Chapter 14: Remember When
I kept tabs on everyone post-graduation, even if we weren’t close. I needed ideas in case I ever decided to leave, but mostly, I needed to know no one had outdone me. I discounted anyone attending graduate school since that would’ve meant mountains of debt; plus, I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself into anything. Few, if any, kids could match this job in terms of money and prestige, but looking down on them never provided much satisfaction. Especially since I didn’t have to go far to see another person light-years ahead of me.
“My man!” Griffin waived from across the practice field. “Get your ass over here.”
For his first game in New York, Griffin had invited me to his team’s training facility, just outside the city. Given I hadn’t stepped on turf since watching him with the national championship, I felt out of place as his teammates stared at me like: who the hell are you, a common existence for any reporter. With Griffin’s arm wrapped in ice, I slapped his non-throwing hand, noting his biceps had more than doubled since college.
“Hey Griff,” I smiled. “It’s been a while.”
“Too long,” he beamed. “How you living?”
“Let’s take a seat,” he motioned to a metal sideline bench. “Just like old times.”
We watched his offensive linemen demolish a blocking sled near the end zone. Five at a time, they sent it flying across the field as their position coach barked at them. Amused, Griffin jokingly yelled for them to try harder and the starting left tackle gave him the finger.
“How’s the shoulder?” I pointed. “Looked like it got banged up pretty bad last week.”
“Yeah,” he rotated his joint. “Unfortunately, I’m used to it.”
“They said it might need surgery.”
“Maybe after the season,” he shrugged. “So I’m putting it off one way or another.”
Griffin grabbed a football from the basket, spinning it on his palms.
“But we talk about football enough,” he said. “What’s been happening with you?”
I’d known Griff for over five years and he rarely asked about me; all his late night messages and calls were almost entirely about his games or injury setbacks.
“Honestly…” I trailed off, unsure how blunt I wanted to be, both with him and myself. “I’m pretty miserable, if you want to know the truth. Depressed, actually.”
“Depressed?” he frowned. “No way, man. That’s not the Scotty I know.”
I snatched the ball from him.
“Well maybe you don’t know me,” I said. “Or maybe you never did. I work like a dog, hate what I’m doing and haven’t been laid in months. I’m pretty sure my liver’s also starting to fail. What about that sounds appealing?”
“Man, now I know you’re joking,” Griffin said. “You’re the top analyst, man, the equivalent of an all-star. I tell my agent all the time, if he fucks up my contract negotiation, I have a replacement on stand-by.”
Putting the obnoxiousness of him implying I’d drop everything to go work for him aside, I couldn’t leave without him understanding the magnitude of my situation.
“Well, hopefully you’re serious,” I said poignantly. “Because I’m going to quit and need to figure out how I’m going to pay rent.”
“You don’t mean that,” Griff said. “I know you, Scotty. You’re just being dramatic.”
“I’m not,” I seethed.
We sat in silence as Griffin re-taped his fingers. He feigned a smile as his linemen jogged towards the locker room. If anything, my unanticipated confession exacerbated whatever the hell he wanted to tell me.
“I’m thinking of retiring,” he said plainly.
Even I wasn’t expecting that one.
“When?” I replied.
“At the end of the year,” he shrugged. “I don’t know when it happened, but this isn’t fun anymore, man. It’s a business. The second I can’t play, there’s a hundred guys there to take my spot. And it’s like I can never relax. When I’m here, I’m working. When I’m not here, I’m working – events, commercials, everything I do is in the spotlight.
“Well if you do,” I grinned, “maybe we could start our own business. Griffin and Scotty Enterprises… I don’t know what we’d sell, but I’m sure we could think of something.”
Griffin took his ball back and stared at the laces.
“And I can’t trust anyone,” he said. “Yeah, it’s cool girls line up in front of my hotel room, but they just want a story. They don’t give a shit about me. Half the time they try to steal shit… or take pictures without me seeing.”
“You probably don’t remember her, but I actually called Rita the other day.”
