Thursday, August 26, 2004

Pistol P
My buddy P, aka The Pistol, has a very similar gig to mine. He’s a first year High School ESL teacher too, only he’s out in Ozone Park, Queens, old Gambino stomping grounds. The Gambinos and their goombahs are still around, but they’re getting pushed out fast by a wave of South Asians. P has a ton of Bengalis and Indians in his class. I don’t think he has too many Italianos.

P played in the student/teacher basketball game at his school one Friday and you know, despite the nearly two-hour Subway ride from Shitty to the OP, Mr. Babylon had to be there.

P and I shared MVP honors on our 8th grade basketball team. This, along with the time I came really, really, close to dunking, was the highlight of my basketball career. P, however, was just getting started. He grew tall. He honed a killer jumpshot (hence the Pistol,) he developed his handles, and somewhere came up with a deadly quickness that no-one knew he had.

He led our tiny high school to the state championship game, won lots of awards, and went on to play for a couple of different colleges, and even got in a handful of professional games over in Europe where he did quite well.

Now he’s in Ozone Park teaching ESL, and this basketball game offered the perfect opportunity for him to show some of his students that he’s more than the buttoned-down grammarian they’ve come to know every day in English class, or so I hoped.

I rode the A-Train way out deep through the vastness of Brooklyn all the way into the OP. I grabbed a couple of White Castles (jalepeno good, cheese bad,) and made my way around to the back of the gym, where P had told me I was expected. I just needed to mention his name.

I had to yell back and forth with an old deaf coach for a while but was finally allowed inside the gym where things were already bumping, packed to the rafters with rowdy High School students. The OP High School boys’ varsity squad was warming up and putting on quite a dunk show. This one kid, #11, could absolutely fly, which must have had something to do with why the crowd called him “JFK.” The crowd was loving it. Girls were dancing and screaming, and the boys were pushing each other and running back and forth waving their hands like they just got religion.

Then, not to be outdone, the teacher’s squad, which included a short, fat guy who had to use both hands to dribble, came out with du-rags on and started zig-zagging around the court in some sort of imitation of a figure-8 drill. This soon morphed into your standard tap-drill, where the first guy dribbles up to the basket like he’s going for a lay-up, jumps up and bounces it off the backboard to the next guy who runs in, jumps up and bounces it again, continuing until the last guy jumps up and lays it in or, hopefully, dunks it off the carom.

The crowd was already howling with laughter over the sight of all these middle-aged white guys running around with du-rags on, but when the tap-drill started, and quickly went south (some of these guys couldn’t even get off the ground, let alone put the ball back up where the next guy could get it,) they went absolutely ape-shit. P, the only teach not wearing a du-rag, was the final man in the drill and made a valiant attempt to finish, but the guy in front of him whiffed so bad he wasn’t even close.

I was not optimistic about what was fixing to go down.

It started off okay, the teachers starting five wasn’t as bad as I expected. They had a few guys that were clearly YMCA veterans, passing well, setting nasty screens, banging the boards, and knocking down some open jumpers. P missed a couple of open 3s (his specialty,) though, and otherwise was being way too passive, and the students were hitting absolutely everything they threw up. They must have shot 75% in the first half, which they ended up by almost 20.

P owned the 3d quarter, though. First he went up really high and intercepted an alley-oop tossed to #11, who was pissed. While “JFK” was pouting his missed highlight, P took it the other way, crossed somebody over, and had a sweet no-look pass to another teacher for the lay up. The crowd started to murmur. P then went on a little scoring roll, hitting a couple of step-back 12-footers, and driving to the hole for a couple of nice lay-ups. The students’ lead was down to single digits. The crowd was actually cheering for P now.

Then P poked a pass away and headed down the right sideline with a speedy, pesky, little, water-bug guy guarding him tight. P went behind his back to the left, spun back around to the right and jammed it all over the little speedster’s head.

Oh shit.

Half the kids in the stands were stomping up and down and falling out, while the other half began heckling the student team.

JFK blew another alley-oop and P had a couple more buckets and another dunk in transition to wind up the third quarter with the students clinging to a slight lead. Then the inexplicable happened. P went to the bench. The teachers apparently were operating under some sort of Mighty Mights, equal-minutes-no-matter-how-sorry-you-are rule. By the time he got back in the game it was over, and the students won handily.

P and I left after politely declining to hit happy hour in the OP with his teammates. On the way out a couple of lady security guards looked him up and down before slapping him 5 and declaring, “You da man!”

Outside a group of girls were walking ahead of us.

“You the teacher dunked on them boys?” one of them turned and asked.

“Yeah,” he nodded, and we kept walking.

“What your name is?”

“Mr. P,” he said, a little louder this time.

“Mr. P!” all the girls screamed in unison.

“Next time we see you walking down the hall,” the lead girl continued, “we all gonna be like…"

"Mr. P!” they all shrieked again in unison.

P and I just smiled.

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