Fall 2008, Volume 5

Fiction by Christina Guillen

In Loco Parentis
Chapter Six: The Pick and Roll, Hazlinski Style

As an adult, for weight loss purposes, I have forced myself to jog a few miles on occasion and have resorted to the polyurethane tummy reducer belt to sweat more and cover less territory.  Apart from my ability to keep my feet moving at 12-minute mile pace, no one would ever call me an athlete.

My younger days held no athletic promise at all.  Apparently, once my mother moved in with my grandmother, which increased our economic status considerably, the whole idea was to fatten me up.  Pictures of me from the toddler years through junior high confirm that, indeed, I became the target of all their caloric efforts.  As a rotund kid, I suffered all the normal humiliations, but one of the least pleasant was attending special ed. gym classes.  Now it’s hard to imagine that such classes existed, but they did at Ray Hopper Elementary in the mid-seventies.  Disabled kids and other chubbies like me were instructed to lie on wrestling mats and pick up marbles with our toes.  Or, on occasion, we would engage in some geriatric calisthenics that included raising our arms over our heads and wiggling our fingers or lifting our knees, one at a time, to our stomachs while lying on our pudgy or misshapen backs.  At the end of my sixth grade year, a substitute teacher taught us how to play crab soccer so I, along with my corpulent and lame classmates, were thrilled to move around the mat, kick an actual ball, and get caught up in the spirit of competition.  The crab soccer days were short lived, though, and within a few weeks, we returned to the old curriculum and the smelly marbles.

Once puberty began in eighth grade, I did lose some weight because I begged my mother to buy me a bike and allow a neighbor to teach me how to ride.  Again, it may be hard to believe that I didn’t learn until the tender age of 13, but without a father around, I was left with Kate and Babba, both of whom did not know themselves how to peddle and feared that I would break my neck if I tried.  In one summer, I lost almost twenty pounds and started to limit my food portions thereafter.  Was I ever a thin teenager?  Absolutely not.  But I did advance to real gym class only to realize that I had very little coordination and even less knowledge of sports, apart from crab soccer.  It wasn’t until my junior year that I took swimming and found that my pear body adapted to water.  My teacher, the swim coach, took notice and let me practice with the team.  No, I never made the line-up, but like a beluga whale I kept a steady pace in the far lane.

College was not much better.  While my roommates took tennis and volleyball and golf, I opted for two semesters of bowling to fulfill the physical education requirement. Beginning and Advanced Bowling were taught by the same instructor, a desiccated woman named Pauline, who spent the better part of class smoking Newports in the lounge bar overlooking the lanes.  Under Pauline’s watch, I would toss a few gutter balls then park myself on a manogahide swivel chair with a good novel.  My transcript shows A’s for both courses, yet I never mastered tossing the ball and knocking over the pins.

Given my ineptitude in sports, any thinking person would question why I have signed up for a basketball class at Ruedo Valley.  After the sabotage incident in the English Department, I figured that my presence at the college would not be welcomed.  That like delinquent students who haven’t returned library books nor paid their health fees, my name would flag an alert and prevent me from registering.  This worry was for naught.  No flag on my records.  I have found that memories of Martha the Saboteur have faded a bit, especially since I served as Greenleaf’s textbook rep. for my English brethren.  That was when I still had job and had not dreamed of smoking a bong.  All of this leads me to my new quest to find a healthier way to connect with Giovanni even if it means attending the MW 2:00-4:00 fundamentals mini-course on the campus where my former colleagues roam.

I did consider other means of connection.  I could dress in a loose, shiny sweat suit and grunt my way through a Rap song or, to the extreme, go to a concert in that outfit and pump my fists into the air as the rappers leap across the stage.  I could take a smaller step and make an appointment with Rickie Lopez who, according to Giovanni, could twist my puny strands into thick dreadlocks or tight braids for only twenty bucks.  The thought of interviewing with my hair in this knotted state makes me shudder.  Plus, it probably would not have any lasting effect on Giovanni.

All of this makes me ponder why I am willing to ingratiate myself with a 20-year-old stepson who has made my life so frustrating.  It would be difficult to admit, but my old approaches to the situation were useless.  Complaining to Paul about Giovanni has only led to more hostility in the triangle.  It seems now that the more I get involved, the more Giovanni matures, even if his growth appears in minute increments.  And I have found that my efforts have improved my relationship with Paul and Paul’s relationship with his son, which has made my relationship with Giovanni more tolerable.  It is dawning on me that Terry may never return or return too late, once the storm has passed.  We cannot count on her to parent her son and magically transform him into an adult who can make it on his own.

