There’s this clip online of a twenty-two-year-old Kevin Durant torching it up at Harlem’s famed Rucker Park. The game’s entirety is on YouTube – he scores 66 by the end – but the best part is around the start of the fourth quarter: KD knocks down four consecutive three pointers and with each successive swish, the crowd’s electricity intensifies, to the point that by the fourth drained trey, the fans spill out of their seats and onto the court, interrupting the game as a result. Folks are surrounding him like the second coming. People are reaching out (or I guess I mean up – he’s 7 feet tall, I don’t care what the official logs say or Durant’s original desire to play the 3; the guy is 84 inches with shoes on and everyone knows it) and just trying to touch him, to get some of that magic or mojo or simply be a witness, like how the Nike executives insist we ought be for that other generational superstar, the one out of Akron.
I think about KD’s Rucker Park performance often. Imagine it: to be the best – the uppermost echelon of excellence, the very pinnacle of brilliance – at anything in the world. For everyone to gather to watch you do the incredible, and then, for you to deliver on that promise. When someone excels in this way, it gives people hope. It’s like a giant win for the human species.
The hard part about the KD Rucker Park scenario is the underside of that coin, which is to say, supreme and superior performance can send one back to one’s own meager, humble life with a deflated feeling of inferiority – that is, if you’re wired a particular way, which I regret to inform you I am.
Suffice to say, I am resigned to the fact that I will never score 66 points at Harlem’s Rucker Park, not least of reasons being because I am forty-one years old, five foot 11 and a half, Jewish, stricken with a self-afflicted minor but persistent case of gout, and haven’t played organized basketball since the winter of ‘94.
(Parenthetically, I want to mention I did once catch fire, as a thirteen-year-old youth, on Marc Berman’s backyard driveway court in Huntington Woods, Michigan, during a heated game of two-on-two: Marc and I against the Field twins. This was confirmed to me years later when Andrew Field passed through NYC while I was still living there, and we met for a veggie-heavy lunch at a crowded Chelsea cafe. We swapped stories and memories, as old friends often do, and at one point Andrew asked, “do you remember when you couldn’t miss a shot at Marc Berman’s house that one time?” “I do,” I said, softly, smiling, “I do remember that.” My very own meager Rucker Park performance, confirmed to me by another – and so, I had not in fact merely dreamt it!).
I sometimes wonder if there is anything I can do these days to elicit a fans-storming-the-court type reaction; that the masses would be so delighted, awed, and overcome by my performance that they crowd around me as one might a minor deity. My ego likes this daydream very much, but in actuality it does sound stressful – especially if you had to use the bathroom.
For a while I thought or rather hoped it could be a poem that would do the trick – a certain heaven-sent ordering of syllables and words, aligned in just the right way so as to elicit maximum emotion from wide swaths of readers – but fourteen years of genuine attempts at exactly this goal has me beginning to doubt if such a literary-aligned achievement will ever successfully occur (though I suspect I will keep trying; at the very least, it gives me something to do with my free time).
And actually, if I’m being honest with myself, I think the whole admired-by-large-throngs thing was really more of a past, younger-me goal, back during the eager theater years. It seems lately I’m content with screenshotting a publication, throwing it up online for my Facebook and Instagram friends to read, and basking in the temporary glow of anywhere from 13 to 76 likes or hearts. That seems to be enough, for me, for now: that my parents’ cousins (Facebook) or Russian sexbots (Instagram) appreciate my latest attempt at getting it right, or at least, getting it written.
Perhaps it is a sign of maturity – or is this settling in? – but mostly I just want to make my wife happy; that’s the audience for whom I have the greatest concern and consideration. Oh, I know, I know, you don’t believe me – I’m not even sure if I believe me! – but that does seem to be the place in which I’ve centered my need-sphere, and lucky me, she is symbiotically willing enough to play along.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s never been a single moment in our years together where I have done or said or behaved in such a way that she has ‘leapt from her seat,’ so to speak, and ‘rushed onto the court’ of my life, to be a witness to my greatness – oh no, no no, nothing like that. But I can make her laugh, sometimes, as she does me, and that feels pretty good. I will share (and I apologize in advance should my in-laws be reading this screenshot on Facebook or Instagram) that I do recall one steamy evening wherein I performed exceptionally well during an intimate bedroom exchange. This was during the first year of the pandemic, and we were binging Greatest British Bake-Off at that time, and so afterwards, in the post-coital glow of elation, I was awarded a no-notes Paul Hollywood style handshake, along with an English-accented “well done.” So that was pretty great. But there’s no video of that moment on YouTube, and no one has asked me about it in interviews to this day. The victory was a private one, and it lives in my memory – that hazy, half-truth place where the story of my life unfolds, and insists beyond reason that I’m actually kind of a hero, in my own unique way. It’s wonderful there, in the myth of my mind. I’ve come to rely on it, in order to get out of bed in the morning.
Trumbull High School Sacred Heart University
72 Strobel Road 5151 Park Avenue
Trumbull, CT 06611 Fairfield, CT 06825
11min without traffic (only 6.5mi)
- When the final bell rings, run. Dodge the teachers, the loiterers, the knots of underclassmen. Dodge friends and tennis teammates too, anyone who thought you’d get a full ride. In the car, as you reverse, try not to look at your backseat, where your racket bag used to sit. Turn left onto Strobel Road for the last time.
- [0.3mi] Turn left onto Daniels Farm Road. Beat the buses, if you can, their engines grumbling in the afternoon sun, but if you get stuck, look at the houses while you idle. At the graduation balloons twisted around mailboxes. At the yard signs displaying university mascots, whose NCAA divisions you know by heart: Quinnipiac, DI. UConn, DI. Marist, DI. Grip the wheel as the traffic cop motions you forward. Don’t cry.
- [0.9mi] Cross the overpass, then turn right onto Park Street. Make the first right onto CT 25 South. This was the first highway you drove on, right at dusk, civil twilight fogging the boughs of the pines. You could take this road to UConn, if you wanted. To Quinnipiac or Marist, too, through a maze of exits and expressways, if only they’d given you a scholarship. Merge onto the highway. Look at the median, the grass sun-bleached tan. Focus on open space. On new opportunity. The chance to become someone new.
- [0.6mi] Take Exit 8 onto CT 15 South. That’s what the GPS calls it, but anyone from around here calls it the Merritt. It’s a divided highway, where drivers surge on from a full stop, merge lanes short or nonexistent. It’s because of the bridges. They were built during the Great Depression, and they’re beautiful, even in the dark, headlights tracing sculpted scrolls, a drain spout ornamenting the sweep of an arch. The highway department can’t widen the Merritt without demolishing the bridges, so the accidents—and traffic—stay. The past shapes the present, in this way. You hope tennis doesn’t gridlock yours.
- [3.2mi] Take Exit 47. Turn left at the end of the ramp. In a few years, there’ll be a traffic circle here, intended to reduce crashes, but right now you have to prevent your own. This is Fairfield, bougie and quiet this early, but here it borders Bridgeport. Everyone avoids Bridgeport—which means they’ll leave you alone. You’ll be able to figure things out here. Ask big questions like “Was I ever any good?” and “How did I not see this coming?” and “Who am I now?” The silence makes Bridgeport the most beautiful city in the world.
