Didn't really matter where—Asbury Park, Neptune City, Bradley Beach, anywhere in that part of Jersey—if there was a hoop and someone with a few bucks, Dutch and Chubs could get up a game. What they'd do is this: Dutch would be shooting around, missing everything, looking geekish, and Chubs would be just sort of looking like, well, like Chubs, which was enough. All you had to do was get an eyeful of Jack (Chubs) Nicholson and you knew he wasn't going to hurt you much—5'9", 180 or so, built low to the pavement, crazy eyes and slower than Sunday traffic on the Garden State. So Dutch and Chubs would look bad for a while, warming up, and then Chubs would say to a couple of guys, "Whaddya say? Play some two-on-two for a little money?" Most guys would jump at it like circus poodles. This was 1951, so the bet would be maybe $1 on the first game.
Dutch would miss everything, and Chubs would get a lot of Voit tattoos on his forehead and they'd lose. "So where's our money?" the marks would say.
"Got it in my sock," Nicholson would say. "You don't want me to have to take off my shoe and sock and everything, do ya? Don'tcha wanna play again?"
So they'd play again and the next thing you knew it was $3 a game, and all of a sudden Dutch is making like George Mikan, and Chubs is a little faster and draining that two-hand set shot and they just barely win. So make it $5. By the time Dutch and Chubs would start back down the railroad tracks for home, they'd have enough to paint the weekend red.
"Good thing you had that money in your sock," Dutch would always say, " 'cause I didn't have a red cent."
"Dutch," Nicholson would say, "the only thing I got in my sock is a hole."
Something is wrong with my jumper—it's going in. And I've got Jack Nicholson rebounding for me. I've got Jack Randle Patrick McMurphy Nicholson rebounding for me and feeding it back out like I'm one of the nuts in Cuckoo's Nest, and we're kicking the bejeebers out of the guards. Swish. Take that, Nurse Ratched.
"Heyyyyyy," Nicholson says in his renowned street-corner drawl. "Babe, you're hotter than a three-dollar pistol." Then he gives that larcenous grin; that $5 million-a-picture (plus a percentage) grin; that wide-angle-lens, ain't-it-a-bitch, Jessica-Lange-overheating-in-the-kitchen grin. We're just loafing around, shooting hoops in the driveway of his house overlooking L.A., next door to Marlon Brando's place. (You think maybe Marlon might want to come out for some H-O-R-S-E?) Only now the affliction has returned to my jumper, and nothing's going down, so it's Nicholson's turn to shoot, which ought to be a neat trick since he's got a cast on his right thumb, one of a roster of bones he has broken in the name of his 49-year successful project to have more fun than anybody on the planet.
"Silk," he says, trying to shoot like Jamaal (Silk) Wilkes, the ex-Laker. The imitation is flattering—the J from behind the head—but the shot is not. It misses the backboard and bounces off the white Cadillac in the garage. Doesn't much matter, since Nicholson hasn't driven the car in years. "Damn thumb."
The thumb was just another casualty in The Great War Against Dullness. He hurt it on Ajax Mountain in Aspen, Colo., where he owns two homes and can be found most nights at the Jerome Bar. As a skier, Nicholson is "just good enough to be dangerous," says his Aspen comrade, Bob Beattie. The late Spider Sabich taught Nicholson to ski, but not until the actor was 30. "Spider told me, 'Look, you're starting too late to be pretty as a picture. Just go for speed. Go balls out.' " And so he did.