The Wish Family was my family dressed in red-white-and-blue outfits, performing songs written by my father and played by my older brother Todd on our secondhand piano, my sister Mare on a convicted uncle’s guitar, and my little brother Jay on a snare drum so beaten its skin had been taped. In the Wish Family’s original conception, my mother was supposed to dance, but then she suffered a nearly crippling flare-up of varicose veins. She had a good voice, though, and when she sang, she sashayed as much as she could. Sometimes, during practices, she grabbed us hard by the elbows and shoved us into what she called “formations.” I think she’d once been a cheerleader — I’m not sure. I do know she wanted to be a choreographer. There was one song, my father’s rip-off of “Moon River,” during which Jay and I were allowed to stand to the side while my sister danced. My mother had “choreographed” the whole deal.
But mostly it was singing accompanied by those used instruments. Actually, it was singing accompanied by Todd on the piano, because Mare wasn’t nimble enough on Uncle Convict’s guitar, and Jay, only five years old, kept crappy time on that snare. I myself lacked the ability to play an instrument, but that was fine with me; I preferred playing basketball or watching it on TV. The Milwaukee Bucks recently had drafted Lew Alcindor, and everyone knew that Lew hated Milwaukee because he loved jazz and places like Harlem, meaning he wouldn’t be around long, so I always had this feeling that I had to watch and play now, before basketball in Milwaukee lost its fizz. Maybe if the Wish Family had sung jazz, I would have learned an instrument. But the Wish Family sang rip-offs of “Moon River.” And we practiced every night at 7:30, tipoff time for most Bucks games.
“Why can’t we just sit around after dinner?” I’d ask my mother. “You know, like normal people?”
“Because we’re talented,” she’d say.
“But I’d like to watch the Bucks.”
“As soon as we finish.”
“Why do we have to do each song twice?”
“Because you don’t sing loud enough the first time.”
Then Todd would repeat the song’s first chords, and, even before my cue, I’d sing my stupid harmony louder than anyone. I’d shout those words. Aware that my volume was actually a form of rebellion, Mare and Jay would smile, so I’d sing even louder, making them grin to the breaking point. Then, singing louder still, I’d hold up my arms and do a little dance.
“That’s it!” my mother would say, and Mare and Jay would burst into laughter.
“What’s so funny?” my mother would ask.
“Mike,” Mare would say.
“That wasn’t funny,” my mother would say. “Mike has a wonderful voice. When he sings loud enough, he sounds better than all of us.”
“Can I leave now?” I’d ask, and her eyes would meet mine and hold them, thoughts dancing across her face until she’d grant me permission with a nod, sending me fast-breaking toward the TV — and seminormalcy.
I felt most normal when I was out of the house, especially when I was at basketball practice. I felt kind of normal during classes at St. Aloysius Junior High, which was almost 100 percent Polish, but I had an embarrassing edge on the other boys in class as far as book smarts went. I was always hiding my test scores so I could fit in with the rest of the Starting Five.
Besides wiry, five-foot me at point guard, the Starting Five was a collection of freakishly large twelve-year-olds: Paul C., who was rail thin but easily six feet tall; Carpethead, a shockingly muscle-bound six-footer with tightly curled orange hair; five-foot-six Oafamock, whose nickname was a mystery and whose size-eleven shoes bespoke a height potential he would never quite reach; and Davey N., who was taller than all of us but had to play shooting guard because his dad wanted him to get a basketball scholarship to the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh — plus his dad happened to be our coach.
Except for me, the Starting Five were basically thugs, or at least the sons of thugs: their fathers, who all worked for Harnischfager Tool and Die, were union guys with handlebar mustaches and drinking problems and the propensity to beat members of their nuclear families.
Especially Mr. N., our coach.
Mr. N. was known to most people in our parish as treasurer of the pieceworkers division of the union, but when I think of him now, I remember only yelling and having the back of my head slapped, because that’s pretty much all he did to coach us. Always dressed in a shiny Green Bay Packers jacket, he was the Vince Lombardi of the Seventh Grade Diocesan League, forcing us, at each practice, to do twenty wind sprints before we even began to run through the plays, which were all designed to set up shots for his son Davey. If I screwed up a play during practice, Mr. N. would yell and slap the back of my head, then make me sprint laps around the court while a sub tried to keep up with the other starters — which the subs found hard to do because they were fat, because they had the kinds of mothers who told them not to let Mr. N.’s yelling get to them and who babied them with second and third helpings of fried Polish food. So most of the time, after screwing up a play, I’d run only six or seven laps before the sub, dragging his flabby ass, would screw up worse than I had, and Mr. N. would blow his whistle so loud my ears would tickle, and I’d be back out there, remembering to bounce the play’s third pass to Davey so Davey could shoot again.