- [0.3mi] Turn right at the traffic light. Drive past the stone Sacred Heart sigil, the brick guard shack. The man inside won’t look up as you and the other commuters stream past, and that’s fine, right, being invisible instead of a failure, your backseat as empty as the turnaround in front of you?
- Turn right into the commuter lot. Park in the shade, by the library, under the trees lining the guardrail. You’ve arrived. It’s warm and the fall sun is shining but you can’t shake the dread. Fake it, for now. Like you’ve been doing all summer. Open the car door and tell yourself: You don’t need tennis. You’ll love it here. You have to.
Höglander takes the ice. His first step is baby-deer wobbly, but when he sees the puck in open space, he chases it with full strides from the knees-bent, chest-up, ass-out power skating position. He stops hard, spraying ice off his edges. Protecting the puck with his body, he shrugs off a defender, who crashes into the boards. Textbook technique. From behind the net he moves the puck to an open man, Elvenes, who flubs the pass and sends play back the other way.
From the enclosed press box atop Coop Norrbotten Arena I can see the entire two-hundred-foot ice surface. While the ice crew removes snow and slush during a stoppage in play, I send a quick tweet: “#GoldenKnights prospect Lucas Elvenes still struggling to finish one-timer opportunities.”
I’m surrounded by mostly older men in folding chairs, local journalists and scouts from Swedish Hockey League teams murmuring in bouncy, musical Swedish I don’t understand. The arena’s ceiling is low, so our view looks down on the jumbotron, which shows a replay of Elvenes’s easy-goal-turned-gaffe, then flashes the league standings. The fans chant, because if this result holds, Luleå will move into second place.
I’m indifferent to both the final score and the standings. I’m here for one reason: seventeen-year-old and potential-first-round-pick Nils Höglander, a left winger for Rögle who will turn eighteen in December and therefore become draft eligible next June. The NHL draft is seven months away, but following the unexpected firing of the GM who gave me my job and the swift hiring of his successor, the organizational midseason meeting has been pushed from January to two days from now, where I’ll be expected to give a detailed report on all draft-eligible players in Sweden, to justify my role in the organization and show I’m not a remnant of the old, dysfunctional regime.
“Too thin, slow for the NHL, that Lucas. Do you agree, Katie Couloir?”
From the creepy way he uses my full name I recognize this as the voice of Nichlas, a local scout who must have been peering over my shoulder.
“Yes,” I say, “And he can’t finish — definitely a reach at 127.”
“Time for dinner before your flight?”
He’s hoping for another opportunity to fuck me. A few years ago, we met at a game in Timrå. I planned to return to Stockholm as usual, but when the game went to overtime and I missed the last flight of the evening, I inadvertently booked a room in the hotel where he was staying. When we discovered the coincidence at the hotel bar, we laughed and shared whiskeys, and I took him back to my room. He’s handsome, but he’s unassertive and basically devoid of sexuality, and when I rode him I kept having to move his hands to my body from their natural palms-down-on-mattress position. Since then, if we happen to be working at the same game, he prods about my hockey opinions and politely implies he’d love for me to get him off. I accepted his offer of a ride to the airport, but that’s it.
“None, Nichlas. It takes off in ninety minutes.”
Höglander starts another shift; I lower the percent of focus on Nichlas from thirty to maybe five. Nichlas says something unintelligible, so I lean forward in my seat to make my return to work mode conspicuous. He takes the hint.
Höglander anticipates a pass, intercepts it, and hits the blue line with speed. The defenseman hustles to make up for the turnover, but Höglander uses a free hand to muscle him off while skating a sickle-sharp curve around him — a highlight reel move. In alone on the goaltender, he fakes a forehand shot, dekes to the backhand, but where I would have roofed it, he slides the puck backward through his legs to the trailing Elvenes, who receives the pass right on his tape and faces an empty net. Elvenes misses wide. No goal. The fans scream, whistle, and clap.
I add a tweet to my Elvenes thread: “Another easy opportunity missed by Elvenes. Have to wonder if he’ll be able to score at the NHL level.”
A traditionalist might watch that play and give Höglander the “unselfish” designator, high praise among the hockey men who preach a team first mentality, but unselfish can be a buzzword, a positive spin on “underconfident” or “unwilling to shoot.” With better teammates on an NHL roster, maybe unselfish isn’t a problem, but it’s inherently risky to assume a player will improve when surrounded by talent. It reminds me a little of Nichlas. You have to be assertive to score.
The ride to the airport is fifteen minutes. Towering pines line the road, and the car is engulfed in darkness. When we drive over the illuminated Bergnäs bridge, I don’t tell Nichlas that its six arches remind me of the path a boulder would take if a giant skipped it across the river, or that with the lights reflecting in the water it looks like a snippet of DNA that encodes wide feet. I don’t tell him that it makes me think of inevitability and restriction, that I’m afraid I’ll be fired, that even if I’m not I’m afraid I’ll spend the rest of my life rising and falling and working but never pushing beyond an unchanging upper limit, never moving up in the organization, never reaching my goal of becoming the NHL’s first female general manager. When he drops me off at the airport, I say, “You don’t need to get out,” and when he does and moves to hug me, I give a one-armed side-lean and back-pat, and I head to security without looking back.
My flight home to Stockholm is nearly empty, so I have a row to myself. I take the window seat to rest my forehead against the cool double-layered plexiglass. While awaiting takeoff, I open Twitter again. A rare perk of working for the old GM was that he allowed me to participate in the online hockey community — I could give quotes to journalists, participate in debates, and live-tweet games where future NHL players competed to prove their worth. Most teams restrict their scouts to avoid giving up a competitive advantage, but the old GM was unconventional, from his social media policy to his decision to hire me.
My Twitter bio: UW-Madison Alumna | NCAA Champ | NHL Prospects | Sweden | Your Favorite Prospect Is Just Okay (don’t @ me).
As the plane begins to taxi, I compose one more tweet: “Elvenes is looking more like a miss with each game I watch.” Send. I put my phone on airplane mode, then lean on the glass.
I don’t check Twitter again until three hours later in my sparse one-bedroom. No matter how many times I clean the fridge, whenever I return from a trip I’m greeted by the lingering smell of smoked fish. Along with the apparently unkillable snake plant left on the windowsill, the odor is the last remnant of the previous tenant. I light a chestnut scented candle and see that my mentions are filled with replies to my last tweets. There are likes, quote tweets by people who’ve long agreed with my evaluation, but also the usual.
@Mike_11: “Calm down, Elvenes is gonna be a beast.”
@FuriousSlimJim: “Stick to women’s sports … #goKnights”
@GuyfromChi: “You can’t just judge a player based on one shot or if you think he’s hot. Learn the game.”
The direct messages are worse:
@Greg_Inc: “Hey, stranger.”
@Salv0_xx: “U dumb cunt.”
@Puckboi87: “1. Bad hockey opinions. 2. Sucked in WNCAA. 3. Saggy tits in profile pic.”
My feelings toward these creeps are not entirely negative. Most of these assholes haven’t even seen a single Swedish hockey game anyway. They just want a rise out of me, want to be right. They’re not. It’s the beauty of the internet — I can reject the hate as digitally emboldened nonsense while accepting the human contact as meaningful.
