The uniformed driver exit off the bridge and entered the Transbay Terminal five minutes past 1. Once it parked in the depot, I grabbed my bag from the underneath storage compartment and entered the station.

Holiday passengers were forming queues for destinations north, south, and east. Most were military on leave or college students. Commuters had stayed home for the day.

A bus for Santa Cruz was leaving on the hour. The fare was less than $3. Taking the bus was easier than hitchhiking out of the city, but my friends and I had spent the last six days driving across country. My friend AK had headed south on I-5 this morning. I was meeting him in Encinitas sometime next week.

Buses and trolleys traversed the peninsula to the ocean. I intended to cover the short distance by foot. I was in no hurry to be anywhere fast.

I stepped out onto Beale Street. The temperature was much cooler than the torrid Central Valley and I set my canvas travel on a wooden bench to pull on a light leather jacket.

“Man, you looking for a place to crash?” A scraggly long hair in dirty denim jeans and a soiled paisley jacket approached me, while scratching a sore on his neck. I recognized the type. Junkies were taking over the cities.

“No, I’m good.” I slung my bag over my left shoulder with a winch. The muscles and joints of my right arm were bruised from the security guards in Reno tossing me from a casino last night.

“Everyone is good.” The junkie picked at a rotten tooth. He was in bad shape.

“I’m just passing through.” I didn’t want any trouble and headed west.

“It’s a clean place and you get your own bed. You give what you can afford. My name’s Omo. Stands for On My Own. We’re a cool commune. Lots of chicks too. You into chicks?” Omo followed me at a safe distance.

“Leave me alone.” I glared back with the promise of a punch.

“Suit yourself. You don’t know what you’ll be missing.” Omo stuck his hands into the shredded jacket and returned to the station muttering curses.

“Fucking Junkies.”

The Summer of Love ending seven years ago was stopping the junkies and speed thieves from preying on unsuspecting hippies following the acid trail of 1967. The wide-eyed faithful were easy marks for the vultures haunting the bus station and I crossed the street headed toward Mission Street with the slender spire of the Transamerica Building rising to the north.

Several blocks later I stopped at a small Mexican diner for a lunch of enchiladas, rice, and beans. The waitress kept supplying me with extra tortillas. I paid with a twenty-dollar bill and tipped the young counter girl a dollar on a $2 check. She deserved more.

“Mucho gracias.” She smiled with gleaming white teeth.

“Da nada.” Jack Kerouac had picked grapes in a migrant camp before he wrote ON THE ROAD. The beat writer had fallen in with a girl who probably might have related to this one. Mexicans have big families just like the Irish.

I veered off Mission at Haight and switched on the south side of the street to avoid the sun. Almost a hundred thousand young people flocked to San Francisco in the Spring of 1967. The gathering of the tribes lasted one long summer with Haight-Ashbury as their psychedelic playground. The Fillmore West had been shut for two years. Quicksilver, Moby Grape, and the Jefferson Airplane had abandoned this city for the country. Empty houses bore the scars of arson and the hard-faced gangs lingered on the stoops of boarded-up apartment buildings. Heroin and speed had ripped the heart out of Haight-Ashbury. Anyone was wearing flowers in their hair this summer was a fraud.

“Yo, man, it’s me, Omo.” The hippie from the bus station shouted from the grassy slope Buena Vista Park corner. A very thin teenage girl in a filmy dress held his hand. She wasn’t wearing any underwear.

“Yo man, wait up.” Omo and the girl jumped onto the sidewalk. “Yo, man, this is Floral. She’s one of the girls at the commune. She likes young guys like you, don’t you, Floral?”

“You have nice eyes.” Floral spoke with a zombie voice. The pale-skinned redhead was about 15. She sported shooting tracks on the inside of her stick arms. My youngest sister was her age.

“Thanks, but no thanks.” I kept walking at a steady pace, having noticed another long-haried junkie on the opposite side of the street. He was watching the three of us with too much interest to be a passer-by. This was a set-up.

