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
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
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.
from "LUCKY FORTY-TWO"
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?
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.