I type a response to Puckboi: “1. Employed by NHL team. 2. Won a national championship. 3.” I stop, delete what I’ve typed, and block him.
During my 14-hour flight to the U.S. the next day, I review my notes on Höglander and all the other Swedes and potential late rounders in my personal rankings. I re-watch a few games to make sure they’re fresh in my head. Then I watch tape on every player outside of Sweden that projects as a first rounder, making quick notes on impressions of their games. I look at the NHL standings and team rosters, evaluating holes and stylistic fits. I sneak in a few episodes of Iron Chef and a ninety-minute nap at some point during the flight, but I work for the other ten hours.
When I arrive at the hotel my vision is blurry and I can’t seem to equilibrate. I want to pick someone up at the bar in the lobby, but all road scouts are probably being put up in the same shithole, and I can’t risk sleeping with a coworker. I stagger to my room and pass out fully clothed.
The meeting is held the next morning in a large conference room at the team facilities. It has fancy projectors and plasma screens, but also hideous early 2000s triangular Polycom conference-call phones. There are about thirty people in attendance. The new GM, two assistant GMs, two reps from analytics, five from player development, five miscellaneous people, and fifteen amateur scouts. I passed women in offices in the business department, but in this room, I am the only one.
Each amateur scout gives a report on his region. In my presentation, I give Höglander a mid-first-round designation. No one else has been interrupted, but someone scoffs.
“Typical Sweden bias — you always project your guys early.”
“He’s not ‘my guy.’ He’s a mid-first-rounder. Höglander. 10-20 range. Next.”
The new GM observes from the back of the room. He has the intimidating presence of a person who doesn’t work to project intimidation. His authority is casual. His movements are slow and deliberate. He looks like he could say, “nice work everyone” or “you’re all fired” with the same facial expression.
When it’s my turn for a one-on-one debrief with him, my calm from the familiar group environment gives way to anxiety and terror. I stare at him, unconsciously tugging at the lanyard displaying my team ID. I can’t decide if it would be worse to lose my job or to be reassigned to a lower tier league. Maybe I’ll get a job for a Swedish team, or covering the SHL for a hockey blog. Maybe my old coach will hire me to run skating drills for college kids and Olympic hopefuls — would lonely dark winters in Wisconsin be so different from Stockholm?
When he fires me, I’ll apologize, then fight for my job as defiantly as possible without playing the only-woman-in-the-department card. I have a pristine record of player evaluation. I’m dedicated. Obsessed. Professional. I know the game. I know systems, stats, intangibles. I can help this team win.
“So,” he begins. “Do you enjoy working in Sweden?”
I stop fidgeting with the lanyard. “Yes, very much.”
“Can you see yourself relocating back here in a year or two if something opens up, if we can move you up the ladder?”
“One of the changes we’re implementing here is running a tighter ship. No more tweets.”
“Got it,” I say. “No more tweets.”
“Great,” he says. “Let’s work hard and lift that cup.”
I can’t take a deep breath until two days later when I watch the puck drop at Hovet arena, where Djurgårdens IF is taking on Rögle BK. From the press box, I can see my future, moving up the ladder. I whisper my new mantra: work hard and lift that cup. Below, the crowd breaks into a full-throated chant.
Höglander takes the ice.
Instead of our fathers we found echoes and a worn leather ball, found Erik’s sweet jump shot, Andre’s mad scramble for rebounds burnt into his brain, his lifelong need to corral every runaway, out there hoopin’ in duct tape shoes. Our little unassuming deacon in his striped tie, blushing when we called him coach, doling out the Proverbs of pump fakes and pin-down screens. His ability to assemble ten boys from the church basement into something more than ten, boys worth more than heirlooms, worth long van rides and gas station pizza, and the games in Atlanta when we tore down the 6-9 wunderkind who would hang his jersey in the rafters at Vanderbilt, and Paul who got run over by a boat, and Derrick who got himself stabbed outside Piggly Wiggly, and Isaiah who joined the NYFD and died of a heart attack two days before the planes hit, and me cleaning my closet on a rainy day with the tournament on in the background, this threadbare jersey with my own damn name stitched right across the back.
… decided to save costs on touring
by selling out and getting the chance to watch
a few games along the way. Fly on the same plane.
Maybe this is something Mike Ilitch is into.
Use it as a way to impress his kids.
‘Sorry you couldn’t go to Warped Tour.
Here’s a punk band that met at space camp years ago.
See how they stand under yellowing neon light.
See how anyone in the audience over 35 leaves with a whistling in their ears.’
So they’ve played ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ 162 times. So what?
It means they’ve had a chance to play together 162 times.
They are the official punk band of the Tigers, and they know
how to be angry. They know that anger isn’t an abstract ideal,
but something that is practical and useful. They know there is no
‘One right way’ to get to where they want to get to, a place
without name but is somehow late at night, the middle of the day,
a place where the breeze blows the curtains gently and you can
wear whatever sized coat you want. This is the place. This.
Name: Christine Salek
Class: 2008 (high school), 2012 (college), 2024 (master’s in library science)
Height: If Allie Quigley was a post
Weight: In a post matchup with Allie Quigley, would have the obvious size advantage
Position: Right under the basket at all times
Medical History: Has watched Grey’s Anatomy since the beginning
Once stayed after practice with friends from the team until everyone had made at least one half-court shot. Does not attempt anything beyond the arc in game.
Student of the Canyon and Rick Barry School of Underhand Excellence.
“Weak hand” and “strong hand” indistinguishable from one another.
Can dribble without looking down at hands at least two times in a row. A regular Chelsea Gray.
However, after watching Monika Czinano develop at Iowa, convinced not dribbling may actually be the answer.
Creates separation physically and mentally.
Knows when to pass. Often ignores a good shot to give the ball to a teammate, who becomes audibly frustrated they didn’t shoot. Quick to point out the pass was on point and that a turnover would have been worse.
Overheard saying, “If they score, they score. That’s not my problem.”
Height alone means they are typically closer to the rim than most average-sized people. 100% incidental rebound percentage.
Strong denial, projection, sublimation. Only the latter seems to positively affect basketball performance.
Handfuls of first place ribbons from annual elementary school track meet. Would lose to the slowest WNBA player because they are a professional athlete and Christine is not.
Excellent court vision. Very aware of when they are on a basketball court and when they are having a panic attack in the fetal position underneath their 25-pound weighted blanket.
Court vision aided by designer prescription glasses. (Contact lenses expired.)
Shows excellent decision-making, including but not limited to their purchase of a 25-pound weighted blanket.
Not only accepts criticism, but internalizes it, lets it fester, and allows it to consume them.
Poor coach ability.
Can generally shoot, pass, and dribble a basketball.
Was in therapy as recently as 2021.
Frequently plays injured, signaling toughness.
Knows something is up when basketball players get ahold of a volleyball and reject shooting in favor of setting the ball into the hoop: “Those are different sports.”
Current WNBA Comps
- Allie Quigley (see above)
- Chelsea Gray (see above)
- Not a good basketball player.
- Would maybe have a chance in H-O-R-S-E against a player experiencing the yips.
- (No, they wouldn’t.)