“Yo, man, where you going? We live around the corner. Let’s go up there and chill.” Omo wasn’t giving up on me. Opportunities at the bus station were slim on Memorial Day. His voice was on edge. He needed a score. I was it.

“Leave me alone.”

“Yeah, man, come with us and we can all get it on.” Floral pulled on my arm with the strength of a blood-weak vampire. “I’ll do anything.”

“She really means anything.” Omo lifted her dress to the waist. The gap between her legs was wider than a hand. “Anything is Floral’s specialty.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I got places to go.” I shrugged off her weak grasp and broadened my gait.

“$20 will get you an hour of heaven.” Omo wasn’t giving up so easy. “$30 gets you paradise. You look like you want it.”

“So you’re her pimp?” I hadn’t been with a woman for a long time, but I had never paid for sex.

“Pimp’s an uncool word.” Omo smirked with unwavering perseverance. “I’m her coach. What about it? You can do a lot of anything in an hour.”

“No.” I was at the end of my patience and pushed him hard.

“Sorry, to bug you, man. I didn’t realize you were queer.” Omo shouted in a loud voice and gave me the finger. He was a sore loser.

“Fuck you too.” I muttered under my breath to avoid any escalation of this encounter.

Two years ago I had hitchhiked in San Francisco with a friend. The hippie scene had been on its last legs. Now a few decrepit head shops lurked along the famed strip. The Hippie Era had given way to openly gay men in plaid shirt, tight jeans, and work boots.

These men had brothers in New York and Boston. They stared at my crotch and commented as lewdly as sailors on leave. Judging for the shortness of their hair, several might have been stationed on Treasure Island with the Pacific Fleet.

I kept walking west to Golden Gate Park and strolled through the empty parking lot Kezar Stadium. The gates were locked with chains. The start of the 1974 football season was a long way away from the end of May.

It was still a beautiful day.

Mexican families burned meat on barbecues and a dozen baseball games between Latino squads were in progress on a well-trodden fields. A few hippies tossed frisbees on the edge of the lawn. Marijuana wafted on a cool breeze scented with salt. The ocean was getting close.

Few pedestrians strolled on the paths past Stow Lake. Collarless dogs ran in packs through the underbrush. A wilderness was thriving at the edge of the city. It was not safe and I noticed three men and a woman behind me. Two of them were Omo and Floral. This was not a coincidence.

A fist-sized rock lay in the dirt.

I bent over, as if to tie my shoe.

The four of them were too far away to notice that I was wearing boots. The rock was smooth in my hand. I stood up and continued in the same direction. There was no place to run.

The confrontation came the other side of a small lake. Omo and Floral blocked my path and the other two approached from behind. I didn’t put down my bag. The young girl stood in back of Omo. She was pushing him forward. The other two were a Latino in a leather vest with a bandana around his head and the long-hair from the Haight. A scar bisected his face. It had not come from a duel. He was the first one to speak. Scar had nothing good to say.

“Man, I heard you didn’t want Floral.” Scar spoke slowly, as if every word was important.

“I wasn’t in the mood.”

“That’s too bad, because that would have made life easy for everyone.” Scar whipped out a knife. The blade was four inches long. The Latino balled his fists. Omo smiled behind needy eyes and Floral prodded Scar and Latino, “Do it. Do it.”

They were a team. Four-on-one was a winning formula on paper. None of them had seen the rock in my hand.

“Give us the bag and your money.” Scar flourished the knife with a shaking hand. The greasy-haired hippie was jonesing big time.

“Okay.” I slipped the bag off my left shoulder and held it out.

“Good boy.” Scar reached out with his left hand. His friends were pleased with my surrender.

“The best.” Their esperation left a big opening and I swung my fist in a wide loop to open-palm Scar’s skull with the rock in my hand. I hadn’t pulled my punch and Scar collapsed with the grace of a puppet losing his strings. The knife and his body hit the ground at the same time. I picked up his weapon and turned to Omo.

