Friday, April 28, 2006

The Streetballer

I was thinking about Hamilton and Burr this morning. How foolish, I thought, it is to resolve a disagreement with a duel. It doesn't seem worth the trouble. After it's over, one person is dead and the other person doesn't have the chance to gloat in the dead guy's presence. Unlike Zell Miller, I'm glad we don't live in a dueling era anymore.

Then I remembered - I have been in a duel.

It was the spring before I turned 18. I was working in the only place a kid could find work in half-rural Doylestown, Pennsylvania: a chain restaurant that I will not name. I developed an unreconcilable crush on a co-worker named Karen. I struggled for weeks to find the appropriate words/context/environment to profess my love/admiration/crushiness to her. Then, after work one Saturday night, I asked for her phone number. She gave it to me.

A week passed. The senior prom was coming up. I wasn't really a school dance kid. But I thought - what better way to demonstrate my nascent love to a mysterious girl from a different town than to ask her to be my date?

I made the phone call. I don't remember the time of day or day of the week. I remember what she said to me though when I politely asked her to be my date. She said no. And I refused, resolutely and conveniently, to ask anyone else. I spent the Friday night of the prom holed up in my room listening to Dexy's Midnight Runners. My friend Patrick from New Jersey came down the next day to console me. We saw a Steve Martin movie.

But Karen and I still worked together. She didn't act the same way toward me anymore, not after my expression of interest. It was a little awkward. But I imagined she had rejected other suitors to whom she had offered her phone number, that we'd eventually work together without much trouble and disomfort. And I was right. Eventually, she and I came to an understanding: I didn't ask her out anymore. She didn't look away when I entered a room.

Summer arrived and so did Warren. Warren and I had worked together the previous summer. He then went away to some rural college in the western part of the state. Now, back in his hometown, he returned to his old job, weighted with the entitlement of a college sophomore in a room full of high schoolers. I didn't like Warren. Through my clunky thick-rimmed teenage glasses, he looked smug and self-important, the Zabka to my Macchio.

My delicate teenage constitution didn't react well when I heard that Karen and Warren were dating. Rolling up to work in my AMC Hornet one day, I spotted them making out in the parking lot, out by the dumpster where the overnight maintenance guy Tom was once caught pleasuring himself. Damn, that could have been me, I thought - kissing my favorite girl in the midst of greasy cardboard and bad meat.

I was a jealous kid. I turned my rage inward and acted as if the greatest injustice in the world had been committed upon me. I said not a word to Karen and Warren. No, I passive-agressively showed my resentment with smirks, grimaces, and silence. I took comfort in my other co-workers who didn't like Warren because he was a bit of a prick and didn't like Karen because she was from Plumstead.

One Sunday, a secret was revealed. Back in high school, Warren played basketball for my school's biggest rival. He wasn't a starter but he saw some playing time. I, on the other hand, was cut from the team when I tried out as a sophomore. Since that injustice, I played basketball constantly - in my driveway, in front of my neighbor Joe's house (he was from Philly! from the actual city!), and on the irregularly paved court of the local Catholic school, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I didn't have a need for that well-organized school-sanctioned indoor brand of basketball. I was a streetballer yo!

Of course I secretly admired Warren and wished I was him, more for making his school's team than for hooking up with Karen. Sure, my high school was a powerhouse, making it to the state quarterfinals that one year. His school wasn't as good and maybe that's why he made the team and if my parents had just bought a house on the other side of town, I would have gone to West instead of East and I'd be a star!

What does an 18-year old with the maturity of a 15-year old do when confronted with a slightly older man who possesses what he does not have? I challenged him to a basketball game! One-on-one, outdoors - at the Mt. Carmel courts off of State Street - one game, a point a basket, play to 21, gotta win by two. No money, just playing for pride.

I didn't realize it then but I had challenged him to a duel. Instead of a sword or a gun, I had my patented one-hand running jumper and my more-awkward-than-Kareem's jacket hook shot.