Sometimes, on the way home from practice, I’d be miffed that Davey always got to shoot, but then at home, I’d be so exhausted from running that I’d have almost no appetite, and after dinner, I’d be forced to sing with the Wish Family, which made the injustices of basketball practice feel like privileges. And then, once I’d sung loud enough to please my mother, I’d watch the Bucks and Lew Alcindor on TV, feeling glad that I’d declined most of my dinner: after all, Lew was skinny, too, and it was very possibly because of his quickness that the Bucks were almost as good as the champion Knicks.
One day after practice, Mr. N. told us that, beginning with the following game, we had to wear jockstraps or we wouldn’t be allowed to play. Most of the Starting Five nodded, so I did, too, though I didn’t know what a jockstrap was.
After practice, we crowded into the boys’ locker room and sat down to catch our breath. The boys’ locker room had been the sacristy when St. Aloysius’s gym had been its church, which meant there were no showers, just a sink that spat lukewarm water. So after practice we’d generally sit on the folding chairs, catching our breath and sweating and staring at the floor before opening what had once been the vestment closet to get out our pants and slide them on over our gym shorts. But this time, before getting dressed, Davey N. removed his shorts and then his jockstrap. So now I knew what a jockstrap looked like, as well as the fact that Davey, unlike me, had pubic hair.
This fact — that he had hair on a part of the anatomy where I lacked it altogether — didn’t bother me much. I’d even been prepared for it. Lew Alcindor: The Young King, a paperback I’d ordered through Sister Carmensita for thirty-five cents, included a sentence about Lew’s “puberty,” and I’d looked the word up in the dictionary and the World Book Encyclopedia, so I knew all about puberty, pubic hair, pubic bones, and so forth, including the fact that some guys grew hair on their pubic areas before others did. It’s possible that, for a scant moment, after I noticed the darkness of Davey’s hair, I felt the tiniest jolt of envy — since dark, manly hair seemed almost a requirement for playing in the NBA. But after that moment, I didn’t care and was even somewhat glad that I still had time before I had to worry about puberty and everything it dragged with it into one’s life.
But then, the moment after that — as if possessed of the timing the Wish Family sorely needed — Paul C. said, “Don’t any of you tell your parents, but Cynthia W. let me touch her pussy hairs.”
And all of the Starting Five, including me, eyed him sideways.
“No shit,” he said, and he grinned.
“Just the hairs?” Carpethead said.
“Her ma walked in,” Paul C. said. “We were in her room. If her ma hadn’t walked in, I woulda seen them.”
“Just the hairs?” Carpethead said again.
“The hairs,” Paul C. said, “are the pussy.”
“No, they aren’t,” Carpethead said.
“Yeah, they are. That’s why they call it the pussy.”
“The pussy’s the pussy,” Davey N. said. “The hairs are on top of it. If the hairs were the pussy, they wouldn’t call them pussy hairs.”
Then all of the Starting Five except me discussed other aspects of the female anatomy, with references to various pornographic magazines. This, I thought as they argued, is why most guys don’t make the NBA.
“Anyway,” Paul C. said after a silence, “my hand was in her pants. And she says she’ll let me see it as soon as she can.”
“With her ma in the house?” Oafamock said.
“You don’t have to be in a house, stupid,” Paul C. said, and we all looked down at the floor, at which point, to remain a bona fide part of the Starting Five, I decided to speak:
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means the cheerleaders change in the girls’ locker room, and Cynthia told me the next time I see her walk in there, I should count to ten and open the door — and I’ll see it.”
The girls’ locker room had been the altar boys’ room when I’d been an altar boy. It was located on the other side of the bleachers, which now stood in place of the altar, and our cheerleaders sometimes hid in there before our games. But they usually showed up at the gym already decked out in their maroon-and-gold cheerleading skirts, so what Paul C. had said made some sense, but not much.