“Are we done?” I slipped the rock inside my jacket pocket. It had served its purpose.

“Yeah, man, we’re cool.” Omo lifted his hands in submission. The Latino robber backed away several feet.

“Then have a nice day.” I pocketed the knife and kicked the fallen thief in the ribs twice. It was not for show.

I walked away from my disappointed attackers looking over my shoulder several times until I reached the South Drive. Cars sped along the park road. I was safe again.

“Hey, you.”

Floral ran up to me.

“Can I go with you?” She was out of breath.

“Where you from?” I didn’t expect her to tell the truth. She was a runaway.

“Kansas, same as Dorothy. Where you going?” She bit her lip, hoping I might say Hollywood.

“Nowhere special.” In her state Floral couldn’t make it much farther than Route 1 before going to the village of Cold Turkey. I pulled $10 out of my pocket. She didn’t deserved it, but today was the day after my birthday. “This get you straight.”

“A little.” She snatched the bill like a banana-hungry monkey in a cage. “Another ten and we can go into the bushes.”

“Thanks, Floral, but I really have to be going.” She was trouble and I had no desire to find out how much trouble. “You take care of yourself.”

“I’m tougher than I look.” Her smile was missing a tooth. Life was tough on the street.

“I’m sure you are.” I was on my summer vacation and Floral wasn’t the type of girl to save in a single day.

I left her on the roadside and ten minutes later crossed the Great Highway to stand on a sloping strand of sand. The sun was three hours from setting in the west. The cold from the ocean came straight from Alaska. No one was swimming in the surf. I pulled the rock and knife from my jacket and threw them into a wave. Neither appeared from the surge.

I turned around to San Francisco.

Cars were heading north and south on the coastal road. I walked to the curb and stuck out my thumb. My luck was determined by location. The road was straight and the shoulder wide enough for a car to stop without danger.

A Tempest convertible stopped within two minutes. The marine on holiday was headed to Daly City. I jumped in the car. Ten minutes later we left the city by the bay and sadly leaving San Francisco felt good.

The hippie might have been dead, but the road lived on forever and I was heading south to Big Sur.

The wind swept through my hair.

The sun was warm.

California was mine and I was willing to see how much it was mine.

After all yesterday had been my birthday.

Friday The 13th

The number 12 symbolizes completeness for numerologists and 13 has a reputation of a prime number steeped with irregularity. Thirteen is further tarnished by being the number of people at the Last Supper of Jesus. The Turks went so far as to ban the number from their language and the Vikings feared that if thirteen guests sat to dinner, all of them would die within a year under the curse of Loki, their god of mischief. Some humans have rejected this belief as superstition.Manhattan has a both East and West 13th Streets, however most high-rises on that fabled island are missing the 13th floor.

Many superstitions have their base in gambling and many gamblers exhibit an extraordinary fear of the #13 aka triskaidekaphobia.

There are usually 1-3 Friday the 13ths in a calendar year.

Today is one of them.

Unlike the West Thais consider the number 4 unlucky, although you’ll notice on Thai Air flights there is no row 13.

Personally I think 13's reputation comes from the age at which Jewish boys used to be circumcised and nothing is more unlucky for a man than losing a piece of your penis, unless you’re a ka-toey.

Black Sabbath also released their first album on Feb. 13, 1970.

The date had nothing to do with ladyboys.

Although with Ozzie you can never be sure.

