The school year ending was a true technicality. Numb, and dead to all that surrounded me, the good had petered out. Savagely I loved it, my life according to me, had not been fair. I’d lost the fight for family the Young Guns had furnished me with. Santo’s death only established how vulnerable I was without one. And besides as my mother in our weak moments had often pointed out, “all of those kids even the idiot’s on that team have families!” And she was right. For some sick reason history had run itself back on my mother, the orphan baby, and son.
I’d begun smoking cigarettes, and this was a shocker to everyone around me. I often as a kid tore up my mothers. I had the urge to begin breaking windows again like freshman year. I was primed to go the other way. I was still on probation and didn’t give a fuck. Family was a façade but the mob wasn’t. And in Madison it was hard to believe beyond the bankers, lawyers, mansions and landscapes a wise guy was behind it all. The game never changed. And I played the game harnessing the leverage my wisdom cloaked but in my heart, I was no longer inspired. And that was dangerous. For me, I knew that was extremely dangerous. Without that inspiration I was just like every other never amount to shit far fetched fucko I was far too familiar with. I don’t give a fuck my once panacea to panic was now working against me.
I just want to mourn. I feel like telling my therapists in ACE that I endeavor to become a crime boss, live till thirty and then got mowed down by an Uzi coming out of a black tie affair. I want my chest to be rattled like a sharper image chair message. I’ll be wearing cufflinks.
The motions had gone through me. I was absent. The Young Gun’s a synagogue of energy and talent had been destroyed. We were all so lethargic. We’d lost our lion heart and perhaps our spirit. The energy, smiles, loyalty and passion that had attracted my only true family was gone. And school ended. And there was Monster, Hatty, Tick, Scully, Skeetah, B-Dawg, my boy C, Magic, Spec and Goldy we clung together isolated as the thing I sought so, attention craved us wantonly. Our tears were shed privately and together. No one on the outside deserved to see me like that after so many years of judging the trouble.
There were enough of us remaining having lost Black and Hank and unaware of their whereabouts to weather any breakdown from anyone including my own. And I was grateful for that. I was just sad and lifeless, sad for my lost inspiration and crushing of my hoops dreams an end to my stupid movie, real life never is one. And I hated that. At least Larry Bird visited me in intensive care. At least we just kicked it with Reggie Lewis. That was cool.
And suddenly one Sunday night that all changed. It never dawned on me people need something to do. I’d just turned seventeen. But it’s powerful, purpose, jobs. My mother reminded in a Sunday night fog. I’d suddenly had the ultimate in get out of free excuses I’d forever milk. My best friend just died. Get the fuck out of my face. I’m crazy.
“Bob’s camp is to tomorrow sweety, I won’t ask, just get some rest.” “tomorrow?” I went quickly to bed. It was the first time I’d smiled in months. I was a basketball instructor from 9-3 all week at the Big Guy’s summer camp. Hatching in to that memory vault I knew I’d soon be sound asleep.
Our childhood memories of summer camp with the Big Guy were as fond as your best 80’s Christmas morning, you know the one in which you got the most Nintendo games? Nintendo had a way during my three years of Junior High of monopolizing the holidays. When I was in sixth grade they renamed Junior High, middle school, and throughout “middle school” Christmas were judged solely on how many Nintendo games you received. Junior High was tough middle school was institutionalized puss.
For the wealthiest children in Madison it was common to heap double digits. I always got one. And it was all’s I was looking for. I had to be a good sport about it. Christmas was a huge deal in our house. My mother never had one. A Christmas or a family, she’d lost the one she married into. And now the one I’d founded on deny, deny and deny principals was falling apart. Blood meant nothing loyalty everything. Morning. No alarm. I jumped in the shower look in the mirror throw on some gear and broke. I peddle the less than a mile truck up to Hayden. My legs burned. I couldn’t get to The Big Guy’s summer camp fast enough. I was excited again.