Our next game was the opening round of the Seventh Grade Archdiocesan Spring Tournament, which was held in our gym, because the other parishes still used their ancient churches for Mass. Cynthia showed up beforehand in full uniform and immediately sat down on the bleachers, so, while we warmed up opposite Our Lady Queen of Peace, I dismissed all thoughts of pubic hairs, pussies, and the jockstrap I’d bought at Sikorski’s Sporting Goods with the allowance money I’d been saving for a Lew Alcindor jersey. And that dismissal was wise, because Our Lady Queen of Peace was no slouch.
When the game began, the Starting Five faced something we’d never seen: the Double-Team. To be precise, the scrawny point guard who normally shadowed me on Queen of Peace’s tight man-on-man defense would wait until I got the ball, and then — just before our play required that I pass to Davey N. — dash toward Davey with arms flapping. This made passes to Davey, bounced or otherwise, nearly impossible, and I’d stand alone out there, just past the half-court line, trying to dribble calmly despite my panic, while Mr. N. bellowed at me to get Davey the ball, which, when I’d try, would lead to a Queen of Peace steal and fast break. And because I was point guard, it was my job to get back on defense. So there I’d be, backpedaling in the wake of my own turnover, trying all by myself to stop the onrush of Queen of Peace, which was sometimes five players strong. While backpedaling after their second Double-Team-forced steal, I considered how smart their coach was to tell his players to do what they’d been doing. Mr. N. was yelling and calling me an idiot, so I fouled Queen of Peace’s center as he rose for a layup, but I got him too late, handing him a gift-wrapped three-point play.
After that, Queen of Peace double-teamed Davey N. with increasing fervor every time I got the ball, and Mr. N. yelled increasingly louder for me to “GET DAVEY THE BALL!” I knew I was risking another turnover and another desperate stand on defense, but Davey N. was there, and his dad was coach, and Lew Alcindor, according to Lew Alcindor: The Young King, always obeyed his coaches. So I’d force another pass — and Queen of Peace would be off to the races. It was horrible, the Double-Team, and knowing it would happen only made it worse, because behind Queen of Peace’s strategy, I realized, was the assumption that I wouldn’t — and probably couldn’t — shoot.
And they were right: I wouldn’t, more or less because I couldn’t. My attempts to replicate Lew Alcindor’s jump shots, when I practiced on my own, away from Mr. N.’s glare, were sorry efforts that, in order to reach the rim, needed to be slung from behind the pituitary region of my head, because I was too weak to shoot properly.
So when Mr. N. benched me, just before two Queen of Peace free throws, I felt relieved and altogether glad. The way the benching happened was Mr. N. poked his face in front of mine and screamed, “YOU PLAY LIKE I SHIT!” then flat-handed my forehead and told Poosta to replace me. One of our fattest subs, Poosta got his nickname because he smelled like kapusta, which is Polish for fried cabbage. During the two free throws, Mr. N. shouted out a new strategy in which Davey N. was both point guard and shooting guard, which would allow him to dribble the ball up the court, pick up speed, and bear down toward the basket until the double-teaming Queen of Peace players fouled him. The goal of this strategy, I guessed, was to get Davey to the free-throw line, where he could shoot without distraction, as well as to provide plenty of interruptions to the flow of the game, which would allow Poosta to catch his breath.
And, much as I’d prefer not to, I must report that this strategy worked. That was the thing about being benched: you wanted your teammates to win, especially in a tournament, but you also wished they’d fail, because their failure without you would confirm your worth.
Anyway, Davey did all the dribbling and the shooting, virtually eliminating the need for Poosta to pass, and the free throws went in, and we won. Davey and Mr. N. walked off the court grinning, as usual, neither paying me as much as a glance, and Mr. N. slipped outside to smoke his post-victory Chesterfield.
In our locker room, no one spoke to me — but then, hardly anyone spoke at all. Everyone was strictly business, probably because of the residual shock from the Double-Team, or, more precisely, because it was sinking in that we were now subject to scouting: from now on, it was more than possible that opposing teams would, in advance of games against us, watch us play and then make plans to counter our strengths and exploit our weaknesses. This, we realized as we sat and stared at the floor, meant that basketball was suddenly complex and sophisticated and quite possibly no longer a source of fun.
As if to protest this realization, the Starting Five, rather than casually pulling on dungarees over sweat-soaked uniforms, were yanking off their jerseys and shorts and jockstraps. I hesitated at first to join in this new ritual, but then I decided that, because my future as a member of the Starting Five was tenuous, I’d better fall in line.