A Devout Atheist

BERENTI MISTAH by Peter Nolan Smith

In 1991 I bought a round-the-world ticket for $1399 from Pan Express. The owner set up a magical itinerary."New York - LA - Hawaii - Biak - Bali - overland to Jakarta." John was reciting the trip from memory. He sold hundreds of these tickets every year."What do you mean 'overland to Jakarta'?" Their advertisement in the NY Times offered a flight between Bali and Jakarta. My foreign ventures had been limited to Europe and Central America up to this point."Oh, sir." His Hindi gentility was measured to assuage the traditional occidental temper and John produced an Indonesia brochure extolling the volcanic beauty of Mount Bromo, ruined temple of Borobuder, and ancient palaces of Yogakarta. "Many people prefer to travel overland to see the sights of Java of which there are many. I give you a flight from Jakarta to Padang.""Padang?""Yes, sir, in Sumatra." Another brochure praised the cultural heritage of the Batak, the awe of Lake Toba, and the jungle paradise of the orangutang reserve. "You fly out of Medan to Penang and Malaysia and overland to Bangkok.""Let me guess." I was falling into step with the program. "Many people do this overland.""Yes, sir, you see the picture better than most. What are you going to do on the trip?" Hindi are a curious people. John was no exception."I'm writing a novel." NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD was a story about a hustler forced into a contract murder of a porno producer by dirty NYPD cops and who avoids violating the 5th Commandment by escaping into the desert with two lesbians filming a movie about the last man on Earth. John didn't need to know the plot. Hindi men were in some ways very curious about sex."Oh, sir, I must warn you that many countries in Asia do not like writers. Especially journalists.""I'm not a journalist." My typing was atrocious and my grammar was even worse."Whatever you do, do not tell anyone you are a writer." His head bobbed side to side like a broken bobbing dolls. "Big people and police do not like journalists in Asia.""I'll keep that in mind."John was 100% correct about the overlanding. I saw the dawn from the rim of a volcano, met the sultan of Yogakarta, drove up to the vertiginous heights of the Dieng Plateau, endured the scorching equatorial sun riding a motorcycle around Lake Toba and watched male orangutang masturbate without shame. The females shunned the jerk-offs. I arrived at the Medan airport with my trip and book at the halfway state.I queued for the flight to Penang. The police spotted my typewriter."Berenti, mistah."Saya." I had learned a little Bahasa in three months."Yes, you." A short pineapple-skinned officer pointed my way. The three of them pulled me from the line. The other passengers smiled with relief. I was their sacrificial lamb. The police sat me in in an office and asked, "Journalis?"The trio wore grim faces. Torture was their specialty. A single overhead fan wobbled in its socket. "Tidak jounralis. Penulis buca." I claimed the higher status than journalist."You write books? About what?" The lead interrogator leaned forward with a metal sap in his hand. "About the mafia. Porno. Hollywood." I was one smack away from squealing the truth about any crime from Adam upward."Hollywood?" The three cops intoned the word with sanctity normally reserved for Allah. Indonesia was 90% Muslim."Yes, Hollywood." I followed the lead and told them about how JFK was killed by the CIA. They spoke about the betrayal of Sukarno by the present dictator. A bottle of Johnny Walker Black hit the desk. Red was beneath them. We drank toasts to freedom. "Beraka." I spoke every language with a Boston accent.Whiskey in hot weather was a hard slog. It was getting late and I asked the chief officer, "So I missed my flight, how do I get to Penang?""You didn't miss your flight. We held the plane. One more drink and tua jalan.""To whiskey." Without it the Irish would have ruled the world.The police drove me to the waiting plane. The other passengers were gobsmacked by re-appearance from the belly of the beast and even more so by the power fist salute of the police."Beraka."It was a small world after all.

Mini-Bikes Are Fun

"Mini-bikes are like fat girls a lot of fun to drive, until one of your friends see you on one." - old biker adage.I disagree.Fat girls are fun all the time, but I prefer mopeds.


Every high tide deposited beer bottles, oil containers, fishing lines, shiny candy wrappers, and plastic bags onto the sloping shoreline of Jomtien Beach. At low tide I harvested the trash into sea-worn rice bags. Within a half-hour the sand was devoid of any human refuse and I could smugly regard the pristine strand with pride.

While tourists rolled their eyes in disgust at my ecological efforts, the Thais from the beach cafes congratulated my work without ever breaking caste to aid my task. Such labor was beneath them and from under a parasol my girlfriend expressed her embarrassment by saying, “Tomorrow have plastic again. Every day have. You stop nothing.”

