Dooley Meadows stood on the small hill: the one with a basketball court where nobody played. Sometimes they ran half court drills there, but most times it remained empty. He stood weeping on the small hill looking down upon the main court. His heart broken and soul shattered. There was an All Star came in progress: the best from his age group sprinted to the jovial screams from the crowd, which consisted of the entire Basketball camp.
The squeaking of rubber soles and the thumping of fake leather on the blacktop echoed throughout the dark valley. The outdoor lights gave the green, ivy colored basketball courts an all most ethereal glow.
Maybe, I should go to the beginning. We can come back to Dooley on the hill in a bit. Dooley Meadows was a teenager from a small river town on the working class side of Jersey Delaware. He was rail thin, with a slight limp, and tan reddish skin. He didn’t know much about style. Many times he dressed in cut-off tough skins and some sort of tight fitting t-shirt with something far from cool pictured on front. He wore a baseball hat over his large, mop of shameful, wild curly hair, because his mother’s haircuts made him appear like a third world orphan. So he stuck to the hat and turned it sideways, trying to create cool. It became his unofficial trademark.
That winter he’d discovered a role model. That hero was a tall, peace man with a glorious cloud-like Afro: his name was Julius Erving. The first time Dooley’s young eyes captured the Doctor, he was lying on the floor in the living room, watching a twelve-inch black and white t.v. An American Express commercial came on the tube and his pupils were drawn to the screen like metal to magnets. He propped himself up on one arm and turned to his mother who was in the middle of hemming a pair of plaid pants. “What does he do?” He asked She looked up from her sewing machine and paused,
“I think he plays basketball.”
She was no sports fan, as a matter of fact the only man his mother talked about was Robert Redford. Dooley decided if Julius Erving played basketball, so would he even if he didn’t know how. He made the basketball team for his Catholic school finding his niche rebounding and playing hard. Even with a slight limp, he was still more athletic than most kids his age. His empathetic coach Andy, a young bullish man with bowl cut hair, who frothed at the mouth when calling out plays took him under his wing.
His team (the Falcons) made it to the playoffs that year but lost. Two weeks before the game, Dooley went under the knife for a procedure on his leg, which relegated him to spectator during the defeat. Yet, with Andy’s tutelage, he quickly learned the game of Naismith. Somehow that spring, Dooley came across a pamphlet for a Basketball camp, taking place in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. He brought it to his parent’s attention. His folks worked hard and they were on the middle end of middle class. Extra money wasn’t a luxury, so he expected his request to be rejected like a jump-shot attempt over Moses Malone. Yet, his parents knew his love for basketball: the sport brought their melancholy son joy. They paid for the camp and he was on his way to the Pocono’s. The camp complex was a series of small buildings, large hills, a canteen, mess hall, and main building with Basketball courts everywhere. One large outdoor court with a large wooden roof was by the camp entrance.
Courts to the back and courts to the front. Courts on the hills and the main ones lay at the bottom of a large, rolling field. It was paradise. There were games three times a day, plus drills, and practice. In addition there were three meals and the campers could eat as much as they wanted. The food was much better than the picky Dooley had back in river town- eating once maybe twice a day. His cabin had eight people form all different regions of the Northeast.
He was the only one from Southern New Jersey. Everyone else was from New York, Philly, or somewhere with big name sports programs. One cool summer morning, Dooley rose with the rest, maneuvering his way to the group showers. His thin body was baptized by the brisk mountain air as the dew from the high, wet grass flooded his sneakers soaking his socks. He dressed, went to the mess hall to eat his fill, and then was off to practice.
His division was high school but the second tier, not the city monsters dunking and blocking shots into the tree line. He kept his hat on the whole time. It was his security blanket. During the practices, he drilled with energy and enthusiasm. He wanted to return and destroy the kids in his local gym. The same ones that laughed at his hair. The same ones that laughed at his sneakers. The same ones that laughed at his jump shot or jeered when he got called for taking too many steps with the ball. He was a sponge that practiced and polished his skills, while the other kids hung at the canteen slapping ass. At camp, he didn’t have to worry about the taunts from his hometown, where he was a misfit- not by choice but by the roll of life’s dice. The same dice that created heroes. The same dice that created killers.
He dribbled forgetting about the past. He dribbled thinking about a future possibility the orange ball might bring. After lunch on the first day, the sun rose above the mountain and the heat came calling. Dooley found his new teammates on the Main court. He walked over quietly: a humble boy happily accepting his new found tranquility. On his team: Jack: a muscular white guy with a crew cut and cool demeanor: Antoine: a small, cute Dominican from the Bronx: Frenchie from, well France- a flaccid, European constantly lost in translation. Jai from Philly: a tall, dark skinned educated kid and Duncan: an average, suburban male from Buffalo whose entire persona screamed After School Special. Their coach was Jay: about twenty from a small Division Three college in Upstate NY. He was more a passive teacher than insane ranter.
It was one of those magical teams where everything fit right and everyone got along, forming a certain kind of youthful synergy: with the exception of Frenchie, who struggled with English, almost costing the team a game or two. The team blazed through the league games and Dooley was a rebounding machine. He snatched everything like his hands were covered with honey. The skinny frog with the twisted ‘round cap, found
“Okay my first player is Jack.”
Jack, (Dooley’s muscular teammate) stood up and confidently took his place among the divisions best. Dooley knew he was next. “The second player is…” Dooley prepared to prop himself up. “Antoine!” The tiny, curly haired Dominican jumped up like a Bronx box-spring, flashing his pearly whites like a bright Atlantic City billboard. He sprinted across the court to a standing ovation. Dooley rose as they set up to play. He walked to the sideline confused. The river kid was Gobsmacked. Jay pulled him aside,
“It should have been you but I choose Toine because he’s little.”
Dooley guessed that was supposed to make him feel better, but it only twisted life’s dagger. Didn’t this coach know his hell? Didn’t he know Dooley’s suffering? He walked to the small hill overlooking the game on the court no one used. Waterfalls fell down his cheeks as his heart broke. He exhaled the pain in small whimpers; only the Moon knew and she covered him with a bright jacket of rays. If people back home could see him now, oh they would laugh. They would love it. He went back to his cabin. It was too much. The river town kid bought a large Coke from the canteen and called it a night.
Saturday was the championship game. His team lost in the semi-finals that morning. Dooley was ready for home. He had a nice tan, gained a couple pounds, and a wealth of life experience. There was one final assembly. The whole camp collected under the indoor court with the wooden roof. Dooley sat by himself still smarting from the team pick slight. The director of the camp was giving awards. Dooley knew this time none were for him. At the end of the program the Director: a friendly, healthy, wavy haired man of about thirty-five extended his arms out wide.
“Okay before we go. I just wanted to give one more award.” He took a Baseball hat with the camp’s logo on front and held it in the air.
“I want to give someone a new hat.”
He pointed to Dooley (not knowing his name.) “You.” Dooley sat up stunned, walked to the front, and gingerly accepted the gift. The camp applauded, not a standing ovation but a nice one. Dooley removed the old hat, replaced it with the new one, turning it to the side. That’s what he was known for.
At camp that summer he had learned how to rebound from life’s setbacks. Rebounding, That’s what he was known for.