DRESSED TO PLAY by JACK DOG WELCH
The following is a possibly accurate historical narrative from the archives of the Wild Dog.
Woke up feeling too ugly to puke, so I biked down to some schoolyard backboards to shoot hoops. The action stopped the moment I walked through the tall mesh wire fence. Like they'd never seen an old white guy before.
Raised my hand. "Next," I said.
They were a man short. So, we went a little three-on-three. Half-court, of course. Played this studly dude, muscles, mid-twenties, about my height, played him to a standstill. I mean, his muscles had muscles, and, well, I am being surprisingly humble here, I shut him down. I ruled.
Poked him - his name was Johnny Joe - in the back of the head with a wild elbow early and that seemed to clear some space. I need my space. Apologized right away.
I actually threw an alley-oop for an assist. To be honest, it was a little below the rim. Stuffed a shot. Swished a long jumper. Boxed out the leapers for a bound. A soaring tap-in. Forced turnovers. Et cetera. Unselfish. Made the extra pass. Combine some good luck and pesky in-your-chest defense and you get a small taste of my all-around incredible performance. I play D like a junkyard dog.
As you can well imagine, this was all very exciting. I was unconscious. In a zone. Tripping really. Like, oh wow, man, did I just throw up a 20-footer in a gnarly cross-wind or what? Please, dear God... Breeze caught the ball, which took an erratic s-route heading toward the hoop. Like a long putt.
Is it short? Good!! Yes. All net, too.
"Nice shot." Couldn't tell if he was being facetious.
"Thanks," I said.
I hadn't actually played against anybody worth a damn in a couple of years. Probably more. I'm fifty, weak back, bad knees, one kidney and no health insurance. I used to be a fine athlete. Today I play basketball like it was in slow motion. Don't exactly explode to the hole. When I was fast, I was slow, to tell you the truth.
I practice hoops as The Way. Akido in the sun. Just a series of movements, smooth and flowing, more like a dance than anything else. Mostly by myself. Tossing the ball through the net, working on my cross-over dribble, stretching. I've got a hoop just nine-feet high above the landlord's garage door, where I like to work on my power moves and reverse slam dunks.
This one morning, I don't know what came over me, I turned up the speed. Not that I really moved faster, just I always seemed to know right where to be. Found my body perfectly trained to do whatever I wanted. Ran a confidence games on these kids. Started accidentally to talk a little trash. Just poking a little fun. You know me, I can get a little competitive.
So, I says to the guy, "Hey, Johnny Joe, a little quiet today, aren't you?" I could tell he was getting flustered. All that brawn and, the best part, not a mean bone in his body.
"Can't get the ball the way you're covering me," he mumbled. Oh, yeah: made me feel good.
At about that instant, I stuck my hand into the passing lane and stole the ball. We won by two. I couldn't help but notice how cordial everybody was. Most places I've been, Portland's Willamette Athletic Club being the worst in a non-fatal way, there's dirty, unnecessarily rough action, cheating, arguments, nasty language and, not infrequently, fisticuffs among combatants who seem to think forty minutes of lunch hour rat ball is the mother of all games. Mostly divorced divorce attorneys arguing like the contest is important and they'd bet their peckers on the outcome. Not what I call 'play.'
These ghetto guys, young blacks, had been actually sharing in the game. A pass, a rebound, a steal, a basket, a mistake, an effort, virtually anything the players did was greeted with high fives and supportive words. Good natured jokes. They were enjoying life. I patted butt and decided to quit before they figured out my last two remaining moves. Before my luck ran out.
What must these guys be thinking, I wondered, as I beat one after another and they let me go by them unmolested. I felt like some invincible movie star in an improbable sports film. I was wearing padded black cycling shorts. Works like Kirk Douglas' girdle. Pads my skinny butt and pushes my already trim tummy up into my chest. Giving me a burly yet V-shaped torso. My long dark hair and dripping sweat held back by a bright red bandanna and a gold hoop earring glinting next to a demonically rakish salt and pepper beard. I had a blood-stained elbow pad on my left arm and a pair of seen-better-days 1984-issue white Italian leather Magic Johnson low-cuts on my feet. Floppy socks.
The coup de gras of my costume is this perfectly faded black t-shirt I found laying in the dirt, outside a typically grungy cracker-class laundromat in Carrabelle, way up in the Florida Panhandle. The Redneck Riviera.
On the front of the shirt is a screaming, bleeding skull with a huge knife slammed through it and bright red blood splashing like a bucket of gore splattered across my chest. Scrawled in the same blood-red color, above the skull, is a bold headline... KILL 'EM ALL.
LET GOD SORT 'EM OUT, below the skull.
On the road, everybody takes you at face value. So, there I was, playing ball like Charles Barkley on a good day, looking like some crazed middle-aged outlaw biker with a lengthy prison record.
And nobody disrespected me.
On the road, 1995.