Fresh out of graduate school, I was working on my first ghostwriting job during the summer of 2004. The research was exceptionally engaging and allowed me the opportunity to dust off little-used past coursework like Latin, German, Roman History and Legal Ethics. The return to my hometown allowed me to resume participation in my favorite regular basketball games around town. Saturday mornings before nine in Eastwoods Park near the UT campus I played with a group comprised primarily of lawyers and philosophers who I had met through the record store.
1) “For we must be one thing or the other, an asset or a liability, the sinew in your wing to help you soar, or the chain to bind you to earth. — Countee Cullen
Back at it for most of the summer, I was also in a Sunday evening game and had a couple of friends who met up during the week. A streaky jump shooter at best, I was always eager to set picks and make the extra pass. My true focus, however, was and always had been defensive with an eye towards maintaining cohesion between the five positions and feeding fast breaks off the glass. Defense consists of a lot of habits and choices, therefore the more aggressive we become it follows that our decisions are less sophisticated. And in one fleeting down court inbounds of the ball, I would become another statistical illustration of such a notion.
2) “Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.” — Hermann Hesse
That moment is frozen in time, the instinctual break on the ball developed over years of staying engaged with the middle foreground and its peripheral spaces, and it would live on in infamy. Everything about my play on the long pass was well executed, the jump and the timing, but somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten to account for my own landing point. The other regular game was in a nicely appointed gym; perhaps the alternating venue had my sensibilities twisted. But ultimately, there are good reasons players don’t often press full court in pick-up games. Regardless, after I broke up the pass, I had to contort my body to avoid toppling into my opponent and as I did so my right great toe met the concrete where his foot was planted.
3) “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone in the air. You can never capture it again.” — Eric Dolphy
A rookie ghostwriter at the time, I had no insurance to speak of and therefore I did nothing to attend to the painfully jacked-up toe. Having experienced a pair of far simpler broken toes in the past, I kept up with ice and taped the toe for support; years later, I would realize how futile such attempts had been. Though I’d not have thought of it that way at the time, this was the formal conclusion of my basketball playing life, which had begun, in the explosive aftermath of Michigan State beating Indiana State in the 1979 NCAA Championship. The game, however, has lived on within me even though my body can never play again. And, when I watch people play, it can trigger such joy as I recall the lessons encoded in the elements of the game even during years where I relied on a cane or walker and meds to make the simplest trip to the kitchen.
4) “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.” — Bertolt Brecht
Nearly four years later, my knees forced me into the insurance market as they began to break down (https://theflashbulb.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/flashbulb-chronicles-pt-2-to-seek-better-thoughts/). Throughout this process I lived in the upstairs apartment of a large split house, which had me up and down stairs, limping and generally putting a lot of wear and tear on my lower extremities. Between each of the knee surgeries, usually, as I was rehabbing and getting myself back into shape, that right great toe would flare up and cruelly shut me down again. When I asked my knee surgeon about the very swollen toe, she scoffed at any surgical fix and left me hopeless.
5) “Literature is my utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness.” – Helen Keller
The process of becoming hobbled was one that came along in phases and delivered me just far enough from normal to dislodge me from any consistent social strata. For years I was at the whim of the crumbling foundations of my poorly engineered body, with nothing but books, films, and music to carry my restless mind out into the world surrounding me. Reams of paper could account for myriad false starts on my own literary works, which seemed to stagnate alongside my own mood.
6) “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s how you carry it.” – Lena Horne
A year after my third knee surgery, we moved into to a one-story house on the Near Southside of Fort Worth. Throughout the move and ensuing six months, I’d had only a pair of flare-ups with my foot and was becoming more active riding my bike and shooting hoops solo a couple times a week. But with the New Year came a historically bad decision, which saw me walking bourbon-fueled and in wholly inappropriate footwear just over a mile in the dark of night to see the live music beckoning to us on our porch. Somewhere in the first quarter-mile, something in my foot had busted loose and all I had was more bourbon to offset the rising tide of pain overtaking me. By the time we arrived at the venue, neither my mind nor my body could stand up and there was quite literally nowhere to sit down. It was a long quiet, much slower trip home and it would be seven long painful months before I would find any sort of relief.
7) “Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline when you have both firmly under your belt that’s real power.” – Clint Eastwood
My personal purgatory became a podiatrist’s office in a strip mall, where for several months I returned only to have no cure but plenty of foam for my shoe and prescriptions for meds to combat my body’s growing revolt against the demolished and now re-broken set of bones that made up my right greater toe. X-rays were taken and I was assured that surgery was an option if it were necessary but that my sesamoid bones were shattered and would need time to recover. But alas, when these methods fell short of improving my condition, I took my business and x-rays to an Orthopedic Surgeon specializing in foot and ankle reconstruction.
8) “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag
Within five minutes of meeting my surgeon, I felt a deep sense of relief, it didn’t hurt that he was cool, carrying on with the looseness of the leader a big band. Digital x-rays were quite the time travel from the podiatrist’s office and as we looked at them in his spacious office I finally saw the adversary. As we booked the ensuing procedure, he explained the truth about podiatrists, “I wish those guys wouldn’t load people up with meds like this. You know they aren’t doctors, right?” I simply thought mine was incompetent but it would seem I’d fallen into a common error loop.
9) “You can rebel against everything adults say. When I want to find out what the new music is, I find out what parents hate.” – George Clinton
The surgeon broke the bones again and reshaped them so that the right great toe stood straight with the assistance of titanium screws after crookedly crowding its longer neighbor for eight years. Throughout the process, I tried my best to continue covering local music. The week before I went in I caught Loudon Wainwright at The Kessler (https://wordpress.com/post/theflashbulb.wordpress.com/45) and the week after I had a big show booked which I attended. It was a glorious night, the venue was packed and even though I was medicated and on a cane, I still found ways to dance all the same.
10) “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” — H.P. Lovecraft
A year later, I returned to have the screws removed because I could feel their heads emerging beneath the skin. As he looked over the file, he commented quite emphatically, “That toe was quite a mess,” before scheduling the procedure for his main office in Dallas. The screws come out much like one would expect with a medical-grade screwdriver and repeated ratcheting of my foot. As he set to work on the first screw, he asked if I could feel what he was doing. When I acknowledged that I could, he called for another dose of the deadening agent which he applied quite liberally before picking up his tool again.