Chapter 25 The Dreamers
I woke up to the sound of footsteps outside his dorm room. As I laid there the noise level increased as voices were added to the mix. I rolled over to look at his mechanical alarm clock and noticed that it was nearly 7am.
I pulled the covers off my body and plunked my feet to the floor below. I wrested my elbows on my knees and ran both hands straight through my hair from front to the back of my neck. I noticed that the sun cast a shadow through the vertical rungs that made up the back of one of the chairs at the table. I realized that I needed to get moving.
I quickly showered, dressed in shorts, a gray athletic t-shirt, tennis shoes and pulled my old high school basketball warm-up pants to my waist. I grabbed the new ball Jenkins had given me the day before and headed out Beaupre where I was to try and get into a pick up game.
I worked my way off campus and walked the route through the older section of town. The streets were lined with the older, run-down store fronts of cleaners, pawn-shops, deli's, ethnic specialty shops, bakeries, and the like. The smells and the sounds could be found in any distressed municipality from Gary, Indiana to Detroit. The streets were lined with many old cars with multi-colored spray painted finishes, most of which never should be allow on the open road. Many of the cars had their owners sitting on the hoods or trucks conversing with the friends and neighbors.
I turned onto Smith Place where Beaupre was located. The courts were occupied at only one end with a couple of black players taking turns shooting free throws. The courts were encased in an old 10 foot tall very rusty chain-link fence. Many of the supporting cross-bars were missing with a number of tears in the fencing. One area had a 5-foot diameter section torn out. Each length of the court has old aluminum bleachers spray-painted a rainbow of colors. Underneath the bleachers were mounds of trash and garbage from the previous game. Neither of the rims on the backboards were quite level, feeling the negative effects of nine foot 10 inch slam-dunks from Michael Jordan wanna-bees.
The two black players saw me making my way onto the court, paused to give me the once over, then went back to their personal little free-throw contest. I did a little stretching and began banking lay-ups with alternating hands, working my way further out, and then shooting jump-shot from the free throw line. I never missed a shot.
I moved out passed the top of the key into three-point land and began sinking shot after shot. Each shot never touched the rim making a clanking noise as it rocketed into the chain-link netting that was standard black-top court issue complements of the City. The two players began taking notice of my strange luck of not missing one shot, stopping their own little match.
"Nice shooting "Whitey"," shouted one of the boys. "Spose we're sposed to be impressed or sumpin'," said the other. I just kept shooting, not responding to what they had said.
"Now we know you ain't Helen Keller," said one of the boys again. "We can tell by ya shootin you can see, you juz must be deef, or somethin," chimed in the other. "Or didn't your Momma teach you no manners to speak when you was spoken to?"
I turned but was very afraid that this conversation was never going to go in any positive direction. I was not sure how to respond. No one else was around but the three of us, as far as I knew. I decided to take a chance and be brave.
"No, I can hear all right," I answered. "And you're right, I can see, too. My name is not Helen, have never worn a dress. How about either of you?"
"Ooo, Whitey got a mouth," said one boy. "Too bad no brain."
The two boys started making their way down to my end of the court. The taller one was dribbling the ball about every third step. This looked like trouble. I turned and held my ball on my right hip watching as the boys got closer.
"I'm not looking for any trouble," I made clear. "I'm not walking away from any either. I came down here to shoot around a little, that's all."
The two boys began sizing me up as they got closer with each step. It became obvious to them that I was five inches taller than Mookie, the biggest boy, and that I was also well built, not just some tall "white-drink-of-water".
"You think you can just come into our "hood", shoot around, be rude to us, ignore us talkin to you, and that's all there is to it," said Marvin, the smaller boy? "Not this week, Homey," he added.
"I wasn't being rude," I replied. "I'm just not looking for trouble. You sound like you are," as I looked Marvin right in the eyes, never blinking and beginning to make Marvin nervous."
Mookie enters the conversation. "Listen, man, me and Marv want no trouble, just we don't see many "albinos" down this way. You a cop or somethin'? Been a lot of them 'round lately."
"No, I'm no cop,” I said, "just a student over at Moody. Decided to take a walk through the neighborhood and shoot some hoop. I didn't realize I needed ticket or a library card from Marvin, here, to play? Do I?"
"No," said Mookie, " We're juz careful who hangs around, that's all."
"Ya," said Marvin in a more normal tone of voice, "we just don't letter any "cracker" play here ya know. You don't play like no "cracker", though. Where yuz from?"
"Connecticut," I answer as I began shooting again, "and I have played some ball, was All-State four years ago, before the military service. Now, I'm going back to school to become a priest.
Mookie and Marvin look at each other for a moment and start laughing. I stop shooting and look at them.
"Listen, cracker," said Mookie, "unless you have some insane desire to meet Jesus real soon, don't come on to other "brothers" like you did to us. They will TAKE-YOU OUT in a New York minute. Just some friendly advise, cracker."
"Thanks, I'll think I'll take it under advisement," I reply.
"You can take it," said Marvin, "or you'll be takin it to the morgue, your choice. We're just tryin to be neighborly, ya know."
"O.K.", I said, "since you put it that way." I allowed a small grin to creep across my face. "Maybe the safest thing for now."
"Smart move, Exlax," said Mookie. "Guess we're going to have to take you under our wing before you need some pall-bearers. See the headlines? Cracker slam-dunked at Beaupre, details at eleven." They all start laughing.
I stop laughing. Mookie and Marvin do as well. I finally realize that's not that funny and they WEREN'T kidding.