Thursday, March 17, 2005

Over the Hill and Through the Lane

I am eighteen years old. I could swear to Jeebus I am.

And then I walk on to the basketball court. I am gaurded by some plucky youngster, maybe twenty or so and I think:

I can take him. He thinks I'm old. He thinks I'm 37 years old. But he's wrong. I'm thirty-six, and, really, deep down in the marrow of my bones there are the latent red cells of a teen-ager waiting to be manifested. I am like some athletic Bruce Banner and once I get the ball in my hands I will explode with speed and stamina. Plus, I have experience on my side. I can toy with his mind, let him think I'm feeble perhaps even semi-retarded...and then I will strike, and his spirit will be crushed as I swoop to the hoop with the grace of an exotic dancer.

What happens is this: I clank a 15 feet jump shot, and then chase a fast-break the other way, guard the ball-handler who takes three steps past me before my first step begins to form and then cuts back outside to drain a three pointer. The entire process takes a few seconds. In that space of time I am thinking: MOVE LEGS!! WHY DON'T YOU MOVE?! HE'S MOVING RIGHT PAST YOU! CAN'T YOU SEE HIM?! RIGHT THERE!! NO!! THE OTHER WAY!! YOU LOOK LIKE A FOOL!!

For some reason, the humiliation is not enough to dissaude me; I actually believe that this moment was a fluke. The next time down the court will surely be different. I buy some new shoes. I tug my two knee braces tighter. I play Street Basketball on Play Station 2 and watch college basketball.

And the next week, the guy I'm guarding dunks on me. To be more accurate, he dunks OVER me.

My son wathes the next game. We are beaten by a lot. A lot of three pointers. I take three shots and manage to hit one of them. The shot is enough to convince me that deep inside me remains the most incredible basketball player to never play in the NBA. Just because I am six feet tall (if I wear thick socks) and kind of chubby and not all that fast is no reason to suspect that I cannot stay with any player of semi-pro caliber.

After the game my ten year old son says, "Don't worry, you did better than I could have...or Mom could have." It is only at this moment, when my son is patronizing me--not in a mean way but in a very caring way, trying to make me feel better (like a nurse telling an old man that it's okay that he just crapped his pants)--that it sinks in.

I suck at basketball. I am not eighteen.

He lists off all the people who couldn't have played as well as me. What he is saying (or at least what I hear) is 'here are all the people who suck worse than you'. He lists off his ten year old friend and his friend's five year old sister, our dog, his grandmother.

"Plus anybody who's dead," I say.

"That's right," he says. "Like Elvis. Plus he died sitting on the toilet."

"And armodillos!" I say. Ha ha. This is funny. Really.

"Yeah, and Mrs. Strange." That's his 4th grade teacher. We continue on, and I smile, starting to think about when it would be fair to start playing one-on-one with the kid.

The worse thing? By next week's game I will actually believe I am eighteen again.


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