“Doesn’t matter. At least the beach is clean for now.”

Every day I expanded my patrol and the bending proved very therapeutic to my aging boy. My muscles ceased to creak and the aches vanished from my joints.

“Watch this.” I pressed my palms flat onto the sand.

“You only not hurt, because you stop play basketball.” Mam was unimpressed by my suppleness.

“I didn’t stop.” I shot baskets at the park in the elephant ranch near Sukhumvit at dusk,

“Yes, you stop.” Mam was less than half my age. Her belly was swollen with our son.

“No one plays basketball here.” Thais were mad about Man United. The courts at the schools were used for pick-up football games. Their backboards were warped by the tropical sun. Occasionally when I dribbled a basketball, the Thais waited for a show, except ballhandling had never been the mainstay of my game.

“You not play too.” Mam hated my picking up the trash on the beach. She said that I looked like a crazy man. right. I had not picked up a basketball in months.

Two weeks later when my cousin came out to visit, Mam asked, “He good playing basketball?”

Bish and I had played our last one-on-one game twenty years ago yet he answered without hesitation. “He’s the dirtiest player this side of Bill Laimbeer.”

The Detroit Piston was legendary, but the name meant nothing to Mam

“Sok-ka-phok.” She wrinkled her nose. “Dirty same not shower.”

My cousin gestured violently with his elbow. “No, dirty same the Mafia.”

“I played defense tight.”

“In your shirt and then some.” Bish was not far from wrong. My fouls on the street courts had to be approaching the half-million mark. Despite this record, I loved basketball and had so from even before I saw one.

In the 1950s I lived on a quiet street across the harbor from Portland, Maine. My brother, my best friend, and I spent summers playing baseball, chasing seagulls from the mudflats, and exploring the offshore islands in leaky rowboats. Autumn was dedicated to football and every winter my father constructed a hockey rink from long planks of two-by-tens.

My older brother, our friends, and I played hockey from the second we got home from school to the collective call to dinner from our mothers. We shouted back ‘five minutes’. It was more like ten.

One night my father ran into the backyard and declared that he had seen a rattlesnake in the front yard. We hobbled into the house on the skates and he called the State Police. The cops approached the suspected snake with drawn guns. The deadly reptile turned out to be the silhouette of a paper bag flapping in the wind.

During dinner we joked about the episode, however my six-year’s old mind filled the dark with snakes’ sibilant slither. Panic-stricken I ran into my parents’ room and leapt into the bed. “There’s snakes under my bed.”

“Maine doesn’t have any snakes.” My father was exhausted by this fiasco.

“You thought saw one tonight.” If he believed snakes in the winter, then they might have slithered into the house. “Can’t I sleep with you?”

“You’re getting a little old for this.” My father protested with closed eyes.

“He’s young.” My mother threw back the cover.

The disruptiveness of my nocturnal intrusion escaped me, until I was a little older.

The following day my father brought home two crystal radio sets shaped as rockets. They were made in Japan. My father explained the instructions.

“You attached alligator clips to a metal object. The signal is transmitted to the antenna and you tuned the radio with a retractable space needle jutting from the nose of the rocket.”

“They aren’t going to get electrocuted.” My mother’s fear was for our own good.

“There’s no electrical charge. The radios capture the airwaves.” My father was an electrical engineer for the phone company. He knew about these things. “These are better than TV. You can hear the rest of the world.”

TV reception is Maine was limited to three very snowy channels.

Okay.” My mother accepted their harmlessness and my father handed my older brother and me the sets.

At bedtime I dressed in my Davy Crockett pajamas.

Before I could plant the earpiece, my mother ordered us to hand over the sets. My brother surrendered his and rolled over to sleep. I needed any explanation. She held out her hand.

“But they don’t have any batteries.” I had read the flimsy instruction sheet. One side of it was in Japanese.

“At night they play things you shouldn’t hear,” she exhaled with adult exasperation.

“Things?” This cryptic comment reanimated my dozing brother.

