A very good player - though he had a deceivingly harmless appearance - from the other team unsuccessfully attempted a slam dunk on a fast break.
Outside on a sunny Friday afternoon in Rymarov, Czech Republic, we played, in-between a field where - to my surprise - a baseball game was going on, and a race-track where many people of many ages had come to do the long-jump.
- The ball popped out from the rim to me. I bounced it behind/ahead of me with my left hand, sped down the left edge of the court, launched myself up towards the basket off my right foot, and pushed the ball down through the hoop, left-handed. It was a good response, and my first-ever slam dunk in a live game. "Whoooo!" (The rim was rather bent, and henceforth an inch or two below regulation height.) Even so, I was proud.
Later on, my lazy teammates let the very good player have an uncontested, successful dunk, and the ball came down through the hoop and hit me solidly, which was a bit immasculating. (But, afterwards, I concentrated and got some luck to beat this well- disciplined, quick-handed player, 7-5 in a one-vs.-one game, yah ha!)
Good basketball can be beautiful, namely when you´re allowed to run on the full-court. The best Czech games are played with an unselfish style.
The following evening, we were at Sdrndi´s twenty- fourth birthday party.
It was being held at Prema´s "chat". (The latter word is pronounced "hut", but more accurately means "cottage".)
Prema and Sdrndi are best friends. Prema, a guy, has a flowing, shiny ash-tray ponytail, a beard that fits his peach-shaped face, and dazed eyes that suggest his mind is lost somewhere in outer space. He does a lot of mind-warping drugs, and he collapsed with us once in a bar after eating the tiny magic mushrooms of November forest.
Sdrndi, a guy, will admit he looks a bit like a dark ogre. But, hey, it was his birthday! So, I´m going to erase that and say he looks like the best- looking ogre ever! He´s a careful, very intelligent speaker, a former student of religious studies, and a new employee of Czech Television.
Like a lot of unmarried twenty-somethings in Rymarov, Sdrndi also loves smoking marijuana.
"Life is hard. People are cruel. So, I smoke pot so people will appear nice." - translated quote from the Czech movie, "Samotári"
Prema´s small cottage sits two miles from Rymarov, in a colony of about fifteen family´s "huts". The colony sees only green hills and fields and hears only moonlight. A bunch of us sat outside in the late evening. We gave Sdrndi his gifts, and we made a fire.
We wandered past some hay bales into an enormous pasture-land, where horses came up to us so we could pet them.
One of the three-dozen guests was beloved Hent´a: the good-looking, puppy-affectionate-faced, warm- hearted guy whose hair is now long like a cocker spaniel´s ears. A seemingly simple guy, he philosophically told me how he loves outdoor parties. He said everyone is forced inside during winter, so why go to a closed bar when the weather´s good? "Svobodnost," he said. (Freedom.)
Everyone except for me (I was respecting a No-Alcohol-During-April vow), and a few drivers, drank and/or smoked pot. Instead, I climbed a thin cypress tree. "Go to the top!" cheered good-natured Lukas, a former student of mine who was normally stoned and talkative during class.
Night fell. Some played drums around the fire. Most others just talked with old friends.
Blond, bulldog-headed Pet´a (a guy) pulled his car near and turned on the stereo. Hent´a, Libor, Vit´a, and I danced on the grass in the moonlight beside the tall cypress tree. (Afterwards, girls would refuse to believe four guys danced alone together in the Czech Republic.)
Hent´a was so free. First, a hard song played, and we just leapt in the air. Then, humorously, some Beach Boys songs played. Hent´a danced, overdramatically the whole time, as if he was a Beach Boy giving a concert. He hopped and swung his head, he rapidly rolled his body through the air, he kissed his air-guitar and microphone, he gave the crowd the peace sign. His hair flopped around. He danced like no one was there - except when he moshed with us, or we joined elbows and turned around.
The rest of us just enjoyed being near him or noticed by him - including stocky musician Libor, a funky dancer with hip clothing-style. I told Hent´a my mom had been at a Beach Boys concert. He smiled and said, "Pozdravuj maminku." (Say hi to your mom for me.)
Little, blond Klára Sigmundová came over for a second to do her dance: squatting and knocking her knees together and sliding left to right, snapping her fingers.
Pet´a played Hent´a´s favorite band, Depeche Mode, and we grooved/glided in the moonlight, singing the words.
After the dancing, some of us grabbed Sdrndi by his arms and legs to perform a Czech tradition. We swung him back and forth, so his butt hit the butt of the "donkey", played by Hent´a´s young girlfriend, who kneeled on all fours on the ground. (We should´ve swung him twenty-four times. Old Czechs really loathe birthdays.)
The night grew colder, and the party went on around the fire. Sdrndi said, "Bottles," and he, musician Libor, and smily-drunken-bear Pavel Bem blew on their beer bottles in hamrony to make a song. Sdrndi accompanied with a bongo drum.
We grilled and ate sausages and chicken. Late in the night, Sdrndi struggled to place a whole chicken - wrapped in aluminum foil - in the fire to cook. He moved the chicken within the fire so many times, flipped it half a dozen times, and asked our recommendations on so many precise cooking details, that we began to heckle him.
"Musís utocit jeste." (You have to flip it again.) Pavel Bem, beer in hand, smiled.
"Ten drev musí jít tam," I said, pointing to the fire. (This piece of wood here should go over there.) But, my grammar wasn´t perfect, so people briefly made fun of me.
Sdrndi grabbed the chicken with a long pole that had a basket on its end. "Hod´ to vysoke!" yelled lanky, squirrely Vit´a. (Throw it really high!)
Just then it became apparent that the chicken wasn´t fully wrapped. Vit´a grabbed an exposed leg and shook it. "Jak se más, kure?" (How are you, chicken?)
When Sdrndi went to put the chicken back over the fire, it fell off the basket, and the exposed side landed face-down in the ashes.
I fortunately never got to taste that chicken. Around the cold midnight, some of us walked an enjoyable walk over the hills back to Rymarov.
Happy birthday, Sdrndi!
"Mom, Hent´a says 'hello."
- Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Petr; Honza; and the Kovolky family for rides!
Much thanks to Albina, Igor, Niki, & Katka for having me visit!