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Something in Common

When we were in our 30s and 40s, my friends and I used to play a lot of basketball together. Well, actually, it was kind of a cross between basketball and rugby. It bore little resemblance to the game you see played on TV.

During the warm weather, we played half-court in my driveway and during the winter full-court in an elementary school gym. In my driveway, you had to beware of the wild rosebush behind the basket. The roses only bloomed for about a week out of the year, but the thorns were always in season. It wasn’t the greatest landing spot after you had slid, face-first, across several feet of pockmarked pavement. After you detached your torn-up body from the thorns, glared at the guy who hit you, and called a foul, the guy would usually say something like, “How many do I have left?” It was a joke based on the “unlimited foul rule” in pick-up basketball. And it never failed to get a laugh from all the players on both teams.

In the gym, teams were picked at the beginning of the night through shootouts. From the foul line. The first five who hit their shots were on one team, the next five were on the other team, and anyone left over played the next game on the loser’s squad. If you won the game you stayed on the court. But the greater incentive to win was that the winners got to pick which basket they shot at. You wanted the hoop with a lot of daylight and floor space behind it. Because less than three feet behind the other basket was a brick wall. And brick walls are even worse at cushioning crash landings than thorn bushes.

Sometimes new guys would come down to play, but they usually only lasted one night and never came back. After getting hammered while going up for a shot or a rebound, they might say something like, “Hey, take it easy. We all have to work tomorrow.” To which the standard reply was, “Not if you take a sick day.” “Or have disability insurance,” someone might add. Or a newcomer might say, “Hey, we’re all here to have fun and get some exercise, not hurt ourselves.” Which would draw a response along the lines of, “If you want fun and exercise, join an aerobics class.”

My friend Jay says the first time he played with us somebody broke his arm. Jay says within two minutes we had the guy up and off the court. Then, while the guy left the gym groaning and holding his lame arm, presumably to drive himself to the hospital, we continued playing like nothing had happened. Jay didn’t know what to do, so he just kept playing like the rest of us.

The next week, Jay came to the gym and asked us what had happened to the guy who broke his arm.

According to Jay, we all said the same thing. At the same time.

“What guy?”

Then someone inbounded the ball to begin the game and we all started moving down the court.

OK, maybe that makes us troubled people.

But troubled people with something in common.

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Lakefront Real Estate

There is a one-story apartment building on Portion Road that is set right next to the shore of Lake Ronkonkoma. It looks like an old, 1950s motel: a dozen rooms, flat roof, rectangular in shape, built with cinderblocks, with a faded brick facing for show. The structure is about 10-feet high. I’ve passed the place hundreds of times, but never knew what it was. But now I saw it had a name. And a sign. “Lake Towers,” the sign said.

I drove another 100 yards… and saw that the little trailer park next to the Lake was empty. A part of local history was gone and I hadn’t heard anything about it. I wanted some answers, so I turned my car around and stopped in at Parsnips, the bar between the one-story Lake Towers and the place where the trailer park used to be. I went inside, ordered a beer, and asked the bartender what had happened to the trailer park.

He said the town moved the last of the occupants out a little while ago. I asked what the town planned to do with the empty lot. The bartender said the town was planning to build a walkway around the lake; they just had to get a few more structures out of the way. I asked him about Lake Towers next door. He said it was built in the 50s or 60s as “affordable housing.” Then he said a few more things about the place and its occupants, none of them complimentary.

I finished my beer and went out to have a look at Lake Towers next door. The rooms faced noisy Portion Road instead of the lake. And the back of the building had no doors and only bathroom windows. Poor planning, I thought. There was some overgrown grass between the building and the fence that separated the property from the lake, but no patio or patio furniture back there to enjoy the view.
I got in my car and drove away. I thought about it some. I’ve lived in this area for 30 years, I thought, and I’ve never heard anything derogatory about the occupants of Lake Towers. In fact, I’ve never heard anything about the place. I’ve never heard anything about any walkway being built around the lake, either. If the town really wanted to build a walkway, I’m guessing they would have found a way to do it by now. Even if there are a few holdouts along the lake, the town could easily detour the walkway around them. I mean, we’re not talking about building the Golden Gate Bridge here.

I hope Lake Towers stays, I thought. Why should rich people be the only ones to live on exclusive waterfront property? Some rich people don’t appreciate the view from their properties any more than the occupants of Lake Towers seem to. Low-rent people should have the choice not to appreciate what they have just as much as rich landowners do. At least once in a while. You know, to even things out a bit. It seems only democratic. Sure, it might be a cockeyed view of democracy, but a cockeyed view is better than no view–and it’s free.

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Makeshift Repair

You stand on your side
of the fracture;
I stand on mine.

We both
look down
at the cracked
gap
between us
and silently
put together
our options.

We can
each
choose to
limp away
and let
the fracture
try to
fix itself.

But if we do,
There could be
nerve damage,
leaving us
with
deadened feeling
and a lost
sense of touch.

There’s also
the possibility
of
infection,
which,
if left untreated,
could
result in
amputation.

Then again,
one of us
might
decide to
toss a line
across
the divide
and tell
the other
to give
tightrope-walking
a try.

And be told
in return
to take
their lifeline
back
and
give auto asphyxiation
a try,
someone said it’s a lot of fun.

But,
as I’m sure
you know,
both
rope routines
are a tad too
dramatic,
particularly
because
there’s no
audience
for us
to captivate
with such
daring stunts.

It’s just
us two
here,
now.

So whaddya say
we avoid
all that,
go the
practical route,
and patch things up
with a roll of
duct tape?

Duct tape
is at least
as strong
as any cast—
in fact,
duct tape
is the thing
most often used
to repair
casts.

We’ll rig-up
a makeshift splint
to bind together
the break
between us,
and we’ll be
building
a temporary
bridge
at the same time.

Then we can
cross the chasm
and get together
to determine
what we want
to do about
“our problem.”

After
we finish
congratulating
ourselves,
of course,
on completing
our hybrid
splint/bridge,
courtesy of
duct tape.

You know,
I think
our
performing
an engineering
feat
so ridiculous,
yet at the same time,
so practical,
is going to be
one for the books,
don’t you?

Ridiculous,
yet practical…

You don’t see
the two concepts
team up that often.

Something this big
is going to call for
a toast.

Maybe
multiple toasts.

So let’s
rig this thing
together,
and then
get going on
our
way.

Whaddya say?

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The End of a Promising Career

It was his first day at his new job and he was nervous. He was walking through the city streets on his way to the offices of People magazine. He had been hired to write fluff pieces about celebrities. No more beating the bricks, chasing ambulances, creating false innuendo, or purposely misquoting people for him. These Hollywood types had nothing to say, so he just had to do the work of a stenographer. He could think of something else altogether while he was typing if he liked. And he would be making a bundle. It was his dream job. But on his way to work, his appendix burst and he fell into the street. Then a newspaper truck ran him over. Then a network news van. And that was that.