Thursday, June 29, 2006

i was walking in downtown new york city one day, in march, a cold and windy, gray, blustery day if i remember correctly, when i had to stop for a break because i'd been walking for a while. it was a busy intersection, lower manhattan, lots of cars and people, mostly doing business and ignoring me. across the street, though, was a small basketball court, only one hoop, with a large 8-foot fence around it. Inside two men were yelling at each other. they were huge, muscular men yelling at the top of their lungs. one, who seemed like he could be italian, had long hair held in by a sweatband at his face, but was drenched in sweat; the other, a black man, was also drenched in sweat; they clearly had been playing basketball, and were arguing over whether one of them had committed a foul. i was afraid of violence breaking out, and was aware that i was apparently the only witness, and, like being at the lion cage, was vaguely grateful for the 8-foot fence and the fact that it would be difficult for me to find a way to intervene, even if that were called for. but they never came to blows; they knew each other, probably, and were letting off some steam in the process of a "friendly" game. the city, with its traffic, its horns and sirens, competed with them; the brownstones and wall murals, high-rent district, rose up on all sides of them, and penned them in at that corner. but they were totally focused on each other. nothing mattered except whether that foul counted.

eventually i left, because i had a whole city to see, and less than a day. eventually the lower east side, traditional home of the newest immigrants, opened out into a wide paved but slanted parking lot under the brooklyn bridge. this also had been turned into a basketball court- a somewhat slanted one, with grass growing up in the cracks, and a few pillars in the way, but much longer, with hoops at either end. and here an entire game was being played out by asian immigrants of some kind- philippino? vietnamese? i couldn't tell. they were playing a wide-open game, lots of running, lots of fast breaks- but they clearly weren't hitting many baskets, and their awareness of the rules may have been less than perfect too. they were tearing up and down the court yelling some language at each other and working around the various irregularities in the pavement. above them, the bridge rumbled occasionally as huge trucks would go through their gears on their way out of town to brooklyn; the noise would echo below in the spaces between the pillars. Beyond the bridge, looking up, was the sky; we were at the river, and it had a feeling of openness, the harbor, the fresh air, the seagulls hanging around looking for a snack. it would not be a good place to be at night, but for now, in the daytime, with a crowd of players, almost all shorter than average, but enthusiastic, it was a place for exhilaration, opportunity, practice. the cracks in the pavement, that made the ball bounce off in weird directions, were just another enviornmental factor; both sides had to work around them. i wondered how long this area had been a court; whether others had also gotten their start here; or whether i should get back onto the beaten path of the lower manhattan tourist sites. these out-of-the-way places were showing me an angle of the city i hadn't really considered before- and that was good- because how else is a person supposed to know what life is really like in a place?

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