I was standing beside Paul C. when I made this decision, and at the moment my jockstrap reached my thighs, the door opened — and there stood Cynthia W., whose eyes found Paul C., dropped to his grizzled genitals, and then shifted to my hairless crotch.
“Hey!” Davey N. yelled, and he closed the door, but not before Cynthia W. had pointed at me and giggled.
“What the hell was she doing?” Carpethead said.
“Relax,” Paul C. said. “That was part of the bargain. She let me see hers in their locker room during halftime.”
I hoped the conversation would continue — and thus distance us from the giggle everyone undoubtedly had heard — but no one spoke. I thought about saying something to let them know the giggle hadn’t bothered me, but we were rushing to dress and pack uniforms into gym and grocery bags, and nothing that would have sounded offhand came to mind. We had resumed the silence that said we were strictly business, and if I wanted to maintain my spot as a respected member of the Starting Five, I didn’t dare break it. Then, as I nearly pitched forward because I’d caught my heel on my underwear, I realized that the Starting Five had been scouted twice — first by Our Lady Queen of Peace, and then by a girl in our class. And in both instances, I’d been our primary weakness.
I returned home that evening to chicken-bone soup. My mother felt that all one needed to create a meal was chicken bones, celery leaves, and water. As I stared down at my share, she told me to eat quickly because the Wish Family needed to practice: “We’ve got to get ready for the show.”
“Whose show?” I said, spooning up a piece of cartilage.
“The Wish Family’s.”
“You mean . . . we’re singing outside the house?”
“Tomorrow, at Mount Carmel. If you’d been listening to me the other night instead of watching Bob Alcindor, this wouldn’t be any surprise. Finish your soup. We’ll be waiting in the living room. We need you to work on our harmony.”
“What did I say?”
“ ‘Bob.’ ”
“Nevertheless,” she said.
I returned the cartilage to the bowl. “What’s Mount Carmel?” I asked.
“A nursing home.”
“For old people or sick people?”
“All old, some sick. Don’t worry: none of your basketball buddies will be there.”
Those last words brought to mind another possibility: “What if their grandparents are there?”
“They won’t be.”
“How do you know?”
“Do you know anyone whose grandparents have been sent away to die?”
I didn’t, but that didn’t mean it hadn’t happened. “How far is it from here?”
“It’s out in the suburbs,” she said. Then Todd began playing the piano, and she pivoted toward the living room. “You have nothing to worry about,” she called to me as she began down the hall. “You can be sure of that.”
But I’d been sure I had nothing to worry about before I’d faced the Double-Team. And I’d been sure I had nothing to worry about before Cynthia W. had opened that door. These realities dictated that, if I ever again felt sure of anything, I’d be wise to worry my ass off.
The cartilage reappeared on my spoon. I chewed the meat from it while listening to the Wish Family practice without me. I’d never really sat out and listened to them before. Todd’s piano sounded fine, but the vocals, from that distance at least, were marginal at best. Maybe, I realized, my voice was their greatest strength. Maybe they actually needed me in order to succeed at Mount Carmel. Maybe I was, in a sense, the Wish Family’s Davey N.
The longer I listened, the more I had to admit that I was scouting them. I would never, I decided, approve of the concept of scouting; it seemed devious and largely unfair. And then, my head so full of thoughts that I felt it best to sing them out, I dropped my spoon into the bowl, poured the soup down the kitchen sink, and headed for the living room. Jay, on the snare, waved a drumstick at me, and I stood beside my mother for the second half of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” of Mary Poppins fame, belting out my harmony louder than ever. I have talent, I thought as we raised our arms at the finish. But I’m not going to show it off in public.
The music purged from my mind memories of Cynthia W.’s giggle, but the memories returned the following morning, at basketball practice.
I was late for practice because my mother had demanded I let her measure my head for a new accessory to the Wish Family’s uniforms, which led to an argument in which I shouted that no one could make me sing in public if I chose not to. So by the time I arrived at practice, wind sprints were over, but Mr. N. ignored me. At first, I considered this miraculous: I’d been prepared for him to demand that I run double the usual number of sprints. Then he sat everyone in front of his clipboard and announced that he’d devised a set of new plays because — and he stared at me when he said this — “one of you acted like a baby against the Double-Team.”
