Sunday, June 25, 2006

Out of Bounds

“NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!!”

He just kept repeating this alarm in my face, swinging his arms around as if he was trying to ward off a bear in the wild. It was working, I could tell, because I was frazzled and backing up. I backed all the way to half court, and crossed the half-hash, soliciting a whistle and eventual turnover call from the referee. After I crossed the line three times.

“NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!!”

I could smell his sweaty breath as the waves of his mouth-heat violated my face. He had freckles, which was relatively rare for a black man in our neighborhood, and one extra-yellow front tooth. Not gold, mind you. Just yellow. Like butter. I assumed it was a replacement of some sort. Possibly carved from driveway stones.

“NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!!”

Coach was less than impressed with my complete absence of skill under pressure. After all, my opponent was merely barking at me. He wasn’t making much of an effort to actually TAKE the ball. I was simply being yelled off the court. A weakness of character which would eventually have to be ferreted out and killed, if I were to ever be able to accomplish even the slightest of goals, later in life. A life which ever since, has been full of bellowing, unskilled side-liners who just want to see someone else run away. To ALSO run away.

They wanted me to score points. That’s where the whole “point guard” name came from. I was to bring the bouncing orange ball from one end of the court, to the opposing end, with the intent of a) setting up plays, and b) helping to avoid making everyone else look hopelessly pathetic and incapable of playing organized basketball by single-handedly scoring a shitload of points. Pretty straight-forward job description.

But I was a seventh grader of questionable mental capacity. Plus, I was harboring a previously unknown but crippling fear of public competition.

Being involved in any competitive stage, no matter how peripheral the part, is horrifying in and of itself. Because you aren’t dealing with the standard Man v. Man trial that everyone assumes it to be. Oh no. If that were the case, everyone would be involved. Everyone would compete. Because there would be no mystery to competition beyond the combination of practice and inborn skill. The only thing that might preclude one from participating in EVERY available competition (under these idealized conditions) would have to be overlapping schedules. Otherwise, all games would include everyone. It would be math. It would be robotic. It would be predictable.

But most importantly: it would be a theatre of the bored.

In reality, everyone on a competitive stage, whether alone (platform diver) or on a team (gang-bang porn-off), must do battle with themselves as well. Multi-tasking. It’s about confidence, courage, perseverance, “heart”, and all those other obnoxious words that headline shitty inspirational posters. In order to beat any other person, one must be able to beat themselves. We all have to find some way to overcome our overwhelming sense of incapability. No matter how trivial the contest.

And in seventh grade, there is nothing trivial about a basketball game. Watch Teen Wolf. Again. The final sequence of that movie sums up quite nicely, just how much pressure can be brought down on little dudes who have probably named all eight of their newfound ball hairs.

To make matters worse, I grew up in a relatively ghetto-ass part of Houston where my Middle School basketball team contained guys who could dunk, dudes who would later go on to college football as lineman, and really ambitious fellas who sold crack during class. Imagine being thirteen and playing Our competition was similar in form to my teammates.

I, on the other hand, had the look and build of your average toe-headed teen who still played with Hotwheels and probably continued to clutch the erroneous belief that his dad was a real goddamn superhero. To say I was physically overpowered by my (sort of) contemporaries would be a gross understatement. I wasn't in some of their age, let alone size bracket(s).

I just wanted to survive the end of the game. The humiliation. The dropping of the balls.

Fourth quarter, and my third-string, bench-warming ass was called in to finish off the game. We were down by several hundred thousand points, which was really the only time I ever got to play, but I was somehow “needed” in order to multiply our bigboard standing.

“NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!! NAR!!—NAR!!”

Surprise, surprise. I went out of bounds instead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

not to sound like one of those dudes you mention in your story thats been waiting for someone else to run as well...but i was cackeling hard-core over butter-tooth and the whole "NAR, NAR" thingy. Ill give you my impression of him next time i see you. and now i have a nick name for your "Nar Nar" (giggles abound).