White Men Can’t Jump, 20th Century Fox, 1982

by Eli S. Evans

“Fellow Associates. Ms. Kaufman. I know you’ve asked us to call you Cindy, and even though I don’t know much about corporate management (if I did perhaps I’d be standing where you are instead of sitting here), I know enough about human psychology to surmise that in the guise of a friendly gesture this request really represents an effort to reinforce the notion that we’re not your subordinates, but rather, as independent workers contracted by the corporation you represent, non-hierarchically aligned with you and, by extension, that corporation. And I also understand, though needless to say I don’t know the first thing about profitmaking or I wouldn’t need a job like this, that if we’re associates, rather than employees, your obligations to us are reduced (health insurance, anyone?), as are your potential liabilities. We fuck up and, for example, someone ends up dead because of it, the blood isn’t on your hands, at least from a legal standpoint, because we didn’t work for you. You didn’t own our labor, and so you don’t have to own the death it resulted in. And by you, in this case, I obviously mean the corporation you’re here representing. As for you yourself, Ms. Kaufman, I’m guessing that at the moment you’re not really much more than an extension of the will of that corporation, anyway. I know you tried to make it seem like you genuinely preferred we call you Cindy, friend to friend, but I suspect that you were only following instructions and that deep down (but actually pretty close to the surface) you’d rather we refer to you in a manner that acknowledges the power you currently wield over us – yes, over – regardless of our technical respective designations within, or in our case in relation to, the corporation. And even though you’ve done your half-hearted best to imply, without quite going so far as to assert it outright, that you thought up all on your own the little initiation exercise in which we’ve come here today to participate, I’m inclined to believe that in reality you’re only following instructions in that regard, as well – instructions that no doubt included the instruction to do your best to imply you yourself came up with this idea, as if out of genuine curiosity, or an eagerness to understand the secret of our success, we twelve selected from, what did you say it was, almost three hundred applicants this time around? I don’t think you’re really all that curious but, understanding admittedly little in the way of the management of human resources, I do think I understand the logic of taking this approach to our official initiation as associates of, you’ve reminded us now three times by my count, one of the world’s biggest and (imagine) simultaneously fastest growing corporations. The Italian master Italo Calvino once wrote, if memory serves, that story is an operation, or in many cases a series of operations, carried out on the length of time involved – delaying, quickening, scrambling, pausing, inverting, and so on. I don’t think he was wrong, but I do think there are other ways thinking of it, more pertinent to our present circumstances. For example, that story is the selection and elaboration, from all such possible, of precisely those incidents and events that, one following upon the next, could not have produced any state of affairs but that in which the story ends – a selection and elaboration as a result of which that state of affairs in which story ends appears as though preordained, almost destiny-like, rather than at the accident of circumstance every ending really is. Thus, in telling – no, sharing – the story of how we, in your words, made it to where we are today, we are also constructing this moment of initiating our association with the corporation as, in a certain sense, our very own destiny, and it’s not hard to see, given that most human predilection for embracing what one perceives to be his or her destiny, why that would probably be good for what I think they refer to, in the field, as employee buy-in – and yes, I know we’re not officially employees, but technically just twelve passionate and talented individuals, as you have characterized us, to whom the corporation has generously agreed to provide an opportunity to give public expression to our talents and passions by, in one way or another, helping others pursue theirs, in exchange for nothing more than the right to extract most of the revenue that public expression generates. But I digress, and I know several of my now fellow associates are still waiting their turn. What I was going to say, to get back, therefore, to the matter at hand, is that there is also another mode of storytelling, perhaps less common in literature than in conversation, in which, rather than selecting and recounting a series of incidents and events that add up to an ending that consequently appears as though decreed by fate, we recount a single incident or event that is meant to stand, one might even say paradigmatically, for all the rest put together in sequence. And with your permission or, for that matter without it, seeing as I’m currently holding the floor and it would be difficult for you to seize it from me without my consent except by invoking the kind of authority I’m quite certain you’ve been instructed to do your best to