Word spread around the restaurant that I had challenged Warren to a basketball game. People told me - "Ali, he's really good, he plays for his college team." Wait, how did I miss this? He plays in college? Sure, it was a lame Division 3 school somewhere out in Quaker-land, but that meant his game wasn't rusty. I shrugged this fact off too - again, I was a streetballer!

Everyone thought the duel was about Karen, that I was trying to prove some sort of point, to demonstrate my manhood in an extremely clumsy and transparent way. Perhaps they were right. But this was also about basketball, the game that provided me with hours of pleasure and peace in my youth. I just wanted to win the game and send Warren sulking away to his consoling girlfriend who said no when she sould have said yes.

About a dozen co-workers showed up at the court one Saturday afternoon. Other than Karen, standing at the baseline with her raccoon eyes and Susannah Hoffs haircut, everyone else was rooting for me: Jenny the pothead manager, Rich the pre-med student, Debbie the sweet girl who lived in a trailer with her dying Vietnam vet dad, Brenda the hippie, Donna the Christian, and the midget brother and sister whose names I cannot remember. Yes, they were both midgets. No, their parents were not.

Out of curiosity, I googled Warren and and Karen today, to see what they're up to. Warren has an unusual last name so I can be pretty confident when I say that Warren is doing socially valuable work in the retirement community/independent living industry in the same Pennsylvania county we worked in. Someone with Karen's name is a very good photographer of rural West Virginia life but I'm not sure it's her (her name is a little more common.) Just for kicks, I searched for Karen using Warren's last name. No hits.

Back to Doylestown. Back to the 1980s. Warren destroyed me. 21 to 4. I never stood a chance. Sure, I was a streetballer but when you're a step slow (like me) there is no defense that can challenge a perfect outside shot. Damn, Warren had the stroke that day - like Sam Cassell in a groove or former Timberwolf James "Hollywood" Robinson that one night in '96 against Cleveland. Or Downtown Freddie Brown in the '79 finals. Or me in my starkest basketball dreams - hitting every shot, basking in the crowd noise, loved by my teammates, tolerated by my coach. I don't think Warren missed once. I was lucky to make 4 baskets.

Unlike the victor in a to-the-death duel, Warren had the chance to gloat at his still-living victim. The summer had barely started. We'd be working together for two more months. But Warren held back. Perhaps he felt a little guilty for running up the score. Maybe he knew that if this were 2-on2 and I was playing with my neighbor from Philly and he was playing with some random westside kid, we'd have kicked their asses all the way to Solebury. Either way, we got along better after that day. Karen quit her job shortly after the game. I moved on to other unreasonable unrequited obsessions.

When Warren left for college in the fall, I told him I'd see him next summer. I'd be working on on my post-up defense, my moves to the left. I never saw him again. By the next summer I was in Minnesota, preparing for other, more wintry duels.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Friday, April 21, 2006

Unorthodox NBA Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference

1. Detroit vs. 8. Milwaukee
Bucks in 7, in the greatest upset in NBA history. Why? Pistons seem full of themselves. Mo and
Redd are hungry.

2. Miami vs. 7. Chicago
Heat in 5.

3. New Jersey vs. 6. Indiana
Nets in 4. Rick Carlisle will never coach a team to a playoff victory again.

4. Cleveland vs. 5. Washington
Cavs in 7.

Western Conference

1. San Antonio vs. 8. Sacramento
Spurs in 6. God I hate the Spurs.

2. Phoenix vs. 7 Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers in 7. Kobe will have 4 amazing games, 3 bad ones.

3. Denver vs. 6. Los Angeles Clippers
Clippers in 7. This one's hard to predict. But I can't root for a team with Marcus Camby AND Kenyon Martin on it. And I can't pick such a team to win either.

4. Dallas vs. 5. Memphis
Mavs in 5.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I hate insomnia. Two nights in a row I've lost hours of sleep due to restless fidgeting and imaginative panicking. Is it time to quit coffee? To learn meditation? To join a monastery? To move to Winona?

