Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Not Liking This At All

I used to play handball, one wall, New York City handball, for two hours two or three times a week. Not when I was a kid, but when I was 40 years old. And 45. And 48. My partner was Earl the Pearl, and he beat me annually 3-2, or 600 to 385 or so. Earl is a New York City school teacher. He was one hell of a partner at handball. He had an insatiable appetite for it. So did I. I used to ride my bike to a playground on Cherokee Place, more or less 78th Street and the East River, to play, mostly by myself. I'd practice shots for an hour, then hit the ball to myself and not go home until I could make 100 shots in a row....not hard unless you are trying to outwit yourself. I'd get up to 25, make a killer shot, then have to start again. And again 42 shots later. My practices were often 3 hours.
And I rode my bike in those days: I rode my bike from 90th street to 17th street to the High Times' office daily. On weekends I'd take two spins around Central Park in Manhattan, each spin being about 6 1/2 miles, and then an additional mile to and from the park for a total of 14-15 miles.
And then I did sit-ups (about 800 daily) and pushups (about 200 daily), and then used light weights for 10-20 minutes daily.
And for maybe 7 years I threw a football to my friend Malcolm in Central Park three times a week for a couple of hours. He'd come to my house and we'd grab the ball and start tossing it and jog while we talked from 3rd Avenue across Lexington, across Park, Madison, and Fifth Avenue and enter the park at 90th, then toss the ball down to 82nd' street, warming up, and then we'd run routes for an hour or two. He'd toss to me; I'd toss to him.
Malcolm was 6'4" and could leap, so he always made me look good. I was small and slow but good with routes, so I made him look good. What a time we had. I was in freaking heaven.
So I love doing sports. I could do sports 10 hours a day and never feel sated.
I once told Malcolm, when we were both stars on the High Times Bong Hitters Championship softball team (me at shortstop; him in centerfield), that I could die happy doing sports all day. ON the day in question I'd ridden my bike 4 1/2 miles through New York City traffic to High Times, worked, met Earl the Pearl for handball at the courts on 14th street and 1st Ave for two hours, then biked to the ball field in Central Park at 90th just off 5th avenue and played two games of softball. The last two games were under the wonderful influence of a light dose of lsd, which mysteriously appeared at some of the Bonghitter games, and which made catching line drives hit by ringers very difficult at my shortstop position. But I remember telling Malcolm: "A day like this makes me the happiest I can ever be. Just moving, moving, playing, playing all day. And later, I'm gonna go home and play with Chepa and the kids. I'm so freaking alive!!!!"
And I was.
And here in Texas I have none of that. No roads to ride a bike on, no handball courts, or walls I can convert to handball courts, no one to toss a football to, no fastwalking, nothing physically familiar.
And it's been nearly 8 years now and I'm still at a loss. Yes, I do pushups. And I've done at least a million sit ups since I got here, but without a partner, without a game, it ain't the same.
And today it came home as I walked outside to look at the water pipe Italo and I laid--all 120-140 feet of it--and had to fill the trench up because it might freeze tonight and that could bust the new pipe.
What a freaking daunting task. What a thankless task. I was just out there with a 120 length of 2 foot high dirt that had become mud because of the rain and had to move the mud into the trench to cover the pipe.
I did it. And in a few minutes I'm going to take a few ibuprofin, maybe 4 with a codeine for a kick, to easy my back, but I'm gonna say that work sucked. No one was there with me, no one helped, no one will even ever notice it got done. That is not the same as throwing a football 65 yards--about my best--to Malcolm in front of 100 people in Central Park who all stand up and cheer. And it's not the same as Earl the Pearl and I beating two former New York City handball champs at their own game on their own court in doubles. And it's certainly not the same as playing shortstop for High Times and winning the New York City Journalism League softball title over The New Republic, Money, Fortune and a half-dozen other teams who couldn't believe us stoners could kick their butts, regardless of how many professional ringers they brought to the game.
So there I was, looking at that dirt today, that soaking wet, heavy clay, and thinking, God, maybe I'm getting old. Maybe I'm just a weak link now. Ah, shit...
And then I move that two-three tons of mud clay and filled that trench and said, "Fuck you, god. I ain't done yet."
And while I ain't as strong as I used to be, and while I've smoked way too many cigarettes to be good for me, I still felt good when that last lump of mud made it's way into the trench.
That was for Malcolm and Earl the Pearl and the Bonghitters and my bicycle and everybody else who ever made me learn to never quit, even when you want to.


The Grudge said...

Nice write up Peter. Keep that furnace burning! What an exhaustive and exhilarating life you have. Take care.

Gritter said...

Hooray for games. Hooray for sports. Hooray for that physical activity; that satisfying win that at once meant so much to us and didn't mean a damn thing to the rest of the world. I can seriously relate to this one! It was like reading a blurb from my past as well. So we suffer the same fate, eh? Well, fuck the quitters and the ones who never played - we're still out there going strong - somewhere - somehow. Love ya man.