NO @ OKC: Spiritual

NO @ OKC: Spiritual

2/2/18 Oklahoma City: I decided to attempt fasting in OKC. One reason being the South was fuckin insane, and I’d been rotating between eating po’boys, tacos, and BBQ for over 2 weeks like it was an ok way to go about life. Another reason was I didn’t know what else to write about in OKC, and thought it might be interesting.

But really, I’d heard some folks talking about fasting on a podcast as a spiritual experience of sorts, and it sounded kinda appealing. I always went through phases of dipping my toes into the spiritual world; whether it’d be meditation or yoga or long lonely walks through wooded areas or what have you. It was typically a half assed attempt to connect to something bigger, and I never stuck with any daily practice for more than a month or so. Partly because I was lazy, and partly because I was unsure how I felt about the whole thing.

I went back and forth between feeling like there was some grander force or energy pulling strings, and like our time here was essentially random and meaningless.

I was raised Catholic and went to church every Sunday growing up. I didn’t do that anymore, and no longer considered myself Catholic. I had heard a couple of my siblings and a lot of other reformed Catholics talk about hang-ups they had with Catholicism- sexual suppression, hypocrisy within the church, just general guilt about everything- and I guess I had a little of that just from growing up in it. But mostly I just never really felt any kind of connection to it, it always just felt boring as a kid, and silly as I got older.

When I was young and would have to sit through mass every week, I would make up games to try and make the time go faster. I would turn and stare at the clock, and waited for the second’s hand to get almost all the way back to the 12, then I would start to count as fast as I could in my head to 60 , and see if I could beat the second’s hand back to 60 seconds. I played that game for years.

My fondest memories of church were when something funny would happen; like the priest would mess up one of the prayer things, or an old lady would sing along with the somber tunes in a ridiculous high pitched vibrato, or someone would fart. That was the best. Because you couldn’t laugh, so me and my sisters would be suppressing our laughter, trying not to look at each other, but that only made it funnier. My dad would get so pissed, which also made it funnier. I remembered thinking on many of occasion, “I can’t wait to get out of church to laugh about this,” but it was never that funny once we got outside. Church funnies were confined inside those high ceilings and sad stained glass windows.

But I didn’t want to just rag on Catholicism, it’d been done. And I didn’t actually know a whole lot about it, I was busy playing the clock game. I still didn’t understand the difference between like Pentecostal, Lutheran, and Catholicism. Didn’t they all root for the same guy? Whatever, I’m sure they all did good and did harm, like every entity on the planet.

It was more just the arrogance of all organized religions that turned me off to them, what were the odds that your thing was 100% right and all these other religions were totally full of shit, it just didn’t seem very likely to me. It just felt like the world’s largest annoying bar argument where nobody was willing to give an inch, and being right was the most important thing in the world. Like, my dad had way more in common spiritually with my super-into-it Jewish barber, than he did with most of my siblings and me, but it felt like he would never see it that way because we were baptized or whatever the bench mark for spirituality was. It felt like a practice in stubbornness, and it didn’t make sense to me.

So I preferred to meditate sometimes, and not eat any food in Oklahoma City, like a rational person!!

I went to the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial Museum my second day in town. I was over 40 hours into my fast and was feeling like dog shit. I had a full night of hungry sleep, but I was still absolutely exhausted, and dumb as fuck. It felt like one of those lingering hangovers where you couldn’t do anything right, and you were just slow and dumb, and it took you like 20 minutes to take a sip from the bottle of water that was right next to you. Everything was an ordeal. But I figured a catastrophic-tragedy-museum wouldn’t be the worst place to go on an empty stomach, I couldn’t imagine it was going to make me hungrier, and if anything it would curb my appetite a bit. My brother had been to the museum during his visit to OKC and recommended it to me, and I had watched a documentary about the bombing, so I had a slight idea of what I was in for.

But you could never really prepare for something like that. The tour started out with me sitting in this room by myself, and there was audio of some kinda run of the mill bureaucratic board meeting-about like city water lines or something- then 2 minutes into the meeting there was an Earth-shattering explosion and people yelling, then the faces of all 168 victims appeared on the wall, and these double doors opened to the rest of the museum. It was fuckin’ terrifying.

The museum was set up like a timeline of the events from the 3 hours prior to the bombing, to the lethal injection of McVeigh. There were displays of like watches, and coffee mugs, and a kid’s shoe they found in the debris. It was rough.  They had everything from how the community came together, to how the media handled the story, to personal accounts, to the contributions of various religious organizations, and absolutely horrific pictures of the recovery efforts. I was tearing up left and right, especially with the sections about the daycare that was in the path of the explosion. I just thought of my niece being in that kind of situation and it made my stomach turn, my empty stomach.

It occurred to me in that moment that fasting was fuckin’ dumb, especially in the name of some spiritual endeavor. Because you know what? Even if there was a God or whatever, crazy random shit like the OKC bombing happened all the time, so starving yourself to try and get a better understanding of this God that might exist, made no fucking sense. What was stopping some white supremacist lunatic from blowing up that memorial museum in the name of Timothy McVeigh? Then I was gonna get blown to bits after not eating for 2 days? Get the fuck out of here. Bad shit happened to decent people every day-God or no- so I was just gonna enjoy the simple pleasures of life while things weren’t exploding. I was gonna eat food while I still had the option.

Now… was I using the memorial of this tragic event as an excuse to cut this fast short by a couple of hours… Yea, lil bit, lil bit. But I agreed with the rationale… plus I felt like garbage and didn’t know what else to do in OKC on a 40 degree day.

And I regretted nothing. I’ll tell ya what fasting was good for, it really made you appreciate food, and it made food taste absolutely phenomenal. I still had some leftover rice and tomato/mushroom bisque that I cooked in Dallas. My last night in Dallas, I whipped up some crispy fried rice over-top/mixed in with the bisque, then capped it with a fried egg on top. And it was no fuckin’ joke, lemme tell ya, one of the better things I’d ever made, and I was no slouch in the kitchen. So after pretending for another 20 minutes like I was gonna keep fasting upon leaving the museum, I raced back to my Airbnb. I threw together the same thing with the same leftovers, and it was the greatest fuckin’ thing I’d ever eaten in my life; it put the same dish from two nights prior to shame. It wasn’t even close. I kept telling myself to take my time eating it, y’know, really enjoy it, but my body was just like, “fuck you bitch!!!” as my hands were shoveling everything into my face. I’d also gotten some salted chocolate covered almonds during the period when I was lying to myself about continuing the fast. And I kept lying to myself after shoveling the leftovers into my head; that I was going to save the almonds for a quick to-go breakfast in the morning. That lasted about 2 minutes. I ripped them shits open and continued to lie to myself, “I’ll just have a handful,” “I’ll just have a couple more,” “I’ll leave half the bag for the morning…” “fffuuccckkk thhhattt, I’m eating all these god damn things RIGHT NOW.” And that was what I did. I finished my coffee, then drank a brew, canceling out the 2 day fast in 20 minutes.

At the end of the, tour? Exhibit? Piece de Remembrance? I didn’t know what to call it, whatever, unimportant. At the end of the museum, they had this nice display of how OKC had bounced back. The last thing was about the Thunder; just having an NBA team was a victory in itself for this small-town-feelin’-city, which had gone through such upheaval. After a player was drafted by/signed/traded to the Thunder, they were taken on a tour of the museum, which I found really cool. There was no way any human who wasn’t a mass murderer could walk through it and not have the museum leave a big imprint on them. The players would have a connection to Oklahoma that other players, playing on other teams, just wouldn’t have with their cities.

And I felt it in the crowd; it had the intimacy of like a college or high school game. I did a lot of shitting on crowds in general, and perhaps the majority OKC fans didn’t know what the hell they were talking about, just like most sports fans. But they certainly gave a shit, which was more than could be said for almost all the cities I’d been to thus far. And the few people that yelled out random shit throughout the game seemed to have a basic grasp on basketball, which I appreciated.

Ever since they moved to OKC, the Thunder were kinda my backup favorite team, since the Knicks were always a non-factor come playoff time. They had one of, if not the, most exciting young teams in my lifetime dating back to about 2010. They drafted two players who would become league MVPs in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and a third in James Harden who would likely win MVP this year, while now playing for the Rockets. They had all 3 of these guys when they were like 23 and under, and somehow never won a championship. They got there once but fell short to a hungrier, more experienced Heat team led by LeBron, then that off-season made an ill-advised trade of Harden. There were years of injuries mid-playoff runs following that. Russ and KD had the 73 win Warriors beat in 2016, but blew game 6 of the Western Conference Finals at home, in stomach turning fashion. KD then left that off season-in stomach turning fashion- to join the Warriors.  And just like that the Thunder of Oklahoma City became the dynasty that never was.

This was the first game where I actually gave a shit if the home team won or not. Partly because the Thunder were my backup favorite team, but also because Oklahoma City had won me over a bit. I guess I had a soft spot for places that experienced massive terrorist attacks, then constructed intense interactive memorial museums at the sites of said attacks… Hmm, didn’t think I’d be referencing 9/11 for the second time in a collection of short stories roughly based around going to basketball games, but here we are… Anywho, so yea, I was pumped to cheer along with OKC.

Prior to the national anthem at the start of the game, they had a Pentecostal-Catholic-Lutheran-Pastor-Priest of some sort come out to center court and say a prayer for the game and the athletes and stuff. Then he said, “Amen,” and the crowd responded, “Amen.” Did they do this before every game? What the hell was going on? It felt like I was at one of those crazy ass mega church places, without the theatrics, just the sheer size. Maybe it was a sign from on high about my half assed fasting!! Or maybe Oklahoma was just super religious. I guess if I played, I’d appreciated the preacher-man asking God to look out for me… just in case.

My spirit animal, Boogie Cousins of the opposing Pelicans, had ruptured his Achilles a few games prior. So I kinda figured the Thunder would come out and roll over the shorthanded Pels. Especially since the Thunder had just suffered a heartbreaking loss in Denver the night before. And through the first quarter and a half that was exactly what transpired. Russ and Steven Adams were working the two man game to perfection, and former Knick-hamstringing-All-Star Carmelo Anthony pitched in a bit on offense. They were building close to a 20 point lead at one point in the 2nd, then were only up by 4 at the half. They relinquished the lead in the 3rd, and missed ample opportunities for a comeback W in the 4th. Everyone was missing everything, plus Russell Hustle and Muscle played to his weaknesses in the 4th; turning the ball over and chucking up 3’s. Anthony Davis was the best player on the court and he dropped 40 points as the Pels walked away with the victory.