The rudiments of any tempest
are an empty room.
of an average man
finishing his performance
with a bow before a bow
before a bow is enough
music for me. What beast
in what territory
of darkness would reach
into the throat
of an artist living through
& remove the yell’s
ricochet? God dammit,
what sort of medieval kiss
& thievery leaves
us pregnant with a sadness
that does not matter at all,
even a little, even with
the gambler’s audience?
We saw what we saw.
The rudiments of any tempest
are an empty room.
You don’t have to know anything about boxing to know this: when you watch 17-year-old Claressa ‘T-Rex’ Shields fight in her 2012 quarterfinal Olympic middleweight match against Anna Laurell, a woman with four inches and fifteen years’ experience on her, you are watching something phenomenal. Even on a tiny YouTube screen, your eyes track blazing-speed-punches, and you see a scrapper. From Flint, Michigan, in a deep-water-blue USA uniform, Shields is explosive, the aggressor from jump. Despite a 2-4 deficit after the first round, she never looks phased. A strategy change makes the difference: “Go to the body, then to the head.” When she wins, 18-14, she looks happy – relaxed, even – but not at all surprised.
Round One, Wherein I Learn About Surprising Overlaps
That 135 East Davis sat empty in our little village didn’t make any sense. In this market, owners could easily triple their money on a sale. The bungalow had been vacant for years, and I grew increasingly curious. A friend encouraged me to check the county auditor’s page. From there, I went down the rabbit hole.
The owner of record: Dr. Robin Goodfellow. A quick Google search revealed she had died in 2019, but her obituary piqued my interest.
Graduated first in her class at Case Western Reserve University, 1967.
Graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Medical School, 1971.
First woman chief surgical resident at Boston’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.
Featured in a 1976 issue of People Magazine.
Ringside physician for the Junior Boxing Federation.
Ringside physician for the US Olympic Boxing team; “served in this capacity at the 2012 Olympics in London.”
Loved to travel, read, and garden.
This woman was a badass, one block over. I’m sad I never had an opportunity to get to know her. We would have been friends.
The 2012 Olympic Boxing team was projected to perform well at that year’s games. With a roster of twelve, ten of whom would go on to become world champions, medal hopes were high. Names you would recognize: Jose Ramirez, Anthony Joshua, Errol Spence Jr.
An added layer of excitement: 2012 was the first year women’s boxing was officially sanctioned as an Olympic sport. The US team listed three women on the roster, names less recognizable: 17-year-old Claressa Shields (middleweight), 23-year-old Marlen Esparza (flyweight), and 28-year-old (Quanitta) Queen Underwood (lightweight).
By all professional standards, the team underperformed at the games – the men, to be more precise. You probably didn’t hear much about it, but two women medaled: Esparza won bronze, and Shields won gold. Their corner: Gloria Thornton-Peek, the first woman International Boxing Coach.
Round Two, Wherein Men Underestimate These Scrappers
The May 10, 1976, issue of People features a substantive article about Dr. Robin. Where I had expected a blurby textbox, I found a two-page spread, complete with four black and white photos – although I am disappointed to see that the writer, a woman, begins by quoting two men, mediating our meeting of Dr. Robin.
“A male colleague says, ‘You should see her in a surgical gown, five feet tall, running the operating room just the way it should be run.’”
Sigh. Seems he stopped just short of adding “little lady.”
“Another physician agrees: ‘There aren’t many of her kind.’”
“Dr. Goodfellow herself says, sternly but not unhappily, ‘Somebody had to be first. It happened to be me. The whole thing has gotten out of proportion.’”
According to a 2021 profile by writer Jess Downey, Peek was repeatedly passed over by USA Boxing to coach the Olympic team. “’I was traveling the world coaching so many teams. They passed me over because they didn’t have the courage to step outside the box and have a woman coach the Olympics. In 2004, I was in the top three coaches, and I thought I’d get it. Nope. In 2008, I was again the top two or three…but it didn’t happen.’” She finally got her shot in 2012, and she returned in 2016, helping Shields win back-to-back gold.
Jason Crutchfield, Shields’ hometown coach, says in the 2016 documentary T-Rex, “I would never imagine she would come this far…because I didn’t agree with female boxing at the time.” Shields started training with Crutchfield when she was eleven, and “she caught on real quick.”
According to Shields, her father didn’t want her to compete. “He said no at first. He said boxing was a man’s sport or something like that. It wasn’t the right reason to tell me not to box.”
Crutchfield later said, “I think I got one [a champion]. I just never thought it was gonna be a girl.”
“She had determination out of this world. She doesn’t think anybody can beat her. Nobody. And some people take it as cockiness, but I just look at it as confidence. True confidence. Real confidence.”
Round Three, Wherein I Decide That I, Too, Can Throw Punches
Exactly two weeks after my 48th birthday, I determine I can’t go any further with this essay until I have some embodied knowledge of what I’m writing about. I’m an athlete – volleyball, basketball, tennis, yoga, running, softball, all in my wheelhouse – but I’m no pugilist. Never shadow boxed. Never even tried on a pair of mitts. It was time to glove up.
I scouted several local gyms, but many had waitlists; I left my name and number and hoped for schedule changes. Coach Rod called at 7:15 on a Saturday morning. He had a cancellation at 9:00 AM. Did I want it? Without thinking, I said, “I’ll be there.”
When I arrived at the gym, I had no idea what to expect, and that turned out to be a good thing. Rod started me on the bike, and then he grabbed a pair of white, burgundy, and gold Everlast gloves and got me geared up; I felt simultaneously tough and ridiculous. We walked over to a T-grid numbered one through four, clockwise, on the black matte floor. I am right-handed, so my left foot went in the one square, my right in the three square. Rod grabbed two Everlast pads and began assigning numbers to my hands and punches. In this perimenopausal phase of life, I feel brain foggier than ever, but I concentrate hard on his direction. Before I can stop to overthink (my calling card) or even think at all, he says, “Let’s get it,” and I am throwing punch combinations, dodging his pseudo-counterpunches, and feeling like some kind of million dollar baby. I am also feeling like I might throw up. I take deep breaths while we reset; this is SO.MUCH.HARDER than I expected. I try not to think about it. I’d spent my life in my head; it was time to reverse the order. Go to the body, then to the head.
Round Four, Wherein Shields Wins Gold
A bookend fight: Shields’ first Olympics at age 17, Nadezda Torlopova’s final Olympics at age 33. Tied 3-3 after round one. Shields seems slightly less aggressive at the start, but she finds her footing to take a 10-7 lead after the second. She leads 15-10 after three, and Coach Gloria says in the corner, “Alright, good job. You did what you needed to do. Now let’s have some fun.” She cradles Shields’ head like a mother and leans close; what she says is inaudible, but Shields nods, locked in.
As she dodges and weaves, avoiding several consecutive round-four punches, she sticks out her tongue, reminiscent of MJ. She is having a blast. She is good and she knows it. With a final score of 19-12, Shields wins her first Olympic gold medal.
The announcer contextualizes it for us – because let’s make sure we understand this achievement as it relates to men: “The storied men’s team returned home empty-handed without a boxer on the podium for the first time in Olympic history…but Claressa Shields has surely punched her way to Olympic immortality by claiming the inaugural Olympic middleweight title with a wonderful display of boxing, power punching, and commitment…this young teenage force of nature has simply overwhelmed all of her opponents…what an advert for women’s boxing: a personality, an accomplished boxer, and somebody who’s restored some golden luster to the USA Amateur Boxing program that really was in the doldrums from the men’s point of view.”
