Daniele De Serto
English translation by Wendell Ricketts
In my dream, I was playing in the 1991 NBA finals, the first match in the five-game series. I must have taken Byron Scott’s position, because he was the only player I didn’t see on the court. Everybody else was there, though, from Magic to all the assistant coaches and even the equipment managers. The best part was that my dream included the days leading up to the game, when you had the feeling the entire U.S. of A. was about to come to a sudden halt and that millions of pairs of eyes would soon be glued to you: your moves, your shots, your one-on-one defense.
Hands-down, that moment when we ran out onto the court was the biggest thrill of all. First came the announcement over the loudspeaker, then the roar of the fans in the grandstands and the sound of the players working each other up with thunderous chest bumps. When I saw myself on the Jumbotron, I realized that neither the dream censors nor the very picky diet I’d been prescribed by the medical staff had made a dent in my 240 pounds or on the slow retreat of my hairline. And sure, I’ll admit it, that left me feeling a little down. So I tried to focus on the whoops and hollers from the crowd. There I was in the starting lineup, after all. Obviously, Coach Dunleavy believed in me; all of America believed in me. This was no time to fall to pieces. Thank God the sound of the whistle blew away my feelings of inadequacy.
Anyway, the way people show their support is incredible. Everyone — from the celebrities at courtside to the guys selling tacos in the stands — they all make sure you hear them. Halfway through the first quarter, I spied my boss from work, all the way up in the third balcony. He was bundled up in a Bulls scarf and his eyes were bugging out as he shouted insults at me, exaggerating the movements of his mouth to make sure I could read his lips: “You are fired.” No more than a minute later, I sunk a fifteen-foot shot, and I don’t need to tell you just how good that felt. I held up a thumb and forefinger in the shape of an “L” and waved it at my boss.
That was when things really started looking up.
When you’re in the zone, they say you feel yourself moving beyond your own ego, merging into something larger than yourself. You feel swept along by the current, as if you were caught in the flow of a river. Well, my friends, that’s just how it was: the flow of a river! And you’re so absorbed in what you’re doing, so focused, that you feel outside of normal reality somehow. You’re in a state of perfect harmony, and you even lose track of time.
Admittedly, there were a few shaky moments. At one point, the entire Bulls starting lineup turned into my Pakistani neighbors. Light-footed and acrobatic, they ran circles around me in complicated offensive maneuvers, all the while rudely reminding me of the fact that I’d left drips all over their front porch while I was repainting the outside of my unit. Things got very testy when one of them leered at me, showing me one of those S-shaped Sikh daggers clenched between his teeth.
“Hey, buddy,” I said, taking the situation firmly in hand, “maybe this would be a good time for us to talk about all those wires sticking out like crazy from your side of the building? Have I ever given you any grief about that? Have I ever tried to embarrass you over the fact that we’re a long ways from having an electrical system that anyone would call up-to-code?”
After that, peace returned to life on the court, thanks to my cool head and to a mutual promise to be more respectful of the shared space in our complex.
Meanwhile, the cheerleaders were seriously going for broke. Their routines were just elaborate enough, and their extremely to-the-point outfits meant that prospects for the halftime show were excellent.
During the third quarter, I once again found myself facing my boss’s hostility. Worm that he was, he’d climbed down a few rows to join a group of hooligans who were beating on drums. I could hear them chanting about how they were going to make sure I never got paid for the vacation time I had coming, and my boss was leading the chorus. That was a critical juncture, but I chose to stand my ground, honestly and bluntly, even if that meant the possibility of making things worse.
I’m guessing most of you have never had the experience of playing on the front lines during the NBA finals. Still, I feel fairly confident in saying that you can all understand how hearing the squeak of your Adidas against the high shine of the Chicago Stadium’s wooden floor would be worth the risk of losing some stupid employment benefit. And that’s exactly what I meant to communicate with the withering glare I shot into the stands. I meant it to be both extremely precise and totally frank. You want to get in my way, boss? Be my guest. I wouldn’t want to lay bets on how things will go once we’re standing in front of the labor relations board. Sure, I know you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve, like that whole story about the missing timecards or the time the office’s digital projector disappeared, only to reappear mysteriously in your car, jammed halfway through the windshield.
