"The plastic thing hurts."
"What plastic thing?"
"The hard thing. You know!"
I spin away from the tube.
"That's a cup. A jock is the soft thing."
"Oh," says Z.
I'm 11, maybe 12, about Z's age, and my dad has stopped the car in our driveway. It's gravel, and I covet cement or blacktop. I dream about a surface that is smooth and true. This is Peoria, Ill., early '60s. My backboard is nailed to the garage wall above the twin, pale green, hinged doors of the un-heated garage connected to our house by what was then referred to as a breezeway. My court, such as it is, consists of the uneven, crushed-limestone trapezoid that spreads from the garage toward Picture Ridge Road in front. I groom the driveway often—raking, shoveling, filling in pits—but I can't change what it is.
The sun has set, and before we go into the house for dinner my dad is giving me the speech. "The penis of the bull..." he is saying, and I want to disappear. I see my backboard through the windshield of our wood-paneled station wagon, see the garage doors, which are so close to the hoop that a kid can demolish himself on a layup, but which also can be used for Spiderman-style, two-handed dunking.
"The egg is fertilized..." Dad is saying, and I am reminded, not for the first time, of the liberating vacuity and prescribed simplicity of sport. Now, so many years later, I see where Z is coming from.