Robin, Claressa, Marlen, Gloria. Their names mean “bright,” “shining,” or “glory.” They were all firsts. I have never been first at anything.
I may be late to the ring, but I’m a scrapper too. After years of personal stall out, over a decade of standing eight counts, I’ve resumed life as an athlete and an artist, two loves of my youth. And I remind myself that when Shields was down in her quarterfinal match, “Slowly, slowly, almost imperceptibly, [she] fought her way back with hard, accurate punching.” In her eleven-year career since, she has lost one – ONE – fight.
In the fall of 2022, an estate sale was held at the 135 East Davis bungalow. Eager to see where Dr. Robin had grown up, I walked over on a rainy Friday afternoon. I passed through the rooms, imagining greatness. The house needed major updates, but the bones were good. I purchased just one item, for just one dollar: a 2012 London Olympics Boxing magnet. It hangs on my refrigerator now, and I glance at it before I work out and before I write. A deep breath, a new mantra: go to the body, then to the head.
Time to land some punches.
I am watching the Los Angeles Kings hockey team play hockey against the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team but the players all look like Martin Scorsese’s eyebrows. I have been drinking champagne and changing the time on all the clocks to different times and I don’t know what the actual right time is anymore. It’s overtime.
“Death” is synonymous with “sky” in more than 3,050 languages
Try to relax your shoulders
Drink the last of the water
Try to drown
Out the half dozen people speaking at 150 x speed
It should be easy
As easy as
Walking through the glass window
Wanting to start over as the wind chimes ring tropically
I am imagining rebounding thousands of basketballs
And passing them to thousands of invisible teammates
I am voted MVP / hoisted up etc.
But I turn it down
I become a monk of my own religion
I float up to my heaven
Swish (All Net)
last second full-court heave
as a final act of life
forcing life into overtime
getting blown out in ot
When The Harlem Globetrotters Come to Town
For Curly Neal
I heard that Sweet Georgia Brown is sweeter than sugar cane,
And that Wilt Chamberlain himself, the manmade mountain,
Said that no one plays basketball better than Meadowlark Lemon.
Some say they’re just the Indianapolis Clowns,
Staying in shape and playing a new game in the offseason.
Others say that they’re the only undefeated team in the history of American sports.
But how do you figure that, especially when the Celtics and Yankees don’t always win,
And who’s better than both of them?
I just know that the two-word phrase, Harlem wins,
Is the greatest, combination of letters in the English language,
And to listen to those words in person would be quite special to hear…
Pops Plays Pickup Ball
Pops, trailing behind on fast breaks, all game long,
Plodding along with an enlarged heart,
Pulls aside a younger teammate,
In-between gasps for breath
And during a dead ball,
And asks if he could help him stretch.
They have brought Babe Ruth back. His baggy uniform glows an angelic Yankees white under the stadium lights. This is his 319th at bat since his return, and he hasn’t made contact yet. The way he swings, it was impressive a long time ago but now he looks like he’s trying to chop a tree down. Some eccentric billionaire didn’t know shit about baseball, but he had a time machine and thought he could give America hope. Only the rich still think of America.
He digs his feet into the batter’s box. The fans are roaring. Yankees Stadium was getting emptier and emptier but now that Ruth’s back it’s always full. They come to watch him fail. It was all a big ploy to get them to sincerely care about something and they’re delighted it didn’t work. The first pitch blows right by Ruth. The fans laugh and jeer. Ruth is shaking with anger. He used to be God.
He got in fights by the railroads in Pigtown. Wrestling about on granite, choking on smoky air that carried the iron smell of blood from nearby butcher shops. He was a good brawler, but he knew what it was like to have your face pushed down into ballast while you bit your own tongue until it bled. The Great Bambino. He’d had the grandest meals the Bronx had to offer and he’d had them all the time. He’d believed he was in love with a great number of beautiful women—he’d had everything.
The second pitch is so fast he only just sees it come out of the pitcher’s hand before it disappears into the black of the night. The moundsman lets out a snicker. He didn’t mean to, but fact is that was his changeup. Ruth hears him and he knows he’ll miss the third pitch. He does the only thing there is left to do. He drops his bat behind him—it lands with a hollow clonk. He charges head first, with a loud, bellowing scream. The pitcher is surprised but reacts as he’s supposed to, as they did it in the old days. Punches are thrown and both men are on the ground, the fans roaring them both deaf. Ruth’s head hits the ground hard and he no longer knows who is winning. In Pigtown he used to throw rotten fruits at police cars, at truck drivers, at anyone who had something he didn’t. At St. Mary’s he learned he could become something one day, but only a ballplayer. He reaches for the pitcher’s ear, because it’s all he can make sense of, and he pulls as hard as he can. He punches something—maybe ground. He sees nothing but black. He’s in the back of his father’s saloon, unattended, watching customers. The orange glares of kerosene lamps shoot waves of light through their liquor glasses. They laugh and get angry about things he’s too young to understand.
* * *
The only time I’d spent significant time watching anything like sports was when I was Oliver’s babysitter for a summer. He was four.
He spent the brightest summer days crawling around in a windowless basement with a hockey stick and a tennis ball. He didn’t stand, but balanced on his side on the cement floor, propped on his right elbow, one eye scrunched shut, tongue out to one side. The face of a pool player. Poised to flex, scramble, catch, and roll. Whiff — the tennis ball bounced out of Oliver’s right hand, left hand extended horizontally across the floor with the hockey stick ready to stop the tennis ball and hit it back toward himself.
Oliver scrambled on his knees to where the ball had been hit, blocked it with his foot. Announced play-by-play, high pitched but authoritative.
Edler moves in, throws the puck in front, they SCORE! Vancouver has the lead!
He imagined the sound of scraping across ice, the thrum of a crowd that’s far away. He tried to feel like every person on both teams; triumphant and defeated at once. He was center stage — camera smack on him as teammates glided into a helmet thwacking group hug, a hero. Also he was the loser, seething, wanting to check someone right into the sideboard, to hook the hero from his skates and watch him nosedive, who cares about a penalty.
He always knew what would happen next since he was orchestrating the whole game, but he also wanted to feel the gut clench, eyes-wide unknowing of any fan glued to the game.
I didn’t feel the same, but I tried to understand.
Oliver only trusted me to be the fans. I sat on a rolled up futon that smelled like mildew, feet in thin socks cold on the cement. Eyes drifting. Four year olds really like repetitive stuff.
Erhoff comes up… big rebound, oooh he misses. But then. Samuelson SCORES.
A set up by Kessler and Sedin and and and SCORES.
But then he looked at me, and I realized fuck I missed my cue. I was supposed to clap? Or? Which side am I on? Definitely clap, right? I asked him, “wait what just happened… am I supposed to boo or clap?”
He whispered, “you clap now.”
And I clapped, screamed “yeah!” pumped my fists in the air, imitated the rasping static of a huge crowd.
I was part of his game.
