Wayne RollinsDecember 3, 2007
The Basketball Kid Takes a Stand
(continued from Episode One)
Episode Two: Origin of The Basketball Kid
Nothing is ever lost. Matter and energy change forms but endure. The soul leaves the body but endures. The drop of water jarred loose from the Great Waterfall returns to the Great Waterfall. The Great Waterfall flows forever and everywhere and nowhere.
So then where did the magic feeling in my fingers go? From 1974 to 1981, I’d buy a pack of baseball cards, slide a fingernail under the flap to break the brittle seal of glue, smell the first bloom of gum scent, catch my first glimpse of statistics and colored caps and uniforms. And my fingers tingled. And there was magic.
Until there wasn’t. I don’t have a single baseball card from after the summer of 1981. By September I was 13 years old, a freshman in high school, retreating from life. This Wayne Rollins card and a few other basketball cards from the same year comprise the last trading card purchase I made for years, until buying the occasional pack out of nostalgia in adulthood. I had never bought a pack of basketball cards before, mainly because they hadn’t sold them at the general store in my town, but also because throughout my childhood my favorite sport had always been baseball. But that was changing. Over the previous three years, since the beginning of junior high, I had finished up little league baseball and then found myself overmatched in Babe Ruth league baseball, had also lost interest in schoolwork, had watched my elementary school friends change into something more like acquaintances, and had taken part in no extracurricular school activities except for one: basketball. From 7th grade until the approximate time when I discovered marijuana about five years later, basketball was just about all I had at my disposal to try to counteract the feeling that I was in retreat from life, or that magic was in retreat from me.
Since I bought no other packs of basketball cards it’s safe to say that the feeling of magic that had carried me through years of collecting baseball cards until fizzling did not return with the switch to basketball cards. It’s possible that I bought this pack in early September of 1981. If I remember correctly, baseball cards always came out just before each season began; maybe basketball cards did, too. Maybe I bought the pack on my last day before the start of the school year, my first in high school.
I see myself going to school the day after gazing at this Wayne Rollins card and other basketball cards. Let’s say it was indeed the first day of high school. (To this day I still have dreams about this first day of high school.) That day I discovered I had been given a locker next to the locker of a pretty girl whose sudden growth of large breasts the year before had, I’m convinced, catalyzed my own puberty. Now I was right next to her, and would be every day for the entire year.
(The nexus of my recurring dreams of the first day of high school is always the unlocking of the locker. I can never get it open. I have lost my sheet with the combination on it. I keep twisting the combination lock, hoping to feel that tiny surrendering, that give, that happens when the combination is right and that would, if I ever got it, enable me to open the locker and start my miraculous second chance at high school. It’s a magic feeling in your fingers when you get the combination right. But in the dreams the magic is gone from my fingers. I have to go try to find the office, find someone who can give me my combination, but I always get bogged down and sidetracked, impeding bureaucracy multiplying, and I never get back to my locker, and the dream eventually unravels into something else, a shallower cluster of anxiety and frustration that more closely resembles my waking life.)
Other boys may have seen this fortuitous locker placement as an opportunity to get to know the girl, to befriend her, to eventually maybe even get in her pants. But I knew none of that was going to happen. By 9th grade I understood that any connection with girls and their boobs was going to have to be imaginary, an achingly painful realization that I fought with everything in my prodigious arsenal of self-delusion, the peak—or I guess climax would be a more apt word—of these efforts always directly preceding the moment of aftermath and of clearest self-reflection: I am and always will be nothing but a lonely masturbator. And so instead of striking up a conversation with the girl with the locker adjacent to mine, I said nothing aloud yet perversely exulted to myself. Every day I can sneak glances then rush home and beat off!
I guess my path never was that of the All American Boy, but perhaps that moment of perverse private exultation by my new locker proved to be some point of no return in my divergence from that path that leads through hard work and moral virtue to all the bounty of The American Dream. And maybe this moment of divergence is the moment when the most All American of All American Boys, The Basketball Kid, was born. Some heroes of legend gain their powers from experiments gone awry, others from inadvertent contact with power-bestowing gods. Maybe The Basketball Kid sprang into being when my final departure from the magic tingling of childhood and from the path of the All American Boy sparked the creation of some negative-image inner world buried deep inside me, blooming as I snuck my first greedy, leering, locker-tit glance.
If nothing is ever lost, maybe the magic that seeped from my fingers over the course of my childhood, some last residue of it on the Wayne Rollins card at the top of the page, maybe the very last of it traveling from my fingertips to the combination dial on my locker on my first day of school, went to another world, a universe within a universe where losses turn to wins.
There, a heretofore nondescript youngster of my approximate build and hair-color and height puts his fingers to his locker. He decides, for the heck of it, to try to open his locker without first looking at the combination printed on his mimeographed class schedule. There is a fragile buoyancy in this nondescript boy, a lightness, something you could imagine going either way as he grows, either toward exuberance or sullen inwardness. In other words, he’s 13 years old. And for whatever reason, call it magic if you want, the boy twists the combination dial in exactly the right succession, his eyes closed as he does it, and on the third of the three necessary twists feels the tiny give of the dial. A pretty ample-bosomed girl at the locker next to his notices his attempt. Her eyes widen as he pulls open the locker.
“Wow,” the pretty girl says, laughing.
“Must be my lucky day!” the boy exclaims. He feels it in his fingers. As he and the girl smile at one another the tingling spreads to his entire body. It feels like more than just luck. It feels like he could unlock just about anything.