Senin, 13 Februari 2012

BEAT BY THE OLD AGE TRUCK by Peter Nolan Smith


Two years ago New York’s newspapers reported that January had been the warmest January on record and I couldn’t recall a single day since early December with the temperature in the 30s. Late in the month the thermometer hit 45 on a Sunday Morning and I picked up the telephone to call Shannon.

We had been playing basketball together for over twenty-five years. Our first game had been when he was in his teens. The tall photographer lived on the other side of Fort Greene Park. He was always up for a game. Shannon was a native new Yorker.

“You want to shot some ball at deKalb.” The playground was three blocks away from my apartment.

“Sure.” Shannon was willing to meet at 3.

“I’ll warm up before you.”

“You’ll need it, old man.”

“Well, see.” I pulled on my black sneakers and shorts. I thought they made me look thinner. My basketball needed air. I wasn’t putting any in the ball. The depressurized rock stole a better player’s dribble. As I was leaving my landlord’s wife shook her head.

“You have coverage?” She has asked the same question when I had gone sledding with her husband and two kids in Ft. Greene Park.

“No.” My only health plan was wine combined with aspirins. It was a miracle combo, although no protection against a twisted ankle or a popped knee. “I’m just shooting the ball. No games.”

“Right.” Katie’s dismissive comment was for the good of my kids.

“I’ll be careful.” I had to stay healthy at least until I’m 77 when Angie will be 26 and Fenway 21.

Outside the air was cool, not cold. I ran on the sidewalk. My knees creaked with pain. I’ll never be fast again.

Young passers-by checked out my dribbling. That skill was not my forte. Defense was my game. Stopping the scorer was my specialty.

I entered the park and surveyed the courts. The nearest baskets were occupied by young teenagers working a five-on-five. The ones against the fence were dominated by kids, except for the last one, where a lanky 6-4 black teenager practiced set shoots. His release was smooth as Michael Jordan’s bald head and I asked, “Mind if I shoot with you?”

“You want to play one-on-one?” His eyes shined with a competitive urge.

“Let me loose up a little.” Shannon would show up soon and I took a bunch of shots. My aim was off and his ball felt funny in my hands. It was punched to the bursting point. I watched him shoot and tried to hold the ball same as him. My shooting didn’t improve, so I said, “Hit or miss for ball.”

“You want to shoot first?” He bounce-passed the ball to me.

“Thanks.” At my age every advantage was a plus.

My shot from the foul line clanged off the rim.

He buried his shot.

All net.

The next possession he glided to the hoop for a lay-up.

I was already sucking wind. Score 2-0. The following play was a grinding attack in the paint. His shot went off the backboard and in. 3-0. Shannon came into the park and stretched watching us. I scored 3 points in a game to 11.

This kid was good.

He beat Shannon 11-4.

“My name’s Shea like the old Mets baseball park.”

There was nothing old about Shea and I couldn't remember ever being that young.

Our second game repeated the score of the first game.

11-3.

Shea beat me up inside and I fell over twice, blown out of my socks by his move to the hole. If I hadn’t been 57, this would been have a humiliating loss, instead of simply an embarrassing defeat.

Shannon went down 11-6 with a struggle.

Shea was getting tired.

I got a 3-0 lead in the next game. It was all an illusion.

Shea sucked it up and I didn’t score another point. My lungs were red-lining for oxygen and Shea hadn’t even broken a sweat.

The successive games had had a toll on Shea and Shannon had him 9-8.

Two more baskets and he could say in the future that he beat this teenage phenom. Shea didn’t let him get any.

We spoke to Shea. He was a 16 year-old sophomore starting center for the local high school. His team had lost in the play-offs this weekend. He wasn’t happy about his play.

“Truthfully I haven’t played against anyone better than you in all my years.”

“Thanks.” No one ever wanted to tell Shea that. He was that good.

Shannon and I teamed up for a 2-on-2. We lost 15-6. I scored no points. My hang-over was not a factor. My legs were too old for this game. I didn’t deserve to be on the court with Shea or Shannon, but I wasn’t sitting out this season. All I needed to do was practice my outside shot.

I returned to the brownstone with a hobble. Katie looked at me with disgust.

“Some men know when to call it quits.”

“Not me.” Old age is only in my head.

Age is only a number.

My heart is still 15 and my head is much younger.

I wish my body understood that.

Maybe later this summer.

If I’m lucky to last that long.

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