As a devout supporter of Tailgunner Joe’s battle against the Reds my mother was deeply concerned about the subversion of the airwaves. Events of the Sixties proved her right.

“Yes, things.”

“There’s nothing on the radio that can hurt them.” My father came into the bedroom and contradicted my mother’s demand, “Let them listen to the radio. It’s a free country and the radio scares away the snakes.”

“You shouldn’t be telling them stories.” She gave him a withering glare.

“I just want a night’s sleep,” he whispered with a wink.

My mother begrudgingly returned my brother’s set and kissed us both.

“Sleep tight.”

“And don’t let the bedbugs bite,” my brother and I replied in unison.

Once the light went out, my brother fell asleep and I attached the alligator clips to the metal bed frame.

The airwaves soared with voices from Montreal, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Wheeling, West Virginia. Their accents scared away the snakes. Music and radio shows appeared between the squawks of static, until a hoarse man cried out, “And Cousy has the ball.”

I soon divined that ten men comprised the Seventy-Sixers and the Celtics.

Each play mattered to the announcer and the roar of the crowd was as bloodthirsty as the Romans in the Coliseum. I rooted for the Boston team, since my mother had been born in Jamaica Plains, but Bill Russell was not stopping the dreaded giant, Wilt. Luckily the Sixers were befuddled by the Jones boys and at breakfast I recounted how the two brothers’ defense stopped the Philadelphia team.

“When did you fall asleep?” my father asked and I answered, “Around midnight.”

“Don’t tell your mother or the Jones Boys will have a curfew.”

In 1960 we moved to Boston. My father took us to the Garden. It didn’t matter that KC and Sam Jones weren’t brothers.

Seeing the game hooked me on basketball, despite my dribbling being rudimentary and my shooting abysmal. My skills didn’t improve in high school or college, yet my merciless ‘in your shorts’ defense allowed me to compete against much taller and more talented players.

In 1976 I wandered onto West 4th Street.

Truthfully I didn’t deserve to stand on that pint-sized court with its high-flying leapers, deadeye shooters, and dazzling dribblers, but the players recognized I didn’t give up on defense. This sacrifice allowed them to devote everything to offense. It was a fair trade.

One summer day a muscle-bound guard from Mott Haven drove toward the basket. I planted my feet and took the charge. He bounced off my shoulder and I passed the loose ball for my teammate’s easy lay-up. Before any congratulations were offered, the guard said, “Point don’t count.”

“Why not?” Incredible talent didn’t prevent players from calling outrageous fouls.

“You charged me, Opie.” He pushed me.

“You ran into me like a drunk driver hitting a telephone pole.” His grudge against Andy of Mayberry’s son wasn’t shutting my mouth.

“You think you’re funny?” The laughter from the line-up of ‘next games’ ignited the guard.

I ducked his punch and wrestled him into a headlock. His elbow cracked my jaw and my tooth was loosened by the blow. We dropped to the ground.

Our respective teams separated us and I shouted over the shoulder of the forward, “That was your best shot? Damn, that was a real Twinkie.”

“I’ll show you a shot, Oppie.” He reached into his bag for a gun.

I opted for discretion and fled the court.

When I returned to my SRO room on West 11th Street, my hillbilly girlfriend tended to my black eye.

“That’s it. No more basketball.”

“I didn’t do anything.” It was a weak counter.

“Like always.” She threw my old baloney-skinned Spaulding out the window.

The next week we moved to the East Village and I obeyed her edict, until hearing the familiar thump of rubber on Avenue A.

A Puerto Rican teenager was dribbling into Tompkins Square Park.

“Mind if I shoot around with you.”

“Not at all.” He bounce-passed the ball and I launched a high arcing shot. It missed the backboard, hoop, and net. He retrieved the ball at the top of the key and flicked the ball into the netless hoop.

“Shit, man, you better be good on defense.”

If he hadn’t been right, I might have been insulted.

“I can’t get my shot right.”

“A couple of hundred shots each day. You gotta improve. The name’s Izzy.”

