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Wednesday, March 1, 2006 02:32 pm

The most purposeful shot

This game’s over so, why argue with Frankie?

Harry Jacobs watched from his window as the February snow drifted in his neighbor’s driveway, most of it under the basketball backboard bolted to the roof over the garage door. He watched an easy hour’s worth before he remembered that it was clinic day. “Best call the taxi,” he thought, “get there a little early — they want to discuss yet another . . . new treatment plan . . . and . . . and . . . The snowballs Frankie Jensen and he are throwin’ plunk soundlessly off Danny O’Brien’s ice-caked bedroom window. The situation is gettin’ serious. They’re already late to “the Hall” — another 10 minutes, and they’ll be lucky to be sixth in line. Danny’s father works night shift, sleeps in — no knockin’ on the O’Brien door before 10. If they wake his old man, Danny isn’t goin’ anywhere — for a week! And Danny is their basketball caretaker this month. No Danny, no basketball, no game! He knocked last Saturday; it’s Frankie’s turn today. Good job, Frankie! It’s Mrs. O’Brien who opens the door. They listen to her gentle “No knockin’ till 10” reminder, they tell her they’ll remember next Saturday — and five minutes later they’re on their way, runnin’ against the wind, knee-deep in snow. Too late! Four teams already lined up to play. They put their basketball in the fifth spot and wait . . . A lifetime ago. Frankie moved away after World War II. Eventually Harry and Frankie lost contact, for they’d traveled the too-common way from once-a-year get-together to once-a-year phone call to Christmas cards to Christmas cards if their wives remembered. When Frankie died last year, Harry was too ill to attend . . . to go . . . to . . . The Hall. Out of St. Pat’s parish. The Hall’s business, Sunday through Friday, is grown-up business, they suppose. But on Saturdays it’s all theirs — basketball games play from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. There’s no real basketball court inside — you have to imagine one, but a real basket is bolted to a warped backboard over the front door. Occasionally the cracked door and winter wind partner to deposit a half-moon snowdrift under the basket. Only grades 3 through 8 are allowed in on Saturdays. The rules inside are few: Fouls are resolved as they should be, through heated jaw-to-jaw argument. There are no other rules, except “the lightbulb rule”: Ceiling light bulbs are exposed and can be exploded by errant shots arcing higher than the Hall’s 20-foot upper limit. Break a bulb, your team loses immediately — no matter the score. The ceiling is in play, and if you’re good, really good, you can bank a shot off the ceiling and down through the bucket . . . 2 points and a standing ovation! They were third-graders in 1933. They were the Warriors. Their record that year was 2-181. Season highlights were a win over the fifth-graders (thanks to the lightbulb rule) and a ceiling-bank shot by Frankie in a 2-16 loss to the eighth-graders on a snowy day in February. As far as anyone knew, it was the first time a third-grade team had scored on an eighth-grade team, for despite the age differences there was no holding back in the Hall, and . . . No way that was a purpose-shot Frankie! Ya just threw it, two-hand panic.” “Was so a purpose-shot!” counters Frankie. He counter-counters: “Don’t count anyway, Frankie, ’cause when it hit the ceiling it caused a lightbulb to explode down the other end.” Frankie re-counters back: “Game was over before it exploded — lightbulb rule don’t apply!” The phone rang. The clinic, he supposed. Since his Mary passed, personal calls were few and fewer, so by now, these two months later, the calls he received were either from the clinic or wrong numbers. He picked up the phone. The clinic said, “You all right, Mr. Jacobs? We worried when you didn’t show.” Harry instead heard “Was so a purpose-shot!” The clinic continued, “We’ll send the van to get you — be 15, 20 minutes.” But Harry heard “Game was over before it explodedlightbulb rule don’t apply.” The clinic finished, “And remember, you have an appointment every Saturday.” Then Harry Jacobs said, “We’ll remember next Saturday.” Five minutes later, he was on his way, walking against the wind, knee-deep in snow, to his neighbor’s basketball basket. There he stood in a half-moon snowdrift and bounced a shot off the sky and down through the bucket — 2 points and a standing ovation led by Mary. Then he fell to the snow and went to the Hall forever. “No way that was a purpose-shot!” said Frankie. And even though Harry knew it was the most purposeful purpose-shot ever made, he decided not to counter Frankie — this time.


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