The skyscraper and two other biggish buildings were lit up in Thunder blue, and it made me sad for the whole city that they lost. On our way to the parking lot, one guy said to his friends, “these games are just fun, I don’t even care what happens, I just like to see them try and do well.” He said that as I passed their group, and I made a face like I was watching one of those Youtube compilations of like family dogs and babies playing together. That was one of the sweetest things I’d ever heard uttered from a human’s face.

I wanted to get back to my Airbnb and comfort myself with some salted chocolate covered almonds, but my body had ravaged my supply. So it wouldn’t had mattered anyway, they weren’t lasting til breakfast one way or the other.

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MIA @ DAL: Ugly

MIA @ DAL: Ugly

1/29/18 Dallas: I thought I was somewhat of a man, or at least could maybe play one on T.V. But then I went to Texas.

My good ole friend Maxie Shnapie met me in Austin over the weekend, and it became clear I was no man. I was attempting to grow a beard, because my hair was thinning up top and I had to do something. Upon arriving, Max -whose had a beard since we were roughly 14- informed me that I was doing it wrong. He said I had to bring it lower to make it seem like I had a more robust jaw. The beard was there to deceive; he said in so many words. I didn’t believe him, even though he’d been a bearded human for over a decade. I was stubborn with my ill-informed stance, that the beard should run directly on the jawline, ladies loved precision; I said in so many words. He didn’t even continue the argument with me, because he was extremely sure that I was very wrong. But I’d never been wrong about anything in my life, so Maxie Shnapie was in for a rude awakening.

As you may have guessed, his name was not actually Maxie Shnapie, but I had to belittle his name and make it sound infantile, because it turned out that I was very wrong about the jawline of a bearded human. The women of Austin, Texas made that quite clear.

By no means was I trying to besmirch my good friend. He was a handsome fella; he had his deceitful man beard, and Russian wrestler muscles, and other handsome man qualities. But we’d been out a million different times to a million different places in New York, and I’d never seen anything like this. He was swatting away hoes left and right. Max had a lady back home, so he was trying to deflect the hoes to me, but they could not have been less interested in that. This gal from a bachelorette-bridal-party-sweet-16-thingy was trying to hook him up with their group’s hot single friend, and Max just pointed to me and said, “here’s the single guy.” I couldn’t even describe the look of disappointment on her face, her face said, “wwhattt, hhiimmm??” It was hilarious. After her initial disgust, she came over to me and gave me the same proposition she posed to Max, but in a far more half-hearted manner. It was kinda like this, “yea…so… that’s my friend…she’s single…and you’re… you…so I don’t know,” or something like that. I told her to get the fuck out of here, I didn’t need her pity; ladies loved precision!! I didn’t say that, I said, “oh, cool, yea, we’ll see what happens,” but I was thinking the other thing I didn’t say. She walked back to her sweet-16 bridal-shower-gender-reveal party, we laughed and laughed as she retreated. I’d never been so insulted in my life.

Now look, I knew I wasn’t God’s gift to women, sorry, God’s gift to hoes, but, y’know, I was alright. I was tall and thin and had cool tattoos and had been called handsome by a wide enough range of humans to know I wasn’t hideous. But Jesus, I couldn’t even get a fuckin’ look, Austin was not digging what I was shoveling. And I also knew that wasn’t a saying, but I was growing a beard and trying new things. I was under the impression Austin was going to be another one of these hipster paradises, which historically boded somewhat well for me. But as we were hopping around from spot to spot, it became clear that some lanky half a hipster with silly tattoos, in the beginning stages of growing a beard, had no place… Deep In The Heart Of TEXXAASSS. That was one of the many songs that I didn’t dance with anyone to. Max had a line of hoes asking him to dance though, he kept deflecting to me and they kept being disappointed. As the last one came up to him, I just yelled out, “OH WHAT THE FUCK,” and the girl looked at me like I was an absolute maniac. And I suppose I was in that moment. I think Max was more delighted with how much it was pissing me off than flattered by how much attention he was getting. We grabbed some road beers from the bar for our walk back to the Aribnb, and laughed hysterically at my absolute lack of appeal.

I stayed in Austin another night after Max left, and had pleasant conversations with some of the folks back at the hostel. A few of the humans were even female humans, still being in Texas and having them engage with me in conversation felt like a great victory. My bar had been reset quite low.

I drove to Dallas the next day, and it seemed I’d never get the hell out of this state, but I had to go watch the Mavs in Dallas. I had to, because I said to no one that I would. I had already seen both the Mavs and the Heat play elsewhere on this trip so far, and I really had very little interest in this game. I had very little interest in Dallas as well. But I arrived there, and it was clean and kinda nice and there wasn’t much human activity or traffic in the city, so I was ok with it. The pillow in the hostel’s bed had some good volume to it, so what more could I have asked for. I suppose I could’ve asked for a game that I had any interest in, but at least the tickets were cheap.

The game itself was very ugly, as ugly and unappealing as I felt in Austin. There were tons of turnovers and wide open missed shots and bad defensive rebounding leading to more missed shots. And Harrison Barnes missed two wide open dunks, one was like a reverse that he didn’t need to attempt and he kinda just missed the rim entirely. He hit it with his hand, but the ball just got thrown in the other direction somehow, it was astonishingly bad. Hassan Whiteside was destroying the entire Mavs team down low, and the Heat were blowing them out, but like most bad-not very good teams in the NBA, they gave up the lead. The Mavs almost came all the way back. But like most bad-not very good teams, they fell short in the last minute of the game.

The guy seated next to me was a season ticket holder, he didn’t tell me that, but I could tell. I was seated in one of his seats because I didn’t want to sit with the family that was next to my seat. He said it was fine as long as the row stayed somewhat empty, because he came to game by himself, like a loser!! Who does that!! I could also tell he was a Mavs season ticket holder by the way he was interacting with the game. It kinda sounded like he was reading from a script of things that might be said a basketball game, and he was saying everything just loud enough for people to hear him, but to not have to engage. He was saying shit like this, in a dry monotone, “c’mon now, little defense,” “that’s why ya gotta box out,” “good pass, Wes,” (he called the Mavs players by their first names, because they were long time buds), “get that shot out of here,” “can we finish a play, gotta hit those shots,” and so on. It was like ½ motivational, ½ tough love, ½ shit talk, and ½ encouraging. Which equals 200% season ticket guy.

I actually liked him though, he knew what he was talking about, and he wasn’t a homer; not complaining that the refs were out to get his team. I had an opportunity to take him up on some friendly conversation after he made a comment about a couple getting engaged on this kiss cam, “about the fifteenth time I’ve seen that since last year,” and I liked that he also found it stupid when people did shit like that. But I didn’t, I just said, “yea, not as original as they think.” I was gonna ask him if he had season tickets, and I could tell he would’ve been more than happy to chat basketball and about my trip, but I just wasn’t in the mood. I was rarely in the mood to speak to other humans, I was able to force myself to be social when at hostels and such, but I really didn’t want to speak to anyone at a basketball game. It was easier to just eavesdrop, make wrong assumptions about them, and keep to myself.

Season ticket guy left midway in the 4th when the Mavs got down nearly 20. He missed their almost comeback, but I guess he knew what their fate was. He was season ticket guy, he spotted his team’s almost comeback victory from the 1st quarter. So he left. I kinda saw it coming as well, but I stayed until the end, because where else did I have to be. My friend had gone back to New York and my beard still wasn’t Texas ready, so I stayed until they officially fell short.

CLE @ SA: Nostalgia

CLE @ SA: Nostalgia

1/23/18 San Antonio: I was in some 5th grade class when the principle came over the loudspeaker and announced that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. My first thought was, “what’s the World Trade Center?” Then someone said, “the Twin Towers,” and I said, “ohhhh.” Then the very next thing I pictured was an elderly man in one of those old timey open propeller planes, with his scarf and goggles and like leather pilot’s hat, flying his plane into Tim Duncan and David Robinson, and I was so delighted.

Turned out that was not what happened. But the reason I was so delighted initially with the thought of the Spurs’ “Twin Towers” being murdered by a crazy elderly man in an old timey plane, was because San Antonio had beaten the Knicks in the 1999 NBA Finals, which made me and my sister cry in our living room.

It was after the Knicks became the only team in NBA history to make it to the Finals as a #8 seed. Their run consisted of 2 of my top 5 memories as a child, and it was probably closer to top 3… with these being the top 2. Allan Houston’s series clinching runner in the lane with seconds left to take down the hated, #1 seed Heat of Miami. And Larry Johnson’s series clinching 4 point play against the even more hated Reggie Miller and Pacers of Indiana. The 4 point play propelled them into the Finals and nearly collapsed my entire house, as neighbors told us they could hear our family yelling like lunatics and stampeding about after it happened. I still watched those plays on YouTube to this day when life’s got me down. I watched the 4 point play in preparation for this, and LJ praised Allah at least 6 times in his postgame interview. Thank Allah it was 2 years before a crazy elderly man didn’t hit two basketball players with his old plane, and white people didn’t know what Allah was yet.

But then the Spurs and their “far better team” led by their two 7 footers, had to go and handedly beat the Knicks in 5 games and make us cry. Two years later an old man wasn’t the crazy person flying a plane, and the world changed. It was a rough couple of years to be a New Yorker.

The Knicks have pretty much been shit ever since, I think they’ve won one playoff series. The Spurs have been the toast of the league and deemed a dynasty, deservedly so. They won 4 more titles in that span and it should’ve been 5, barring Ray Allen’s miracle corner 3 in 2013. The two franchises could not have been more opposite. One franchise; a small market team with organizational integrity, a great head coach during their entire run, smart drafting, never over paying  head cases, and they had a French player who will be inducted in the hall of fame. The other; a behemoth market team whose owner had zero integrity or know how, a slew of overrated coaches, decent drafting only to grossly overpay head cases, and a French guy whose claim to fame was getting dunked over by Vince Carter in the 2000 Olympics. Over meaning he jumped over our French guy’s dumb 7 foot head, and the Frenchmen never played basketball ever again afterwards. So I initially hated the Spurs because they broke my poor 8 year old heart, then I continued to hate them for years because they represented everything the Knicks were not.

