Curtains Always WinKevin Maloney
Against my better judgment, I pay $54.99 for a service called YouTube TV so I can watch the Blazers in the Playoffs. The Blazers are the fifth seed, which is like being the eighth seed, only more tragic when we lose to the Jazz or Rockets or whatever talented sadists arrive in our city this year, overturning our food carts, making fun of our latte art.
This time it’s the Nuggets, a gang of murderous he-goblins led by a Serbian caveman named Nikola. He’s 6’11” with an 11’6” foot wingspan who moves across the court like a Harry Potter dementor. He’s going to beat out Lillard for MVP, which is like the pile of dogshit I stepped in this morning beating out Jimi Hendrix for best rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Speaking of which—have you heard about goodness and light? The peace that surpasses understanding? We have a point guard in Portland who shoots like Mozart tuning his harpsichord, DaVinci drawing pictures of naked men in circles. Instead of bringing the ball up to the three-point line and calling a play like a regular point guard, he pulls up from half court, shoots for no reason. The ball hits the backboard, makes a sound like Sir Isaac Newton apologizing for physics. It goes in.
Lillard walks backwards tapping his wrist, which means, “As God’s only son, it’s my duty to inform you that Nuggets is a stupid name for a basketball team.”
Anne says, “Are you okay? Why are you crying and laughing at the same time?”
I say, “Lillard did… logo. Half. My.”
She holds up her phone and says, “Do you think we should get white curtains with gold specks or cream curtains with palm fronds?”
I say, “When I was a kid, my dad would come home from work and sit on the couch and drink beer. When the Blazers won was the closest thing I experienced to love.”
“What’s that baby?”
“Palm fronds,” I say.
Michael Porter Jr. brings the ball up the court. Michael Porter Jr. is what you name your kid if you want him to grow up to be Scrooge McDuck’s monocle salesman or a malevolent basketball player with freakish eyebrows. He passes to Jokic. Jokic posts up, does a spin move, makes the basket. “And one!” say the announcers.
“And one” is another way of saying “the evil giant from Belgrade cuts checks to refs, promises Balkan delicacies to their referee wives.”
He makes his free-throw and drags his knuckles, retreating to his cave with Lillard’s invisible watch between his teeth.
I crack an IPA and drink it and crack a second IPA and drink it until my field of vision is a blurry wonderland. This is the only way to watch the Trail Blazers, which is why my city invented craft beer. Four-point-two percent? Fuck you. How about an 8.4% imperial IPA called “Paul Bunyon’s Ax Grease.” Pour it into my veins as Kobe and Shaq lead a 15-point fourth quarter comeback in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
CJ inbounds to Lillard. Lillard dribbles twice, pulls up from the logo. The ball traces a wild arc. In the moment it hangs there, what does he think about? His third-grade crush? The time he wiped a booger on the back of a chair in social studies—is it still there?
No. He thinks, “The ball has already passed through the hoop. This shot was made long before I was born.”
He sits on the court, cross-legged, begins chanting the sacred syllable OM.
The ball goes in. Portland fans stand up and scream.
In Portland we have so little.
Things we have: roses, India Pale Ale, aging hipsters with grey hair and vintage Nirvana t-shirts.
This moment isn’t just “basketball” or “playoffs” for us. It’s a contest between good and evil. On the one hand: the Vitamin-D deprived descendants of dysentery-ridden Pioneers. On the other: the Golden Nuggets of Aspen, skiing in the sun all day, buying cocaine on dad’s credit card.
Austin Rivers brings the ball up the court and passes to Jokic. The graceful Cro-Magnon pulls up for three. It goes in. Since when do seven-foot Serbians have the delicate touch of shooting guards? I hope Vladimir Putin has a bad day, annexes his country.
“Who’s winning?” asks Anne.
“Darkness,” I say. “Malevolence. The realization that things won’t get better eventually.”
Anne nods. She isn’t listening. She’s buying curtains on Amazon.com. Whether the Blazers win or lose, an Amazon truck will appear tomorrow, drop a package on our porch. In this way, Anne demonstrates her mastery of karma yoga, indifference to the fruit of right action.