Izzy was short, lean, and worked an early shift for the sanitation department. I was stocky and worked at a discotheque as a bouncer. We met every afternoon to play all-comers.

The picks I set in a two-on-two game created a bond between us. Izzy scored the points and I defended the hoop. Anyone big, anyone rough, anyone with weight, Izzy would say, “Stick ‘em.”

Before games opposing players dunked the ball for intimidation and Izzy warned them, “Don’t try that shit on the Rock during the game. Players have scored more points and others have more rebounds. No one has more fouls than the Rock.”

The dunker smirked, only to discover Izzy hadn’t been kidding.

Basketball became my refuge from the storm.

When my hillbilly girlfriend and I broke up over my infidelity problem, I treated the pain by shooting in the park. During the AIDS epidemic I shot baskets to forget my friends’ deaths. The only time my body and soul didn’t hurt was when I was playing ball.

The park was my gym, therapy, and social club. I met friends, we told stories, and shared future plans. Izzy and I played in any weather other than rain, sleet or snow.

There were a few other all-year players; Terri with the knot on his head, Carmelo with the sweet touch and the evil temper, Doug, the swing guard from Chicago, Jose, the mad Peruvian, Jim Thorne from Maine, the pure shooting Mark, crazy Hollywood with his fifty-foot swishing hook, JD’s devotion to winning, Big Ed with his sweet hook, Shannon’s swooping glide, Church Charles with his Walter Bibby perfection, Mouse with his slashing drives to the hoop, and they helped me win a few more games than I should deserved to have on my record and I played everywhere in the world.

I have squared against Chinese soldiers in Tibet, run full-court with heroin dealers in the mountains of the Golden Triangle, elbowed for position with French forwards in the dusty court inside the Parc de Luxembourg, fast-breaked barefoot with Filipino sailors in Penang, and faced baby gang-bangers in North Hollywood, but my home court was the three bent rims and buckled metal backboards of Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.

Some of the kids from the Boy’s Club across the street reached the college ranks. Their names went up in lights. Sadly I remained a dim 40-watt light bulb.

Teammates groaned at blown lay-ups, unchallenged tap-ins missed from under the basket, and long bombs rattling out of the cylinder. My opponents’ laughter inspired frenzied heights of defense. Great scorers gave lessons in cradling the ball, and I spent hundreds of hours shooting baskets, hoping one day the mechanics might click, yet I remained a 20% shooter

My teammates never went to me in the clutch.

I was losing more than I won and even Izzy was shunning me on the court.

One afternoon we had an insurmountable lead and Carmelo bounce-passed the ball to me. The ball struck my hand at an awkward angle and went out of bounds. Izzy pointed at my dislocated finger.

“You should go to the hospital.” Izzy was eying a rasta named Roberto to take my place. The dreadlock power forward had game.

“No way.”

I had popped knees, cracked ribs, shattered teeth, had my eyes blacked from elbows, twisted ankles, and torn ligaments from head to toe. So had the other players in the park. We were great believers in self-cures.

“I can fix this myself.”

“Hey, that’s your hand you’re talking about.”

“It’s my left hand.” I didn’t use my little finger for eating pizza and tugged it into place with the crack. “Good as new. Our ball.”

“Your ball?” our opponents crowed vainly, since I had the most seniority on the court.

Carmelo inbounded the ball and I spun to pop the ball toward the basket, a move I had been practicing for years without any success. This time the ball glided through the rim.

Carmelo blinked with disbelief and glanced at my left hand.

My grip had been altered and I nodded for him to pass the ball.

The other team was familiar with my awful shooting and didn’t bother to dee up. I released my shot at the top of the key. The ball actually had spin on it and dropped through the basket.

“It’s your birthday,” declared Izzy.

“It’s the finger.” I held up the swollen pinkie.

I won every game that day and walked off the court a hero.