dissimulate, that’s the approach I’m going to take to this task today. An the event or incident I’m going to tell you about, the single event or incident that I think can stand for all the others lined up like ducks in a row, in fact takes place not far from here, at least as, knowing nothing of the tragedy of traffic, the crows fly, at the Hollywood YMCA – affectionately referred to by members and, in my case, former members, as the Hollywood Y. And were it not for certain details of it, of which you’ll shortly be apprised, I probably would not be as certain as I am that it took place not just in the ever more distant past, in what from my present perspective looks surprisingly like youth, but precisely in late February of 2004, about three and a half years after I moved here – and no, I’m not going to tell you what sort of work I was doing at the time, and yet I think it’s safe to assume that everybody in this room understands the kinds of dreams young people who move to Los Angeles are usually chasing, regardless of the particular labors to which they’ve staked those dreams. Rich and famous. Fast women and fast cars. You all know the drill. At the time, I wasn’t really making any progress toward achieving those dreams, though if you’re the sort of person who believes that everything will work out in the end and if everything hasn’t worked out then it’s not the end, then you would also believe that even when it seems like we aren’t making progress toward achieving our dreams we actually are, failing better and so on, even we may well end up discovering, in the end, that all along our true dreams were something other than what we originally believed them to be. But I’m a little more on the cynical side, if you haven’t picked up on that by now, and so, from where I sat, it looked like to me I really just wasn’t making much progress. One thing I was doing, on the other hand, was playing pick-up basketball most nights at the Hollywood Y, where I’d managed to secure membership at a highly subsidized rate thanks to my nearly nonexistent income – some substitute teaching and a semi-regular gig tutoring a Korean high school student by the (first) name of O’Neil. The night shift at on the main basketball court at the Hollywood Y was fairly serious business – real, five-on-five games played by men who stepped on the floor intending to win and willing to take necessary measures to do so. In terms of my own abilities, I fell somewhere in the middle of the pack – close to the average but a bit below the mean given that from time to time some big, tattooed black guy who’d obviously played at a high level, in college or even beyond, perhaps paid by the game for a season in some regional semi-pro league, would show up and start dunking the ball on people. But at that point in my life, I could shoot the basketball fairly well from mid-range, that frequently forgotten zone outside the key and but inside the three-point line, and I was stronger than I looked, and maybe a little taller, too, as a result of my tendency to stand stoop-shouldered, and this allowed me to function well on the inside, grabbing rebounds that rightly should have been corralled by an opponent or moving bigger guys from their preferred spots on the block when they tried to post me up, if you know what that means which, if you know much about basketball, you do, and if you don’t, well, I probably lost you at five-on-five. In any case, I arrived at the Hollywood Y on this particular evening, as I did many such evenings, and headed straight upstairs to the gym, and right away, when I passed through its double doors, hit with a gust of squeaky shoes and perspiration potpourri, I knew something was not as it usually was. These days, we all have our smartphones, right? Even us, who, obviously if we’re here we’re not in the most economically advantageous situation, but all the same I’d be willing to bet we’re all spending money we’d probably be better off saving on our little phones that we use for checking our email every five minutes in the hopes that the message we’ve been waiting for all our lives has finally arrived, or posting political screeds or stylized self-portraits to our social media sites of choice and then waiting for the likes and comments in which we see ourselves being seen by others and so are momentarily reassured that we actually exist. February of 2004, on the other hand, was still the age of little palm-sized flip phones, but those phones did have cameras, most of them, even if you couldn’t send the pictures you took with them straight off in search of hits of social validation, and when I walked into the gym on this particular night there were probably fifteen or twenty people, almost all of them the tender black and brown girls from Fairfax High who would hang around the Y after school until their parents could pick them up, which was in some cases pretty late, and they all had their little phones out, their little flip phones, most of them snapping pictures and the rest talking on them in hushed, hurried tones, cupping their hands over their mouths like someone sharing a secret. I looked at them, and I followed their eyes and phone cameras to the court, and that’s when I saw him, Justin Timberlake, as I lived and breathed, and this is a completely true story, playing pick-up basketball