It was two years after that summer when I found out what happened to Oliver. They put a teddy bear and hockey stick on his coffin at the service. I stood up and said something and tried not to cry and cried more and felt bad for crying because his parents were there. I was just his babysitter for a summer. My tears were unfair.
* * *
The next time I see Oliver is eight years later. He was sitting cross legged on the floor, flipping through his hockey player cards. Pointlessly, because he already knows them all by heart.
And I am again watching sports.
Nico’s favorite sport is football. He never watches hockey. He’s not Canadian. So.
I told Nico, no one has a normal conversation when football is on in the background.
People’s eyes drift. Always scanning the giant screen just to the right. Uh huh they say but then, they are suddenly on their feet. I’m left to swivel to the screen, smile tight-awkward, pretend I understand what just happened miles away, clap, pretend I don’t remember what I was talking about. No, no, it wasn’t important. Grownups sure like some repetitive stuff.
The first football season Nico and I dated, I remember a day the Minnesota Vikings lost. I came over afterward, because I had refused to watch, and I looked at him in the gray light of the bedroom and said, you’re actually upset aren’t you.
I didn’t feel the same, but I tried to understand.
Because I love him, I promised myself the next season would be different.
Fast-paced training montage: Me leaning in close to concentrate on Football for Beginners on Youtube, mouthing along with the announcer. Nico pausing an old Vikings video to explain a play, gesticulating, spit flying with passion. Me pulling on the purple jersey, zoom in on the “Jefferson” emblazoned across the back. Doing high knees up some marble stairs because this is a training montage, damnit.
And even though I didn’t feel the same way as Nico, sometimes, sometimes, in the final minutes I had the horror movie — tell-me-when-it’s-over-I-can’t — feeling, stuck to the screen like a car crash rubber-necker and I can’t look away, Nico turning to me with that eyes-wide-unknowing-can-you-believe-this and — I was part of his game.
This is the season that I was a fan.
And the season was weird. Most articles about it expressed confusion with phrases like, “indecisive wins”, “surprising upsets,” “shocking record given point differentials.” A coworker sent me a hissing message in Slack, “vikings are fraudddddsssss.” A game still couldn’t ruin my day but I shot back a pointed, “wow. interesting take.”
And now the Vikings are playing the Giants. In a playoff game no one expected us to reach. Nico and I sit side by side on his brown leather couch. But even though I tried to climb aboard, sometimes I’m still not sure exactly what’s happening. And this is one of those times, the ball isn’t moving where I expect and I’ve lost track.
I turn to watch Nico’s face. His eyes still focused on the TV, a look like he knows something is about to happen. Like he’s reading a language I still don’t really know. “Mmm” he says, fist clenched. As though we nearly missed something big.
Past his profile I see Oliver sitting there with his cards. Brown neck sloping, dark curls getting long and puffing out over his ears.
He looks up.
Is it too dramatic to say that now I think he probably really could be the sound of scraping across ice, the thrum of a crowd that’s far away, triumph and defeat and every person on every hockey team that ever existed all at once? Probably. But that’s what I hope.
His eyes are focused, but only on me.
I look at him pleading, like, what’s happening? Am I supposed to boo or clap??
But he shrugs. He doesn’t know.
He only follows hockey. So.
Think About All the Things You’re Not Thinking About
When you dig your toe into the hold in the batter’s box, your extra pair of gloves back pocketed & you don’t even feel them on your rump as you start to focus on the pitcher rubbing up the ball, trying to intimidate you from under his bill’s low cap & you don’t hear the crowd noise as it drops out as if your ears suddenly clog as if you’re on a steeply ascending airplane & you don’t smell the hotdogs or spilled Budweiser slowly cascading down among the peanut shells covering concrete as suds flow from the lower box seats toward the dugout toward the dirt that you can almost feel between your fingers; the dirt that’s so fine but not powdery but almost soft chocolate microplastic beads & there’s one stream of sweat carving across your forehead so you call for timeout so you can consider all the experiences you’ve been neglecting while you were focused on this one about to be brilliant moment.
Mothers of America! Please Let Your Children Come Visit Cleveland!
Because look, we didn’t set the entire river
on fire. And that was so long ago. And now
you can barely smell it. Most of the sulfurous
steel mills have shuttered so sometimes
the sun is actually visible, even if that means
so too is unemployment. Our pro football
team isn’t always terrible, & there are
some genuinely great guys on the squad,
not just the domestic abusers, & the studs
will eventually sign bigger contracts & win
a Super Bowl with other teams. Good for them,
right? We’re genuinely happy to see others
succeed where we can’t. Vicarious victory
mixed with a healthy dose of imposter
syndrome mortared & pestled in a valley of
missed opportunities. But hey, on the bright
side of the ledger, we finally got rid of our
decades-old racist baseball mascot & part
of me never understood why the players,
(money) mostly minorities, (money) never
(money) refused to wear that Wahoo crap
(money) & look, many of us do recognize
now that it’s definitely not cool to blame
the multitude of victims for the sins of
the master’s money. I mean John D. Rockefeller
got his start here & other than the wake
of bloody busted union heads he left at the gates
of his refineries & the fact that there’s an entire
board game which memorializes his maniacal
attempt to monopolize, he wasn’t too bad.
Not the kind of guy who’d buy you a drink
at the corner public house, like most of us
shot & a beer Clevelanders, but I’m sure
he's got a lot of other things on his gold-plated
plate right now, given his champagne taste
actually coupled with a champagne budget.
Even if all ashes look like ashes & all dust,
dust, & what’s it matter anyway because at most,
if we don’t gum up the works sooner, this ball
of dirt is only going to be around for another
1.5 billion years. Quantum physics & geologic
time = the great nullifier of all of us. This is
to say, you’ll get over it. And we Clevelanders
can keep making excuses for others who don’t
need us to make excuses for them because
excuse-making is in our goddamn water.
We’re annually nationally ranked for our
cursing prowess, but I’m not sure what
committee decides that. Likely some
bitch-ass-motherfuckers. Our basketball
team actually won a ring when our area-
born-&-raised Chosen One chose to leave
on national TV & then reunited, said he
was sorry, groveled back, gave us a ring
that was better than the makeup sex, only
to leave again. Cleveland: the land of being wanted,
but only for a little while. But let me assure you
that we’re not the jealous or grudge-carrying
type, unless your name is John Elway, Michael
Jordan, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, or that state
up north. Or if you’re Irish. Or Italian.
Or Greek. Or Slovakian. Or any number
of other small enclave communities who
hold those grudges almost as well as we
hold our alcohol & penchant for never
quite saying what we really want to say.