Next morning I ran into Richard at the court. The mailman was a solid 6-4 power forward with a deadly shot from behind the arc. My losing streak against him stretched over a decade. After he scored three unanswered points, I rebounded an errant bank shot and launched my shot. It sliced through the rim with a whish. His eyes slitted with suspicion.

“Luck was what that was.”

“A football coach once said success is 95% hard work and 5% luck.” Anyone would trade 50% of the hard work for another 5% of luck and I was one of them. I dribbled the ball from right to left. My ball-handling remained a disgrace.

“Stupid, dumb white boy luck.” Richard spread his arms. His wing span rivaled a condor.

“Luck it is then.” I entered a space/time warp of probability. Hooks fell, three-points rained, and lay-ups spun around the rim to drop in the hole.

“It’s my finger.” I flexed the crooked digit and challenged Richard to another game. “Best out of three.”

He lost two straight.

My longtime friend, Andy Kornfeld, had beaten me for over twenty years and mockingly berated my newfound skills. I defeated him effortlessly. My nickname went for ‘Brick’ to ‘Comeback’, although I had never been anyplace from where to comeback. Players discussed defending me. Their strategies were a waste of effort.

I was on fire.

The other players on the court called out my name like I was a MVP free agent and I didn’t fail them either.

I beat my old adversaries.

Not with an inside game.

I stepped farther and farther from the basket.

Day after day the victories mounted. My thirty-game winning streak was challenging UCLA under John Wooden, but the long hour sessions of basketball were tearing apart my body. My doctor witnessed me limping into a restaurant.

“You’re almost fifty. You have to give your body a rest.”

“I’ll be fine.” Pros get a day off. College players rest after a game. I couldn’t stop. I was invincible. I would live forever. I would win win win.

The next day a college kid asked why I was playing at my age.

“Old man you should be in your wheelchair.”

“Wheelchair?” I beat him inside and outside, but on a crossover dribble God strummed my right knee. The shot fell for the win, as I dropped to the floor in agony.


The pain boiling through my knee did not lessened, as Carmelo helped me home.

The next time out my knee buckled and I limped to my apartment, praying that tomorrow I might be the same man I had been a week ago, only a month passed and then two. My knee was too weak to handle the stress of a three-on-three. My doctor was pleased to not have to listen to my litany of injuries and suggested, “Take up golf.”

“No way.”

I decided to ink my name on an extended disabled list.

I had no other choice.

A year has passed since that Spring. Not one day has passed that I don’t want to have the ball in my hands. I haven’t told anyone. Picking plastic off a beach has been a workout and I’ve been practicing my jumpshot with plastic fishing buoys. My body’s suppleness improves day by day. My knees are flexible and my little finger remains crooked. New York is only 25 hours away by plane.

One day soon I’ll return to my home court. I’ll be greeted like a ghost from the dead. It will be the game of my life, because I have a basketball jones and the one place to scratch that itch is a day away over the North Pole,so start spreading the news, “I’m leaving today…..”

Tsunami Promo

Another serious earthquake struck of the coast of Sumatra. Banda Aceh and other coastal cities were warned about a possible tsunami from the 8.6-magnitude quake and a follow-up tremblors of 8.2. The people reacted to the alert by hitting the road to avoid another disaster. Photos of the gridlocked exodus revealed the futility of flight. Fortunately this earthquake was side to side along the seismic plates as opposed to the up and down motion of the 2004 9.1 quake, which killed over 250,000 people along the low-lying coasts of the Indian Ocean. KFC Thailand responded to the potential danger with an alert on its Facebook page along with a promotional earthquake bucket of chicken."People should hurry home this evening to monitor the earthquake situation and don't forget to order the KFC menu, which will be delivered direct to your hands."After calm replaced the panic, Thais were outraged by the brazen callousness of KFC's attempt to profit from fear, but I imagined the KFC drivers trying to accomplish their mission with a huge wave rising from the sea.Personally I'd be heading for the hills with all the chicken.I'm not a khohn khee khlaat or coward, but we're all chickens when the tsunami comes to town.Zroom zroom cluck cluck.