Friday, May 29, 2015

Homebound



Some of my mature neighbors still think I’m unemployed. They shower me with pity and advice. I haven’t given up on rejiggering their delusions yet, but I lose patience now and then, which has prompted me to listen by the door for footsteps in the hall. Only when the coast is clear, will I take out the trash. This is always a challenge anyway with two thoroughbred cats who dash out of the apartment any chance they get.

My upstairs neighbor, let’s call him Mel, keeps mentioning a rough spell he went through in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and again in the 90’s. It’s what got him into stamps. Whenever I run into him, he pssses me over as if he’s about to show me hot merchandise. With his cuticle-remover-pincher-thing he shows me a new gem. I’ve perfected my awe-stricken gasp, palm to mouth. Not sure if it’s worse being subjected to his philatelic fantasies or his pats on the shoulder. What he says he misses most about work is the daily ritual. He probably never got into much of a rhythm, considering he’d got canned in each of his prime decades, but Mel always struck me as creature of habit. Just for kicks, I tell him my boss saves a bundle by not offering me a “real” office, which is absolutely true.

There’s a mantle in the lobby which always has something festooning the top. I’ve been caught, numerous times, absconding with books: The Portable Chekhov, Sophie’s Choice, and Karl Popper’s The Poverty of Historicism. Once, I was even caught grabbing a can of garbanzo beans. Sue me. I mean it. Gladys, from 4D catches me almost every time. She must have a John Gorman radar or maybe she injected me with a dose of GPS when I was unawares. After the first garbanzo incident, she left a care package by my door: peanut butter, day old rye, three cans of sardines. I wish she would give me laundry detergent or books instead. Maybe not. She’s what I would call, a catalog person. I’ve seen her plenty of times by her mailbox, flipping the pretty pictures of strappy gowns and bathing suits she has no business shimmying into. Gladys tells me, with a double scoop of exasperation, that her nephew works with computers. I nod my head. I’m always nodding my head. She knows computers have taken over our lives, but she’d just love to see my laptop deliver her packages. Drones have got that covered already, but I smile and keep it to myself. She’s convinced if I just apply myself I will find my niche. She slips the classified ads under my door, usually from the Daily News, but sometimes from The Village Voice, and the sex ads are often included. I know she is myopic, and waiting to get her second cataract operation, but sometimes I wonder.

I’ll tell you what the real trouble with working at home is. