It was a cool, breezy, Friday night in September. It was coming up on nine-thirty but it was Friday night which meant we would stay out a little later than normal. I was all alone in the boys schoolyard at Holy Name shooting baskets on the middle court. Holy Name was the grammar school I attended from first grade through eighth.
The rule was, out of the yard by ten o’clock; if you were caught after ten, the priests would scream at us and chase us out.
“HEY YOU KIDS, GET OUTTA THE SCHOOLYARD!”
If you were busted in the yard at night, Monday morning you were called down to the office and had to face the music. Or, I should say the wrath of the principal. I found myself on the bench outside the office plenty of times; how they ever knew it was me in the yard, I’ll never know. I mean it was pitch dark and the priest doing the yelling was up at the window, two or three stories high in the rectory which was about fifty yards away from the yard.
On this night I was shooting at the basket on the Howard Place side. When I was alone I would warm-up by shooting from every spot on the court. I stayed close to the basket, banking each shot from the left and right low post area. In the middle of the lane I would swish it even though we didn’t have nets. I would make five shots from each spot and work my way out to the perimeter. The key to not getting caught in the yard was not to bounce the ball.
Of the entire week, Friday nights were my favorite. First of all we had no school the next day. Second, my mom went out with her friends so that meant I could come home anytime I wanted. Come to think of it, I never had a curfew, on any night.
There were many nights I found myself alone in the yard with nothing but my basketball and six baskets around me. I had my choice of hoops to shoot at. It was my paved paradise. Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams” had nothing on me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone coming into the yard. As I tried to focus in on the rim, I noticed the person entering the yard was a female.
She wore white pants, brown boots and a grey hooded sweatshirt. She walked real slow, so slow it seemed like she wasn’t even moving. She caught me staring at her and I saw her flash that sweet smile of hers that I had seen during recess. We had never talked much in school but one night I recall hanging out on Fuller Place where we played “Seven Minutes in Heaven” and boy was she a great kisser. And her teeth, God, they were so white, white as the snow in the winter time.
I tried to play it off like I didn’t see her so I turned around and dribbled down to the other side of the court to shoot at the basket against the church wall. While I dribbled up the court I kept my head up just like the basketball coaches at Holy Name had taught us. At half-court I got a little fancy and went through my legs and around my back. I wanted to show off.
“Hey!” she called out.
I acted like I didn’t hear her. I tried hard to act like I was ignoring her but I soon found out that strategy wasn’t going to work.
“Yo Fin,” she called out as she began to walk towards me. Fin was my nickname, is was short for Finamore, my last name.
I looked at her as she approached.
“Pass me the ball,” she said.
I looked at her and hesitated at first but then she asked again so I threw the ball her way, bouncing it slowly. I didn’t want to hurt her. She caught it and started dribbling.
“Weak pass,” she said.
Weak pass? Please!
I could tell she never played basketball before because she was dribbling with her palms, and our coach, Danny Piselli taught us to dribble with your finger tips so you have control of the ball. She also kept pausing, looking up at me while she held the ball in both hands.
“Wanna play on-on-one”? she asked as she backed into me, still dribbling the ball.
I laughed out loud and said, “You wouldn’t score a point against me.”
As she turned slowly towards the basket, eyes fixed on the rim she threw the ball overhead up towards the basket. She missed by a mile. The ball sailed over the backboard and hit the church wall.
“Nice shot,” I sarcastically said to her.
“Oops, oh well,” she said as she stood there with an innocent look.
She looked beautiful standing there. She had a white scarf around her neck. Her hair was brushed neatly, her cheeks were as red as the bricks from the church wall.
“You’re a really good basketball player,” she said to me as I grabbed the ball, dribbled out to the right wing and swished a jumper.
I felt so good after she gave me the compliment. I wasn’t used to hearing things like that. She chased the ball down and threw it back to me. I quickly passed it back to her, “Shoot it!”
She tried another shot and missed again. I felt bad for her. She wasn’t much of an athlete to tell the truth.
“Wanna play one-on-one?” she asked as she chased down the loose ball.
I looked around the yard and noticed a couple of kids had walked in and began shooting down at the other end of the court.
“Sure, your ball first,” I answered.
She dribbled around in circles while I stood there and watched her. She was bent at the waist dribbling with both hands.
“You can’t stop your dribble and then dribble again, it’s a double-dribble,” I informed her as she went from one side of the court to the other. We usually call that going east to west. The coaches want you going north to south with your dribble.
She didn’t answer, nor did she care. She continued to dribble with her back to me and the basket; she couldn’t care less about the rules of basketball. She was clearly playing by her rules. I stood there and went laterally with her, side-to-side. I raised my arms like I was playing tight defense. If she turned and tried to shot the ball, I wasn’t going to block it.
When she finally took a shot I grabbed the rebound, dribbled out top to the foul line and dribbled through my legs and around my back (and her back) as she chased the ball like a cat chases its tail. She raised both arms straight up trying to block me from shooting. I noticed her sweatshirt go up a bit revealing her stomach.
After I made a few shots she began to get frustrated. At one point I stood there dribbling with my back to her as she pushed up against me. She kept trying to knock the ball away from me. When she realized she had no chance, she grabbed my skinny waist and held me tight.
“Hey, that’s a foul,” I protested while I kept dribbling in the same spot.
“That’s it, I quit,” she declared as she leaned against me. When she saw that wouldn’t work, she jumped in front of me and kissed me.
I was shocked.
Her lips on mine.
I dropped the ball as we kissed. I felt the ball hit my foot and roll away. She laughed.
Putting her strong arms around my waist she slid her tongue in my mouth. I was on cloud nine. I couldn’t feel my knees, they were weak. My hands were at my side, I was standing there, too afraid to do anything with my hands. I stood there in the dark with one of the prettiest girls in school; the only light came from the lamppost out on Howard Place. The kiss lasted a long time. I didn’t know when we were supposed to stop. It was just the second time I had ever kissed a girl.
I opened my eyes and looked at her while we kissed. I also looked around the schoolyard to see if anyone had come inside. Unbeknownst to me, she tricked me. She broke the kiss and ran after the ball. Picking it up she started to bounce it and smile at me.
“Ha-Ha, I stole it from you,” she said with a slick smile as she dribbled towards the exit, out of the schoolyard and down Howard Place.
As I got to the exit I looked down Howard Place and saw her leaning up against a parked car holding the ball.
I approached her and she threw the ball at me. A textbook chest pass I might add.
“Come over here,” she said with a sly smile.
Looking over my right shoulder I noticed a couple of people coming down Howard from Prospect Avenue. They walked past us, staring at me and I looked right back at them.
“Whaddya lookin’ at?” I asked.
They put their heads down, as I watched them walk towards the subway station on Windsor Place.
My friend shook her head.
“Be nice,” she preached.
I walked towards her, nervously I might add. Without saying a word she reached out, grabbed me and pulled me to her. Her brown eyes were sparkling from the street light above us. I wish she had picked a parked car on a darker spot of the street so know one would see us. She wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me. I thought of the lyrics from the song “Lola” by the Kinks while she held me, “Well I’m not the world’s most physical guy but when she squeezed me tight she almost broke my spine.”
I was getting better at this kissing game…and of course beginning to like it.