at the Hollywood YMCA. Justin Timberlake, and the reason I’m so certain that this was late February of 2004, and not just back then, as it were, is is because even though seeing a celebrity is always something of a shock, the image sprung to life and all that, part of what made seeing Justin Timberlake more than viscerally surprising, in that particular moment, was that just a few weeks earlier he’d been involved in an incident that even those of you here who are too young to remember seeing it or hearing about at the time have surely heard the legend of. This was when, at the end of his halftime performance with the singer and dancer Janet Jackson, at the 2004 Super Bowl, just as he sang or mouthed the last line of his hit single ‘Rock Your Body,’ ‘I’m going to have you naked by the end of this song,’ he grabbed Jackson’s black jacket, an elaborate garment appropriate to the pomp and circumstance of the occasion, and yanked or tore part of it away from her body, at which point one of her breasts burst forth, as though freed, freed at last, and displayed itself on live television for several seconds. This protracted baring of the breast, as you probably know, provoked an angry outcry from Christians and other moralizers nationwide. A breast had been bared to children, they bleated. At the Super Bowl no less, the United States of America’s signature spectacle. Within hours, or perhaps even sooner, Timberlake and Jackson, or more likely their respective spokespeople were, in an effort to deflect the gathering fury, offering a version of events according to which it had never been anyone’s intention, in developing and carrying out the performance, to reveal an actual breast, but only to reveal a breast covered by a brassiere, a red lace brassiere if I remember correctly, but that for reasons no one quite seemed to understand well enough to clearly explain, the brassiere in question had somehow disappeared – all that’s solid melts into air, I suppose. At some point in this flurry of unsatisfactory explanations and accumulating apologies someone, and it might even have even been Timberlake himself, referred to the incident as a ‘wardrobe malfunction,’ and the Wardrobe Malfunction (something about the way the term knitted together the tactility of wardrobe with the hard technological edge of malfunction rendered it at once the proper name the incident until then lacked) was still occupying a place of great prominence in the national conversation on the night I walked into the gym at the Hollywood Y to play some pick-up basketball and Justin Timberlake, who one imagined would have been huddled up with his team somewhere doing his best to avoid public scrutiny in an unflattering moment in his career, was there. He himself wasn’t wearing anything elaborate, just a white t-shirt and loose fitting basketball shorts, but they were a little special, you could call them, all the same. The white t-shirt seemed almost impossibly unwrinkled, dancing over the surface of his body when it should have been clinging to it, and the shorts were white with green trim and they did not have the logo for any professional basketball team on them but they did have an NBA logo in the bottom left corner of the left leg which wasn’t something I’d seen before – NBA branded shorts without the branding of any particular NBA team – and it reinforced the sense that he transcended that altogether corporeal obligation to be of and from somewhere in particular, as opposed to everywhere and wherever, that binds the rest of us, if we are NBA fans, to this given team or that. And he was a pretty good basketball player, to boot. He wasn’t outstanding by any stretch, not the kind of player so capable that he disrupted the established rhythms of the nightly five-on-five pick-up games – certainly not dunking on anybody like the tattooed black guys who had perhaps languished for half a season on some semi-pro team based in Albany or Binghamton or Poughkeepsie, riding buses through snowstorms to play in chilly high school arenas in front of twenty or thirty-five fans who didn’t even bother to take their hats and gloves off, before giving up and moving back home. But he was good all the same – a good shooter, albeit with a slightly unorthodox form, releasing the ball as though out of the back of his palm instead of off the tips of his fingers the way you’re supposed to, and a smooth ball handler and a generous passer. Of all those people in the gym, only three were actual grown men waiting to get on the court for the next game, and I joined up as their fourth, once it had been established, by way of a series of inquiries and confirmations, that they were indeed at that point only three. Timberlake’s team won the game that was in progress when I arrived, not surprisingly since he was pretty good and another fellow on his team, a big strong white guy with a shaved head, was even better, and the five losers shot elimination shots from the free throw line for the privilege of becoming the fifth member of my team. Before the next game started, Timberlake, in a manner that seemed to acknowledge that he was somebody, not quite like the rest of us, but at the same time lacked the pretensions of magnanimity that might have made the gesture obnoxious, shook hands with each of his four new adversaries as we stepped onto the court, hitching our shorts and stretching our triceps, and as he did asked, ‘What’s your name?’ When he got to me, I don’t know what I was thinking, I guess I got a little haughty for a moment, a little out over my skis, as they say, I shook his hand and told him my name and then, after a very brief pause, shot back, ‘What’s yours?’ He was caught off guard by the question, I could tell, and it’s hard to blame him considering not just how famous he was in general but that thanks to the Wardrobe Malfunction his presence in the national discourse had been virtually ubiquitous over the previous few weeks, but he recovered his wits quickly, and with a kind of twitch of the face that was like a wink without the actual wink, if you can picture that, like he was kind of letting me know that he knew that I was just putting on airs but if that’s what I wanted to do it was all the same to him, he said, ‘I’m Justin,’ and then with his left hand, the one we weren’t shaking hands with, gave me a little pat on the shoulder and moved on to the next fellow. Then the game started, and since Timberlake’s team – or maybe I should call it Justin’s team, since by now he’d formally introduced himself to me as Justin – since his team had won the previous tilt, they were, per house rules, awarded the first possession, inbounding the ball from under their own basket, that is to say, the basket they would be charged with defending and in which we, meaning my team, would be attempting to shoot the ball. One of Justin’s teammates inbounded the ball to him and he started dribbling up the court. I hadn’t been assigned to defend Justin when my team matched up with his team but rather another fellow, a little taller than I was but long and lanky like me, and I shadowed him as he crossed half court and then drifted over toward the left baseline while Justin dribbled toward the top of the key in this loping fashion, almost leisurely but not quite because you could see in his posture, a kind of perkiness of the shoulders, that even though he was relaxed he was ready to spring into action as soon as the opportunity presented itself. When he got to the top of the key, one of his teammates set a pick for him and he dribbled around it and penetrated into the lane, the so-called painted area even though it wasn’t actually painted at the Hollywood Y but only demarcated, and the guy, my teammate, who was defending the guy I mentioned earlier, the big white guy with the shaved head, left him to pick up Justin, and as soon as he did Justin deftly dropped the ball off to the now unguarded big white guy with the shaved head, who snagged it between his meaty white palms and leapt to lay it into the basket. ‘One-oh,’ Justin called out. Someone on my team assertively presented himself to receive the inbounds pass, in so doing effectively appointing himself point guard and no one on our squad objected by, in turn, assertively presenting himself to receive a pass in the backcourt from the fellow who had assertively presented himself to receive the inbounds pass. I, for my part, jogged down toward the other end of the court and, like the opponent with whom I’d matched up had, drifted over toward the left baseline. After a moment one of my teammates, who’d drifted toward the right baseline, cuts under the hoop and so I meet him there, each of us sloppily picking off the other’s defender as we passed. Both defenders work fairly easily around the picks, which are delivered without great conviction, but all the same that little logjam of bodies has given me a bit space to work with, maybe a half-step advantage on my defender, and noting that advantage, I make a quick cut toward an open space at the right elbow, that is, where the free throw line makes a ninety-degree angle with one of the lines that partitions off the lane. My defender is caught by surprise by this cut, and it takes him a moment to react and so now, as I’m dashing toward the elbow, he’s a full step behind me, probably close to a step and a half, in fact, and the guy on my team who’d brought the ball up the floor, who’d appointed himself point guard, proves himself worthy of the appointment by seeing me approaching that open space at the elbow, and seeing my defender scrambling to catch up, and firing a pass in my direction. I can still see it now, coming in chest high. I can see the black rubber seams breaking the pebbled leather surface of the ball into sections like the sections of a peeled orange, and already, even as I’m preparing my hands to receive the pass, I’m shifting my feet into shooting position, starting to turn the bottom half of my body so that by the time the ball hits my hands I’ll be a mere swivel of the torso away from shooting position, toes already pointed at the hoop and hips centered. It’s a sweet spot for me on the court, the edge of mid-range, a place where, if I get an open shot, I make the open shot, and I’m getting to that spot, and I’m open, my defender a step and a half out of position, and the ball is spinning toward me, leather and seam and leather and seam, and my lower body is turning already as my hands extend toward it, I’ll relax them as it arrives, pull them back just ever so slightly in order to allow it, although it is traveling toward me and I toward it, to settle softly into them rather than colliding