If you’re into that kind of thing, we do have
an internationally award-winning orchestra
& late-Victorian Age opulent theater district,
even if it’s only mostly the out-of-towners
who can afford tickets. Most of us have collars
that are too blue & we sometimes forget how
to tie a tie. The incessantly rumpled suitcoat
& unkempt hairdo of the Senior Senator from
the East Side, who’s delightfully well-read
& just progressive enough to still reach both
sides of the aisle, might be our ideal model—
if looks didn’t matter for a model & the
downstate conspiracy theorists stayed quiet
in their mother’s basements. If you’re into
that kind of thing, we’re the birthplace of
Rock-n-Roll & the museum has such uplifting
exhibits as John Lennon’s glasses he was murdered
in in New York, just off Central Park. Sure, they’re
still blood-spattered, but so are most of us,
& like us, they are still pretty damn cool,
if you’re into that kind of thing. And our
world renown Natural History Museum
has all kinds of bird skins in an elaborate
dusty cabinet-file system in its dank basement,
& if you know the right person, you can
attend a workshop there, don some latex
gloves & stuff the birds’ bellies with cotton,
making them pregnant with meaning again,
filling their eyeholes with more cotton,
nothing but blind dead bird eye whites staring
at you so that you want to handcraft little head
bandannas to make their creepiness a little
less weird, because not all our creeps are
super weird. Sure, like any wanna be metropolis
we’ve had our share of serial killers, but most
of us want to stay sexy & not get murdered.
Exhibit A: Superman was born here. And Paul
Newman, Tracy Chapman, & Tom Hanks
will testify on our behalf. Life tip: it’s always
good to know a few folks who will testify
on your behalf. And we do have a couple
of the top, first-rate health care systems
in the world, even if our history of rust,
pollution, & carcinogens are likely
the main reasons for needing a top hospital
system. Or two. After all, is it really all
that random that a solution to a problem
(i.e., a hospital), would pop up & achieve
popstar fame in an area that doesn’t demand
a need for solutions to said problems?
We’ve an awesome national park & our
Metropark system that forms a green jewel
necklace around the city is rated among
the tops in the nation. True story. Ask any
Clevelander. If/when they aren’t busy at
the Christmas house made famous by that
movie that fetishizes a detached but still
kinda kinky light up leg in a fishnet stocking.
Oooh la la. Fra gee lay. Most of us don’t think
we talk with accents. Cuyahoga, you guys.
You best put your pop cans on the tree lawn
for recycling, & our overly elaborate
highway system has been under construction
since construction started after the last
world war, & literally everything is
20 minutes away except the airport,
& somehow now everyone in every
neighborhood is now in the landing pattern.
Yes, we can be smug enough that we try
to neighborly talk over the revving engine
of the landing 747 as we share that chat between
mowing crisp spearmint lines into our front
lawns. Small pride in, Gosh, doesn’t the grass
look great this spring? No yeah sure, I agree,
the team’s really got a shot at finally winning
next year. We’ll brag on our yards & parks all
day long. Given our obesity rate, we won’t actually
use said greenspaces all day long, but hey they sure
do look pretty. We’re also superstars on bragging
about what we lack. As in deserts, hurricanes,
earthquakes, elitism, & façades. We’re future
Nobel Prize winners at ignoring what brings
us shame, as in almost any difficult conversation,
as in the purposeful repurposing of all those
goddamn parish priest child molesters,
the white flight, the voter repression &
mortgage redlining, & the Hough race riots.
But look, not unlike the t-shirt crowd in the early
bird overcrowded lobby of the Olive Garden,
When you’re here, you’re family. And family doesn’t
always get held accountable. We & we alone
can make fun of our siblings, but don’t you
dare try it, unless you want a pow, a sock
right in the kisser, wise guy. Elliot Ness didn’t
make a name for himself on our streets by
coincidence. And while most of our college
graduates do, in fact, end up leaving the state,
& while our city planners still haven’t figured
out how to take advantage of a waterfront
destination like Chicago, NYC, Paris, London,
or heck most global cities with a port or a river
running through them, & even if our name
literally means land of things that break apart,
it’s still home, & I think, by heaven, our city
as rare, as any she belied with false compare.
So, raise your glasses— don’t worry,
we got most of the lead out of the pipes
long ago—to Cleveland! Land of thank-
fucking-god we’re still upstream from Detroit.
Inspired by “Ave Maria” by Frank O’Hara (1964), My Favorite Murder Podcast, A Christmas Story (1983), and “Sonnet 130” by William Shakespeare (1609).
Given my prowess at recreational
anxiety, I’m thinking of starting
an anxiety club team, eventually
accumulating enough points to earn
promotion to a semi-pro division,
& eventually fanatics & hooligans
will be obsessed with wearing
our kits, brand-name cereal
sponsor emblazoned across
the chests & choosing our players
first for their upcoming season’s
fantasy league draft. Our riddled
squad will spawn blogs & websites
& Twitter accounts & parody Twitter
accounts, maybe even someday,
like the Savannah Bananas,
we’ll be ridicule-slash-honored
on SNL, if/when it gets good again.
The fact is most of us hope
to pass on only our good traits
to our kids. My three have yet to
thank me for their combustible-
rocket-fuel anxieties. As when
the house no longer whispers
There must be more money & has
moved on to 3am comet trails of
I finally have the perfect comeback
& I wonder if that kid from 6th grade
is still mad at me & what about this,
what about this, & what about this?
The quickest path to human-slash-
wild-animal conflict is A-to-B-
straight-up feeding wild animals,
either purposefully or accidentally,
as in not securing rubbish containers
or leaving food offerings at shrines
outside the village & soon normally
human-shy animals will take
a risk to get more of that food,
gradually moving toward
the town’s center as offerings
subside, so the wild animals
stalk in toward the townspeople’s
doorsteps as shyness becomes
trained comfort & comfort becomes
trained fearlessness & fearlessness
unleashes natural aggression &
aggression means people die.
They’re GRRRREAT! a slogan
for both cartoon tigers & real &
now well-fed tigers. As with
wild animals, with wild anxiety,
the line between adorable &
deplorable changes based on
what side of the barbed wire
barrier you’re on, & to suggest
that We’re all a tad bit zooey
anyway, so let’s get Prozac in
the water supply… well that
undermines the fact that many
are for-real fighting like hell
to free their one foot that’s
already caught in the trap.
+ Inspired by “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence (1925) and Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach (2021).
a cento, after the commentary of Rich Waltz and Aaron Taylor
(Commander-in-Chief Trophy games, Air Force–Navy and Air Force–Army, 2022)
Early sledding. The straw
that stirs this drink. Tough
sledding. The shortest distance
between two points is a head
that’s a heavy
piece. Now he’s
a big load
That’s a heavy piece. Yes
in more ways than one.
If you live
you die by
help me out with the math here
make the plays
there’s a whole lotta eights and sixes in there,
around with their
hair on fire. Winning
changes everything. A good
bloodline. He’s the straw.
A heavy piece.
Smells Like Track Season
Spring is out of the starting blocks, fast-
healing up the blister of Midwestern winter.
Stop watches start on the smoke—
before the pistol’s soft POP wafts
across the in-field. This is not a false start.
Welcome back, gentle breeze sweet with wet:
puddling mud, stomped worms, crocuses in bouquets.
& can you smell the quarter mile of tired tires,
good-for-nothing-else Good Years & Firestones,
shredded into 8 concentric lanes, perfect ovals
fit for the Ancient Greeks? Hurdlers stretch hamstrings
into teenage leg taffy & the freshman are ogling
upperclassmen in short shorts hauling ass
down the back-stretch, faster than a TI-86 calculator
can graph f(x) functions. That first sprint sloughing ice
from hibernating quads. Check out the Pre 'stashes
& calves of gods on the distance squad, long
& lean with attitude, lapping everyone
in killer mile repeats. The stadium is a gear grinding
taut with congenial suffering. In the stands,
wind through prized metals,
Mom-sewn chimes on a letter jacket.