I pulled up to my Airbnb about 20 minutes from the AT&T Center in San Antonio and was greeted by this unbelievably nice, portly, white haired man named Doctor Harold who was hosting me. He excitedly met me out by my car and started immediately telling me how wonderful it was to have me, as he marveled at my NY license plates, “wouldja look at that,” he said with a smile. He then started talking shit about Trump, which I was not expecting in Texas, but that’s why it was usually worth leaving the house and seeing other places. The News never did anywhere any justice.

I was always amazed and envious of genuinely nice people, life seemed easier when you weren’t a cynical asshole. Harold’s energy rubbed off on me as he introduced me to his cats, and I was instantly in a great mood. I then looked up tickets for the night’s game, and unbeknownst to me the Spurs were hosting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Whattayaknow, a marquee matchup.

I’d never seen LeBron live before, so this felt significant. I wasn’t particularly a fan of his; in fact I hated him for many years, primarily for his Miami Heatscapades and for not going to the Knicks, but he would likely be the greatest player of my sportfan’s life. By which I meant, I was kinda too young to really appreciate Jordan, and I assumed I will have stopped remembering player’s names and caring as much by the time the next guy of that caliber came along. And although it felt at this point LeBron would be the league’s best player forever; Father Time gets the better of everyone, and usually athletes in some of the cruelest of ways.

I had gotten over my hatred of the Spurs, I actually enjoyed them quite a bit now. I even bought this loudly colored and designed Spurs hat a year or two ago. The entire hat was patterned in that early 90’s hip-hop style of like triangles and stripes, it could have been A Tribe Called Quest album cover. And the patterns were all the pink, orange, and teal colors of the Spurs logo. It was a dope hat but I’m pretty sure I looked like a complete douchebag wearing it. Nevertheless, I rocked it to AT&T arena. I was posing as a Spurs fan for the night, to quote the great Dr. Squires, “life has a funny way of turning you into the one thing you never wanna be.”

But as a basketball enthusiast it was hard to not marvel at what the Spurs organization had created. Also, with Duncan’s retirement two years ago, nobody was left from the 1999 team that introduced me to the unfairness of the world. Well there was one person left, head coach Greg Popovich. It never seemed to matter who he had playing for him, the Spurs were a well-oiled machine under his tutelage. And that was on display for this matchup with the Cavs, because their best player-and the league’s 3rd or 4th best all-around player; Kawhi Leonard- wouldn’t be suiting for this matchup against the LeBron. I was initially disappointed-both as a basketball fan and a pretend Spurs fan- but it actually perfectly encapsulated what made the Spurs so ridiculously good.

It was a fairly packed house, but I had the row pretty much to myself up until about halfway through the 1st quarter. Then the humans started filing in. To my left, a couple (of course), and to my right, two dudes who I wouldn’t have pegged as basketball fans. And upon overhearing their loud banter, I felt justified in my assumption. But what they lacked in sports knowledge, they made up for in drinking and enthusiasm.

It was as if this man who paid money to come to a basketball game had never watched basketball in his life. Every made hoop that was slightly more than routine he would yell out, “HOLY SHHHHHHIT,” or, “BADASS.” He didn’t appear to be rooting for anyone, he was just excited about offense and cheering for everybody.

They chose a good game to come root for offense, as LeBron became the youngest player to reach 30,000 career points. The crowd gave him a big ovation, and he individually thanked every person in the crowd and gave them $5, it was really cool. I accidently stumbled into this milestone game and got $5 from LeBron James, holy shhhit, it was pretty badass. The enthusiastic offense fans left soon after, about halfway through the 2nd quarter. I guess that was enough points for 20 minutes.

In addition to the milestone and the $5, it was a really good game. LaMarcus Aldrige was a machine through the first 3 quarters, hitting ridiculous turn-around jumpers along the baseline with ease. Without Kawhi in the lineup I figured LeBron would just take over the game, but it never really happened. He had a good game, but the Spurs just played disciplined ball and didn’t let anyone else on the Cavs get going. The 4th belonged to Dejounte Murray, he had 6,000 steals, 300 points, and 10 rebounds. He drastically outplayed Cavs star point guard Isaiah Thomas, and it was just another example of the Spurs drafting a dude late in the first round who just knew how to play good team basketball. It was infuriating and beautiful.

The Knicks didn’t have a first round draft pick the year Murray was drafted because they traded their entire team and 8,000 draft picks for Carmelo Anthony 7 years ago. That draft pick turned into Jamal Murray for the Denver Nuggets, who was also really good. So the Knicks missed out on two good Murrays for a guy who was no longer on the team, and couldn’t get them into the playoffs in an abysmal Eastern Conference during his last 4 years with the Knicks.

It begged the question, why was I still in this abusive relationship with the Knicks. In theory I could just let go of this silly nostalgia and become a Spurs fan. I mean, I had the hat, what was stopping me. I didn’t like anything about the Knicks really, it was like an old school marriage when people stayed together long after they felt any love for each other. I liked the Spurs and their players far more, and I liked the hat more than any Knick gear I owned. I could switch, only I knew I couldn’t, because of this weird tribalism to New York and their shit basketball team that I felt.

I guess it was the same reason I’d likely never live anywhere else, even though I talked shit about New York constantly. If I left and became a Spurs fan, the elderly man who wasn’t flying his plane into the Twin Towers would win, my dumb loyalty wouldn’t allow that. It was nice to pretend for a night though.

MIA @ HOU: Clean

MIA @ HOU: Clean

1/22/18 Houston: I wasn’t particularly jazzed about Houston, I was only going there because there would be basketball happening, but good basketball, so there was that. At least good basketball from the home team. I knew and had heard very little of Houston, so going in I was kinda like, eh, whatever.

I approached Houston after an extra hour on the road, because apparently in the South they had to shut down highways if it dropped under 65 degrees, and I had to take this dumb detour, so I could already feel myself getting a little salty. And of course the closer I got to the city, the greater amount of other driving humans there were, so the salt built more and more with that. As I made my way closer to my hostel it seemed I was getting out towards the boonies a little bit. I thought out loud to myself, “what the fuck is this,” because hostels were typically around things, and this place did not appear to near anything. There was no sign for a hostel, there were however run down looking houses, and houses with old cars kinda on the lawn, you know, that like shitty old car on the lawn look that one can find in the god damn boonies. Then there was all this construction happening on the street, right in front of where this sup-posed hostel was. So I parked and went to the front door, it was just like an empty looking house on this street with all this annoying ass construction going on, and cars from 1973 chillin’ on the lawns of other houses.

They sent me an email with a door code for the front door of this place, but the door code didn’t work. There was a keypad, but the number they emailed me wasn’t doing it; I could not speak friend and enter at this time. You could smell salt in the air, I was getting quite salty; there was a lot of disgusted head shaking paired with moaning, “wwwhhaaattt thee ffffffuuuuucccckkkkkk.”

Hostels generally had front desks and humans who worked there, you know, like a business. This was clearly not the case here. This was a house that some mystery person gave me the wrong door code to. What happened to keys? What happened to borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor? Nobody knows nobody these days, I swear when I was growing up… Anyway, so I emailed the mystery-code-lord and sat on the porch waiting for a reply. As I was staring at my email-refreshing the page every 3 seconds- I noticed another email about my tickets for the Rockets game that night… I thought this was already taken care of, was I about to have yet ANOTHER ticket debacle. The salt was palatable.

So SeatGeek- the shitty app I used to get cheap tickets that weren’t really that cheap- used a third party to sell me the tickets. And the third party used a fourth party for me to access the tickets through, the tickets I already fuckin’ bought. So I had to sign up for this other shitty app to access tickets that I had already paid for. Why was this a thing? I paid for the tickets, they were now my tickets, give me the fuckin’ tickets. If I bought a danish, the danish guy wouldn’t give my danish to some other random dude behind the counter at the danish café, and that dude wouldn’t hold onto my danish until I told him the name of my second grade teacher and what my first car was. They would just give me the fuckin’ danish, because I paid for it and that was how transactions worked. Why did I have to create an account with this weird fourth party to access something that was now mine.

I realized I was beating a dead horse, but signing up for things was probably my most hated thing-that for some reason we as a society- now had to do on a seemingly weekly basis. Entering usernames, and passwords, and choosing security questions that I was going to forget the answers to, and all that fuckin’ nonsense; it drove me up a god damn wall. I was already locked out of a room that I paid for, and now I was being denied tickets that I paid for unless I signed up for this piece of shit app.

I hated everything and everyone in that moment, I decided Houston was the biggest piece of shit city in the entire world. It was the whole city’s fault that the code-lord gave me the wrong code and that SeatGeek was a horrible way to buy tickets. Nothing was my fault.

Finally, I got everything sorted out after a half hour or so on the porch, but I was still fuming. I walked into the hostel, and there was absolutely nobody inside. Not an employee or fellow guest or anything. The rooms were all empty except a few suitcases that were near a bunk in my room. It crossed my mind that I may be murdered at any moment.

I took some liberty with my hygiene when I traveled, and during most winters in general. If I wasn’t sweating, I didn’t see why I had to shower every day. And when I was only going to know the people I met whilst traveling for a few days at a time, and I had limited amount of clothes; I certainly didn’t see the need to shower every day, in fact it seemed downright silly to even consider it. Hostel showering situations weren’t always ideal; the water pressure might suck, the hot water may be super limited, there could nowhere to hang your towel or clothes while in the shower, there would probably be a dude pooping 3 feet away from you. You barely even felt clean by the end of it.

But in this potential murder scene of a hostel, I opened up the bathroom and nearly started weeping from pure joy. An absolutely spotless bathroom, with a tub; A CLEAN TUB AND SINK AND TOILET, hooks as far as the eye could see for towels and clothes, a ledge at the end of the tub for shampoos and things. It had proper water pressure, and the water didn’t either burn you or give you hypothermia. My word, who knew something so beautiful could exist. And nobody else- aside from the possible murderer lurking in a mystery side room- was in this entire structure, I could shower for 2 hours and not feel like I was holding up the line. Houston was the loveliest metropolis in the entire world at that moment.