Or maybe it's temporary.

Despite its difficult title and waves of unbelievable premises, Lucky Number Slevin is a fine film. I recommend it. But who am I? Lucy Liu is surprisingly riveting. Did I ever tell you the story of when I saw her at that movie studio next to that old government job of mine? I just did. She smiled.

A couple of nights ago I handed a relative stranger 36 printed pages of my best fiction and poetry. It felt good. So much better than e-mailing someone a link. It looked better too. Don't mean to be old-fashioned but my words look better printed. I'm not one of those people obsessed with the "smell" of the printed page though (go spend a day in Duluth and see if you like the smell of paper anymore.) I hope the relative stranger likes it. (And if you're reading this - sorry for all the death stories. 2004. What can I say? And yeah the ocean and river symbolism gets a little tired when you're hit over the head with it but again.... the 90s...what can I say?)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

You're With Me

Today, in my letter to the Los Angeles Parking Bureau, I contested a parking ticket by writing a medium-sized letter that included the following words: justice, neighborliness, and standards. I wonder what that will get me. At least they'll all enjoy a good laugh when they reject my plea.

Maybe I link to Deadspin way too much. And maybe this is only a funny story if you're familiar with Chris Berman. But

And now, as a service to the many people (0) who have read The Roadhouse and asked me questions about it, here are real answers to your imaginary questions:

Q: Was Brenda really a hippie?
A: Okay, remember this is a work of fiction. But yes there was really a Brenda. No one has names like Brenda anymore. Anyway, yes she was sort of a hippie, but one with a strong work ethic. I heard she works in the publishing industry now.

Q: What's with the God stuff?
A: Just working things out in my mind, or should I say, in the narrator's mind.

Q: Did Mary really cackle like that?
A: No.

Q: Didn't you mess up the geography a bit - why would there be billboards for East Stroudsburg car dealerships all the way down near Dublin? That's like 56 miles away!
A: Good question. But I see it as a speculative fiction piece.

Q: Where the hell is Doylestown? Or, for that metter East Stroudsburg or Dublin?
A: Doylestown is in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (in the suburbs of Philadelphia), home of Ween and Robert Redford's summer house. Every other place in the story is farther north.

Q: Was there really a roadhouse dude?
A: Yes.

Q: Didn't you steal the abandoned bicycle conceit?
A: Yes, Mike, I did.

Q: Were Donna's parents really anti-abortion religious fanatics?
A: Never met them but I think so. Wait, this is fiction. Yeah, they were crazy.

Q: Did you really drive to the roadhouse with Mary and Brenda?
A: I drove separately.

Q: What music did you listen to in your car as you drove separately?
A: This.

Q: What's your favorite song on that album?
A: So. Central Rain.

Q: Do you like the cover of that song by that one singer?
A: Yes, it's good.

Q: What does that have to do with the story?
A: This is a blog. No rules here.

Q: Did hearing R.E.M.'s original version of the song randomly in a Coffee Bean in Santa Monica inspire you to write the story?
A: Surprisingly, yes.

Q: What else about the Coffee Bean inspires you?
A: Their lowbrow aspirations.

Okay, enough with the questions. Have a good day.

Monday, April 10, 2006


I'm watching a Seinfeld rerun. I never realized Amanda Peet played the woman Jerry dated who lived with the "dude" (also the catfight/Scarsdale Surprise episode if that means anything to you.) Even back then one could see glimmers of Amanda's genius.

I heard a gunshot outside (I'm at home). It was a couple of blocks away. Interesting. It was a single gunshot, not a series. I guess the shooter hit his target or got his point across.

I have a new idea for a screenplay. Yes, my other idea still needs to be written. It will be. This new idea can be summed up in one eleven-letter word. I can't say the word now. You reader(s) could take my idea and run with it and then spend the rest of your days sipping Kersschwasser. From a shell, in a Franklin Hills mansion. I will tell you this: I'm coming back to comedy.