jarringly with them, and just then, just as leather met flesh, the curtains of time slid open and I saw the great mise-en-scène behind it, awaiting the arrival of the players. Like curtains opening up to reveal the secret world behind them, I’m saying, or else like cresting a snowy peak after days in the wilderness, cold and hungry, and suddenly there it is, the green valley below, flowing water and fruit-bearing trees, like at the end of that movie Alive about the Chilean soccer team whose plane crashes way up in the Andes on the way to a game in Argentina, I think, and the survivors end up cannibalizing their own dead before it was all said and done. What spread out before me, though, in that abyss of time, that instant split open like the shell of a nut or a cracked egg, wasn’t a fruited valley, or St. Augustine’s City of God, the shining city on the hill to which the bloody march of history shall at last deliver us, but a future in which I would raise up, as I had done so many times before in that very gym, from that very spot, in fact, and with a flick of the wrist send the softly-caught ball back-spinning toward the basket, tracing a high, poetic arc at the end of which it would fall through the center of the hoop, passing through the pinched bottom of the net with that patented swish with which I’m sure even those of you who haven’t the slightest interest in basketball are familiar, and after that, infused with the confidence won from making your first shot of the night, I would make more shots, I would make all the shots, every time down the floor my team’s de facto point guard would be looking for me to get open because as any good point guard should, he would be aware I was in possession of the proverbial hot hand, that to my eyes the rim, eighteen inches in diameter according to the measuring tape, was as wide as the ocean, and time and again he’d find me, my defender scrapping and scrambling to catch up after I’d caught him again by surprise by always turning or cutting toward an open spot on the floor just when he wasn’t expecting it, and time and again I’d receive the pass expertly, just a little give as it reached my hands, and rise up and make the shot, and at the end of the game, which my team would win, Justin, perhaps now wondering if maybe I really hadn’t known who he was when he’d asked me my name, thinking maybe I was too busy perfecting my basketball skills to keep track of Super Bowls and celebrity scandals, would seek me out to congratulate me on my performance, he’d say, ‘Man, you’re a really good basketball player,’ and we’d slap five, or have a hand-jive handshake, and then he’d ask, ‘What was your name was, again?’ and I’d tell him, and then maybe I would make a joke about asking him his, letting him known that of course I had known who he was, I didn’t live under a rock, and maybe I’d make it seem like refusing to acknowledge that had been part of my winning strategy, that when I was on the court everyone was just a teammate or an opponent to me, and from there we’d get to talking more, and he’d ask me what I did and I’d describe my work, not only leaving out my failure to have achieved any of the external markers of success that formed the substance of those aforementioned dreams and aspirations but indeed describing it in such esoteric terms that questions of such external markers of success would appear irrelevant, and Justin, caught up in that very world of fast cars and fast women, would be intrigued by my creative-ascetic-by-day-assassin-on-the-basketball-court persona, and he’d ask me for my number and I’d give to him, the number to reach me at my little black flip hone that folded up looked like a lumpy Matchbox car, and the next day he’d give me a call and ask if I wanted to meet up for a drink, probably at the Chateau Marmont or some other such place where everyone goes to see and be seen but the celebrities enter through the backdoor, and I’d enter through the backdoor as his guest, regarded as such with respectful deference by the bouncers and security guards positioned to prevent the riffraff from going where they weren’t wanted, and over Heinekens, probably Heinekens, he’d tell me about his life as a Mouseketeer and then a member of the popular turn-of-the-millennium boy band ‘NSync, and then finally as a bona fide pop superstar in his own right but also someone with more serious artistic pretensions, a real musician and performer as opposed to a mere destination for the libidinous energies of teenage girls, and perhaps in discussing this tricky transition the subject of his still relatively recent split with fellow former Mousketeer Britney Spears would come up and, as I had recently been drinking deeply from the fountain of French theory, I’d quote elliptically from Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse (‘a lover’s anxiety is but the fear of a mourning which has already occurred at the origin of love’), or better yet Baudrillard’s Seduction (‘the seductress turns desire itself into an illusion or a trap’), and Justin would, in turn, be seduced by this secret world of almost incantatory insights my quotations or citations had invoked, and seduced as well by my own capacity to pair such high brow rhetoric with some somewhat raunchy between-men type observations about women in the bar, and so at the