I floated to downtown Houston on a sparkling clean cloud and was able to find a free parking spot only 5-10 minutes from the arena.  I walked towards the arena and there were lines around the corner of every entrance an hour before tip, with people decked out in red Rockets gear. I understood the Rockets were having a very good year and James Harden was one of the bigger draws in the NBA, but I’d never seen lines like this an hour before any sporting event. I was impressed, I was like, “God damn, Houston, you people are fuckin’ hyped about this team, respect.” The doors opened and the crowds started filing in, I got through security after 10 minutes or so. They scanned my ticket and another arena worker handed me a Clint Capela bobble-head, it all made sense now. Nobody gave a shit about the game or this very good team, there was free shit being handed out, so everybody lined up accordingly. Some lady frantically came up to me and asked where they were handing out the bobble-heads, I pointed in the direction I came in, then I just gave her my bobble-head. The fuck I wanna carry that thing around for? I think at any given sporting event, about 7% of the people actually gave a shit about what happened in the game. Everyone else either; needed an excuse to eat a hot dog, wanted to get on the JumboTron, or was looking to beat up a child for a free T-shirt.

There was also a phenomenon at basketball games that I really didn’t understand. That was people going on dates to basketball games. Why anyone would bring a girl they were still trying to impress to a basketball game was so beyond me. NBA games used to be places for disgusting men to gamble, drink, smoke cigars, and yell expletives at. Basketball games were now just another thing you had to shower in preparation for. I sat next to a couple at almost every game I had been to thus far. Every time it was the same, weird dynamic of the guy pretending to know about basketball, and the girl not giving a shit about what he was saying. It usually started like this; they would take their seats, beers in hand, and they would talk about the last time they’d been to a basketball game. The game in Houston was no different; a couple sat down right next to me and talked about the last time they each were at a game. Then the game started, and the guy would start making generic sporting comments. The Heat scored on their second possession, the guy turned towards the girl and said in a ‘can you believe this’ tone, “play some D, maybe.” I didn’t see her reaction, but I imagined she smiled a polite smile. I’d never been so happy to be completely alone in the universe. The game continued, and it wasn’t all that awkward kinda chatter, there was some laughter shared between them, but this fuckin’ guy kept making dumb commentary on the game whenever he had some momentum. I wanted to turn to them after this one out of bounds call against the Rockets that he was completely wrong about, and just tell him, “she doesn’t ccaaarrreeee, ask how work was going or about her dog or if she believes in God or something, anything. Jesus, she doesn’t give a shit about your dumb ass, wrong, totally bias take on that last call. She came here to eat some nachos and take a selfie with the court in the background, she doesn’t give a shit about your level of sports knowledge.” Maybe as a part of the 7% of people who went to sporting events to watch the game this kind of banter offended me more than it did the girl in this scenario, maybe she was having a great time, maybe she found his faux sports knowledge charming. Maybe she didn’t want to talk about God or her dog or work, but it didn’t seem like she wanted to talk about basketball.

Speaking of basketball, did I mention the Rockets were good? Well they were, this was the first “elite” team I’ve seen on this trip so far. I think a plausible water mark for whether a team was really good or not, was if there was never a doubt in your mind they were going to win, after they’d been down the majority of the game to a somewhat decent opponent. That was essentially what happened, the Heat were up almost the whole game, and the Rockets were kinda just going through the motions. They were shooting like shit from 3, and Hassan Whiteside had kinda negated their whole Harden or Paul drives the lane and lobs it to Capela thing. But they kept it close enough the entire game, and played good enough D to let Harden and Paul take over the game late in the 4th. The Beard and CP3 were too much good, and the Heat were too much not good. Harden hit a 3 with a second to go on the shot clock to put them up 2 late, and Paul hit a midrange J to ice the game. The guy yelled, “BOOM,” and the girl yelled, “WOOO,” because everyone cared in the last 2 minutes of a close basketball game. They took a picture with the court in the background; bobble-heads in one hand, index fingers up and extended with their free hand.

Towards the end of the game, during one of the timeouts, the shitty fourth party app I had to download to get my tickets was being advertised on the JumboTron. I was seeing red again. It turned out they were the “official way” to buy and sell tickets for the Toyota center, and hence tickets for Rockets game. So it was Houston’s fault after all, the entire city’s fault. I was right all along, just like I was right about how dates to basketball games were fuckin’ dumb. I was right about everything, and everyone else was wrong. I would go back to the hostel and sleep in the bathtub; it was the only place that made sense in the whole city.

MEM @ NO: Emotions

MEM @ NO: Emotions

1/20/18 New Orleans: I didn’t give a shit about swimming, or the Olympics, or any of that nationalistic bullshit, so let me just start by saying that. Actually, I should’ve started by explaining what the fuck it is I’m talking about, instead of getting preemptively defensive.

So here was the deal, driving cross country involved a lot of driving, as you might’ve imagined. I used to be a truck driver in NYC, which also involved a lot of driving, as you might’ve also imagined. During that point I realized podcasts were a very good way to pass time, they were a lot more personal and raw and conversational than regular radio talk shows. It felt like you were hanging out with friends, instead of DJs doing crank calls and the dumb audience calling up with their two cents, or whatever happened on talk radio.

I’d been listening to this one podcast ever since I was a truck driver like 3-4 years ago. It was called “Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend,” it was a one on one interview show on Monday, and a panel show on Thursdays where the group of pals talked about everything from dealing with depression to evaluating the many flavors of Lay’s potato chips.

The episode in question on my six hour drive from Memphis to New Orleans was a Monday interview show, where Alison had decorated Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin in Dining Room Studios. Alison primarily discussed her flaws, shortcomings, and fears on the show when talking about herself, but she really was a hell of an interviewer. She always got to a deep place with her guest without it feeling forced or uncomfortable. She didn’t even have to go digging in this interview to get me turned all inside out however.

I’d been on the road for 2 weeks at that point, and a lot had happened in that time. A number of relationships were formed only for me to hightail it out of town a day or two later (See NYK @ MEM: Confused and/or DAL @ CHA: Entertainment). There were a lot of hours on various highways by myself, and I think I was harboring and suppressing many an emotion; Irish-Catholic style.

So I was en route to New Orleans, leaving Tennessee in my rearview, and  was feeling my first bout of slight depression since being on the road. It was about 45 minutes into the interview when Alison asked Natalie Coughlin a rather pedestrian question; did she have a favorite medal? Natalie started talking about this one gold she won in Beijing. She pulled out the win and her teammate whose name I can’t remember won the bronze, and it was the unnamed swimmer’s first Olympic medal. She started describing the medal ceremony as they were standing on the podium and two American flags were being raised. The national anthem was playing; she looked over to her teammate and she had tears running down her face. And I don’t know what happened to me in that moment, but I suddenly became completely overwhelmed and started tearing up while driving down the empty route 55 S. I wasn’t usually a crier unless something pretty terrible had happened, I’ve had moments where I’d be feeling awful, and I’d hear a certain song and would think, “boy, I think I’m gonna cry,” but it never really happened. The last time I cried was when Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez died tragically, then the Marlins won their next game and left their hats on the pitcher’s mound, so I don’t know, I guess I had a soft spot for young athletes for some reason. Whatever it was, something about the swimmer whose name I couldn’t remember crying at the podium… I just had a flash of like all her hard work and sacrifices and all those athlete clichés culminating in that moment, and her goal being achieved… it just got me. Of course two seconds later I was laughing and calling myself an asshole for getting teary eyed over someone swimming fast and crying during the national anthem.

The next thing Coughlin discussed was the cookbook she was putting out, and I immediately became irate. She said something along the lines of her not being a “writer by trait,” and the book being hard, and I lost it in the car by myself. “OH, YOU’RE NOT A WRITER BY TRAIT?? IS IT HARD?? GLAD YOU CAN GET PUBLISHED THEN, CLEARLY I SHOULD’VE BEEN A FUCKIN OLYMPIC ATHLETE! OHH, A COOKBOOK?? YOU’RE A COOK TOO? GUESS I WORKED ON THE LINE FOR NO REASON, I SHOULD’VE BEEN DOING FUCKIN LAPS IN A POOL INSTEAD!!” I was all over the place, had absolutely no control over my emotions anymore, I blew my top. I started laughing at myself again for getting so mad over absolutely nothing, and clearly just being mad at myself for crying at the podium story… But I think I was a little right too, why the fuck should she get to publish a book. After the interview I blasted Chance the Rapper’s master piece “Coloring Book,” emphatically rapped and sang almost every word, and danced like a lunatic through the entire album while driving.

I had a bit of an alter ego when I played basketball, when people meet me now they’re always like, “you’re like the most chill guy ever,” really I was just a bundle of anxiety and didn’t want to speak to other humans, but I had an indifferent looking resting face, so I came off as chill. When I played basketball though, sometimes I would flip my lid, and I would talk shit, and get really angry, and taunt people, and  I was kinda the worst. My coach always used to yell at me to stop taunting after I would score (which wasn’t often enough to be talking shit). I was only like 11 at that point, rubbing it in kid’s faces that I hit a shot. I got a little better as I got older, but I was still capable of losing it and yelling at the refs, condescendingly calling them “pal,” ugghhh, terrible.

I felt a certain kinship with New Orleans Pelicans star big man DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins for those reasons. Here was a guy who was endlessly talented, there was pretty much nothing he couldn’t do on a basketball court. He was 7 feet tall, and built like a brick shit house. He could handle the ball, shoot 3’s, score in the post at will, pass, and defend when he felt like it. The only thing that saddled him was the absolute lack of control he had over his emotions. It hindered his play on the court at times, as he was subject to technicals and pouting. He couldn’t find a way to make it work with now all-star point guard Isaiah Thomas while in Sacramento, and had gone through many a coach. Off the court he’s had incidents with fans and the media, and as an emotionally challenged human myself, I completely understood. If I was a professional athlete I would not be able deal with the dumb ass sports fans or dirt bags in the media. But for these reasons, Boogie developed a reputation, when he probably just needed to cry during podcasts more often.

It was too bad that I was unraveling on this portion of the trip, because I was very much looking forward to New Orleans. It sounded like my Nirvana; brass bands, fried things on sandwiches, copious drinking, colorful old buildings, balconies. But I arrived and was already half a mess, then the hostel I was staying at threw me in an 8 bed dorm, where I was the only person in the room, and it was also in a semi-heated building off to the side of the main building. It felt a little like solitary confinement.

