Ex High School Basketball Star

You were a pure shooter, a long shot. You were a star.

Another nobody kid raised in a half-broken home in middle America: a drunk father who worked twenty-five years for Clayton County, and a mother who loved you but was always too passive, it seemed, to truly care.

Yet you were inherently happy. Your smile burst across your face like a star shell. Happiness was in your bones, your blood, your ectomorphic body, not tall, but a natural-born athlete from head to toe.

The college coaches all went crazy for you, but your test scores were poor. You never quite made the grade. You served instead as a gunnery sergeant in the war: a gunner, a dead-eye.

But when you shook the high school rafters that late-autumn night, scoring seventy-eight points, shooting twenty-for-twenty in the second half, both sides of the bleachers erupting for your grace, the purity of your touch, your form, the achieve of, the mastery of the thing – you were beautiful.

When you won the 100 yard dash and the 220 against all the big-city boys, edging out by fractions two future Olympians – you were beautiful.

When, at thirty-two, you lied about your age and won a tryout with the Denver Nuggets and made it down to the final cut, still going strong, still a gunner, a sniper from the three-point line, then busted your ankle in a fall – you were beautiful.

And are you beautiful still in your oil-stained clothes, turning wrenches at the garage, your thin black fingers spiderlike among the parts? Do you still have that delicate touch?

Are you beautiful with your scuffed-up knuckles and your immutable smile, your snaggly teeth and skeletal face?

Are you beautiful in those filthy hightop sneakers and that jumpsuit mechanic uniform, your chocolate slab of forelock hanging lank across your cheek?

Are you beautiful in your small hometown, moving into middle-age, still so thin, so graceful-looking, filling in part-time at the cowboy hat store? Is your uncanny coordination fading with disuse? Your infallible sense of direction and time?

I saw you once, not long ago, drinking coffee from a styrofoam cup on the fire escape of your tenement building. It was the middle of August. You wore a white tanktop and pleated gray slacks. You looked very elegant. The day was dying. The trees beyond stood iron-black against the sky. The staircases along the outer buildings were duplicated in isometric shadows across the orange brick walls. I was visiting a woman who lived across the street, and I could see you from her kitchen window. You sat on those metal steps for a long time. The sky flared and then emptied out into a draining reef – a reef of green. Darkness came. The first stars appeared. Still, you sat. You sat and sat, and after a while, the stars began to shoot and fall.

11 Comments

  • Sparkle T

    March 8, 2011

    Thanks for the beautiful prose. Lately, I have been thinking about the “good old days”–are you? I don’t know if this is autobiographical, but you are still a “pure shooter”. Nice to see some (more) of your writing.

  • Ray

    March 8, 2011

    Hi Sparkle T. This is more fictionalized than autobiographical, and I can’t really say that I’m thinking inordinately on the old days, though I will confess to a certain chronic nostalgia.

    Thank you for reading, and for dropping by.

  • Jeffry John Aufderheide

    March 9, 2011

    A person can become as beautiful as a sunset with old age, as long as they recognize there will soon be a new day.

  • Ray

    March 9, 2011

    Hello jeffryjohn. I liked your comment, though just for the record, this wasn’t meant to be an indictment of old age. It was about something slightly different.

    Nature’s first green is gold.

    Said Robert Frost.

  • Jeffry John Aufderheide

    March 9, 2011

    Hi Ray,

    The perspective I was commenting from was from the observation noted at the end of the post. It seemed as if, to me, that this person may not have lived up to what we qualify, in America, as being a success. This man’s success was predicated on his physical prowess – which is waning with older age.

    The images in my mind showed he may have been depressed, hoping for a better future… hence my comment. If I misinterpreted the meaning and purpose, I will have to become more educated on the matter. Sometimes my writing and thoughts are not as clear as I’d hoped for. This comment is no different. :)

    Peace be with you…

    Jeffry

  • Maura

    March 10, 2011

    I thought the vision of youth remembered was, as you say, beautiful. Your writing can easily take the reader to the place envisioned. That last paragraph caught me. Thank you.

  • Ray

    March 10, 2011

    Thank you, Maura.

  • Ray

    March 11, 2011

    Hi jeffryjohn. Sorry it’s taken me until now to get back to you. I liked your comment a lot, and I only want to clarify one thing: I consider this fellow not only a success but a success by any standard. He’s quintessentially American in my eyes, and he’s inherently happy. In fact, if you or any of my excellent readers are interested, I wrote a series of such pieces:

    http://rayharvey.org/index.php/2010/04/the-sudsbuster/

    http://rayharvey.org/index.php/2010/04/the-hard-rock-miner/

    http://rayharvey.org/index.php/2010/04/waitress/

    http://rayharvey.org/index.php/2010/03/the-truckdriver/

    Thank you for dropping by.

  • Dale

    March 11, 2011

    Excellent. Good word. Back at you. These are among your best.
    My heart goes out to the Japanese. It hurts to see such devastation.

  • Ray

    March 12, 2011

    Dale, I think I speak for everyone when I say we echo your closing comments.

  • The Tee

    June 7, 2011

    This hit home with me. Yes, in our walk of life we at times shoot for the moon. That is what life is all about highs and lows!Love to read more. Nice work!!

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