Can you feel that bounce, the rubber
of possibility under your soles?
The poets can take one whiff & declare it
petrichor, for all I care.
But me, I just smell track season
I’m Still Thinking About 2000
& the greatest rivalry in the history of Track & Field
you probably don't remember. I'm thinking about
Michael Johnson & Maurice Greene
& the infamous dual of July 23, 2000—
the 200 meter dash finals at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
I'm still chewing the epic pre-race trash talk-
flavored Gator Gum. Two ‘roided & pulsating
egos chumming up the salivating press, 6 months
starving after the juicy nothing-burger of Y2K.
Grown men spiking one another with cleats
made of no mercy. Exactly who was christened the villain,
I can't recall. I'm thinking of the crisp-painted lanes.
The steaming track. The starting blocks.
The On your marks.
The grinding pit of my gut. The gun
pointed straight up at the gods.
The epically tight asses clad in spandex
unitards. My lip chewed to a pink pulp.
I'm thinking about the fair start. The centipede of legs
across our grainy 90's TV. I’m thinking about
Johnson around the turn. Stutter-stepping
into shock. Left hammy imploding, crumpling
like your grandma's hoard of brittle sun-bleached
rubber bands. His face, a wreck of bodily defeat.
I'm thinking of Greene, 100 meters to glory,
his nemesis fileted on the track like roadrunner
roadkill. I'm thinking about how in less time
than it takes to clip my hang-nail, his left hamstring
blows out like a spare going 65. I'm thinking
about those endorsed muscles, sculpted deities
gored by the bulls of Pamplona on live TV
& in replay after replay. I’m not thinking about
the victor. I don’t remember who won the race.
No, I’m still thinking about being 18 & fucking free,
daring fate to crush my hubris like those icons on the track.
I’m sitting in my car at the back of the office parking lot, watching old highlights of my favorite sports team on my phone. The highlights are from a very long time ago. How long is a very long time? I’d rather not say. These days I’m weary of specifics. I prefer to keep things at a safe distance. What I will say is that all the highlights I watch on my lunch break originate from a single season of play in this particular sport. This sport is a very exciting sport featuring many stats and players. It has birthed numerous podcasts to listen to while working or exercising or doing the laundry. In addition to all this, it contains a myriad of compelling storylines that distract from conscious thought, which is vital for me at this particular stage in my life.
One other thing I’m willing to admit is that these highlights originate from the year I dropped out of college and got a job building above-ground swimming pools with my former best friend and his dad. That was nine years before I started taking my lunch breaks in my car and eight years before I stopped talking to my coworkers at my current job. It was seven years before my second stay in the hospital and six years before my first attempt to drink myself to death. It was five years before I quit AA for the third time and four years before my team missed the playoffs by one game on the final day of the season. It was three years before I sued my former best friend and his dad in civil court even though I brought the bottle of Jack to work that day. And it was two years before my former best friend drove over my ankle with his dad’s F-150 and crushed four bones in my foot because he was too drunk to be working.
But the year before that was the one. That was the season my team made it all the way to the conference championship and almost won it all. Only a missed [redacted] in the final [redacted] kept us from the [redacted].
Now the team is terrible. The roster is barren and management is a joke. The owner makes impulsive decisions and mortgages the future of the team. These days, most fans wear paper bags over their heads whenever they go to the stadium. Despite all this, I envy those fans. They don’t know how lucky they are. A paper bag would’ve been nice.
They called me Yo-Yo in high school because I had handles. I imagined that on some comic book cover. Like I’d be crossing up Magneto and dribbling circles around sentinels. Superhero shit.
“We need you coming off a down screen for this one.”
It’s hard to hit a jump shot when you’re wearing tight green spandex and have dozens of mo-cap spheres taped to your body. But it doesn’t actually matter if these shots go in. They just need to record the motions. I’m pissed off cuz I went 8 for 10 on the last set but nobody else here cares.
“Let’s have you do ten crossovers from this mark before we switch angles.”
I scored 34 points in Madison Square Garden in the semis of the Big East Tournament once. I thought I heard God in those stands. Church bells at the buzzer. I saw my dad cry for the first time. I saw kids levitate in my jersey.
“Can you do it faster? Like you’re Dame?”
Shit I played against Dame. For one season anyway. Well part of one season. Back to back ten-days then down to the G League. I scored 6 points in my career. One layup in transition, two free throws, and this nice floater through traffic that had folks googling my old mixtape. Man, put that mixtape in a video game.
“50 free throws, please. Thank you.”
When we get a break, me and one of the other guys play one on one to 11 and I do my thing. Jumper from the top of the key. Pump fake then drive right. Drive right then a hesi then a cross then drive left and lay it up off glass. Drive left then fade left. Rebound a miss and take it back for a corner two. Drive right, high off glass. This kid’s breathing hard now. Don’t you know I got this shit on a string?
My chest hurts a bit but that’s fine. Knees hurt a bit but that’s fine. I know where that ball is gonna be at all times. Where it’s gonna go. How it’s gonna bounce just the way I want it to. I decide that. I decide where things are supposed to be. I decide how this all goes. That’s on me. I can do all that.
“Yo. Yo! Hey man. We need you back in position. Hurry the fuck up.”
I wasn’t born religious
but I found Jesus
and the Undertaker
climbed to the top
I drew an invisible
cross in the center
of my chest
and started counting
left right jabs
like rosary beads
let his eyes roll
to the back of his head
and decided to take
into his hands
off the cage
his cinderblock body
hanging in mid air
like a forty day rain
I fell to my knees
and her son
by name praying
and the inevitable
of the Big Bang.
Slipping on stray peanut shells, I fall getting these old bones down the stadium stairs. Nothing’s broken, and I manage to crawl to my seat. A fracture would’ve been rock bottom, emergency surgery an end to my streak. 385 consecutive home games attended.
I have an addiction.
The crowd boos when Kapler emerges from the dugout to remove Desclafani. Disco’s pitching a shutout, but analytics say he gives it up third time through the lineup.
Bochy would’ve left him in. Like he did with Bumgarner in 2014, for the last out of the World Series.
No Bumgarner now. No Bochy, Posey, or anyone with championship rings. Just these replacement-level players who can’t field routine grounders, heading for 100 losses.
I’ve seen each loss. One at a time.
Is this rock bottom?
I look around the empty upper deck, the pink and orange sky beyond Triple’s Alley. Ballpark sunsets make me remember.
When I showed up drunk in my scrubs, couldn’t even hold a scalpel straight, and the cops came to escort me out of the operating room.
When Julia packed her suitcase, drove off, and two weeks later, College Hunks Hauling Junk arrived to take everything else.
Nine years, six months, three days sober. Got my 24-hour sobriety medallion the day the Giants won the World Series.
The remaining fans zombie-walk out of the stadium, after Garcia gives up a three-run bomb in the 9th inning. The lefty-lefty matchup had looked good on paper.
Hopefully, Garcia will get another chance tomorrow.
– in the style of Serengeti’s “Dennehy”
Bulls game — our work gave us two seats in the club level.
We crushed the Wizards, ate deep dish and split a jumbo pretzel.