end of the night he’d want to make plans to hang out again, which would be fine with me, and then we would hang out again, and again and again after that, enough that it would become as normal for me to call him as him to call me, and as normal for me to call him as to call any other old friend, and soon we’d be hanging out so much that the paparazzi, which is never far away from someone like Justin, would start snapping pictures of the two of us together, Justin and this unidentified fellow, this who-knows-who-that-guy-is, and the pictures would end up magazines under headlines blaring, ‘Who’s JT’s mystery BFF?’, and because mystery begets interest, people would take an interest in me, and then, by extension, they would take an interest in my work, to which they would be disposed in advance, owing to my notoriety, to give the benefit of the doubt, and since if you search hard enough for something special, brilliance or insight or originality or verve, eventually you’re bound to find it, soon enough offers for the rights to distribute my work would start pouring in, and competing offers would turn into bidding wars, and when following their lucrative resolution my work at last made its debut in the public sphere, not only because of the aforementioned notoriety but as well because of the great financial leap of faith my corporate patrons would as a result of the bidding wars have taken, it would be received by the general public with great anticipation and expectation, I would be sought out for interviews and appearances and featured on the front pages of the pertinent sections of national and even international newspapers, the artist formerly known as JT’s mystery BFF, if you will, and just like that all the things I’d been dreaming of, wealth and fame and women and cars, would become reality, and soon I would travel home to visit my parents with great pride, feeling the eyes on me on the airplane and in the airport, knowing that they knew me, that they were watching me while I was just living my life, and back home I would find satisfaction in, as though I were far beyond possibly caring at this point, not bothering to look down my nose at all the guys who in high school had mocked me or ignored me or both (though I probably would fuck some of the girls they’d dated), and maybe I’d make a celebrity appearance, as well, the local kid made good, and when I did all the other parents, the ones who’d never invited my parents to their parties or to join their organizations because in that particular community we were among those of more modest means, would come out to see me, and now they would regard my parents with admiration because they had raised a star, the admiration they always deserved regardless of whether or not I turned out to be a star, and after a few days, perhaps a week at the most, I would fly back to California where I’d work, now, out of my new home, probably in Venice, most likely Venice, not far from the beach and the boardwalk but also insulated from all of its hubbub, set back from a side street along one of the canals, a fortress of sparkling windows and steel beams and book-lined walls illuminated after dark by crisscrossed beams of lamplight. I saw it all, the days and months and years ahead of me, I practically lived them, in a way, all of them in that moment when leather met flesh, and then, just as this crack in the time and space through which the light of the possible had come streaming in began to close, and time beginning to pass again, I realized that all of it, from that first drink at the Chateau Marmont to my book-lined architectural fortress in Venice, was predicated on actually making the shot I was about to take, and that was when it all went terribly wrong. I tried to jump, to rise up to shoot, just as I had so many times before, in that gym, from that spot, but somehow my feet had become rooted to the ground, and as I discovered this I discovered, as well, that the basketball itself, usually so familiar in its weight and dimensions, sphere and seams and sphere and seams, had instead become something big and heavy and lumpy and disproportionate in my hands, like an old used up medicine ball, and then I looked up from where I was, earthbound when I should have been airborne, clutching this big lumpy old medicine ball that should have been a basketball, and I saw my defender closing in on me, his right arm up and extended and his hand open, closing the gap that had opened up between us when I made a hard cut toward the right elbow after the brush screens my teammate and I had set for each other under the hoop, and I also saw Justin turned in my direction, one arm extended in the direction of his own man, meaning the man for whom he was defensively responsible, in case he needed to jockey with him for position for a potential rebound, but his body leaning my direction, ready to pick me up in case I drove past my own man, who was now fully committed to rushing toward me and would not be able to reverse his trajectory if I did – I saw him looking at me through these blue eyes of his, these crystalline blue eyes, crystalline and limpid and shining eyes, eyes like placid pools beneath waterfalls tumbling between swaths of rainforest under a forever blue sky, and my feet held fast and the ball was this big unwieldy blob I couldn’t