Speaking of low moments, I am reminded of a basketball game in Boston, in a tough league in which a lot of guys had played college basketball and football. I had played poorly the whole game, and just been called for a fourth foul after being creamed by a large burly opponent nicknamed Mongo, and something snapped in my fervid brainpan, yet again, as happened fairly regularly on the basketball court, I think because I loved the game so much and got immensely frustrated when I did not play well. I bided my time, and then, when Mongo’s attention was elsewhere, I crashed into him as hard as I could, elbows up. He was staggered, but then he recovered, and he swung at me, and he was ejected, and I had fouled out, so we both stalked angrily to our benches.
Usually right about here is where contretemps on basketball courts end, as benches are good places to simmer and stew and calm down eventually and begin to regret you were such a horse’s ass. But not this time, not with me, for I took the long way around to our bench, making sure to pass slowly in front of the other team’s bench, taunting the entire other team and saving particularly lewd and vulgar insults for Mongo, who turned as purple as the regal color of imperial robes in the old days, before he was restrained by his teammates, and I plopped down on our bench next to my friend Pete.
What, said Pete quietly, is the matter with you? Why do you do this? What is wrong with you? You do this all the time. Why would you bait a guy named Mongo? Do you not think the name Mongo indicates something of the nature of the man? A guy named Mongo is the kind of guy who waits outside after the game and tries to take your teeth out with his head. Why do you lose your mind? You are not actually a muscular guy and yet you bait the other team and curse at the refs and lose your mind and foul out and where is any of this fun and helpful? What exactly is your problem? You are a good ballplayer when you keep cool and just play but you don’t keep cool, you lose your mind, and who suffers for it? We suffer for it. You don’t suffer. I am going to check back in to the game, and the first thing that will happen is that some clown will hammer me as punishment for you. How is this fun for me? The other team will play twice as hard now. You just couldn’t let it go. You had to get your revenge. You didn’t get it that the best revenge is playing well and winning the game. Now you are out of the game and the other team is pissed and Mongo will probably wait outside for you after the game. We are going to have to walk out with you to make sure no one beats you up. I hate fistfights. Fistfights are stupid. This is not the schoolyard. What’s the matter with you? You had a happy childhood, you have a job, we went to college, girls don’t hate you, why do you act this way? What are you trying to prove? Why in heaven’s name would you smash a guy named Mongo? Why do you pick out the biggest meanest guy and start up with him? Are you nuts? I have to go back in the game now. Thanks for the next four fouls I am going to absorb because of you. You need to get a grip. And don’t tell me you get frustrated because you love the game so much. If you loved the game enough you would treat it with respect, instead of being such a horse’s ass. Think about that for a while. Sub!
I did think about that for a while, and in a sense I have been thinking about it ever since, and today, though I remember that as a particularly low moment among many, I also remember it as the start of not having such low moments again, that I remember. And now I realize that while I have always been grateful to Pete, who has remained one of my dearest friends, I should also probably be grateful to Mongo, too, wherever he is; meeting him did start me on the road of not being such a horse’s ass, for which I am happy, and for which, all these years later, I say thanks.
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.