Luckily I had a friend of a friend in town who was going to show me around. Unluckily this person was already bombed by the time we met up. Apparently the fun thing to do in New Orleans was for four straight people to go to two different gay old man bars; because that was what me, this person, her boyfriend, and their friend did for my first night in town. Here I was thinking maybe some live music or the faint possibility of speaking to a straight woman, but a dive bar with 5 gay older gentlemen and us was my fate. What was funny was that if you didn’t tell me it was a gay bar, I wouldn’t have known, it just seemed like any other shitty old man bar completely devoid of women. And the people I was with, who I had just met…they were a bit much, just a bit much. Like… all their jokes were either corny innuendos or dead baby jokes from like 2007, and I decided at that point that I was better than them, so I left. And if that made me a bad person, then so be it. That hang didn’t exactly get me out of my downward spiral, but at least the South was still in the throes of a tiger-uppercut-arctic-blast and I got to sleep in this empty, frozen, 800 year old house.

The next day I went out and about by myself in the heart of things, and I’m not going to make any analyzation of New Orleans that hasn’t been made already, it was a shit show. Apparently I was there when college kids had off in January, so it was a fratty shit show at that. After some time of weaving in and out of places, I just got very tired of being amongst frat boys with no rhythm looking at musicians with that frat boy look, you know the look? The look like, “pretty cool, huh Chad?” The look like, “well, huh…woah, well this is different.” As they awkwardly bent their knees off beat to the song. It was either that or the cliché angry frat boys yelling about tits from the balconies on high. I got very tired of all that, pretty quickly, so I went into an old timey piano bar recommended by a friend and got drunk by myself before heading to the game.

I remembered most of the game, I think. Yea, no, it was coming back to me. Anthony Davis and Boogie controlled the game early, and they were up 20 in the first half into the 3rd quarter. In one sequence Boogie took a charge, then hit this beautiful step back 3 off a pump fake. It was something to behold, seeing that large of a human move like that. Then I drank more and stuff happened, and I was thinking, “oh, if this is a blowout into the 4th I can leave early and continue to drink and listen to live tunes elsewhere.” But then a human by the name of Wayne Selden caught fire and brought the Grizz all the way back. It turned into a really good game; fuckin bullshit. I seemed to remember at one point, Boogie being whistled for a questionable foul. He nearly erupted, but he just put his hands over his head and took a lap up and down the court to cool down. Maybe there was hope for me yet. Down the stretch, after the unfavorable foul call, Boogie hit another big 3, then iced the game with a gorgeous bounce pass, through two Grizzlies defenders, to Davis for an easy dunk.

I went back out to another jazz bar and after my first beer I realized, oh no, I was very drunk. It just dawned on me then that I’d been drinking for like 7 hours and forgot to eat; rookie mistake. I wanted to continue with the music and the drinking and the New Orleans of it all, but I had misplayed my hand. A couple of Chads were awkwardly bending their knees in my peripherals, and I knew it was time to go. I returned to my empty hostel in Mid-City New Orleans and put on some Tom Waits, bombed and emotionally distraught, a cliché in my own right.

NYK @ MEM: Confused

NYK @ MEM: Confused

1/17/18 Memphis: I thought the drink was called “Enjoy Your Waffles,” which I was very excited about, it would’ve been an out of place name for that pretentious cocktail bar. The drink was actually called “Enjoy Your Worries,” which was much more apt. That was one of two things I got very wrong in Nashville that night.

The second one was a tad more consequential; I made a move on my friend whose couch I was crashing on. I had reasons to believe things were heading in that direction, we had done some things on her recent visit up north, but it turned out she had a dude in town, which she kinda hinted at, kinda. Whatever, I’m not gonna make excuses for myself aside from the ones I’ve already made. I heard what I wanted to hear, I misread the situation like I misread “Enjoy Your Worries,” and now I had no waffles. I had nothing but an awkward apology to make in the morning.

It wasn’t awkward at all though, she was totally cool about it, which was weird; that it wasn’t weird. It was like part of me wanted it to be weird, but it simply wasn’t. We just hugged and I made breakfast; a couple of French omelettes with my handy dandy omelette pan that I brought with me. Some might view that as weird, that I brought a pan with me-for the sole purpose of making omelettes- on a cross country road trip. But it turned out to be a great idea, I wish I’d brought a waffle iron too. I might not have found myself in this weird unweird situation.

It got weird again, but with someone else, one of my friend’s friends. But weird in a different way, weird like confusing.

You ever feel like your vibing with someone? Then you start dancing? Then you start dancing closely? Then you start making off kilter jokes, and they still laugh? And then you start dancing closer? Then they pull you in closer as you pull them in closer, even though you’re about as close as two people can be without sharing the same skin? And then they just go home at the end of the night, and you feel like a fuckin’ crazy person? You think, “did I just make all that up, were we not just dancing closely and laughing like mad?” You think, “did that person even exist?” You think, “am I even in Nashville right now? What year is it?” And nothing makes sense. Weird like that.

I always assumed I would get used to taking L’s, my life was about 97% taking L’s in that department. But every L stung in a new and interesting way, I never had two L’s like that back to back though, in such quick succession. Good lord, my poor ego. I guess it was the same reason I never got used to the Knicks taking L’s, they had been doing it for about 97% of my life as well, but still, every loss took a little bit out of me.

So I headed to Memphis where my New York Knickerbockers would be taking on the Memphis Grizzlies. Before I headed to the arena I stopped to get some of the City’s critically acclaimed BBQ. About 10-15 minutes after I placed my order the lady at the counter came over to my table to apologize and said they forgot to put my order in, and it would be another 10 minutes. I was in no rush and didn’t care, I told her it was all good. She started to walk away then stopped about 5 steps later, turned and asked, “you want some pie?” What kind of question was that, of course I wanted some pie, I would’ve waited another 2 hours for some free pie. So the ribs came with all the fixins’, and the pie came in one of those plastic to go things, and I was feeling great about Memphis. The ribs were sliding off the bone and I wanted to just drink the sauce they had on them, the beans and slaw were holding down the rhythm section, and the dude who worked there kept refilling my sweet tea, without me even wanting him too.

I parked a few blocks from the arena, and before I got out of my car I took a few bites of the sweet potato pie, and lemme tell ya, that was some good fuckin’ pie. I walked towards the arena and there was live blues blasting up and down Beale St, everything was coming up aces.

Right before the game started the Grizzlies were showing their corny-white-dude-sideline-reporter-guy on the jumbotron. This guy was wearing these silly shoes that were bedazzled in like fake diamonds or something, trying to be fly; acting like he was Walt “Clyde” Frazier. While the man, the myth, the legend; Clyde himself, was sitting right behind the scorer’s table, in a beautiful checkered tan suit, announcing the game for MSG. Get that weak ass bullshit out of here with those ridiculous shoes. Save your gawdy nonsense for when the flyest human and greatest Knick of all time wasn’t sitting right behind you. They had to beat the Grizzlies now, for Clyde.

But the game started and the game ended, and I didn’t want to talk about the game, it was just going to get me in a tizzy. Because the Grizzlies, well, they were bad. They were a bad team. They used to be good, they used to be very good. They had a very good run, but now they were bad. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol were the only ones still on the team from the used-to-be-good years, and they were both out of this game with injuries. So there team was Tyreke Evans, JaMychal Green and a bunch of people I’d either never heard of or wasn’t aware got any minutes for a professional basketball team.

But I didn’t wanna talk about the game, because the Knicks just pissed me off any time I gave them any thought. I knew they were gonna suck this year, I was very prepared for them to be awful. Then they came out the first two months of the year, and Porzingis was looking like something the NBA had never seen before, Enes Kanter was a complete fuckin’ mad man who grabbed every offensive rebound possible and started fights with LeBron James, and all the role players were playing great and having career starts to their year, and they were fun to watch. They sucked me in, and I started getting ideas about them being good. But they weren’t good, they just fooled me, AGAIN!!

So I didn’t wanna talk about the game. It was a very weird game, with a very weird ending, but weird in a different way, weird like confusing.

You ever take a road trip to go watch a bunch of professional basketball games, like a 9 year old with a license? Then you leave the friendly confines of Nashville to go to Memphis? And your team is in town? Then you go to the game and they’re playing like shit? They’re turning the ball over? They’re missing wide open shots, continuously? Giving up a flurry of offensive rebounds? And then they’re down 20 to a bad team, whose only two good players are out with injuries? Then they start to come back? And you feel yourself getting excited? You feel yourself getting hopeful? Like a 9 year old? Then it looks like the comeback will fall short, but they knock the ball loose with 25 seconds left, down 3? And there’s a mad scramble for the ball? Then there’s a jump ball? And then there’s a mystery technical foul called on your team with 17 seconds to go, down 3? A technical foul while guys were just standing around in a circle waiting for the jump ball to be tossed? In a 3 point game? With 17 seconds left? In the 4th quarter? So that the other team shoots a free throw, to make it a two possession game? With 17 seconds, and the jump ball still to happen? And you’re just sitting in the stands with your team’s hat? And a funny shirt about siding with Charles Oakley? And your hands are just up at your sides, in total confusion? You think, “what the fuck just happened?” You think, “how did they call a tech in that situation, if guys aren’t fist fighting or yelling their heads off?” You think, “who was it on? Courtney Lee? Everyone was just standing there.” You think, “did a jump ball and a phantom technical really just decide this game?” And nothing makes sense. Weird like that.

I walked back to my car, understanding less than I did before. I started the drive back towards my Airbnb, and then I remembered I still had the rest of the pie. I got it out at the next red light and shoved it in my face while turning onto the highway ramp.

I got back to my Airbnb full of pie and disgust, and was informed that there wasn’t any heat in my room, and it was 12 degrees… in Memphis, Tennessee… because why not. I was defeated, I didn’t care. I just kept my layers and socks on and succumbed to the freeze. Between the Knicks and Nashville, there were too many L’s, but at least Nashville had some heat and dancing.

I could rant and rave about the frustrations with my Nashville shortcomings, but the real L was leaving, leaving the comforts of good company, the eternal L. It was still an experience full and rounded with lovely folks, kindness, dumb jokes, reviving sourdough starters, dope omelettes, hot chicken, hiking, and drunken buffoonery. I hoped the Knicks would have provided me a silver lining for heading back out on my own, but they failed me, yet again, in the most Knicks way possible. Leaving and goodbyes always felt terrible, even when it was goodbyes to newer friends, even when some of them dealt you a couple of L’s. Even if it felt like you lost on a technical foul before a jump ball.

