"Western Africa 2012" story # 2

Rymarov, Czech Republic           April 11, 2012

In the fourth quarter of my team's final game in the 2012 Rymarov Town Basketball League (a very prestigious league, ha ha), I obtained the ball at mid-court with no one in front of me but the hoop.
     I switched my dribble to my left hand (my dunking hand) ... stuttered my steps ... accelerated suddenly towards the basket ... lept ... saw the hoop near my head and thought, "Wow, I'm high. This is gonna be a powerful dunk. (If I don't mess it up ...)" ... and POW!!! A strong slam. The crowd cheered. My teammates and I exchanged smiles and gave one another "five". An opposing player congratulated me.
     To dunk in a scored game had been a goal of mine, this winter. My main dream had been for our team to win the championship.
     But, were we playing in the championship game on this last day of basketball? ... or, were the Musil Brothers?

Now, a lot of people might've said it was strange for me, a full-grown adult - from the land of basketball, no less - to move to a small Czech town for the winter solely to play in its basketball league. But, I was attracted to the unselfish, peaceful, and beautiful way the Czechs played. This was best exemplified by our team captain Ondra. A short and happy guy who loved and excelled at his hobbies, he had a gentle jumpshot. As he skipped towards the basket, he gave and received perfect bounce passes.
     Our second game of the year was against Oldies. The muscular arms and shaven heads of two identical twins, the Musils, stuck out of orange jerseys. Whenever I received the ball this game, I dribbled fancily in place, looking for an opening; but, the burly Musils defended the hoop well, and I usually just ended up passing backwards. I scored 4 points, my lowest score ever. The Musil brothers fought for loose balls and stole rebounds that weaker players would've given up on. We lost, 37-31.
     My confidence in my team was pounded a bit. But, I'd discovered MODERN ODDYSEUS' BASKETBALL WISDOM # 2: Basketball's war. Fight for loose balls.
     I would next be impressed by the Musil Brothers while attending Rymarov's Agricultural School Ball. I was having a great time, asking beautiful girls to dance and dancing with them. Roman and Petr Musil came in dark suits, one in a lemon-yellow tie and the other in a lime-green one. Soon, they were drunk, their ties around their heads like bandanas, waving their arms in the air, grabbing and fondling and picking up women, oblivious to whether the women liked it or not. Usually, they liked it.
     The following day, I sat beside my team captain and we watched the Musils play basketball. When their team had the ball, they ran loops around the court, until they were passed to, and then they took two galloping steps and flung the ball in the basket. Observing this, Ondra said, "Wow, the Musils go straight to the hoop!" And I realized the most important MODERN O.'s B-BALL WISDOM # 3: Go to the hoop! (No standing around on the edges.)
     That evening, I had my first date with Petr Musil's ex-girlfriend, Jana ...

After the first round of games, our team was tied with Oldies and the "White Team" with a 4-1 record. Small Jana came to root for us, as we played the White Team for the second time. We'd beaten them by a point, the first game. This time, we were without three of our best players. In a moment that characterized the game, I raced with the ball at a defender, sharply bounced the ball over to my left hand, jumped, and passed towards Ondra under the hoop - only to have the ball intercepted by our tall ape of a teammate, Tomas, who'd run to join us and then made the basket. Our attack was aggressive but delicate. We won, 46-39.
     Jana and I went ice skating afterwards. I liked this energetic girl because she talked a lot and talked fast. She spoke so openly, it was tough not to like/love her. On our first date, I'd learned she loved drinking and smoking, and was disappointed I didn't. She'd broken up with Petr years ago but, while ice skating, she informed me that the word "stykat" meant to meet with an ex-boyfriend periodically to have sex. Oh? I said I couldn't tell the Musil Brothers apart, but that Petr seemed to be the rough, unfriendly one. Roman and I usually exchanged warm greetings.
     That night, we ended up in the discotech, V Club. One Musil Brother was there, and he called me to him. "How is it you can't tell us apart?" he said. I recognized the red blotch under his eye, which Jana had told me about. "You're Petr." He continued, "You played well today. Everything worked for you. And I was awfully happy, because ... I hate you." Hmmm. Had I misheard him? Next to him, a female friend of Jana's was excited because she hadn't seen him in a while. "What do you want to do? Suck my di*k? Geesh!" he told her. On the dance floor, later on, he said, "Drzej me!" (Support me!) and he jumped on my back, and I twirled us around ...

