“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
— Dylan Thomas
Maybe it is because I have followed his career since he was a teenager playing high school basketball at Lower Merion in a Philadelphia suburb. Or maybe it is because I wanted to pay my respects to a basketball legend, one of a small handful of the greatest players ever to play the game. Most likely, it is because I have also seen my “game” diminished by the ravages of time, and I wanted to watch Kobe Bryant play his last game in the NBA as a simple act of brotherhood.
I have turned off the talk shows, put down the newspapers, avoided barbershops and changed the subject at family gatherings. I know that eventually, this being an election year with the future of the republic at stake, I will have to put on my waders and trudge back into the primordial muck of politics. But not now. Not today. Because it is spring, and the world is, as the poet E.E. Cummings said, “mud luscious and puddle wonderful,” a long drink of elixir to rouse us from our long winter’s naps. Because every tree, every bush, every dandelion, every blade of grass is alive, alive, alive, as I am alive on my deck with a good book and a glass of red wine filled nearly to the brim, as the children are alive on their bikes and their skateboards and their own sweet adrenaline.
A few weeks ago, I suddenly developed a thirst that I could not seem to quench. No, this is not a metaphor. For days, I drank water by the quart — and probably a gallon of orange juice — but no matter how much liquid I consumed, in less than an hour, I would be thirsty again. Of course, this led to several sleepless nights, as my body became a living, breath recycling plant. I was exhausted, but I was up and down all night at the mercy of my relentless thirst.
When I was growing up, it seemed that I spent most of my time at Mark Dozier’s place. Mark was my best friend. His parents were divorced, and his father, Gary, had an apartment in town just below the high school. I thought Gary was about the coolest father ever.
I hate having my picture taken. The simple truth is that I have found clever ways to avoid it for most of my life. But there is one picture of me I have always liked. In it, I am standing near the road between my old apartment and the park across the street in my hometown of Sparta, North Carolina. In the crook of my right arm, I am holding my nephew, Adam, who is 3-years-old. I am wearing my favorite shirt, a gray R.E.M. T shirt, and it is a beautiful day. Adam is squinting, and I am smiling broadly, as if to say, “This is MY nephew!”
I was dreaming, I can’t say exactly what. It was that kind of dream you have that floats away like a birthday balloon the second you open your eyes and let go of the string. In the dream, I slipped on something and was startled awake, about 15 minutes before the alarm was set to go off.
I was in my early twenties before I knew what I wanted to do with my life. My son, Jack, is 10 years old and he already knows what he wants to do with his. He wants to play point guard in the National Basketball Association, specifically for the Charlotte Hornets. His favorite thing in the world is going to see the Hornets play basketball at Time Warner Cable Arena, where he can root for his favorite team while imagining himself on the court pulling up for a three-pointer at the top of the key, or “breaking someone’s ankles” with a wicked crossover dribble before finding a wide open Frank Kaminsky all alone under the basket for a thunderous alley-oop dunk.
When we wake up on Christmas Eve, it is nearly 70 degrees and raining so hard that when our miniature dachshund is about to go out for his morning trip to the bathroom, he takes a look up at me instead as if to say, “Are you kidding me, man? No thanks, I’ll just hold it.” What he means, of course, is that he will go back to bed just long enough for us to jump in the shower or start making breakfast, whereupon he will find a nice, quiet room somewhere in the house and surreptitiously relieve himself on the leg of a chair, reappearing minutes later, with another look that says, “No worries, mate. That room is all clear and secure.”
“OK, everybody, huddle up, huddle up!”
But nobody really seems to want to huddle up. Our point guard is standing at a slant, hands on his hips, looking at the scoreboard with a seething contempt. Home 2, Guests 12. We’re the home team.
When I was 12 years old, there were few things I liked better than the Dallas Cowboys. Definitely my Farrah Fawcett poster. Maybe Fudge Royale ice cream. But not much else.