ever have someone tell you to stand up straight? look you in the eye when they're talking?

thank christ it was only my foot and not my jumpshot

I broke my foot and tore a nice bunch of ligaments all the way up my ankle playing pickup basketball at the Nate Thurmond courts between Ashbury and Clayton. I knew it was broke the second it happened. I rolled over from where I’d tumbled on the left block—my hands a little scuffed—looking at the drunk kids who come to San Francisco to live in the park like real bums until it’s time to go back to Marin and back to some private university all paid for by mom and dad, who were looking at me from the benches with a kind of haughty sneer at the loser who busted his ass playing pickup ball in the park.

“He ain’t no fuckin’ Kobe, that’s for fuckin’ sure.”

I pushed myself up and tried to walk it off.

“What? You hurt or something?” the guy I was playing laughed. “Sandbagger. You’re probably just tired.”

See, I was really mopping the floor with this guy’s ass. It was something like 14-1 or something. I wasn’t talking shit or anything, but some guys, that pisses them off more.

I gave him the killer cross-over at the top of the key. Drove left. Blew right by him. He stuck his knee out, gave me a helpful shove in the back and “pop,” I went sprawling.

I knew something was broke right then. I was hoping it was my ankle, again, but I didn’t want to take my shoe off to see. I limped around for a second hoping to walk it off, but this guy just thought I was stalling.

“You’re tired. That’s what you are. How can you be tired? C’mon. Check.” he bounced me the ball just out of my reach and I bent down for it and y-ouch.

“Yeah. I’m tired. Tired of whooping your ass,” I said, giving a tender jab step and then rainbowing a seventeen footer. My foot might be broke, but my jump shot sure wasn’t.

Whether it was really broke or not, I didn’t know. Adrenaline was bouncing through my veins—I couldn’t feel much of anything— and I figured, well, I can’t break it any more.

After the game, we sat at the court side benches drinking a beer.

“God, you really tired out fast there. You smoke or something because you look in shape to me.”

“Remind me the score again?”

“Fuck you.”

Next day the doctor confirmed what I already knew: my right foot was broken and I’d torn ligaments on both sides of the ankle. He put me in a boot and told me to get used to it.

I called the guy the next day, right after I got out of the hospital, he was my friend, after all, and I really wanted to gloat.

“I beat your ass on one foot,” I told him. “You can’t ever play on that court again now. You can’t even walk by the court on the way home, you gotta use a side street and shit.”

“So you really weren’t tired? I swear that you were.”

For three months, I’m not sure much of all what I did. Most nights, I ate Vicodin hitting that cheap, knockoff heroin high until I threw up. I didn’t sleep well. I remember the Giants won the World Series. I stood through the ninth in my bedroom leaning on an old man cane my neighbor gave me. With the final out, I sat back down instead of running out to the street and screaming like a lunatic. It rained off and on for a few weeks but I didn’t care because I couldn’t leave the house. Because I couldn’t leave the house, I lost my job around Thanksgiving. My wife cooked a small turkey and all the trimmings, but I didn’t have much of an appetite. At least a few pounds of dark meat ended up compost.

Just before Christmas, the boot came off. My right leg looked like a leg of somebody who’d spent a year suffering from dysentary at a refugee camp somewhere in one of those African countries that only take breaks from civil war for World Cup soccer.

First thing I did was walk down to the park to put the leather through the rope.

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