Whatever. But maybe you should consider taking a slightly more objective view of things. If you did, you’d realize there was no denying reality: One of us tonight, meaning me, after a nice, long, hot shower and a live interview or two with the international media, was going to get back to his house, look at himself in the mirror, and say, “You really crushed it today, man!” But at the same time, you also couldn’t deny that a certain other person, meaning you, once he got in front of his mirror, would only have one thing to say for himself, and that was to admit he was a tiny, meaningless, worthless little dot whose presence on that particular stage was justified solely by the fact that ten guys on the court were putting their hearts and souls into the game. A shitty, arrogant, worthless little dot. . . . When I sent that look, dark as a thunderhead, up into the stands, that’s what I was saying.
The very next moment, I took off in a fast break and was already rising in the air, about to slam-dunk the ball over my opponents’ heads. They were, of course, caught completely off-guard by the grace and power of my 240 pounds of aerial suspension.
During the final, dramatic moments of the game, everyone could see I’d gone into a deep physical slump and that my hairline was on the verge of unconditional surrender. But I hung in there. Our team was tight, and that made all the difference. Even the fabulous MJ had no choice but to resign himself to defeat. After a performance like that, of course, it goes without saying that my hopes were high: Any night now, I’d be seeing an invitation to an All Star Game.
Everyone is sure going to miss Chicago Stadium, there’s no doubt about that.
That place was a part of history. It was a real shame when they tore it down.
The trip to the stadium earlier that evening had given me a special boost. My taxi driver was a charming old Chinese guy who didn’t know the first thing about basketball. He didn’t even realize the finals were going on that night! He kept mixing up basketball and baseball, but you should have heard him chattering away, all excited. Clearly, he didn’t recognize me, which made me wonder what overcrowded hole in the ground he’d been keeping himself in.
Any of you ever been to Chicago’s Chinatown? I have. Or maybe it was the one in New York. I don’t recall, but they’re all the same anyway! Fascinating places. A slight haze hanging in the air, the streets jam-packed with run-down shops and underground gambling clubs. My last visit was in a dream only a few weeks back. That night, I was some sort of lone avenger type, one of those characters with an expression that’s both pensive and disenchanted. I was about to have it out with a gang of mobsters who had kidnapped a doll-faced young woman with a tattoo down the length of her back. Yes, that was it! The taxi driver looked just like that magnificent girl’s father.
He was a riot, really, with his dim insistence on calling the Bulls a baseball team. I almost wanted to give him a hug and reassure him that things were all going to turn out for the best with his daughter: Nothing to worry about, sir; those lowlifes are about to get the thrashing of their miserable existences, and after that there’ll be a new era of peace in good, old Chinatown.
The problem was that he didn’t understand a thing I said. God only knows how he managed to find his way to the stadium. We seemed to have spent an eternity going up one wide avenue and down another, passing leafless trees alongside the streets and leaving in our wake rows of those grim warehouses that tell you you’re in an industrial area. As we drove by, I stared at the buildings. The way they loomed up out of the darkness, and knowing there wasn’t a single living soul inside them at that hour … well, it’s the kind of thing that gets you thinking that if you look too long, something really ugly is going to happen to you.
Still, it’s more-or-less what I see when I go to work every morning, passing miles and miles of leaden gray on the way, and it’s so early that the cavernous parking lots are all but empty. The suburbs probably look the same no matter where you go in this world. It was quite a relief to tear my eyes away from that scene and look down at my gym bag with the purple-and-yellow team logo sewn onto it and think about how tonight there’d be no employee badge to pass under the reader, no time-clock to feed, no sign-in sheet, no overtime hours that needed someone else’s okay first.
Hey, you! Up in the stands. I’m talking to you. Do I look like a guy who punches a clock? Do I?
Lousy little dot.
DANIELE DE SERTO lives in Rome (Italy). His work has appeared in journals such as Fiction Southeast, Granta Italia, Gravel, Cheap Pop, Cactus Heart Press, Linus, Inutile, ‘Tina. He also works as an author for tv shows.