For a second, I convinced myself I’d heard him wrong, but then Carpethead snickered, and I couldn’t think of anything else Mr. N. could have said that would have sounded like baby. Cynthia’s giggle replayed itself in my mind. Then Mr. N. diagrammed our first new play, representing the Starting Five with their respective initials inside little ovals. He labeled the oval for the point guard “JD,” which stood for Jerzy Dajowski. I’d been replaced by Poosta.
I aimed my face at the clipboard, as if dutifully studying the new play, but really I was glancing sideways to spy on Poosta’s reaction. He was chewing his maroon wristband while attempting, but failing, to contain his excitement. I have a shot, he was probably telling himself, at the NBA.
For the next half an hour, Mr. N.’s magic marker ran Poosta’s oval from strategic place to strategic place on the clipboard, and there, at the end of yet another new play, was yet another shot by Davey. Right then, I glimpsed and saw Poosta’s eyes more or less deaden: he’d realized that, despite thirty minutes of solid hope, his fate was merely to help Davey N. play basketball for free at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.
And since Poosta now ranked ahead of me on the St. Aloysius seventh-grade basketball team, I endured a reckoning of my own: my life had swerved significantly and permanently out of control. I would never, I was now certain, amount to even an equipment manager in the NBA; in fact, if I ever appeared on television at all, it would be with my mother on The Lawrence Welk Show.
Then Mr. N. whistled the Starting Five onto the court to walk through their new plays, and I assumed the lazy slouch of my fellow scrubs on those bleachers where our altar once had stood. And I have to say this about those guys: they knew how to relax. And how to carry on entire conversations without moving their lips. They talked about food, movies, and family functions. At some point, I figured I’d join them.
“Hey,” I said, “you guys know anyone with grandparents at Mount Carmel?”
“The nursing home?” Sheeva said.
Sheeva was Bob Sheevakowski, a scrub so obese and pasty he rarely showed at practice.
“Yeah,” I said.
“My grandma lives there,” he said.
That’s it, I thought. I’m quitting the Wish Family.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah. She’s got lots of friends there, and when I show up, they give me money and stuff.”
“That’s keen,” another sub said.
“This one guy?” Sheeva said. “He’s 104? He has this plastic bag strapped to his leg, and when he sees me, he gets so happy the bag fills with piss.”
“Bull crap,” another sub said.
“I’m not kidding.”
Then Mr. N. ordered the second string onto the court for a scrimmage. Flat-out pouting because the cruel swerve my life had taken seemed as if it would never end, I stood alone on the out-of-bounds line until Mr. N. took my wrist and walked me over in front of Davey. I was now, I realized, a stand-in for Al Stawicki, a guard on St. Cyril Methodius, whom we were scheduled to play next. Mr. N. handed Davey the leather practice ball, and Davey, following a new play called “Pro Attack,” dribbled upcourt. At first, I guarded him as slovenly as my fellow scrubs manned their Starting Five counterparts. Then I heard the whistle and found Mr. N.’s silver eyes so close to mine that I could smell his pre-practice Chesterfield, and he said, almost in a whisper, “Quit moping.”
Again the whistle blew, and Davey N. resumed the play. I guarded him decently but loosely, until a rubber basketball hit the side of my head, jolting into my mind an image of myself dressed in a red-white-and-blue Wish Family uniform. Fueled by unadulterated anger — I would not sing with my family, even though the NBA was unattainable — I crouched into my defensive stance and swiped at Davey’s dribble. I missed. My mind swam with the lyrics of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” which angered me all the more. I swiped again, recklessly, and nicked the ball enough to knock it loose; it was mine if I lunged for it, which I did. Davey N. was too proud to chase after me, so I found myself alone with the ball; for the heck of it, I dribbled downcourt, tried a layup, and scored.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” I heard, and I braced myself for a slap to the back of my head.
“Sorry,” Davey N. said to his father. He backpedaled, retrieved the ball, and began Pro Attack all over again.
This time, I faked manic swipes until Davey turned his back on me to guard his dribble, and Sheeva, perhaps because I’d listened to him discuss his visits to the nursing home, hauled himself over to attempt the Double-Team. He and I weren’t as quick as Our Lady Queen of Peace, but together we combined imposing size and rage, and before long we had Davey N. trapped against the out-of-bounds line. While my torso hid the action from Mr. N., Sheeva kneed Davey’s thigh, and Davey lost his balance. Teetering on the edge of the line, Davey winged the ball at my head with the intent of having it hit me and land out of bounds, but I ducked, and the ball sailed cross-court, hit Poosta’s left buttock, and ricocheted into Sheeva’s hands, who shrugged and flipped it to me as I made a sound dash toward the Starting Five’s basket. I stopped at the free-throw line and, looking over my shoulder to watch Davey trip over a folding chair, flung a halfhearted shot at the rim. Davey, displaying uncanny athleticism, managed not to fall, and when I turned back around, Sheeva faced me, agape, pointing in the direction of the backboard.
