Monday, October 02, 2006



From my seat atop the bleachers, I felt four dozen sets of eyes glare up at me. In some versions of this story, I was reading a book (War & Peace, presumably), yet in this telling, I was merely lost in thought. I could hear their sharp gasps and exclamations of “What!?,” whiny protest being a staple of any sixth grade injustice. I myself may have uttered a few words of contempt at my own ill fortune. An apparent rift ran through the crowd of aspiring athletes. Well, “athlete” may not have been the correct term; to describe myself as athletic now would be a stretch (no pun intended), to do so then was an outright travesty. That having been said, my current position did wield some disconcertion.

At age eleven, one’s decision making is oft glazed over like morning frost on a January windshield. When I heard my name called, I was day dreaming about playing NHL ’95 on Sega Genesis or watching Speed Racer. The air hung low, cool, dank in the middle school gymnasium. The winter air of Pennsylvania inspired me to further progress into my cold weather lethargy. I had been led astray by my nerdy counterparts who decided joining the intramural basketball team was the way to go. We were all bound together by the hope of not being the last player picked to a team. Coach Kalina’s raspy (and incorrect, I might add) pronunciation of my name once more reverberated off the cinderblock walls of the ancient gym.


For some reason, I had been named captain of a basketball team. I’m sure no legitimate reason existed for the promotion, save maybe Coach Kalina’s enjoyment. The ugly bald guy always did have a way of singling me out, above and beyond other authority figures of that time. The redundant sound of cement blocks hitting rim bounded about my head. Humiliated and a tad shocked, I descended from my perch atop the bleachers. I had no basketball skills whatsoever, what the hell was I doing here? Alienation tapped me on the shoulder; it was laughing as well. I had not signed up to be a captain. I am not a leader. I didn’t even want to play. I cursed the friends who talked me into it.

“Kill me,” I mouthed to them in passing. I saw my eyebrows canted at sharp angles in their big round wire rimmed glasses.

I stepped onto the ageless hardwood floor where so many other prepubescent boys before me had fought valiantly and died. I viewed the draft pool. Then it was the loathing process of systematically selecting team members, captain’s prerogative.

So many useless choices, I thought. They smirked and grinned back, as if they knew a secret I did not. It was no secret my lack of qualifications for the job. Of the six captains in the first round, I would pick last. This could make or break my team. As I watched the popular athletic (read: husky) guys join their respective teams, I focused upon my selection, my shining star.

I recited my first pick, “Tim Mitchell.”

A series of loud cackles went up from the ranks. They resounded against terra-cotta tile and steel rafter. Now, Tim was good, arguably the best of my group of friends. However, compared to the median level of 6th grade talent, he was far below the norm. I had obviously made a mistake beyond repair. Even Kalina surrendered a smirk and obligatory head shake.

Fully assured of my lot in life, my middle school caste, I plowed through the rest of the draft. By round eight, I had burned through my group of friends and was already, by far, the worst intramural basketball captain in history of Westinghouse Middle School. I scanned the remaining talent pool, each free agent careful not to make eye contact for fear of being chosen next.

Then I saw him, my shooting star, my big winner. On the third row of bleachers, clutching a Globetrotters ball, sat Rickie Jones. My intentions became painfully apparent once we met eyes. Rickie flinched, possessed by fear, humiliation, rage.

“Rickie,” I said stoically, pointing at him from my hip. He made no attempt to hide his disgust, chucking his ball off the ground while mumbling something about wanting to be on a good team this year. It was at this moment in life that Rick took a downward turn. He’d been socially climbing his whole academic life up to this point. But all collapsed at my recitation of his name. By freshman year of high school, he had developed several drug addictions and stood, once more, at the bottom rung of the social ladder.

I held no sympathy; blame Kalina, I’m obviously not captain material. Plus, Rick’s investment in an NBA career seemed a bit shortsighted even by eleven year-old standards. Ruining lives was inevitable given my position.

After about five or six more rounds, the team was complete. I recall sitting Indian-style on the glossy hardwood floor, as the other more formidable teams had their jollies pointing and laughing. The humiliation departed at that moment. In its wake sat a noticeable numbness. I had done it; I had constructed the worst team in the history of organized sport. The title was cumbersome but I would gladly shoulder the weight.

Practice commenced shortly thereafter.

I wish I could say that we impressed everyone, that we were the sleeper team that intramural season. That there was some type of team bonding experience involving NBA players and a kid in a wheelchair that could slam dunk. None of this happened; we were just your average, run-of-the-mill, utterly pathetic basketball team. No lives were ruined in the fray (except Rickie’s) and by March, the event was completely forgotten by the general populous.

Yet, every drama at age eleven seems terminal and for that reason deserves a place in history. I’m still amazed at how a devastating occurrence in youth eventually turns into a petty entry in one’s autobiography; another brick in a lifetime of missed shots, combined with some mortar to form something more tangible, complete.

1 comment:

theodore said...

nice piece, dude. very funny, very true.

i think its time you wrote a story about the kid who passed out in your bathtub in high school at that party.