Short Hoops

Copyright © 2001, David A. Epstein.

All Rights Reserved.


“Hey Baby Face, you’re slower than a snail.” That’s what I distinctly remember while we were playing on the playground. We were the Hells Angels of Parkside elementary school, running around, pretending we were flooring it on our motorcycles.


“And try staying on the seat this time, shrimpy.” Evidentally, my biker cohorts thought I had trouble keeping up with them. I was simply a slow, small angel with no wings.


Those were fun days back in the third grade. I enjoyed playing with my friends. Although I was the “baby” of the group, in a way, I was part of the family. I felt no stigma, no pain. We were living out our collective fantasy in the aftermath of the Summer of Love. My brothers and I were just running amok.


As I got older, “Baby Face” withered away into a distant memory. I was still referred to as a shrimp from time to time. More often, it was “shorty” or “punk”. We were now in the seventh grade. We played basketball on the playground courts. Sometimes I had fun, especially when I put the ball through the hoop.


When the game stopped, we went back to class. On the walk back through the hallway, some of the kids would make fun of me. I don’t remember what they called me exactly. There just wasn’t any imagination like in the old days. Only pain. Perhaps as I was growing up, I was becoming more sensitive, more aware of my affliction. Or maybe I was run over by one of the motorcycles.


I wanted so badly to grow taller. It would have been so rewarding to catch up with everyone else. I wouldn’t have even minded being the tallest one in my class. Anything would have been better than being the shortest.


To become a tall basketball player would have been the ultimate accomplishment. That would have shown all of my liliputian detractors. I would have been able to dunk the ball whenever I wished. If any of them got in my way, I would have simply knocked them over. “Take that, shorty!” I heard it wail through my mind.


Who knows. Maybe I would have become more popular. They finally would have shown me some respect. “Let’s see if they’ll bug me now,” I thought. They would now be in my pantheon.


One day, while we were out on the courts, I could not even play half-decently. I missed all of my shots and kept turning the ball over. My teammates not only yelled at me, they found new names to call me. They made me feel smaller than ever. One of them even said, “You’re just a Jewish punk.”


I wished that I could get a hold of some fast-working growth hormone. I wanted to grow so quickly and just get it over with. In my mind, I had only one direction where I wanted to go: up.


As I overshot the hoop with the ball, they started swearing at me again. I just took a deep breath and tried to get back into the game. But as I was running across the court, I started to feel strange. I stopped for a second and watched the others. The only thing I noticed is that I wasn’t looking up at them. Rather, I felt a little bigger.


They stopped playing to watch me. I saw their mouths hang down as I was growing right in front of them. Now, I was the tallest on the court. “Ha,” I thought. “Let them try making fun of me now.”


They started running away. I grabbed the boy who was the meanest to me and picked him up. He screamed. I just looked at him and laughed hysterically. I put him down and kicked him gently in the ass.


While I was still laughing, I noticed that I was continuing to grow. Now, I was taller than the basketball hoop. I was getting scared. Well, I did want to grow, didn’t I? At last, my dream was coming true. The “growth hormone” must have kicked in. The problem was that it was working a little too well and would not stop.


I was now towering over the playground. The kids were scrambling like the little rodents they truly were. I wished I could have just snapshot that image in my mind. Imagine this nice Kodak moment: my feet squashing those punks. Unfortunately, everything was moving so fast. I couldn’t even see them clearly anymore.


Now, there weren’t any visible beings anywhere. I looked down, but there was nothing to reference how tall I became. I was so tall, I didn’t even have the pleasure of comparing myself to the people I so desperately wanted to pass in height. At that very moment, I was towering over the city.


As my head poked through the stratosphere, I became worried that I would crush the earth. My weight would be too much for that small planet to bear. Somehow, that didn’t happen, for I did what I had often did when I was on the court: I stumbled a bit! A bit of a klutz was I, no doubt. Only this time, I slipped right off the planet. Oops!


I just kept growing and growing. I was expanding in space. I fervently prayed that this madness would stop. “Please God. I don’t want to grow anymore. Make me small again.” But he didn’t answer my prayer. Maybe I crushed him to death.


As I was growing outward towards the sun, I felt its intense heat cook my stretched skin. I was getting closer and closer to it. As my fear intensified, my heart beat rapidly. At one shocking instance, I blew extremely hard, so hard in fact that the sun burned out. Now, I was big, growing, and alone in the dark.


My head bumped into something. “Must have been the sun,” I thought. I tried speaking, but nothing was heard. I couldn’t breathe. Of course not: there was no air.


I was terrified that I was going to die. I was growing and dying. It looked hopeless, when all of a sudden, it dawned on me that there was nothing I could do. At that point, I began to relax a bit. My heartbeat slowed down. And even more surprising, I could breathe again. “Where did the air come from?” I thought.


Now I was almost the size of the universe. I felt like I became a pantheistic God. I was everywhere. Yet I was all alone and I had nothing to behold. There was nobody to play with, no one to even make fun of me. I was the universe, but I was more alienated than ever.


Then, I slipped into something I could not see. It was dark. There were no stars, no galaxies. So what was I spinning into? Why couldn’t I escape? “Oh no, not ... not a, a black hole!”


So away I went, spinning and spinning. I got sucked into the fray. I slid into the whirpool. “Was I going to break up?” I thought. That was my last thought ... until I saw this blue object below. It became bigger and bigger. Then I could make out the bodies of water. After that, the land masses became recognizable.


As I descended, I noticed that I was becoming smaller. And it certainly was getting lighter. I noticed good old San Mateo emerge before my eyes. The San Mateo bridge came into view, and so did Bayside school.


The basketball was now in my hands. How did it get there? I don’t know. All I remember is that I was rapidly heading towards that rim. My chief worry was that I was going to crash right into the hoop. I let out a very loud scream. I saw the kids scramble away. Then, instinctively, I raised my hands, firmly grasping the ball. I slam dunked it right through the hoop.


“Slowly, slowly, go slowly,” I softly mumbled. I let go of the rim and fell to the ground. I slowly rose and looked at the taller kids that started walking up to me. And all I could say to them was, “not bad for a shorty, huh?”


by David Epstein

August, 2000