even manage to get a solid grip on, and I saw Justin seeing me with those eyes of his, marble blue eyes, and there was my own man still closer, his arm up and extended, and there was Justin ready to step into my path should I dash past my man toward the hoop, Justin not knowing that I couldn’t do that because my feet were rooted to the ground and the roots ran deep, I was not a cactus but a tree, and not a beech or birch but a white oak or a hickory, rooted deep and strong, and then I heard one of my teammates, his voice basso and urgent, crying, ‘Shoot it!’ and just after that, so that the beginning of this second yawp sounded simultaneously with the end – the ‘it’ – of the first, another of my teammates shouting, ‘Do something,’ and Justin’s eyes were so deep and clear that looking through them you could see his soul, which should be nothing but the secret knowledge that there is no soul, that there is no hard kernel of self but just the sloppy collision of language and desire, yet through his eyes, I swear to it, you could see a soul that was really a soul, a thing that abided, that would be there still, even if only in the inexorable fact of having been, long after his body had turned to dust like the rest of ours, and I thought if only I could have a soul, too, if only I could be who I was, this accidental body, this tangle of fear and desire, and also something else, an image or an idea, and a soul emerging from the overlap of the two like a ghost tone, like Benjamin’s reine Sprach sounding out in the space between the original and the translation, but first I had to make the shot, everything was predicated on making the shot, even if my feet were rooted to the ground and the basketball was not a basketball I had to make that shot, and so I did what I could do, I grabbed hold of that bulky, shifting lump and gathered my strength to throw toward the hoop because maybe, who knew, maybe it would find its way, but in fact I’ll never know because by then it was too late, by then my own defender had had too much time to close that gap between us, enough time that the gap had been closed, and just as I released that old used up medicine ball, just as I heaved it hoopward from the hip like some sort of two-handed discus hurler, he leapt, now both hands raised, and swatted it back toward me with such force that when it hit me in the head it didn’t just knock me over but ricocheted into the air, high, high, high into the air, arcing comically and landing out of bounds. From flat on my back I heard one of my teammates, I think it was the one who’d cried out, ‘Do something,’ asking, rhetorically, in a way that was directed much more toward everyone else out there on the court than toward me, in a way that was, in fact, meant to exclude me, intended to draw a line between me and everyone else on the court, to establish a camaraderie, predicated on my exclusion, that momentarily suspended the opposition between the two teams, ‘Man, what are you doing?’, and then as I struggled upright, while a member of one team or the other (the difference hardly mattered at that moment) jogged to recover the ball from where it had come to rest somewhere among the gathered picture takers, the teenage girls with their flip phones flipped open, I saw Justin, not so much looking at me now as past me, smirk just a little, almost imperceptibly but not quite, and shrug, a little bemused and dismissive shrug as though to remind himself, ‘I guess this is the kind of thing that can happen when you let the riffraff in,’ and nobody came to help me to my feet, and my teammates studiously avoided passing me the ball again for the duration of the game, in which we were defeated handily by Justin’s team, a hardly unexpected result with it having for all intents and purposes become a game of five-on-four, and when it was done with Justin did not come over to give me five or shake my hand again and compliment me on my play, and we did not get to talking and exchange phone numbers and meet up the next night for drinks at the Chateau Marmont, and I did not seduce him by quoting Baudrillard when the subject of his breakup with Britney Spears arose, and we did not become better and better friends until the paparazzi start taking pictures of us together, and consequently no pictures of us together appeared in any magazines under headlines asking ‘Who’s JT’s Mystery BFF?’, and hence the mystery of my identity did not beget an interest in me, which therefore could not beget an interest in my work, an interest in it and a predisposition, as a result of the very notoriety that had begotten the interest, to give it the benefit of the doubt, to find brilliance of originality or insight or verve where there may or may not have been any, and so there was no bidding for the rights to distribute it, and it was not at last released with great fanfare to a public anxious to find out what it was all about, and in short, my fellow associates, those dreams I mentioned earlier did not come true, much as I imagine none of your own has, either, which in the end is the real reason, isn’t it, that on this sunny Southern California Saturday we find ourselves sitting around a table in this dreary windowless conference room telling each other, in accordance with Ms. Kaufman’s instructions, the story of how we ended up here?”