Minneapolis, circa 1990
For many years the arrival of winter brought with it the resumption of pick-up basketball. A group of us guys, with overlapping neighborhood and professional connections, would gather at a community gym to play basketball. No league, just choosing sides, skins and shirts, a core of regulars supplemented with a bunch of occasional players ranging in age from the early twenties to the early forties. It wasn't a real high level of play; whenever a ringer did show up it was pretty obvious that we were not going to make anyone forget Michael Jordan. It was often chaotic, but would sometimes coalesce into a real nice flow- back and forth, some strategy, almost like ballet when we were really inspired.
This went on for many years. I was one of the older guys, and after one too many sprains I finally begged off. I was concerned about getting really hurt, I had a mortgage and a car loan and couldn't afford to miss any work. The other guys kept it going, there always seemed to be a younger guy or two who would replace those who had "retired." Some of the older guys weren't in the best of health- overweight with high blood pressure- there was always a feeling that any one of us could have an "incident."
A few years after I stopped going it happened. But it was a young guy, not one of the geezers, who suffered a massive heart attack. No prior indications, an undiagnosed condition, the guys started CPR but by the time medics arrived he was gone. Later, after the funeral, some of the remaining guys tried to keep the b-ball thing going, but the days of those pick-up games were over.
Looking back on the extended adolescence which is young adulthood for most American males, it seems as if all the intense recreational activity we enjoyed always had a bit of a deadly element to it: sports, fast cars, drugs, drinking, carousing, the whole rock 'n roll lifestyle. A substitute for war, perhaps. Or was it the desire to let one's body experience great intensities of feeling, to be really alive and not just existing?