Team captain Ondra was struggling to teach us MODERN O.'s B-BALL WISDOM # 4: Make quick insbounds passes, to put pressure on the opposing defense. WISDOM # 5 was obvious: Run around without the ball, to give your teammates more opportunities to pass to you. And, years earlier, Ondra's father had taught me WISDOM # 1: If you're running and someone passes you the ball, jump when you catch it. You can dribble in time to keep from "traveling", and this will launch you into a speedy offensive move.
     Jana came to our second game against Oldies - presumably to root for us, though she "accidentally" sat on Oldies' bench. The Musil Brothers had a new strategy; whenever a rebound was out of their reach, they swung and batted the ball so no one could catch it. Twice, they hit my face after the ball, and I got a bloody, fingernail-sized cut on my gums. But, the Musils also smiled and joked, taking the game lightly. Was Petr the face-hitter? Was Roman the smiler? I was my team's most aggressive player. But, I missed shots a better player would've made, and my last-second three-pointer to tie the game didn't go in. Petr scored 14, Roman 14, Ondra 13, and I 12, and we lost 34-31. After losing, I had a grumpy sarcastic bite to my sense of humor; Jana seemed to like this.
     She didn't like to be alone, and she loved her four siblings - including a (non-identical) twin sister who almost never talked. We all went to the Carnival Ball together. Among the costumes there was a guy in a zombie mask. "Ciao, Justin," the zombie said. I hadn't realized it was Roman Musil! He danced with our group - mainly, with a very small guy whom he kept throwing in the air. He bought me a drink, said he loved being a fireman, got totally drunk, and needed Jana to help him into a taxi. Jana had hair-sprayed her hair back into a wicked, frizzy wave. I jerked her around smoothly, using moves from my hometown's new "blues dancing" scene. Little Jana pranced around like a sassy pop star.
     She ice skated quickly, too. Skating a second time, she told me she hadn't wanted another boyfriend because she always got painfully attached to them. And she was jealous. Snow-flakes were plummeting down this afternoon, and Jana - whom I would only ever see once without make-up - worried her black mascara was running. As I walked her home, her eyes still looked beautiful.
     I'd told her about my "Reducing Orgasms Conserves Energy and Life" Theory, and so she was realizing I probably didn't have sex. Nevertheless, she came over to my apartment once. I made her a salad which my Aunt Lori had brought to last year's Thanksgiving: lettuce with chopped pears and blue cheese and avocado and carmelized pecans, and a red wine vinegar dressing. It was the tastiest moment of our relationship.
     I wanted her to attend Rymarov's last ball, the Sportsmens' Ball, with me, but she had family plans. At the ball, Petr Musil insulted my manhood twice. Roman told me to just ignore him, as he'd drunk six beers in the last hour. Drunk Petr would ironically become my first dance partner of the night; he polka'd pretty well. I danced last with a female friend of Jana's. Later on, when I would announce that this girl was my last partner of the ball season, Jana hit me.
     We met at a bar to discuss sex and kissing. Actually, Jana discussed sex. And I discussed kissing. We also discussed the upcoming basketball playoffs; Oldies and our team, with 8-2 records, were the # 1- and # 2-rated teams. Jana announced that she'd be going from the bar to visit Petr. "Say 'hello' to him," I said, which was a typical Czech thing to say. But, Jana replied, "What? Are you guys friends or something?" Returning home, I saw my blue # 60 jersey. In an effort to lighten up my and Petr's relationship, I wrote Jana an SMS: "Tell Petr that when we win the tournament, I'll sign my jersey and give it to him." Intelligently, she never told him.
     Intelligently, I'd learned during the season MODERN O.'s B-BALL WISDOM # 6: Play by instinct. Don't worry about how many points you're scoring. Don't try to shoot from certain spots on the court. Just react to the game.

Ondra and tall Tomas and I were excited for our semi-final game against the "White Team". One teammate who'd missed four games - possibly our most talented player - had returned. But, an opposing player, Loveable Ricky, used his long arms to grab rebounds and passes under the hoop. And Three-Point-Shooting Honza made basket after basket. Due to us having too many players, our 4th-leading scorer Tomas barely played. We fell behind, 31-10. I continued to rabidly attack the hoop, scoring 16. But, we could do no better than to lose 48-41. My life in Rymarov suddenly became less meaningful.
     But, I went on two nice walks with Jana in the romantic, early spring. A geography student, she'd already impressed me with her knowledge of the countries I'd visited. Now, she spoke about Tolstoy's and Charles Dickens' literature, discussed the suffering of rape victims in Africa, and took an interest in the philosophical conversations I led while teaching English. I tried to pull her close to me, but it was like pulling a mountain. We talked about how roller coasters made us sick but we still loved them. Sitting by a lake, I tried to kiss her. But, she only let me kiss her cheek.
     The next day, I called to ask why we didn't kiss more. She neither answered my call nor called me back. I ran into her a few hours later in the town square. She asked, what were we going to do together the next day? and, at what time was my last basketball game? I said, I hoped she'd help me be blind the next day, and I suggested we hitchhike to the town she studied in so we could attend one last ball. That'd be fun. She said, "Those things are fun for you, Justin. They're not fun for me." She had a good point. For fear of being rejected, I never called her again. And she never called me. And that was our end.
     In the championship game, Three-Point-Shooting Honza and Loveable Ricky combined to make three three-pointers in a row. Then, when a Musil Brother attempted a hook shot, Loveable Ricky blocked it with his long arms, pinning the ball between them and drawing a cheer from the crowd. The White Team won, 52-47. After the game, Petr Musil said to me, "Jdeme na tem gulas?" (Let's go eat goulash.) In the season's-ending party, we basketball players ate goulash, held each other by the nose and poured champagne down our throats, and chanted our team names. Petr Musil was recognized for being the league's top scorer. I was complimented for making the year's only dunk. And the White Team got their trophy.
     Our team had taken third place. And I'd say I'd learned MODERN O.'s B-BALL WISDOM # 7: A good team needs a coach. And WISDOM # 8: Have stability with players. Don't change a successful team's strategy, even to accomodate a better player. WISDOM # 9: When behind in a game, have your highest-scoring players play. And WISDOM # 10: What makes for a successful basketball team? Communication.
     Maybe some of that wisdom could've helped me in my relationship with Jana?

Thanks, teammates and rivals, for a great basketball season!
Thanks, Jana, for the nice times together.
The Modern Oddyseus

Much thanks to Zuzka; Vera Kalinova; Matthias Stadler & Tomash & Matthias' Mom; and Klara for places to sleep!

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