BKN @ATL: White

BKN @ ATL: White

1/12/18 Atlanta: I’d never been to Atlanta before, and I’d certainly never been staying at an Airbnb on the outskirts of Atlanta before. As I was driving down mostly empty side streets I said out loud to myself, “where the fuck am I going right now.” I approached a fork in the road at a light where I was to bear right, before I got to the light an older black guy hobbled across the street. I slowed down to let him pass, then continued on my way past a fast food triangle of Checkers, Popeyes, and Church’s Chicken.

As I made my way down the road I became hyper aware of my whiteness, I’d only seen black folks in cars and on the streets around me since the old man hobbled in front of my car. It also dawned on me quickly that I was in the fairly deep south, and I wasn’t sure what all that meant.

Back home in New York I’d be considered a bleeding heart “libtard” by racist old white dudes, and an intolerant straight white privileged male by libtards. And that was fine by me, I didn’t want to be considered a friend by either extreme. I would say I most certainly leaned left, but I really couldn’t get behind the word police and ultra P.C. movement, people who made it their civil duty to be infuriated with mankind. I really didn’t like that kind of shit, but I legit hated the extreme right, particularly the overt racism. I hated the part of me that still held those kinds of skepticisms. It had to be some form of racism, why else would I had been apprehensive to go get some groceries at the Big Shop n Save on the outskirts of Atlanta.

It wasn’t that I felt I would be in any danger if I entered the Big Shop n Save, obviously I knew nobody was going to shank me because I was the only white guy getting some produce. I think being that far south was what really made me apprehensive. I’d been in plenty of bodegas in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods back home, where few white faces were getting coffee or beef patties. But it was New York, so my libtard side could romanticize it and act like there was no racial tension; those were my fellow City-men! But I didn’t know what the fuck the dynamic was down in Atlanta, I imagined it wasn’t good. I hadn’t heard dazzling things about southern racial relations. I couldn’t help but think about the book version of “Friday Night Lights,” how there was a clear line that separated which part of town was the white part and which was black, and the only time it was crossed was when the black kids went to go win high school football games for the white people. I understood that book took place ddeeeeeeppp in Texas. Atlanta was still a major city, I’m sure it wasn’t like that, but what the fuck did I know. This part of Atlanta did not look very city like, maybe I was the first white person to come to this part of town in 50 years.

Kenny “The Jet” Smith once said on a TNT broadcast that the first time he ever hugged a white person was in his early teens during a basketball game. Larry Bird fell in love with basketball partly because he was a bit of a loner, and felt accepted by the older black guys who let him play with them, because he was good and that was all that mattered in basketball. If could you could play, then you played.

I think I was in the 3rd grade and my CYO basketball team had a big playoff game, and the opposing team had this really tall black kid who played for them. The CYO was very white washed, and this was the first black kid I’d ever played against. It was either an older family member, or a coach, or somebody, telling me this horrific account of the 5th grade team from my parish that played a predominantly black team. The black team was brutal and played dirty and intentionally hurt everyone on their team, but our white team still came away triumphant!! Now, looking back on it, there was absolutely no way that was what transpired. There was no way a bunch of 5th graders were just beating the shit out of another group of 5th graders in a refereed game, with parents on both sides, and it was just allowed to happen and somehow the whites magically persevered. But I was like 8 years old when I heard that, and it scared the shit out of me. I didn’t want to get into a brawl. I just wanted to take jumpshots and play horrendous defense, y’know, white guy shit. So the day of my playoff game I hinted to my mom about my nervousness of playing against the black kid on the other team. She gently put it that people were just people, he was just a kid who wanted to play basketball like me. She said, “sure, he’ll probably be a lot better than you, but what can ya do, you play shit defense and your handle is weak as fuck, you little bitch.” She didn’t say that last part, but it was insinuated.

The game I was attending in Atlanta was another dud on paper, and I had another ticket mishap that I can’t get into, it hurt my soul too much to think about. This was the second dud-on-paper game I was attending in a row, with a very sparse crowd and teams with records well under .500. The Hawks were like a team compiled of people I didn’t realize were still in the NBA, and the Nets were a team compiled of people I was never aware were NBA players. A large fella with a fro named Jared Allen got badly dunked on by a rookie named Jon Collins, you go figure out which guy plays for which team. It was actually a great game, and the 127 people in attendance were really getting into it, far too many of those 127 were children. I didn’t appreciate that, it was my belief that those things should be kept in a cage at home, but what can ya do. To make up for the lack of human noise the crowd of 127 could make, the Atlanta Hawks organization thought it best that the DJ-fake-organ-man just alternate between fake organ, clapping sounds, and generic hip-hop beats every 3 seconds for THE DURATION OF THE ENTIRE GAME. I now know which torture technique would get me to spill secrets fairly quickly. It was certainly unnecessary down the stretch of the game, the 127 were getting loud, but the maddening loop of noises drowned them out, and their heros fell short. The Hawks lost in the last minute when a human professional basketball player on the Nets named Spencer Dinwiddie took a loose ball the opposite way for an impressive And-1, as 3 Hawks were surrounding him at the hoop. I blamed the DJ, let the 127 live. He had one shining moment when he played Cardi B during a timeout break, and this cutsie little like 11 year old white girl was casually singing all the words, and I thought to myself that this was an amazing time to be alive.

Much like the Hawks, we lost our 3rd grade CYO playoff game in the last minute, it was crushing and I still wasn’t over it nearly 20 years later. There was some bookkeeping tomfoolery going on with the other team that allowed one of their better players to stay in the game after he was charged with his 5th foul, but I won’t get too much into that. The silver lining was that I hit an elbow jumper right in the tall black kid’s face, and wouldn’t you know it, he didn’t punch me in my face. The world started to make sense to me. As everyone was leaving after the controversial win, the tall black kid put on a Knicks jacket before exiting, and I felt a certain kinship with him in that moment. We both just wanted to play for the Knicks when we grew up. And even though I buried that 15 footer in his grill, my mom reminded me, “he had a waaayyyyy better chance of playing for the Knicks, because you just stand around on offense and wait for the ball to find you. You gotta work a little, you lazy fuck.”

I arrived at the Airbnb, and was greeted by the extremely friendly and sweet middle aged black woman who was hosting me. And of course the other people she was renting a room out to was a white girl with purple hair and her boyfriend. So not only was I not the first white person in this area in 50 years, the presence of me with my big silly tattoos and her with her purple hair signified that the area was in the beginning stages of being gentrified. As I f I couldn’t feel any more white guilt and utter shame. My Lyft driver had these brolic ass rings on every single finger, he was pretty funny. As the trip started he was talking shit about the route his GPS was taking us, so me and him talked shit about technology and how GPS’s thought they were better than us, then he went his own route and the traffic was ridiculous and he just sighed and said, “guess the GPS knew.”. The guy who whipped up my cheesesteak at a hole in the wall sandwich and wings spot was also a basketball fan. We bullshitted about the night’s matchup with the Nets and Hawks and how horrible of a game it was going to be, obviously we were both very wrong. We then both agreed that we were at the point where we were apprehensive to play because we didn’t want to turn our ankles anymore. The kids in their early teens who came into the hole in wall to get some food were fuckin annoying, because teenagers are inherently annoying, with their youth and music I didn’t understand. People were people. My conversation with my Lyft driver on the way back somehow got on the topic of natural disasters, and he scared the shit out of me when he described the sound of an earthquake in L.A. as a gigantic lion that was right in your face. The conversation then drifted towards the “changes” going on in Atlanta, i.e. lanky white boys with silly tattoos first, artisan soap shops next. But the dude didn’t even seem annoyed with my presence when we were talking about these changes, he blamed the powers that be, developers and other major gentrifying forces. He was punching up, where a lot of people from my hometown who elected a maniac into the office of president did the complete opposite. Any thought of a shift, or danger to their current way of life, and they blamed the people with less than them.

Years later, maybe by the time we were in the 8th grade, my CYO coach put us in a PAL league on the North Shore of Staten island, where we were guaranteed to be the only white kids in the general vicinity. When we stepped in the gym all the black kids were grinning and shaking their heads, they probably thought they were on one of the hidden camera shows that were very popular at the time. We won every game in that league by at least 15 points. We’d been playing together for years at that point, most PAL teams were just kinda thrown together. Basketball is all about cohesion, when you’re on the court with a consistent team-even at that young an age-there is almost telepathy happening on the court. By the end of the games the black kids went from laughing at us to giving us pounds. Because we could play, and that was all that mattered.

DAL @ CHA: Entertainment

DAL @ CHA: Entertainment

1/10/18 Charlotte: I’m sure Charlotte’s great, ok, I’m sure it’s fine. I bet there’s good food and nice parks or something, I’m not doubting it. I never really buy into people saying, “there’s nothing to do there,” when talking about an entire city or what have you, every place has it’s charm… I’m not really sure what there’s to do anywhere, I just like walking around and looking at like old buildings or trees or some shit, so maybe my ‘to-do’ bar is set quite low. I will concede that it’s easier to come across good live music, or beautiful parks, or delicious food in some places compared to others, but there’s shit going on everywhere. Every city has fine looking humans.

But something about Charlotte, on this day, in this Airbnb… I just don’t care to find the charm in Charlotte, I just don’t care. I want to, but I just don’t.

That was pretty much how I felt about the city’s team, the artist’s formerly and currently known as the Charlotte Hornets, I just didn’t care. I got it, Kemba was good and could be fun to watch. I liked him a lot in college, but he always killed the Knicks. Batum was good, but I didn’t even know how much he played anymore, it seemed like he was perpetually hurt. Dwight Howard was playing good again, but the team wasn’t very good even when they were, and I just didn’t care. I didn’t like their jerseys, and I didn’t like that they were called the Bobcats for far too long, like they were a 3rd grade after school team. And I didn’t like Michael Jordan being the owner because he always beat the Knicks, and douchebags cared too much about his sneakers.

