Memory is a funky thing. It still amazes me that some single thought can lay dormant for years and then – out of the blue – something as simple as a sight, smell, or song can bring it to the front of your brain faster than Rush Limbaugh on an unattended bottle of Oxycontin.
One memory that flooded back to me recently was my solitary spring in Slovenia, where I’d spend my dull afternoons playing basketball on a concrete court surrounded by blocks of flats, molded in the finest Yugoslavian architecture.
After six months in Slovenia – six months of incessant eating, heavy drinking, and epic partying – I had gained a lot of weight. This was compounded by the fact that I hadn’t done an ounce of exercise the entire time. Well, so it goes, I was having too much fun and I was hungover the rest of the time.
When it became apparent that I could no longer fit into the pants I brought out there, I went out of my way to find something to do athletically in an attempt to reverse this trend. As soon as the spring hinted at a return, I went out and bought a basketball. Then, I searched for courts. As luck would have it, only a few nights later, while bored and with nothing better to do, I wandered around my neighbourhood and stumbled upon a residential area about five minutes from my dorm. Sure enough, hidden between a block of grey, rectangular, ugly flats there was a basketball court. It wasn’t perfect, but it’d do.
I began playing regularly, sometimes after class, sometimes instead of class. I would go out with my iPod and just shoot around for an hour or so. I began to figure out that the best time to go was in the morning, so often I would just wake up, boil myself some Turkish coffee, and head out to play ball.
Again, it was just me, alone. I’d keep my mind off insecurity or tits and shoot the ball until I couldn’t muster up any more energy to do so. Then, I’d do it for another five minutes and head home. My three pointer got pretty good. At least I thought so.
In an only in Slovenia type of circumstance, one morning I was out shooting around, near the end of my workout, when from across the courtyard a skinny, mulleted teenager got out of a van and started screaming something at me from 50 yards away. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, it sounded like total gibberish. I turned around and kept playing.
A moment later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone come running towards me. I shot around and saw the kid heading right for me, two friends in tow. “Shit. What the fuck is this crazy psycho want with me?” I began to mentally map out my escape route. Naturally, this included my patented throw the ball into his face, kick ’em in the knees, and run like hell technique.
By the time he got to me, it was clear he wasn’t all that threatening – he just looked like he’d been hit by a car or something. He started giving me some spiel in Slovene. I responded with my usual, “negoverim slovensko” (I don’t speak Slovenian) and he effortlessly switched to English.
“You’re shot iz no good. Grd. So ugly. You must have arc. Give me ball. Look.” He took the ball and tossed up a perfect rainbow three.
The ball bounced back to his feet and he did it again. And again. He nailed three simultaneous three-pointers, the ball hitting nothing but mesh and concrete the entire time. “See, like dzis, now you,” he mumbled. I tried to do the same, but aired it instead. The ball bounced into the grass and stopped dead.
His friends had now caught up to him. They handed him a 2 litre bottle of Coke. He unscrewed the top and took a swig. He turned to me and extended the bottle in my direction: “You,” he said, “It does shot better.”
“What the hell,” I thought. It’s not like it would hurt. I grabbed the bottle and took a nip.
“GAH – this is red wine!” I grimaced inside and tried my best to maintain composure. It was 10 in the morning and I’d been running myself ragged. I needed water, I needed hydration, I didn’t need booze. All three started to laugh when they saw my reaction.
They passed the bottle around amongst themselves and soon enough it made its way back to me. I took another sip, much longer this time, and had to admit that it was pretty good wine for a Coke bottle. Actually, it’s not totally uncommon in Slovenia to find good wine in a plastic Coke bottle, it just means it’s homemade.
As a sidebar, the oddest thing I’d drunk homemade Slovene wine from that year happened about a month later, when we were filling our cups out of a red jerrycan that would normally hold gasoline …
Back on the courts, the four of us polished off the bottle. I picked up the ball and took a shot. It was still ugly, but it found the net this time. My new mulleted friend just looked and me and smiled. “See. Told you.”