Rain-soaked Lillard appears out of a Douglas fir forest holding a chainsaw and an IPA. He receives the inbound pass, surveys the court.
Look closely at his tattoos: wings, Oakland, Bible verse. Look at his face: stone cold, Jedi, moving objects with his mind.
He moves the ball with his mind. It goes through the basket, comes back out, goes back in again. The refs look at each other, shrug, award him four points.
In Portland, for nine months, there’s no sunlight. Gray clouds cover our existence. We hear a persistent voice in the rain, mocking us, reminding us that life is temporary and pointless. All twelve of our bridges advertise a phone number to call where people give you reasons not to jump. We had a hero once who lived here named Elliott Smith. He moved to L.A. and stabbed himself in the heart.
If Damian Lillard ever moves to L.A., everyone in Portland will stab ourselves in the heart, but first we’ll record a bunch of amazing music.
Lillard takes the inbound pass, pulls up from the logo. It hits the rim, misses. Austin Rivers gets the rebound, shoots from the top of the key, makes it. I call the suicide hotline, but it’s busy. I step outside and the rain falls on my head, turning my hair into soggy octopus tentacles.
Anne comes outside with a beer and hands it to me.
“It’ll be okay,” she says.
“No, it won’t,” I say. “The Blazers won’t win. Even if we came back and won this series, the Suns would crush us. And then there’s Utah, to say nothing of the All-Star team masquerading as the 2021 Nets.”
“Why do you do this to yourself?”
“All of us are going to be skeletons one day, and we still brush our teeth. Why do we do anything?”
I light a cigarette even though I quit smoking eleven years ago. Through the window, I watch Lillard bring it up the court. Aaron Gordon pulls out an ax, hacks Lillard into tiny pieces, stuffs him in a duffel bag, drops him in the Willamette River. The refs don’t call a foul.
“Do you want a blowjob?” asks Anne.
“Ugh, never mind. I don’t know why I said that. Disregard. You just seem so sad.”
“It’s just a game.”
“It doesn’t feel that way.”
Jokic posts up. Nurkić lightly touches his hip. Two Multnomah County police officers walk onto the court, put Nurkić in handcuffs, charge him with assault, take him to jail.
“Can I tell you something?” asks Anne.
“If you’re having an affair, I don’t want to know. Let me enjoy these last few minutes of unhappiness.”
“I ordered the white curtains with gold specks. When you said you like palm fronds better, it made me realize I don’t like palm fronds. I ordered gold specks.”
“You were smart to order curtains,” I say. “Curtains always win.”
The Nuggets pull ahead by eleven. Terry Stotts surrenders, pulls the stars. Mediocre players take the court.
“I’m going for a walk,” I say.
“I love you,” says Anne.
“Nobody loves anybody,” I say.
I wander around my neighborhood, stepping in puddles, almost getting hit by cars. Through every window, I see them—sad men like me crying in front of their televisions. They try to drink IPAs, miss their mouths, pour beer over new furniture.
I could have masturbated tonight. Watched a Pink Floyd documentary. Had guaranteed pleasure in a thousand ways. Instead, I paid $54.99 to watch athletes from New York, Bosnia, and Switzerland play an arbitrary, meaningless sport on behalf of Portland, Oregon, a city they barely heard of before getting drafted or traded here. Why do I do this to myself?
Then I remember—May 2, 2014. Damian Lillard on the inbound play. Clapping his hands, the off balance three. For a few seconds, God Almighty was among us. The sky ripped apart, and all the stars fell out, and they fell on my city. They didn’t fall on yours.
I opened the window. You could hear people crying in the streets, cars honking. As loud as I could, I screamed, “Damian Lillard is a god!” Someone yelled back, “Rip City, baby!”
It wasn’t the finals, but it may as well have been.
We don’t ask for much here in Portland. One or two sunny days between rainstorms. An 8.4% IPA to sip while Bay Area refugees buy up all our houses. And every once in a while—a deep playoff victory.
Tomorrow we’ll have new curtains. One day the earth will be devoured by the sun, but tonight we sat in front of our TVs begging for Jesus to come back to the earth. And for a few hours he did. He walked on water, and we believed in Him until He drowned.