I liked my job today.

Some would argue that the eleven letters should be split into two words, one with four letters and one with seven. I would argue that they are wrong. It's edgier with one word. This thing will write itself.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Discover Havarti

Today is one of those days. I want to write something funny and witty and all that, just so I can push the weird Beck/Cosby poem down the page a bit, where it belongs. But I'm drawing a blank. I could do a "theme" entry - like a list or a fake movie review. I could discuss the Minnesota Timberwolves and their recent incarnation as the best bad team in NBA history - good enough to almost win any of their games, bad enough to lose most of them. But that would be too painful. Besides, freedarko writes better about basketball than anyone else on the planet.

Or, I could post some random photos, juxtaposed to tell a story only I know the details of. That's what I'll do.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Beck and Bill Cosby

Beck and Bill Cosby
Are cruising down the Nile
Beck says "Bill you're crazy
But you got yourself some style"

Bill says "Beck, so tell me
What is it that you've got?
A golden mane, a vacant stare
A Hoople with no Mott?"

"Dude you're killing me!
In your sweaters and your sweatshirts
With your sage advice
And fits of black rage
I'm gonna write a song about you
A smart samba blues
With spot-on eastside lyrics
About a man with a plan and a tan"

"Mr. Beck, what is your purpose?
You slink around the deck
With your iPod and your green sunglasses
I'm here for the culture
For the river and the people
For the relics and the history"

"Bill I'm here for you
I'll scrub the deck so your shoes
Don't get muddy
And as the black water catches the African moon
I'll dance with your daughter
All night long"

"That's not my daughter!"

They share a laugh
Beck plays Bill a song of redemption
By a poet named Leonard
Bill asks for some Hall and Oates
They sing along to "Rich Girl"
While their women watch the locals with their buckets by the shore

Beck and Bill Cosby
Are sailing down the Nile
Bill says "Beck you rock the mic
Beck says "Bill you make me smile"

The next day
They have their breakfast in the Great Room
The cooks hum the theme from "Iron Chef"
Bill and Beck eat until there's no French toast left

Monday, April 03, 2006

Old Red Barns

My short story The Roadhouse has finally been exposed to the world. Thanks to Eclectica for putting it out there. Be sure to read the rest of the issue - some great stories and poems in there. Note that this story is different from others I've written for the following reasons:
  1. discernible plot
  2. real people, real names (still fictional though)
  3. it's about the lost "Pennsylvania years" I never talk about
Patrick Swayze does not make an appearance in the story. Marvin Gaye does.

What I did this weekend:
  • Wrote an epic poem about Weird Al Yankovic, in which he kills me. You'll never see it.
  • Went to a concert. The headliner was good. The opening act represents the future of music.
  • Was 2 for 2 in my Final Four predictions. If UCLA wins, I will have made the correct prediction of an NCAA champion for the first time in my entire life (and I'm talking about my original bracket, back when there were 65 teams). How will I celebrate? By nodding my head.
  • Wrote a non-epic poem about a Minneapolis pizza place called A Slice of New York. Never has such mediocre food inspired such fine poesy.
  • Got another damn parking ticket on the same damn street. My "the curb didn't look red in the dark" excuse won't work twice, will it?
  • Met a librarian. Met a social worker. Guess who was more interesting?
  • Oh yeah - I helped Laurel move three times in 16 hours. We get to do it twice more later this week. Moving is good for the soul. I like moving. When I'm not the one moving. Even if, in a way, I am the one moving.
  • The social worker, in an upset, emerges as more victorious in the interestingness game.
  • Washed my laundry in the kitchen sink (note to landlord - dude when will my washer be fixed?)
  • Thoroughly enjoyed last night's Sopranos. The hospital room scene where Tony and his new friends watched the boxing match was beautiful.
  • Wrote 5 other poems. Poems, Ali? What's up? The 90s are over!
  • Figured it all out.
(hey Jason and Monica - congratulations!)