Rita – Now, that’s a name I hadn’t heard in a while, despite thinking about her more regularly than I’d like to admit.
“Oh yeah?” I feigned interest.
“Yeah,” he shrugged. “But she didn’t answer.”
I shook my head.
“You know, I used to be in love with her, right?”
He stared at me blankly.
“I didn’t,” he said. “But that doesn’t surprise me, now that you mention it.”
“So why bring her up?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know why I do any of this. It’s not fun anymore. I’m fucking stuck man. Can’t you see that?”
His quarterback coach emerged from the tunnel.
“G!!!” he yelled. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING…. WE HAVE FILM!”
“On my way, coach” Griffin hollered. “Be there in a minute!”
He trudged back inside and Griff frowned.
“I guess I have to go,” he shrugged. “I’ll call you later, though.”
I stole the ball back, to his amusement.
“Good luck tomorrow,” I said.
“Good luck? You’re coming, right?”
“I’m going to try. But I might have to work.”
“Come on, man,” he clamored. “Are you serious? Work? This is my New York debut. You’re not pissed at me are you?”
“Nah,” I replied. “I just might have to watch on TV. I want to go, but it’s really not up to me.”
“Alright man…” we slapped hands again. “Do what you got to do, but it would really mean a lot to me.”
He scampered off and I hung back for another few minutes, imagining myself in the locker room with him.
I dropped his ball under the goalpost and hopped on the first train back to Manhattan.
Already in sweats, I got off on Fifty-ninth Street and ran towards the park, swerving between weekend shoppers. I hopped over the cobblestone fence to avoid horse carriages and tourists, most of them couples taking selfies by that footbridge. As I veered onto the relatively empty running path, I counted down in my head before all-out sprinting. I pushed until my quads felt like lead, barreling up a hill until I couldn’t breathe. It started drizzling as soon as I reached the top.
But I didn’t feel like going home.
The park emptied as the rain grew increasingly more intense. I didn’t care about getting sick since I’d probably never have the place to myself again. I curved inwards, surprised to see some kid playing basketball.
He switched hands seamlessly, wrapping the ball around his back for a reverse lay-up.
“Let’s go,” he cheered to himself, water splashing everywhere.
Given the storm, we were the only ones left in the park. I stopped running to watch him shoot. Not because I’m some creep – it just reminded me of a time when my sense of reality didn’t discourage me.
Squaring his shoulders to the basket, Russell elevated and hung motionless. He flicked his wrist and the ball rotated through the rain. It unexpectedly clanked off the back rim and splattered towards my feet.
“Can I get some help?” he asked in a high-pitched voice.
I kicked the ball up and lobbed it back towards him; upon receipt, he fired again, but missed.
I held off on passing it back the second time.
“How long have you been out here?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “A while.”
“How long’s a while?”
“Can you pass me the ball?”
I couldn’t blame him for feeling weirded out by some random guy twice his age.
“On one condition,” I smirked.
“There’s five seconds left and your team’s down one.”
I tossed the ball to the other side of the court.
“Five…” I began counting down.
Russell chased it down, not needing me to explain I wanted him to hit a game-winning shot.
He dribbled between his legs and changed directions.
Reaching half court, he exploded to his left.
He stopped on a dime and released.
I could tell based on the angle he’d miss right, so I scrambled to grab the ball before landing in a puddle.
“Zero point five.”
I spun and lunged it back in his direction. Russell caught it and leaned in from around fifteen feet.
“SPLAT,” the ball fell through the rim.
I thanked him for humoring me and walked towards the train. I didn’t always feel this jaded, you know. In fact, if someone told the thirteen-year-old version of me I wore fancy suits to work and vacationed in Puerto Rico, he probably would’ve been impressed. But maybe the dream never matches the hype. I messaged Griffin later that afternoon.
Hey man, thanks again for inviting me out today. For whatever it’s worth, I think you should seriously reconsider your decision. You’re extremely talented and love the game. But if you do decide to walk away, I look forward to starting Griffin and Scotty Enterprises. I can’t make it tomorrow, but I’ll be watching like always.