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Friday night.

January 2, 1978

It’s a little after nine and man it’s freezing outside… but I don’t care.

I stayed in all day yesterday watching college football. You know, the Bowl games; Cotton, Orange, Rose and Sugar. I was tempted to place a few bets but the bookie down on fifth avenue would laugh at me. I’m only 15. Sorry, I can’t mention him by name; don’t wanna get pinched.

In all honesty, I was hung-over from all the drinking we did on New Year’s Eve. I know, I know. I can hear you know. You’re drinking at fifteen?

Yeah, we drink, handle it.

You ever try Wild Irish Rose?

That shit is amazing.

Ninty-nine cents a bottle.

Not gonna tell you how many bottles I drank, so don’t bother asking.

To make matters worse, my girlfriend is pissed at me. Not sure what I did though. Come to think of it, she’s always pissed at me.

So I grab my basketball and head to the schoolyard.

“About time you get your ass out of this house!” My mother says to me as I walk past her in the living room.

“Yeah, Happy New Year to you too…”

Mom has been getting on my case lately.

Heading out of our apartment, I cross ninth avenue and walk down Windsor Place. Hanging a right at Howard Place I dribble the ball through my legs. No one dribbles the ball like me. I don’t have gloves on either. My fingers are cold.

Howard Place is a quiet block. I’m sure someone is pissed at me for making noise. The sound of the bouncing ball is probably annoying. Who cares!

Entering the yard I walk straight to the first basket and start to shoot. I start in close.

After the third shot a priest from the second floor window of the rectory screams, “GET OUT OF THE SCHOOLYARD!”

Damn it, I’m screwed now.

I’m always getting tossed out of the yard at night. It’s bullshit if you ask me. It’s nine o’clock for crying out loud.

But hold up. I know where I can go and no one will bother me. Good-bye Father.

East 5th street park is a hike, but fuck it. It beats going home and having to listen to my mother.

I head down Prospect Avenue and walk over the bridge. As I walk into the playground I hear a few kids messing around over by the swings. Probably a few teens from I.H.M.

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of kids down here I know; we play ball against each other often. But it’s too dark to see who’s on the swings. They leave me alone.

No one is out on the court. I have it all to myself. What do you expect, it’s ten at night. Only someone crazy like me would be out here where it’s like twenty degrees. There’s a little snow on the ground too. But that doesn’t bother me.

As I take a few shots, I notice someone walking into the park.

I zoom in on them and see that it’s a girl.

Holy shit.

She starts to walk over towards me, right onto the court.

Wonder what she wants?

Maybe she’s lost?

Maybe she thinks I’m someone else?

I’m nervous. She looks to be about my age.

“Hi,” she says.

“How you doin’?” I respond.

“I’m good, what’s your name?” she asks.

“Steve, but my friends call me Red.”

“Red huh?”

“Yeah, Red.”

“I’m Maria.”

It’s an awkward moment, her standing there and me holding the ball. What do I say next?

Wonder if she plays ball?

Wonder what she wants?

The street light and the moon shining down on us lights up the park.

She’s short with dark hair. She’s wearing jeans and a pair of high top black, Chuck Taylor all-stars. She has a  black coat, and a scarf.

“You play ball?” I ask.

She laughs.

“What’s so funny?”

“Me, play ball?”

“Yeah what’s wrong with that?”

“Look how short I am!”

I look her up and down.

I have to say, she may be short but she’s gorgeous.

East 5th is a spot I visit often. Gotta be honest, I’ve never seen her before.

“You live around here?” I ask.

“Nah, I live down on Church Avenue,” she replies.

“What brings you around here?” I ask.

“Why, you writing a book?”

She laughs and reaches for the basketball, knocking it away from me. The ball rolls over by the fence. Maria chases it, picks it up and starts to dribble.

“D-up,” she says.

D-up? Holy shit, I think she does play. Either that or she watches a lot of ball. 

I stand still watching her.

She’s cute with a beautiful smile. Her eyes are sparkling. She seems so happy, so full of spirit.

But hold up, I can just see her boyfriend pulling up in a car, running out and punching my lights out for talking to her. Pretty girls like Maria have a man.

Next thing I know Maria throws up a shot towards the rim.

The ball goes over the backboard.

“OOPS…” she says in a shy manner.

There’s no way she plays ball with a shot like that I think to myself.

“Nice shot,” I tell her. I’m messing with her.

I walk after the ball and retrieve it.

As I walk back on to the court Maria gets up close to me and attempts to play defense.

“Wanna play one-on-one?” she asks.

I’m so close to her I can smell her perfume.

“Sure,” I answer.

I give up my dribble and pass her the ball. I’m probably getting myself into deep shit.

“Your ball first.”

Maria smiles. God her smile is unbelievable! Her teeth are so white.

She dribbles around the top of the key. I’m a bit reluctant to get close to her, I keep looking over towards the street. With my luck someone will pull up, I can just feel it. Last summer down at Manhattan Beach I met this really pretty girl and she had a boyfriend. He got pissed at me and we got into a big fight right on the basketball court.

That’s one thing I am staying clear of; girls who have guys.

I should ask her if she has a boyfriend.

I’m not a fighter. I play ball and hang out.

Maria starts to drive in towards the basket. She double dribbles. I don’t say anything. She has so much enthusiasm. Plus, I’m not a referee.

As Maria gets close to the goal she misses the lay-up.

“Brick!” I say teasingly.

I rebound the ball, dribble out to the foul line and take a jump- shot. It swishes. But there’s no net on the rim.

Maria chases the ball down.

We go back and forth for the next five minutes.

This feels like a dream.

Very little is said between us but she’s so playful. My girlfriend never wants to play one-on-one.

I keep looking over at the street. You know what I’m thinking, right?

Someone please wake me up.

Maria seems to be out of breath.

“I need a break,” she says.

Watching her walk over to the benches, I shoot a left-handed layup high off the backboard.

My eyes glance at her butt.

Holy shit!

She sits down while I get up a few more shots.

“Hey Red, come over here.”

I know I shouldn’t but I pick up my ball and start to walk over to the bench where Maria is sitting. These are the same benches we hang out on during the summer when we play pick up ball. East 5th has a great run in the summer. Some of the best players around come here to play ball. Never thought I’d be sitting here at night, with a pretty girl.

What I should do is be polite. Say something like:

Maria, it’s been a pleasure meeting you but I gotta go now.

Walk out the park, head back over the bridge and back up the hill to my neighborhood.

Instead I walk over and sit across from her. I put the ball down by my feet. I turn over my right shoulder looking through the fence for a car or a guy to show up.

My heart is racing…