Blacktop High Tops and Hoops
Published 8:32 am, Thursday, May 14, 2015
Editor's note: This year, Darien Library offered a class on memoir writing taught by Laura Cavers, who recently received an MFA in creative writing from Manhattanville College. Darien News secured four of the memoirs that were produced in the class for publication in the paper. They are not all-
encompassing. They are not even, for the most part, finished products. What they are, however, are snippets of the lives of four very different Darien residents. We hope you enjoy them.
They all met at the hoop. It had been 40 years since their last game together, up in the projects. These white guys were long gone from the neighborhood. Some lived in New York City, two in the Long Island suburbs, and a few had crossed the Hudson to Jersey abodes. But despite the distance, they all had one thing in common. They still loved to shoot hoops, even in orthotic sneakers.
In nylon jogging pants, long clingy things covering varicose veins and knee surgery scars, they jumped and passed the ball. David threw to Saul, Saul to Howie and so on and so forth. Shots were missed but the karma was good. The faint smell of sweat clung to old sweatshirts that said City College or Yankees. Here they heard the roar of their youth, smelled the pizza from the corner place, fought the battles of the projects.
These guys were interlopers. They did not live in the projects, but several blocks away in a small red brick building. They went every day, up a high hill to courts built by the city fathers, a place to play ball in a concrete world, to bond while there was still time to have close friendships. This was a time before jobs and family responsibilities took them far from the red brick building, to places the American dream pointed them towards.
It's been a few years since I've watched that basketball game in the old neighborhood. I have a few (very few) wrinkles, and hair coloring keeps everything else stable. I have also acquired two fabulous (of course) grandchildren. They will never know the concrete buildings surrounding blacktop courts with high hoops in a Bronx housing project. They will never inhale thick exhaust fumes from cars on the nearby bridge. Ironically, there is a freedom of life in concrete that eludes the modern suburban adolescent.
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Not ruled by an adult coach or community schedules or park permits,the project boys could crash under a shady tree for a bit if the pavement boiled.
They could follow the ice cream bells of the truck for a sweet ice pop, that would dribble down sweaty tee shirts and arms just starting to muscle up. There was no coach shouting instructions, no parent to please on the sidelines. They played to the last breath by their own choice. Winning was great, but getting to play was better.
The sports my grandkids play are run by the adults not the children. In the projects kids were the show! The adults were too busy working to put food on the table to participate in childhood games. There were boundaries between the world of children and adults. The freedom the project boys had to choose teams and leaders, to bend rules, to cheer and boo, is lost as adults supervise children's games.
Up in the projects no one met on the blacktop at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. There were priorities. Cartoons were waiting to be watched. Big bowls of oatmeal were waiting to be consumed at small breakfast tables amid the family chatter of the weekend. If it was really hot, fifteen cents and a bus took you to Orchard Beach, the Riviera of the Bronx.
For the project boys, problem solving happened on the court. The court was a microcosm for the adult world they would join, the families they would have, the troops they would lead, the surgeries they would perform and the schoolchildren they would teach. Preparing for life happened on a patch of blacktop, up a hill, in the Bronx.