Days of Love and Basketball

Patty and I spent much of our seventh-grade-year at Funston Field. Just like Fort Funston, the name was a nod to General Frederick Funston, regarded as  “the man who saved San Francisco” during The Great Fire.  We’d cut class whiling away entire days lying on the grass. We’d scheme ways to make money or get new clothes. We’d gripe about the popular kids, kids who didn’t have to scheme for what they wanted.

The highlight of our week was the basketball games held in Funston’s gynmansium on Friday afternoons. One day we hiked from our plot of grass over to the gymnasium early to get the God seats. We sat in the last row on the second floor. We sat staring down on the players as from Heaven itself. The team from Washington came bouncing onto the court. 

“What do you think about number 14, Johnson?” Patty said.

Johnson sported a perfectly round afro that bounced with his every leap and jump. Did you know the male peacock as part of the mating ritual rattles the female’s head by sending out shock waves? To do this he shakes his tailfeathers an average of 25 times per second.  Something similar seemed to be going on here. Because Patty was sure acting agitated. Last week it was the star player from Everett. Before him Washington’s lean dunking machine, number 13. I remembered only because that was how old we were at the time. 

The score on the board was 60-64 with Marina Middle School, our team, trailing. I chided Patty about her one track mind, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the boys either. They gleamed with sweat. Their turns, their jumps, their muscles. They looked like gazelles, all sharp turns and bounding jumps.

As the game was winding down Patty rushed to the main exit from the gym hoping to sideline number 14. When he departed out a side door, her jaw dropped. Just as suddenly she clenched her teeth in determination. Just then the victory cries rung out from the front of the building. We crashed through the doors and saw the school bus idling. I was sure Patty would march onto the bus and pulled Johnson out of his seat by his team jersey. Instead she planted herself by the window where her sat, peering up at his profile. He was oblivious.  

She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Johnson.”  

I stood chewing my nails and slouching. I had braces when they were made of stainless steel not clear plastic. My body was that of a ten-year-old boy. I was as likely to attract athletic, popular boys as I was to be knighted by the Queen of England. Johnson was laughing with his head thrown back, reaching for a handful of streamers in mid-air. Patty scooped up a fistful of pebbles from the landscaping and tossed them at his window. He jumped. I expected him to appear frightened, but he appeared curious. Who was this bold red headed girl? Patty fell short of bending a knee and reciting where-for-art-thous. She clutched at her chest instead. The bus pulled its heft into traffic and Patty broke into a run. I could still see 14, his face darkening with fear as he realized she was chasing the bus, chasing him.  She angled around and into pedestrians. People stopped to stare at us darting down the street, Patty waving her arms over her head in a “stop the bus” gesture. Please don’t let the bus stop. Please don’t let the bus stop, I repeated in my head. Ditching her right then would be completely justified. But I didn’t. As was typical, I let myself get swept along. I took off in a dash behind her. I wasn’t interested in the boys really. It was Patty. I was pulled into her wake. Almost against my will. But not quite.

After two blocks our lungs had a word with us. “Do you not remember you are chain smokers?” We hunched over to catch our breath, our hands on our knees as if in a huddle. 

“You got your point across.” I wheezed until I coughed.

“Yeah, what other girls are going to chase his bus? It let him know that I’ll do anything for him.”

“Yeah, go the extra mile.”

We laughed until our eyes got wet.

“I need a smoke.”

“Me too.”

We retreated back to Funston collapsing on a patch of grass. Patty pulled a crushed pack of Marlboros out of her sock. We bent our cigarettes straight. Patty tapped hers on her Chuck’s across the pink I ♥ Xavier she wrote with a felt trip marker on the outer sole.  

“Did you see him? He was looking at me the entire time.”

“The last time I saw him he looked kind of scared. Maybe chasing him scared him.” I lit my cigarette and made rings with the smoke. 

“I had to send a sign.” Patty poked her finger through my smoke rings.

“Do you think he liked you?” I tossed my Zippo in her lap. 

“What’s not to like? But I bet he has girls follow him everywhere.” She did the trick of igniting the lighter with her jeans. 

“We were the only girls at his school bus.”

“They’re from Washington. It was an across-town game. I meant his groupies at the home games.”

Patty made connections for me when I couldn’t. We complemented one another. If she had a question about books, I was her go-to. At least I pretended to be. I tossed more books under my bed with my dirty dishes than I read. She asked me once what the big deal was about Huckleberry Finn.  “Runaways.” Patty got it right away. We fantasized about being out from under our parents’ thumb every minute of the day.   

“How can I ever bare my feelings like you?”

“You’re too shy. It’s not going to happen. You can never be me.”

 Patty thought we were so different. The truth was in so many ways we were just alike. And the adage opposites attract just wasn’t true. The greater the degree of attitudinal similarity between people, the greater the liking. The one piece of evidence that came to mind that stood out and marked us as two peas? We both were in need of heaps of “sivilizing.”

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