Hoop Dreams

As a freakishly tall person, it pains me to say that I am a dreadful basketball player, and always have been.  You never saw such an awkward, uncoordinated long-limbed thing attempt to play a sport.  Imagine a newly-born giraffe taking its first steps. Now, have it dribble in a tank top and you’re still nowhere near the level of failure achieved by someone so vertically gifted.

Pop came from Indiana, where they take their basketball very seriously. But he had other things in mind and made his way out of the cornfields, moving west to settle in San Francisco in the 1970s.

Mom is fourth-generation San Franciscan, a one-time model lauded for her height who took a job as a secretary before the ink was dry on her diploma from Mercy High School. Mom had been at the office nearly ten years when Pop, with his wry Midwestern humor and dreamy sweep of Robert Redford hair, was hired on.  Her first thought upon seeing him went something like, Whoa, who’s the new guy? They soon began dating.

Weather permitting, Pop and a few of his work buddies would drive through Pacific Heights on their lunch hour, all the way to the very end of Vallejo where it edges up against the Presidio.  There, somewhat inexplicably, among the city’s most imposing mansions, was a solitary basketball hoop.  It stood at that dead end, planted in a stretch of concrete that was part of no one’s driveway or property.  Mom tagged along but sat in the car most days, sipping on a coffee from All-Star Donuts and listening to the radio while Pop and the boys played two-on-two. When the coffee got cold and the fog horns bugled, they put their ties back on and returned to the office. 

They got married in their blue jeans at City Hall in November 1978.   One week later, Harvey Milk and George Moscone were killed.  I was born a few years after, in Oregon, and from that point on San Francisco was a place we came to visit. Our family and old friends lived here, but I certainly never did.  But I always wondered if I would.

Nine years ago, I married the wrong man.  He had a temper and demeanor that grew increasingly violent as time went on, and no amount of talking or pleading could convince him to change. I refused to be a silently suffering abused wife and sign myself away to that life.  So eventually, like the narrator in a twangy country ballad, I left one night with no more than what fit in the back of a truck.  The only thing that was in my mind was getting many miles of road between me and him.  And where did the road end up taking me?  San Francisco.

I stayed with family for those first few months, and eventually found a cute little studio on Jackson and Baker.  During those early days of exploring my new neighborhood, I turned a corner on what is today known as Billionaire’s Row and came face to face with the basketball hoop. I immediately knew what I was looking at, having heard that portion of the story of my parents’ courtship years before.  There it stood, tall and stalwart at the street’s end, as it had thirty years before, a piece of family history watching over this new crowd of San Franciscans passing beneath it, running the Lyon Street stairs in Lululemon pants.

I never dreamed my life would circle around the way it has.  I thought of this as I stood staring at the hoop, imagining Pop’s ghost whiz past me to shoot a layup.  God help me if I was ever passed the ball. Because you know I’d miss.