Right after Christmas 1965, I made up my mind I was going to change that. I would learn to dribble the ball with my right hand, drive in both directions to the basket, and force myself to jump higher. My vertical leap was challenged. When Dad and I played catch he’d sometimes throw the ball a little over my head so he could get a kick out of the short distance I put between the sidewalk and my chubby body with the dead legs. My left handed dribbling was something to watch. Each time I played a new rival I’d drive left, hit two to three baskets with a nasty hook until my opponent figured out "the lack of right" in my game and then I’d be blanketed for the rest of the match. Only reason I played basketball was for a good sweat because it certainly wasn’t pleasurable playing it poorly.
Dad was sick of hearing how much I wanted a basketball from New Year’s through St. Paddy’s Day so he bought the ball to shut me up. On the morning of the 20th, Dad passed the ball to me over Mom’s head as she was doing the dishes. I named it Joe, after my round headed friend, Joe Menesick, from 84th Street. It was Saturday, and I had to try it out down Carl Schurz Park. I thanked and kissed my parents, my brother, Rory, rolled his eyes and I ran down the four flights of stairs into the street.
A blast of wind headed west smacked my face on the 83rd Street stoop. I awkwardly dribbled the ball with one hand towards East End Avenue. I avoided the Drive near the water figuring a gale storm was whipping the river up. In the park, at the basketball court in the Hockey Field my left hand was numb and coiled like a cripple. I took my first shot from the top of the key, a doozy. It left my hand on a high arc and caught a demonic stream of air that lifted and carried the ball over the left side of the back board. Losing altitude near the fence, it struck a spike and let out a death rattle, “whisssh,” it hung there disheartened. I walked over to the ball, gave it an up and down but didn’t bother to touch it. It was useless. Like the ball, deflated, I walked home.
If you enjoy my work, check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." It's available at Logos Bookstore, 1575 York Avenue, or buy it online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other booksellers. If you do read it, please leave a few honest words about the book on Amazon and B&N.
Starting March 30th, I'm working with the New York Public Library's Neighborhood Oral History Project, "Upper East Side Story." If you lived on the East Side between 59th St. & 96th St. for 25 or more years (the longer the better) and you would like me to interview you about your history in the neighborhood, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll email you back a document describing the project. It will be an easy conversation where I listen to you talk about where you came from. Your recollections will become part of the permanent record at NYPL, available for the public to hear.