I thought I'd test Thomas Wolfe's premise that you can't go home again by coming home again after I retired. I almost made it. My wife Melanie and I got as far as Alameda before putting down our roots. But we are only a Bay Bridge away from visiting San Francisco where I grew up, so in a sense it is a kind of homecoming.
Recently, Mel and I drove into The City for a morning at the DeYoung Museum and lunch at the Russian Bakery on Geary Boulevard, enjoying their deep fried pirochki and trying not to think about our rising cholesterol.
The bakery is equidistant from where I grew up on 9th Ave and Clement, and Saint Monica's School out on the avenues, where Fred LaCour and I used to play a lot of basketball on its outdoor court.
From 1953-56 LaCour was the star basketball player from Saint Ignatius High and I played for Lowell. We were rivals and best friends. Aside from Jason Kidd, I can't think of another prep in all of Northern California that was as skilled at that age.
It's hard to imagine today's budding basketball stars playing ball on outdoor courts, not with all the youth leagues and semi-professional coaching and scouting of youngsters that goes on, and I'm not nostalgic enough to bemoan the fact that they don't. But those outdoor courts were the training ground for the players of my generation. All over the Bay Area there were outdoor courts with playground directors supervising and after-school players rushing to be first on to play. The games of three-on-three were called "hunch". I have no idea why, but I love the word.
There were gyms too: Lawton, Booker T. Washington, Saint Vincent de Paul, Anza, Salesiens but mostly it is the outdoor courts that remain fixed in my memory. We played on concrete or asphalt and learned to avoid dribbling on cracks and to test the direction of the wind before we shot the ball.
And there were the outdoor court players, plein-air gym rats, most of whom were not skillful enough to play in college but who joined up with those of us who were, to form some of my best basketball memories, those days of fierce competion on the outdoor courts. This poem goes out to them.
Ex Basketball Player by John Updike
Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth's Garage
Is on the corner facing west , and there
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.
Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps -
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low,
One's nostrils are two S's, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all - more a football type.
Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In '46
He bucketed three-hundred-ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.
He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.
Off work, he hangs around Mae's Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward the bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.
What my musings are all about...
Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.
The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.
The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.