Entering Hayden for basketball camp that first day and the usual “buzz” was adrift. One hundred campers, ten coaches, 2 leagues, guest speakers, trophies and competition were early seeds and exposure to the Big Guy his expectations and what it took to one day be apart of his mighty local program. It was my third year as a coach. And every summer the Big Guy raised you $20 up to $150 for the week. It felt good. IN a much different way than the three thousand I had stashed at my boy C’s did. Capitol reserves. What I didn’t figure out in trial and error I gleamed off the mountain of literary gems that spilled from the recently celebrated decade of greed and theft. Capitol reserves.
Just watching the campers eagerly enter and dribbling the ball effortlessly back in forth with hands behind my back, head up reminded me who we were, basketball players. God I love this game. But it was more. I was smiling. Campers were not. It was strange behavior for summer kids at the Big Guy’s Hayden basketball camp. It dawned on me, Santo
The Big Guy, “OK, welcome campers, to this years first edition of Hayden basketball camp. As many of you know the varsity kids, myself included and so many of you who knew him from the varsity camp and being one of more colorful coaches at camp over the past couple years, is no longer with us.” I kicked save a breakdown. Jesus fucking christ
As the week went on we became very close with all the campers. In a sense it felt like they were trying to be strong for us. I’d discover the best “stuff” inside of me and form powerful impressions, lasting goodness that would live with all of us in some small way for the rest of our natural lives. I felt alive again. I felt sorry for the kids that loved Santo, wore his jersey, looked up to him. In a way, I did too. Madison for so many was a charmed life a fairy tale where the world presented was something not scary at all. Not inside the borders. The last kid to die fell through the glass top of the field house in 1977.
At camp on championship Friday my team had won the title. It was the best. The Big Guy front-loaded my team. He wanted me to win. Santo’s team had won both camps last summer. He loved the coaching aspect with the same passion he brought everyday to his own position. It’s why we were good. We wanted it more than the next guy in the next town from the next crew. I’d become the Big Guy’s student as well as player. I wanted to coach, the more time I spent in ACE, I wanted to coach. He’d produced so many. So many captains, men that made their living off the game of basketball. It was a mental crossroads. In a way as a bookie I already had. Money was a sickness that in the aftermath of Santo was perhaps not the grand all panacea I’d always romanticized it to be for my mother, sister and I.
Since Santo was gone there was a void in who was the best coach. And between Goldy, magic, Wells and Spec the kids title was huge. My little rug rats crushed kids and marched triumphantly towards the title. On championship Friday we all (coaches) wore argyle socks and ties with shorts in honor of Santo. That’s what he wore on championship Friday’s. Championship Friday’s at the Big Guy’s, unbelievable. As a kid whenever I didn’t win a championship I’d cry on the lap of the Big Guy’s wife having played on a team coached by one of his daughters. His wife, his college cheerleader always came in on Championship Friday’s.
And peddling home that Friday I was on some levels back. The summer league was here and so were the Young Guns. Free from the constraints and rules of coaching it was our time to style us against them, them being the greats of the past that still played annually with a great deal of pride encompassing every championship era over the last twenty years. I was tall my braces were long gone and I wasn’t so skinny anymore. However there was a small part of me that couldn’t cajole of my chest this feeling of fact that I was cursed and therefore being so close to my family vision and ridiculousness notion of our movie had doomed the most spirited of us all in a bunch. I don’t give a fuck
But the days were now filled with kids and basketball as opposed to beer, weed and unanswerable questions being volleyed back and forth to a now even more confused set of, for the greater part violent kids. The morning set the tone, and basketball was pure, being inspired by the campers to again recognize what was in front of us parlayed nicely into our summer league evening contests. For some in Madison wondering what Santo’s basketball teammates were up to magnetized an overflow of spectators arriving to our summer league games. Our staple had always been swelling crowds and this added spotlight only proved to further heighten a retarded mystique I at the very least was always trying to develop and mold.
Entirely uninhibited and cutting the leash it was down at the center courts on these hot summer nights that we once again since Santo’s car wreck glowed. The games however were brilliant and instinctively succinct. The crowds were like outliers – unusual in scope but explained when trying to understand phenomenon. And as the crowds swelled even without Santo we couldn’t lose. We played with an even greater purpose. I couldn’t miss and was so good at stealing.