Does this mean that I am eager to put on my biggest pair of sweatpants, then circle the student parking lot for twenty minutes until I find a space, and then suffer through the humiliating workout that lies ahead?  At least I will lose weight, right?

“Two lines, one lay-up, one rebound.  Let’s go,” Coach Turner says and claps his meaty hands together before burying them in the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt.  Although we had never met until I enrolled in his class, I knew of Bob Turner as a successful football coach.  Pushing sixty, he has a Tony Bennett quality about him, except for his gut that swells over the waistband of his track pants.  In this class of sixteen students, I am the only female, which would be okay except that I am also the least skilled player by far.  What happened to fundamentals?  I thought the class was for beginners like me.  Some guys in here can dunk.  Some can spin the ball on a fingertip for five minutes while lying on a bleacher.  It will be an easy “A” for these guys, just like my bowling classes of yesteryear.

When it comes time for me to run and step, step, hop into a lay-up, I run and squeak to a halt before exaggerating my right foot planting, followed by my left, and then lifting my right knee, hoping that I attempt to toss the ball at the basket.  Usually, it swishes into the bottom of the net or, if I’m lucky, bounces off the underside of the rim and catches some part of my body in its trajectory to the floor.  The rebounding guy has to chase the ball into the bleachers, which throws off the whole drill.

“No, no, no, Amato,” Turner yells.  “What is your right hand doing?”

“I don’t know.  That’s the problem,” I say across the court and mop my sweaty face with the sleeve of my t-shirt.

Turner slides across the polished wood in thin leather shoes that look like a wrestler’s.  He beckons me to the start of the lay-up line, so I jog over there.  The rebounder, a tall Asian guy with a crewcut, bounce-passes the ball to the coach, who dribbles it until I arrive. “The backboard, see the backboard,” he says while chomping on a wad of nicotine gum.  A chalky circle has formed around the perimeter of his lips

I cock my head to the side and sigh.

“You lift your left leg so you can reach higher and bank the ball off the glass.”  He points.  “In that corner there.”

“I just can’t put it all together yet.”

“Here,” he says.  “I’m gonna hold onto you and walk you through it.”

I gaze around at the other students who either drop their chins or let their heads snap back.  I’m suddenly aware of the thick cloud of sweat and body odor strong in my nostrils.

Turner gets behind me and leans his gut into the middle of my back while aligning his arms with mine like a reverse strap-on dancing partner.  Crewcut guy hoots at the sight of this.  Others join in.

“Okay, dribble,” Turner says and mirrors my movements.  I can’t say that I have a steady dribble yet even though I have been practicing at home when no one is around.  My short fingers have little spring to them so the ball bounces low and tends to lose momentum or I over-compensate and it goes too high, around chest level, where I can’t control it.  Turner steadies my dribble when it starts to veer away from my hand.  We approach the basket, only five feet away, and he reminds me of the pattern, “Right step, left step, hop, and push.”  His hand puts pressure on my elbow, sending the ball up and against the backboard.  It bounces off the rim and circles it once before dropping to the floor.

“See, that’s better.”

“But it didn’t go in.”

“Doesn’t matter.  The rhythm’s what you want.  Now do it again,” he says and slides over the paint—a term I learned last week—on his way to the key—another new term.

Mr. Crewcut chases my ball and sends it over to me with a bullet pass that stuns my fingers.  I dribble back to my spot, only losing control of the ball twice.  Once in position, I start again for the basket.

“Okay, now,” Turner says from the top of the key.

My feet strike the floor.  The ball bounces willy-nilly on my right side.  In my head, I hear the theme from Wide World of Sports.  I lift the sphere and forget all about the left, right, hop, push.  Some odd force suspends my body in the air and twists it.  I hear the tap off the glass and the swish of the net. Claps and whistles follow.

Turner drops his head.  He looks up just as I get my own rebound.  “I don’t know what that was but it went in.”

“That was cool,” Crewcut says.  “Like a 180°--”

“--finger roll,” another guy with a Laker headband says.  “Do it again.”

“I have no idea what I just did,” I say.

Turner opens his hands in anticipation for me to pass him the ball.  I send a bounce pass his way that makes him leap to the left to grab it.

“That’s the point, Amato.”

“I have to know what I’m doing,” I say, acutely aware of being a student rather than the teacher.  “I have to develop a rhythm.”

Christina GuillenBIO:   Christina Guillen has taught composition, literature, and creative writing at Long Beach City College since 1991. A graduate of the University of Southern California's Master of Professional Writing Program, Ms. Guillen has published short stories in Pearl and Ellipsis magazines. Her novel In Loco Parentis is a work in progress.