Hole In My Shirt

There's a hole in my shirt. A Syracuse University basketball shirt, blue, short-sleeved in otherwise good condition, perhaps a bit frayed at the neck, but under the right arm there is now a hole big enough to pass a stack of quarters through. I should probably get rid of it. Instead, I'm wearing it as I type.

The shirt is comfortable both physically and emotionally. I've had it for a long time and can remember receiving it, a gift from my wife, wearing it to SU Women's Basketball games far enough back that there are pictures of Dad and me in The Dome. The physical comfort is nice, but it's the emotional comfort that really gets to me. A friend has one of those thunder-shirts for her dog and this t-shirt is a little like that for me.

Still, I should probably get rid of it. I have other shirts that are just as comfortable in both ways. I have more than enough t-shirts. That's the sort of thing I never have to buy because I just end up with them. They come my way. I end up giving half a dozen to the Rescue Mission at least once a year, but still, the drawer is full. I wouldn't exactly miss this shirt and even if I did, another would come to me soon enough.

I really should get rid of it. There's a line between frugality and stupidity. I can just imagine wearing this somewhere I might have to raise my hand. For some reason I also imagine someone tickling me under the arm through the hole, maybe with the eraser side of a pencil. I'm not sure why such an image comes to me, but there it is.

Tomorrow morning, changing into whatever I'm going to wear for the day, I will pull off this old shirt. Maybe the hole will stretch and rip a bit more. I might even reach through the hole with my thumbs and pull it right apart, making the decision that much easier. Who knows?

Pulling it on this evening after my shower, I thought of Dad who used to wear ripped shirts and socks. He couldn't see any good reason to replace them. They still worked. Mom would eventually throw them out for him and I can imagine the relief of such a thing though I don't want to burden my wife with that duty. I can do it myself, just get rid of the thing.

Still, this thing really is comfortable and it seems a shame to get rid of something with a hole only I know about. Well, now you know too, but do me a favor and don't tell anyone.

One-On-One In The Schools

At school I watch two guys in the gym. Our numbers are down because of the snow, so by the end of the day when we do basketball, there are just two guys looking to play while the others stay up in the classrooms doing I don't know what. It's a full court gym and these two station themselves at opposite ends to dribble, shoot, and mostly miss.

When I asked earlier if it made sense to do gym with just the two of them, they said absolutely. Well, one of them said, fuck yeah, but he's a work in progress. Each said that they could use the practice and workout. In days gone by I would be down there working out and practicing with them, getting them in a friendly game, but management decided it's a risk to have teachers on the court and my days of playing ball with the students are over. I really miss it as one thing that was good for all of us. C'est la vie.

Long ago when I was in high school we would sometimes get the good fortune of having Ed the gym teacher wheel a carriage of basketballs out, give the deep instruction for which he was known — "play" — and then go back to his office where I liked to imagine he drank. Guys would get games going, hole up on the bleachers, or head out back for a smoke. Kyle and I played one-on-one. I needed the practice.

Kyle's a doctor now. Back then he was a kid who could figure things out. We were okay ball players but weren't going to make the team. I figured I could take him, but lost most games against him. He figured out that I couldn't go left and my outside shot was unpredictable. He defended my right and stymied me. I could take him down low and keep it close, but I couldn't figure him out enough to beat him often.

He even told me the secret. "You always go right, man." Mild trash talk daring me to do something about it. I couldn't. I kept playing though and the games were tight. Over time I got better. So did Kyle.

These guys are still shooting and missing. They stop to catch their breath because they both smoke too damn much. But they stay at opposite ends. No one-on-one here. One guy is better than the other and the lesser one has a temper and gets too physical. I'd have to officiate the hell out of things. The real reasons they don't play a game is I'm not there to make it happen and they're scared to put themselves at risk.

I understand. Kyle was popular, smart, and regularly beat me. He didn't keep playing me out of kindness or friendship. We were high school boys trying to thump our chests. We weren't mean though or dangerous to one another. There was no real risk. His dad knew mine. We'd been in school together for years. We were having fun, enjoying the challenge.

These guys are getting really winded now. Sloppy and all over the place. I've watched them check each other out from across the court. They're suspicious. They live threatened lives. I'm sitting in the bleachers about halfway between them. Keeping an eye and ear out. In that same high school of mine I learned to touch type without looking. Look at me now, hitting all the right keys, monitoring PE at least as well as Ed ever did, and remembering the past.

I get told a lot that kids have changed. They're harder now. Isolated, angry, driven by the culture of the phone and the internet. Mostly I shrug when people say that. People tell me I'd have to be crazy to be a teacher these days, especially with these kids. Again I shrug. From up the hall I hear someone yell that buses are here. "Time to go," guys, I tell them. They take their last shots at opposite ends of the court, but I'm seeing Kyle winning by one point and the two of us walking back to the locker room. We're laughing about something and feeling good. There's none of the suspicion these two poor guys feel as they push headphones back on their ears, crank the music, keep their distance and go out into the world alone. I go back into the gym to get the key for the lights, switch them off, and in the darkness feel a little dizzy caught between then and now, light and dark, and my next challenge.