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Authors: Benjamin Markovits

Playing Days

BOOK: Playing Days
10.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


To my father


‘But I hate things
all fiction
– there should always be some foundation of fact for the most airy fabric – and pure invention is but the talent of a liar.'



My first recognizably sexual experience took place in the weight room of my junior high school, after class, during basketball practice. I say ‘recognizably'; I'm not sure I recognized it at the time. We were working our way through various exercise stations, one of which required you to suspend yourself, with lifted legs, from two raised armrests; and I remember, as I closed my eyes with effort, the slow spread of strange sensations beginning to crowd the area between my thighs. It was basically a chemical reaction, nothing more, though I felt a little weak-kneed afterwards, and it may have been the same afternoon or another one that a few of my teammates decided to make fun of the hair on my legs.

‘Look at those man-legs,' somebody said, and I looked down at them and tried to work out if they were too hairy or not hairy enough. Then the other boys joined in. They might have been mocking me for their smoothness, and it seems typical of the age that I couldn't be sure and was simultaneously ashamed of being girlish and overdeveloped.

Sex talk, of course, was one of the things you had to learn to deal with in the locker room. On the basketball court, too. Practice is the only time in school a
coach gets a class full of boys to himself, without any girls around to inhibit him.

‘Been playin' with yourself last night?' one of our coaches would ask, whenever someone let a ball slip through his fingers.

General snickering. Coach Britten, we called him, though he was also the assistant principal and probably the first black man I had known in a position of authority. I was slightly terrified of him, of the shameful things he might accuse me of. Tall, straight-backed, he patrolled the baselines and sidelines in dark suits and well-shined shoes. Sometimes, when we had disappointed him, he would line us up against the wall of the gym and stand at center court with a basketball in his hand.

‘Stand still,' he called out. ‘Keep still.'

Then he would take aim at one of our heads and we had to scatter out of the way. I don't remember anyone ever getting hit or hurt, though ball struck brick with terrific force. But he got his point across. Two points, really: sometimes you got to listen to me, and sometimes you got to trust your instincts. He considered it an important part of his job that he should teach us, among other things, to be men – in ways that teachers and parents couldn't or wouldn't. I've always assumed that one of the reasons I struggled in high school sports is that I didn't learn.

BOOK: Playing Days
10.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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