My appointments in Midtown are infrequent and rather limited in scope: salad days with the Professor, whiskey nights in Chelsea, departures from Penn Station (whenever I get called back to the mother ship for work), and game nights.
Game night is a weekly time-machine session in which a bunch of twenty- and thirtysomethings convene at a gym to relive our varsity days on the court. While there are a few key differences (we are fifteen pounds heavier, our knees are creakier, and the post-game drink/smoke is no longer taboo), for the most part the game is the same as it ever was. The ball is the same weight. The court dimensions haven’t changed. The refs are still impatient, and the pitch of the whistle still irritating. Winning feels good, losing still sucks.
Tonight happens to be a win — not quite an ESPN Classic, but I’ll take it.
As soon as we step outside the gym, the post-game present sinks in: everyone on the team is either limping or being nagged by phone to get his ass back home. The ones without naggers head to Flor, where we talk shop over a pitcher of sangria, a roasted half-chicken with green rice (for the Captain), a roasted half-chicken with yellow rice (for the Enforcer), and garlic-y pork chops with yellow rice (for the Chinaman).
I first met these guys about month ago. Since then our post-game discussions have drifted ever toward the intellectual.
“There is this black chick at the open-plays that I’m like dying to have sex with,” the Enforcer confesses.
“Where? Which open-play?” the Captain asks.
“Do I know her? What’s her name?”
“I don’t know her name.”
“What she look like?”
“Really tall. She’s got braids.”
“What color are the braids?”
“What the fuck do you think? Black!”
“Lots of black people color their hair, man. Fine, so the braids are black. She tawler than you?”
“No, no. But she’s tall. Taller than the Chinaman here.”
“How come you don’t just tawk to her, man? Ask her out.”
“Well, I just — I dunno.”
The Enforcer suddenly looks vulnerable.
“You have a good backstory,” I remind him. “Invite her to your next gig. Put her on the guest list. They go for that kind of stuff.”
“Hmm. I suppose I could do that.”
“Or, if she’s any good,” I say, “we could sign up for a co-ed tournament. Tell her we need another girl on the team.”
“Oooooooh, I hadn’t thought of that!”
“But I’m not doing it unless she can play.”
“Oh come on!”
“Is she any good?”
“She’s…she’s not bad.”
“Forget it,” I say. “Put her on your guest list, Mr. Singer/Songwriter.”
An hour later, as we’re waiting for the 1 train, the Enforcer is still talking about this girl.
“What, are you not into black women?” he asks me.
“I…try to be open-minded,” I say.
“What about Asians? You dig Asian women? Lotta Asian girls play at Chelsea.”
“I believe you…but so what? So what if you’re outnumbered — doesn’t context matter?”
“Sex is context!”
“I’m not explaining this well,” I say.
“No, no. I understand what you’re saying,” the Enforcer tells me. “But what’s wrong with, you know, just being obvious? You won’t get anywhere if you’re indirect about it.”
An express 2 train rattles by on the middle track, deafening us for 15 seconds. The Enforcer begins yelling at me now.
“The tournament! We’re gonna fucking do it, ya hear?”
“I can’t hear a damn thing,” I say.