“Hey,” he said, “it went in.”
And silence fell over the old church.
“Try it again,” Mr. N. said, eyes on the floor.
I picked up the ball and squared up to shoot — but the shriek of the whistle stopped me.
“NOT YOU, PUSSY! I MEANT TRY THE DAMN PLAY AGAIN!”
I handed the ball to Davey. Again he dribbled up the floor, and again I hounded him, and again Sheeva attempted the Double-Team. This time, Davey elbowed my jaw, and I froze long enough for him to dribble free and shoot, but he rushed the attempt, and the ball rebounded into my hands. To amuse myself, I dribbled downcourt, stopped at the free-throw line, and launched the flattest version of my from-behind-the-pituitary-area jump shot, which smacked the backboard, hit the front of the rim, shot straight up so high it nearly struck the mural of the Holy Ghost on the ceiling, and swished through the net.
“Three baskets,” Sheeva told Davey, “to zero.”
“That was luck,” Davey said.
“QUIET, DAVEY!” Mr. N. yelled from the shadow of the old choir loft. “IT WAS YOUR MISS THAT ALLOWED HIM TO TRY IT!” Then he faced away from us — toward the doors that once had led to confessionals — to light an unprecedented in-the-gym Chesterfield.
Davey walked toward the ball, toed it up into a dribble that spun into his hands, then held it against his hip. “It was still luck,” he muttered.
Mr. N. turned. “You say something?” he asked Davey, Chesterfield wagging.
“BECAUSE IF SOMEONE SAID SOMETHING AFTER I TOLD HIM TO BE QUIET, SOMEONE’S GONNA GET HIS EARS BOXED IN!”
Davey didn’t move. Sheeva glanced at me and winked. Poosta sighed and folded his arms.
“Starters are down: six to zip,” Mr. N. announced. “Let’s finish this game — up to twenty.”
Davey N. spun the ball on his fingertip, then began dribbling toward me, and I sensed that I was in for a new kind of basketball. It would not, everyone knew, transform me into the next Lew Alcindor, but I got down into my defensive stance anyway, and then, all at once, it was happening.
It involved teamwork and sacrifice, as well as mistakes caused by both good and bad luck, and when we were on offense, I continued to try my bastardized jump shot, which continued to ring true. The precise number of consecutive shots I made is something I’ll never know, perhaps because I was so unaccustomed to scoring that it never dawned on me to count, or maybe because I was more aware of how my shots affected Davey N., who winced after each one went in and at some point, if I recall correctly, began crying. I remember rather clearly that Mr. N. blew his whistle and called Davey “A BIGGER BABY THAN ANYONE ON THE COURT,” but what comes to mind with utmost certainty when I look back on that game is that this new kind of basketball was happening mostly inside me.
Inside me was the confidence from having made the last shot I’d tried, which led me to worry less about whether I’d miss the next one, which allowed me to try the next with little or no forethought, which, of course, helped that next shot find its mark. It was the fire of a hot streak that I was feeling, and the carelessness it lent caused me to decide that, after the scrubs reached twenty points, I would sing for anyone — old, sick, or familiar — who happened to be at Mount Carmel Nursing Home.
This decision came to me in pieces that interlocked more snugly the more I scored, probably because something in me now equated shooting with singing; both, after all, risked humiliation but could also pay off with approval. And the more I envisioned a performance in which I sang for people too old to run wind sprints, the more I shot simply because I could. And after the decision to sing was free from doubt, I lost all hesitancy about whether to shoot. The only hesitancy I felt was in the moment after yet another of my shots went in, when my fellow scrubs would cheer, and the thought would occur to me that anyone who felt what I was feeling should share it with as many people as possible. So, after yet another steal thanks to the Double-Team, I’d pass the ball to one of my teammates, usually Sheeva. But he’d pass it back and nod at me, as if my hot streak were a rare performance by a singer whose voice was bound to change — and we wanted it to last as long as it could.