Started off even earlier than usual -- jury summons had slipped my mind. Mookie remined me of it just last night before bed. Meant getting OUT in the pre-dawn darkness and canceling my doctor’s appointment. Got to the courthouse just fine and it occurred to me that I have a valid excuse -- MY DISABILITY!! I just happen to carry my award letter from the Social Security administration with me, so I showed to the lady who checked in the potential jurors. She granted me an exclusion from service, which gave me a potential day off!!
Short walk to the bus station … what to do, what to do … Called my therapist office to let them know I’d be in and got the bus out to that side of town; returning to the house felt like a waste as I would have to leave just as I grew comfortable with being home. Also, if I had played hooky from my session, I’d have to make dinner … not only that, next week I wouldn’t have a meet, which I didn’t want to happen, going a full three weeks without talking to someone. Besides, dinner would have had to be made, and I did not feel like making it!
On the bus, I saw a young lady … I mean, I SAW her … would give her about a 12.5, 13 < yes, I DO need that large a scale ..!>. Maybe she was a college student, probably articulate, reasonably bright. A veil fell across my eyes and I saw us walking the yard, sitting on the lawn in front of her dorm … doing what was at once my past and future … a future that Mookie wasn’t a part of.
At that moment, the veil lifted and the nameless woman left my life forever, exiting the bus. That was to be expected , what wasn’t was how much of her I ‘saw’, that I saw here at all. Man, for me that wasn’t a good sign for my present relationship. Me seeing women … ‘target acquisition’ doesn’t happen until there is need to acquire a target. So do I have a need to acquire one?
Jr. High School …
My jr. high experience was not a good one. Time has not improved over what I would call ‘my era of discontent’. We had just moved into an ‘old Redford’ adjacent neighborhood in the far northwest corner of Detroit. I could never find my way through the social pecking order in my neighborhood or in my school. That has become a reoccurring theme in my life -- one of not quite fitting in.
The group I left, I was an ‘A-list’ kid. Smart, sort of cool, and had some legacy outside of the classroom -- my cousins. Whenwe moved, I was the new kid, and I was never quite able to shake the ‘new-kid smell’ off. So in my new ‘hood, being Stage and Stevie’s cousin didn’t mean anything, and for my brother, having Mark as his big would mean even less.
The start of my 6th grade brought disturbing trends, that were felt even in the realm of sports -- I was clearly an outsider to the social circles of both the neighborhood and in school. Being smart, athletic didn’t matter -- and jr. high was the first time I would feel ‘unattractive’. I couldn’t figure out the social networks, and I was soon at THAT TABLE in the lunch rooms and sat with THOSE KIDS at the back of the classrooms. Since I was in the honors program, being with THOSE KIDS meant I was with the nerdiest of all the nerds.
So despite my athleticism, which usually cuts through the pecking order for boys, I was still an outsider, save with my other comic reading, Dungeons & Dragon playing friends. I had been ‘Rudolphed’ when it cam to sports, not picked, not told of any of the local youth sports programs. Even the group sports that I had played before I moved there, hockey, left me open to further chastisement. Though I had played some pick-up football, I really didn’t get the opportunity to play in the social network I had moved into.
But in school, when the weather began to change, we went outside for gym less, and stayed indoors and played basketball. I could play basket ball, which even I find hard to believe, even though I played and hell, I know myself! I used to dream of being a Sidney Wicks or a David Thompson. But when I figured I would do well to get to six feet in height, I wanted to be a Dave Bing or Nate Archibald.
Though I couldn’t get many touches playing pickup football, on the basket ball court, I was an entirely different creature. Though I was with the other ‘athletic nerds of the nerds’, I could flat out play. Even with the gym teachers supposedly setting up our teams fairly, for some reason it still resembled the ‘unofficial seating chart’ for the lunch room. Didn’t matter, because I could just flat out PLAY ..! My Mom would take me to Olympia AND Cobo Hall <this is well before the Pistons would play at the Silverdome, let alone get the Palace to play in> to watch the games. I would play with my teenage cousins, and run with them in the pick up games with adults from the ‘hood at the nearby parks … yes Virginia, I had game.