So I don’t know, I could take it or leave it, but I said I was gonna come here and I’m here. It was en route to other places I had pre-decided were better than Charlotte, so, there. Go Buzz City, or something. They were doing some Buzz City campaign thing a few years back in the playoffs when they were faux good, so, yea, that. Buzz…City…Time? Was there something about a hive or a swarm with that? Or were they just wearing “Buzz City” shirts? I think it was just the shirts, that read “Buzz City.” Which encompasses my presumptions about Charlotte, and I’m sorry.

I arrived at the arena and they were still doing the Buzz City thing, were they not aware of how fuckin’ lame that was? They had to have known how terrible that was. Michael Jordan had a sneaker empire; people cared more about those shoes than they did their families. How did he let Buzz City be their slogan? And how did he let it go on for this long?

The greater Charlotte area must’ve felt the same way I did, because there were 2 people in the entire arena for this matchup, myself included. This was the first time into the trip where I felt truly stupid. Stupid like, “why am I watching the Bobcornets vs the Mavericks on a Wednesday night in Charlotte, why am I here.”

I stopped off in Asheville, NC for a couple of nights between basketball games in D.C and here, and had an absolute blast. They had a gas station that doubled as a bar, which had a backyard, with cornhole, and a food truck, AT A GAS STATION. Now I was at a basketball game where the two teams were like a combined 30 games under.500.

Have you ever been to a professional basketball game with only 2 people in attendance? Ok, it wasn’t 2, but there’s no way it was more than 13. So after spending a couple of nights in the hipster paradise filled with drinking, bonfires, hiking, and some unexpected strange at the hostel, I drove a couple of hours, hungover, to be 1 of the 13 people at this shit game. And afterwards I’d go back to my depressing 8 x 12 Airbnb room, instead of a cool hippie pad.

My saving grace was the announcer guy trying to pump up the 13. How much noise did he want 13 people to make, he was putting too much responsibility on us. He would go into his whole spiel, “ok Buzz City fans!! We’re gonna need YOU… to… make… some…NNOOOIIIISSEEEE,” then there was one guy all the way on the other side of the arena who would yell, “YEAAA HORNETS!!!” or whistle or clap or something. It was ridiculous, just give the announcer guy the night off. The cheerleaders too. I’d never seen cheerleaders asked to do so much. Aside from the usual sexified routines they had to perform a few times a game, the Jumbotron would cut to them in between a decent amount of made baskets, and as the ball was being taken up the court, they had to keep this dumb sexified aerobics like shimmy going on from the tunnels that led to the locker rooms.

At one point they had this promotion from one of the local southern chains, Bojangles, and some of the cheerleaders pranced out to center court with boxes of chicken, and the announcer dude was like, “ok BUUZZZZ CITTYYYY, who..wants..some.. CHHHIICCKKEENNN!! MOTHHERRFUCKKERRRSSSS!!!” And the 13 started going nuts for some chicken, and at first I thought the cheerleaders were going to launch the boxes of chicken into the crowd like t-shirts, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The cheerleaders on the court ran into the lower levels and started finding children to give the chicken to. The rest of the cheerleaders appeared in the upper sections, and started sexifyingly flaunting the boxes of chicken, then giving them to children. This grown man and his girlfriend were 2 of the 13, and they were seated really close to me for some reason even though we had the entire arena to ourselves. When the sexy chicken boxes were being flaunted, the grown man started flailing his arms over his head and going, “ooo me! Me! Look at me! Look at me!!” because he was really hungry and wanted the chicken, I guess. He was dressed well, he carried himself like someone who could afford a box of chicken up until that point, but maybe he was just putting on airs. Or maybe he was just a pathetic, greedy grown man who stretched out his arms and fingers, and yelled “gimme, gimme,” when something free and shiny-like a box of chicken or a shitty t-shirt-was dangled in front of him. I wondered how the girlfriend could look at him sexifyingly ever again after that display. But they took a selfie with the court and the empty arena behind them before leaving, so I guess she yearned to be the mother of a grown man.

I stayed til the end, the entire 13 did in fact. I suppose with hopes that the cheerleaders would come back to flaunt some dessert, but they never did. They just shimmied in the tunnel, I’m guessing until at least 6 a.m. The janitorial staff would need entertainment, after all.

I wondered what the players made of all this, playing in front of 13 people and watching grown men throw tantrums for free chicken. I guess at the end of the day they were still making millions of dollars, so what did they care… but I imagined it was a little disheartening when they could hear the individual pleads for chicken, and it wasn’t drowned out in  a sea of white noise from a packed crowd. It must’ve been difficult to get pumped up for games like that. What was that you asked? What happened in the game?… I don’t know, who cares.

MIL @ WAS: Asshole

MIL @ WAS: Asshole

1/6/18 Washington D.C.: I felt obligated to go on some Trump tirade, but what was I gonna say that hasn’t already been said. Guy’s an asshole, some people seemed think he’s the second coming, to those who felt that way, I don’t know what to tell ya. But what was certain was that I wasn’t going to say anything at this point that would sway anyone one way or the other, so fuck it.

D.C. had more to offer than that asshole anyway, I felt like I was dropped into the middle of Park Slope in Brooklyn. And what more New York way to compliment a place than compare it to somewhere in New York, “yea dat Vatican wuz a pretty good spot, remindin’ me of St Patty’s in midtown, OH! Lombardi’s wuz da first pizzeria in da worrllldd!” Talk about an asshole. But anyway, yea, there was good food, fine ladies, fine fellas, the subway system was clean and efficient, friendly strangers talked to you at the bar; if you were into that kinda thing. And above all, it was a very good game, unfortunately in front of a very porous crowd.

I planned to get to the arena early, because in my head it was less weird to be alone at the game if I was already seated by the time my row-mates got there. It didn’t turn out that way, because the gal at the bar forgot to put my burger order in for ten minutes while I sat at the bar, alone, like an asshole!! Sorry, it wasn’t the girl at the bar’s fault that I was self-conscience about eating alone. Anyway, so my master plan to get there early fell through, so I had to scoot down the row like this, “excuse me, sorry, thanks, sorry, thanks, excuse me, thanks, sorry, ummm I think that’s my seat, yea… just the one seat, yea I’m sitting here alone, yea by myself, yea, yea, yes like an asshole, sorry, thanks.” Half the arena was empty but of course my row was jam packed. It was a shame that half the arena was empty, because there was some top notch athleticism on display.

John Wall and Eric Bledsoe were knifing up and down the court like mad men, stopping on a dime, cutting and juking at full speed, Bledsoe contorting his body like a gymnast while flying in for layups, Wall dropping perfect passes to Gortat like it was his job, and I guess it was, technically. Bradley Beal had more game than the Parker Brothers, he was Phife Dawg on the perimeter, who, as we know, was smooth like butter. But this night, like most nights, belonged to the Nigerian Greek Freak.

I was taking a stroll through a woodland area a few weeks back, and there was a pair of bucks just off to the side of the trail. One ran off accordingly, the other took a step forward and grilled me like I was a piece of meat, and I guess I was, technically. He was fucking gigantic and his antlers looked like tree branches, I nearly pooped all over myself.

If Giannis Antetokounmpo was standing on that trail with the same angry look on his face, I would’ve done the same thing I did with the buck, quickly turn, walk away, and hope a chase didn’t ensue. Giannis seemed like a nice fella though, I’m sure he would’ve spared my life if I encountered him at Highrock Park in Staten Island. My point being, I think Giannis was the closest an athlete had ever come to embodying the thing his team was named after. Although… there was something quite Clipper about Blake Griffin, he had a certain Clip to him… I didn’t know what a Clipper was… but then again, I didn’t really know what Blake Griffin was, he was a hodgepodge of physical features. So there ya go, they had that it common; I didn’t really know what either of them was.

But I digress, Giannis might actually be one part buck. He was like a single gigantic brown muscle, he had a majestic, leaping stride-like way of running, and he grew antlers during Greece’s mating season. His gait really was buck-esque, he’ll be standing still, dribbling at the 3 point line, then out of nowhere take two huge leap-steps and be making a layup from some ridiculous angle over half the opposing team. He should be tested for deer, and thrown out of the league!!

You know who will never be tested for deer? Thon Maker, also of the Giannis/Bucks; the Giannis/Bucks backup center. Maker was subbed into the game about halfway through the first quarter, and by the time there were 2 minutes left in the quarter he had thrown up 3 20 foot jump shots for some reason. He then got bailed out by the ref after Wall blocked the shit out of his layup, and got another jumper blocked by the Wizards other guard, Bradley Beal aka Phife Dawg. Maker was 7 feet tall, the Wizards guards, like most guards, were not.

Look, I didn’t know Thon Maker, I never met him, I didn’t watch every Giannis/Bucks game, but what I had seen from Maker just made me wonder, “what’s this guy’s deal?” He was athletic enough, he was long, he seemed to have some skills, but he was getting blocked by two dudes half a foot shorter than him, and chucking up long 2 pointers.

I was sitting there, alone, by myself, with my one seat, hoping Thon Maker would get taken out of the game. Until, some asshole white guy who didn’t know anything about sports, heckled Maker with the classic asshole-white-guy-who-didn’t-know-anything-about-sports taunt, “You suck # 7!” Ugghhh, gross. Let’s make a new rule, if you don’t know the dude’s name, you can’t heckle him. Matter fact, if you can’t name the starting lineup, you can’t heckle anyone, ever, even if you were right. Because he was right, Maker was sucking, but don’t call him #7, what is this. I’d heard that taunt at almost every sporting event I’d ever been to, “#20! Get out of the game!!” There’s no clearer sign that you had no idea what the fuck you were talking about.

It was a weird phenomenon with sports, men just felt the need to chime in, and I didn’t get it. If you were at a pizzeria waiting at the counter with another dude, and there was a game of any kind on the T.V, 99% of the time the guy would ask, “what’s the score?” when it was clear that he had zero interest in the score. It would be like me going to a car show, knowing that I didn’t know shit about cars, and being like, “this thing got a steering wheel or what?” Only no one would ever do that, but with sports for some reason, dudes felt the need to show up and call people #7. It was at that moment I became a Thon Maker fan, and decided to root against the home team, and I was glad they lost. Giannis made two spectacular baseline-turnaround jumpers to ice the game. It made me smile that the young Wizards fans were leaving the arena heart broken.

