Heard the lovely rhythmic rattle and rubbery regular timpanious thump of a basketball being dribbled down the street the other day, and back in a rush and a flood came my college years, late in the afternoon, when everyone had holes in their days no matter how assiduously scholarly they were, and I would lace up my sneakers, and gather up my shining orange orb, and go to get guys for a game.
Down the hall, dribbling lazily, and banging the ball against selected doors, while ignoring the rude and vulgar remarks of residents who did not appreciate the rattle and thump of the ball on the carpet and the walls and the old wooden doors of our hall; and then downstairs to the second and first floors, choosing selected doors and snapping the ball against them with pleasure, careful not to break anything but trying to make maximum noise; and listening for the voices of guys within who shouted, Meet you there! or, Go away! or, I hate you! or, If you do that again we will come out and throw you out the window!; and then out the front entrance, snapping the ball against the hall director’s door on general principle, and then slipping away before he could get it open and identify the assailant.
And then briefly into another hall down the way, to hit three selected doors, behind which dwelt excellent rebounders; and then up the stone steps into the old gym, dribbling on each step for superstitious reasons, and then past the dozing attendant who should be checking identification cards but isn’t, and then up a flight of stairs to the gym, dribbling on each step for superstitious reasons, and then onto the worn shining old court with my beloved ball, the ball I had with me every day since I was 17, the ball I had touched and spun and dribbled and snapped every day since then, the ball that has banged off countless backboards and rims and fallen through countless baskets, the ball that has twice floated in a lake, the ball that I once punted when I lost my temper and apologized to afterward, for it was more a talisman, a companion, a crutch, a prayer to me than a mere rubber ball from the Spalding Company of Chicago, maker of excellent balls since just after the War Between the States.
And then slowly, as I stretch and shoot with either hand to get loose, here come the guys I got, trickling in, chaffing and laughing, and soon there are seven of us, and we wait impatiently for the eighth, none of us knowing who it will be, but all of us sure there will be one more, one last, one final gotten guy; and finally he arrives, puffing a little, and we start instantly, not even giving him time to stretch, because the game is upon us, and life is short, and other guys are trickling in to contest the court; and up goes the shining burnished glowing ball between the two tallest guys, and away we go …
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