Isay ‘had’, because there would come a time in my life as a young adult, that it was better for me to let basketball go. What I have now is the basic knowledge of how to play, but not the real talent I once had. But in jr. high, I could do the damn thing ..!
Ballin’ with the others from ‘the island of misfit toys’, I would lead them to our occasional nerd victories, which would make lunch which followed gym, a little more easier. I had still wasn’t fitting in … Gant and Girbaud did not have the same pedigree as Lacoste, Polo, and Guess <despite similar cost ?!?>. And no matter what Run-DMC and the folks in New York wore, I felt as though I was the only kid wearing Adidas in a school full of Nike this and Nike that <though I would get a pair of Air Force’s, like Eric Turner of the University of Michigan wore>
The jr. high schools would play each other in the spring, after high school basketball was finished. I guess it was so that the official would be available to work the games. Our gym teacher had mentioned me to the teacher who would coach the boys 6th graders, and he asked if I wanted to try out. Did I ..!
I would make the team, and I saw it as the first step into making my was out of the social hinterlands. Even though I thought I was a very good player, one of my classmates, BJ Armstrong was a VERY SPECIAL player, as it would bear out. Not only did he go on to be All-State in high school, he got a Big Ten scholarship to Iowa, and he would play for the Chicago <yes dear, THOSE Michael and Scottie Chicago Bulls>. Even with me thinking I could play, hockey had taught me humility and respect, so I wasn’t trying to be Hertz…
… did think I could be Avis though ..!
Hindsight shows me how we were all riding BJ’s coattails, and he made us look as though we could play. That still doesn’t take away that the style of game I played complimented his. We were pretty good together, and even as Kato to his Green Hornet, I still managed to get my points and stay out of his way. In our last game of that school year, against our biggest <as much as one as you could have in jr. high> rival, BJ’s game was off …
… mine was on … on FIRE!
The game was close … I remember the din in the gym pretty loud. It was a home game, which made it sweeter because everyone who had hassled me got to see me, ME, carry the team. But when it came to the last shot, I remember the kid who had the ball, one of my tormentors, had the choice to pass the ball to me, who was not just hot, but also wide open, or to BJ, who was doubled teamed.
Since this is a true story, you know what happened. The kid forced the ball to BJ, the other team stole the pass, and won the game. The next day in school, the talk was how tough the covered BJ, and how a couple of the other guys from the ‘in crowd’ played well. No one mentioned me, even when during homeroom announcements they said I had been the games’ leading scorer.
And this is how it really goes during the adolescent stages of life, that no matter what you do, you fall into a slot irrespective of your talents. Being good at basketball meant as much as my grades being high did; perhaps less, since my tormentors in the honors classes were at the very least, supposedly as smart, some quite a bit smarter than I was <like BJ>. It was then, I realized I was going to be on the outside, always looking in.
So there began my life, one spent almost entirely in the margins, in between the groups of people. Sports would never provide me with the cache that it gave to others, black OR white. I already knew I wasn’t going to fit in with white kids from playing hockey with them. Not only that, I never aspired to be ‘white’ in any way or shape. But at least I could understand why I wasn’t ‘in’ with them.
What did get confirmed for me, is that black people -- MY PEOPLE, weren’t going to accept me on the face of being ‘like them’. I would always have to find ways to gain access to their social networks. This included sports. I wouldn’t stop playing basketball until I got to college, when my pursuit of boxing, which replaced all others athletic endeavors exclusively. Now, it would seem as if I never picked up a ball in my life … but that is fine with me. As to how it reflected in my social skills, I would grow out of the awkwardness of my ‘discontent’ to switching to another sports tinged metaphor, and live as if I was coordinating a team in the ‘run ‘n shoot’ offense.
High risk and high reward … pretty is as pretty does! I was loose and scored plenty, but even with all of the points, there was an emptiness, a shallowness to all the ‘statistics’ I would pile up. But maybe that is for another day of reflection … another time …