It wasn’t Washington D.C.’s fault that I was seated near the #7 guy, it certainly wasn’t the young Wizard’s fans fault. There was a #7 guy in every arena and pizzeria across the nation. But I was hungover and feeling cynical, and I had to zero in on something. Going on a tirade about an asshole president was low hanging fruit, there were assholes everywhere who were making the world worse. They were easy to find, especially when you were alone, by yourself, with one seat, at a basketball game, like an asshole.

DET @ PHI: Frostee

DET @ PHI: Frostee

1/5/18 Philadelphia: I was planning on doing this trip like 2 years ago, I was engulfed in one of these books which was pushing this idea that we spend all this time doing shit we hate, that we should figure a way to find the thing we’re good at it and make that the thing we do. So I did as the book said and got my money right, came up with this plan, and left my old job. I was ready to hit the road across this good nation of ours, but then my girlfriend at the time suggested that we should go break up in Thailand for 2 months, so we did that instead.

I almost completely forgot that I wanted to do a cross country tour of basketball arenas after that. I saw the book that originally sparked the idea when I was cleaning up one day and it jogged my memory. And now that I was sufficiently single, it seemed like the right time. Philly was the obvious place to start this journey. One of my oldest and goodest friends, Mike Graham, lived there, so it was a nice way to ease into it. Mike Graham was one of those people whose whole name you had to say, but when you said it fast it sounded like ‘my grandma.’ So back in the days when someone would call you up and you had to list everyone you were with for some reason, you would say, “this guy, that one, Mike Graham,” and they’d confusedly say, “your grandma?” And you’d say, “nooo, Mike Graham,” with a hard ‘K,’ and they’d go, “ohhhhh, Mike Graham, thought you said my grandma, I love that guy.” Everyone loved Mike Graham, I love Mike Graham, and so do you.

We took our lives in complete opposite directions. I was this dumb, lonesome, semi employed, half a nomad. And Mike had a wife, and a kid, and a dog, and a cat, and some smart person job. What was his smart person job? I am not really sure to this day, he explains to me like once a year and I’m still left confused afterwards. He like engineers missiles that shoot down other missiles for the government or like the navy or something. I don’t know, he’s like a rocket scientist, but with missiles and engineering… he’s something smart, something far smarter than that description. But if you talked to him, you would think he was just a regular ole drunk, like me! Which is part of why I like Mike Graham so much, even though he’s a rocket engineer secret missile government scientist, he still hangs out and drinks with the simpletons of the world.

Philly was stop one and the 76ers were team one. I was crashing with Mike Graham and his stupid cool wife and his stupid adorable son and his stupid perfect dog and the stupid cat that just lets you pet him. And prior to heading to Philly I was writing this piece in my head, assuming I knew how the game and whole experience would turn out, because that’s what I do, assume outcomes even though I know my assumptions will be wrong. I have entire conversations in my head, and the conversations in real life never turn out to be anything close to the dialogue I came up with, yet I do it again and again, never learning. That’s my small, annoying cross to bear.

As I was trying to stay ahead of the game and preemptively write this piece, I figured I’d end up writing about Mike Graham’s family dynamic in comparison to my silly, unattached existence, and somehow tie in the 76ers “trust the process” campaign as a metaphor. But that didn’t happen, it became quite clear upon arriving at the Wells Fargo Center in the brick, absolute freezing cold, that I assumed wrong again.

You may have noticed the date at the very top of this piece was 1/5/18, the first Friday in January. The date I began this trip, and the date that I arrived in Philly for the 76er’s game. You know what 1/5/18 wasn’t? It wasn’t 1/31/18, the last Friday in January, which was date on the tickets I purchased for me and Mike Graham. So after some confusion with the ticket scanner-man, he pointed out that those were tickets for a different Friday game. Also, they were tickets for when the 76ers played the Nets in Brooklyn, so I got everything wrong. I just bought the first tickets that popped up on the app, I guess they were basing it on my location since I lived in New York. Two years of planning and I bought the wrong tickets for my first game. After feeling much embarrassment and dread, I jumped back on the app, hoping there would still be tickets left, and there were! For $100 a piece. Mike Graham said the day before that he saw some for $30, but I told him that I would take care of it, because I was slick and saw some for $18. So if anyone wants to go see the 76ers take on the Nets at the Barclays Center on 1/31/18, I got a pair of tickets that I will throw your way for $19 a pop. I was ready to give up and just go back to Mike Graham’s pad and get plastered, but he insisted we just bite the bullet and pay $70 more for these seats. I couldn’t in good faith make him pay $100 for tickets he could’ve gotten for $30 the day before, so I and I alone bit the bullet, and told him to just gimme 30 bucks and I’d cover the rest, because I’m a god damn martyr.

After the ticket debacle, grabbing our beers, and finding our seats, it was about halfway through the first quarter. Halfway through the first quarter of a professional basketball game, that had two professional basketball teams participating, and the score was 20-5 in favor of Philly. The Detroit Pistons, a professional basketball team, and a decent one at that, had scored 5 points through 6 minutes of play. And this was only the beginning.

Ben Simmons was getting to the hole at will, if J.J. Reddick wasn’t hitting his first shot, an offensive rebound would get him another crack at it and he’d drill that one, and The Process himself Joel Embiid took Andre Drummond by the ear and just sonned him up and down the court for 3 quarters. Yes, 3 quarters, he did not have to step on the court in the 4th because they were up by 40. 40, that’s twice as much as 20 for those keeping score at home. And really, I don’t think he needed to be on the court during the second half at all, I think he just wanted to take it to Drummond a little more. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a 7 foot man drag another 7 foot man up and down a basketball court by the ear before, but it’s quite the sight, a little hard to watch. It was 94-54 at the end of 3, like the score of a kid’s intramural game where one team of kid’s had mustaches already.

On it’s face you would say the lopsided contest made the $200+ in tickets sting even more, and I think that would’ve been true if it was your run of the mill 20 point blowout, but 40 points? You never see that, it was such an embarrassing ass whooping that it felt like I almost got my money’s worth, almost. Especially given the nature of Embiid and Drummond’s twitter beef. I can’t emphasize enough how bad Embiid made him look, good lord. And the crowd let Drummond hear it, it wasn’t pretty.

Philly sports fans were supposed to be renowned for their shit talking, but from what I gathered it was more quantity then quality. The one drunk individual whose shit talking I couldn’t help but document was nothing if not persistent, in fact, it was nothing but persistent. He started out very slow, as he yelled at Drummond after he got his shot blocked by Embiid, “Andre Drummond?! More like Andre Trash!!.” Now, some would say that didn’t make any sense at all, and it was one of the least clever things ever yelled at a sporting event (which is saying something), and I would be one of those people. But he started to catch on to this whole word play thing as the game wore on, after one of the many stretches of Detroit bricking shots, he yelled out, “Pistons need some work!! They’re misfiring!!” Two minutes later, in case people didn’t catch it the first time, he repeated, “Pistons need some work!! They’re misfiring!!” What was amazing about this shit talking, well it was amazing for many reasons, but what really stuck out was that his friends weren’t even egging him on, absolutely nobody was laughing at these horrible taunts, but it didn’t slow him down in the slightest. Usually the friends of these drunks were enablers, but I think they were as baffled as everybody else. But like I said, as the game wore on, his shit talking baby deer legs strengthened, after another Drummond folly- a blocked shot attempt or a missed free throw- he hollered, “Andre Drummond?! More like Andre BUMmond!!” I wish I was sitting behind him so I could’ve given him an encouraging pat on the back, he was really hitting his stride. His piece de resistance came after Drummond, frustrated and sick of being dragged around by the ear, lost his cool with the refs. It was our hero’s time to shine. “T him up ref!!” he yelled in delight, “Andre Drummond?! More like Andre SCUMmond!!!” I liked to think everyone in our section was proud of his growth, I know I was, he somehow got more coherent the more inebriated he became. The Pistons continued to miss shots, so he went back to ole reliable late in the 4th, “Pistons need some work!! They’re misfiring!!” He then let everybody know, “that’s a mechanic joke,” because jokes are always best when explained.

We had a few more brews and continued to watch the train wreck in amazement well into the 4th. As we sat there Mike Graham said, “I don’t know how you feel, but  I don’t really wanna go yet,” and I agreed. Then I looked around the arena, there was about 4 minutes left, they were still up 40, and the arena was still mostly filled. Usually people tried to beat the crowd. Wendy’s had a promotion that if an opposing player missed both his foul shots in the 4th quarter that everyone at the game gets a free Frostee, so that became the new game. So of course, who gets fouled and is thrown to the wolves in this 40 point blowout? The token lumbering white guy off the end of the bench. The guy who only gets burn when the team’s starting center is suffering from a dragged ear in a 40 point ass kicking. So #8 Henry Ellson got whacked trying to get a put back to go, and now he was marching to the line. The crowd was a little animated seeing if he’d miss the first. Brick. They smelled blood, and this poor fuck who hadn’t played a meaningful minute in his professional career was suddenly propelled into a Game 7 of the Final’s-like atmosphere, it was deafeningly loud in there, and Henry Ellson was all alone at the stripe. I’ve never felt so bad for an athlete in my entire life. His second shot went up and it was further off-course than the first brick, the crowd exploded and started chanting “Frostee! Frostee!” Henry Ellson ran back on defense, there would be no moral victories for Deettrroiittt Baasskkettbaallll on this night. I leaned over to Mike Graham and said, “who the fuck wants a Frostee? It’s like 2 degrees out,” we both laughed. Those dirtbags at Wendy’s, putting poor Henry Ellson in that predicament just so it could seem like they were doing the crowd a favor. Only true masochists would go claim their Frostee.

I figured after all that excitement the crowd would start to thin out, but no, the place stayed packed up until the final buzzer. Because it was freezing out, as cold as it’d been in years, and the Northeast just got popped with a snow bomb cyclone leg drop. People wanted to be out, they wanted to be around people, and be warm. They wanted to cheer for Frostees they had no intention of eating. Nobody really wanted to go yet.

And that’s how it felt the next day at the Graham’s. Hungover and procrastinating, I didn’t want to go yet. Once I got in my car and headed down towards D.C. the trip really started. The next game I’d be eavesdropping on people alone, drinking by myself and taking notes like a weirdo. And the game after that, and the game after that. I’d be Henry Ellson at the free throw line, surrounded by thousands of screaming strangers. Winning everyone Frostees with my failures and shortcomings.