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from "HASBEEN"



from "HASBEEN"

So there I was already ten years out of school, ten years past my prime and, as you might imagine, more than a little surprised that hot summer day last August, when—not a cloud in the sky—it started to come down something fierce. I mean buckets. I mean, I was raining jumper's like Larry Legend back in the '86 finals, like MJ at the Rose Garden in '91, or Isaiah hobbling on one leg against the Lakers. And shit, I know what you're thinking. Right now you're over there—sixteen years old, sagging shorts, washboard abs, four-point-six percent body fat, and enough testicular fortitude to convince you that you might one day be somebody. And you're looking over at me—six-foot nothing, bull-legged, top-heavy, and feet so flat and wide I might as well be clod-hopping around in a big ol' pair of Shaq Diesel toboggans. You're looking at me and my ass molded into a perfect replica of a custom La-Z-Boy Couch Potato special, my love handles fully inflated to a Good Year All-Weather love tire.

And you're thinking the closest this never-was-ugly-tubbo-popcorn ever got to being a baller was the bounce of his tummy or the shape of his huge shaved head. But see, little man, I don't need you to believe I was a baller. All I need is you to believe that a couple of weeks ago it started to rain, little man, and I don't mean condensation from clouds. I mean triple after triple, I mean J after J. I mean three-ball left corner—splash. I mean head fake, jab step, step back—Drano, top of the key, hit me off I'm just getting started. How's about we take it around the world. I mean thirty feet out—fifteen feet past my range—I mean two seconds left on the clock in my head, down three to nobody in particular—rocker step, head bob, get the defense in the air, stop, pop, and drop—Nothing but nylon, I'll take three and one, just like LJ in the Garden. I'm walking all the way back to half court with my follow-through high for all the haters to see. My swan neck might as well be thirty feet in the air—this one's for all those rednecks back home who always said my game was ugly, for all those coaches who said I could pay Pistol Pete himself to coach me, and I'd still never get a J, for all those hasbeens I played Y-Ball with after my ankles went, the ones who laughed when I told them I used to play college ball: "What position you play, son," they'd ask, "starting ball-boy… or first-string jock holder?" This one's for all of them, and I'm blowing the steam off my shooting fingers.

But you? You're probably thinking, Shit, am I supposed to care about some washed-up ball boy, going on and on about some day at the courts not too long ago where he started pulling jumpers out his ass? This is supposed to impress me? AndI might be some washed-up-ball-boy-neverwas, but none of that changes the fact that you ain't got no J, little man, and I ain't about to take no shit-talking from some sixteen-year-old, high-and-mighty, little-shit version of myself. Hell no! Bring it on, little man. Bring that sorry-ass, no J, game of yours out to the playground, and we'll see who's the ball boy.


And then I'll take a deep breath and hit her with it. I'll say, Sometimes there's this dull throb at the core of my pitiful, lucky, ten-fingered existence that doesn't feel so lucky at all.  In fact, sometimes I feel damn near castigated. A pariah.  Ostracized even.  Like a leper among my own kind.

I'll explain how my father, Robert Adolph Drevlow, pure-blooded German, son of a German immigrant/Lutheran minister/beet farmer lost the proximal and distal phalanges on his left middle finger in a farming accident with a hay wagon, a cement wall, and a tractor that wasn't supposed to be in reverse. I'll tell her how when given the option of reattaching the finger with pins and staying the night for surgery or sewing it up as is and going on his merry way—my father didn't flinch, didn't hesitate. Looked straight into the on-staffer's eyes and declared, "I got hay to bale." And that was that.

I'll tell her about Jonathan and the puss and crusting on his finger. How he sliced his finger open while testing the sharpness of my mother's new Ginsu carving knives—the ones that were supposed to cut through cement.  How he stitched himself up with my mother's sewing kit and got himself a nasty infection, all because he didn't want to waste time going to the Emergency Room. I'll tell her how Jonathan may never have technically lost his finger, but odds were he would have had he not shot himself two days before he turned eighteen. I'll tell her how I don't feel like I'm exaggerating to make that prediction.

And my brother Michael, who lost the top half of the fourth phalange on his left index finger in a band saw accident. How I had to go down to the shop and find the bloody mangled chunk myself and stuff it in a glass of ice because Dad and Jonathan were at the farm, Michael was woozy, and Mom was hysterical. I'll tell her how Mom made me pray for his finger on the car ride to the emergency room, how I informed Mom that I thought God had bigger problems. How Mom never forgave me after they weren't able to reattach his finger.

And after all this, I'll tell Nurse Emmy, how I think I have always been irrevocably doomed to have all ten fingers. How maybe I even feel like, subconsciously, I've always been trying to lose a finger to atone—that's why the forty-one trips to the ER. That's why the two-hundred and fifty-eight stitches. That's why the broken bones. I'm maybe ashamed a little. And I'll tell her how I had thought this was going to be lucky forty-two. How I thought my proverbial "ship had come in" with the carving knife and the bar fruit. How I'd sliced it down to the fourth phalange, and through all the blood and ooze, I could even see down to the bone, and as I'll hold my finger up to Nurse Emmy—like ET holding his long alien finger up to the moon, the tip of my finger now cleaned, sutured, and no real threat of infection or gangrene, no real threat of amputation—I'll admit, with as much genuine sadness as I can muster, that I had never gotten to see my own bone before and I thought maybe, just maybe, I had severed off a chunk of it completely and what a disappointment it was to be so lucky when the X-rays came back negative.

And sure, Nurse Emmy won't much know what to do with me. She'll probably sigh and say something like, Uff dah, honey, that's quite a family you got there. Quite … a … family. And she'll say something like if I'm not careful, I might actually lose a finger one of these times. Now if I'll just sign these papers.

And here's the But. The end-all be-all of Buts. Of this story, that I'm telling again, against my better judgment, and against my will. But… I'll tell her, The makings were all there today. Something felt different today, something felt right today, and I felt kind of cheated today because why not today, today's good as any day to lose a finger, right?
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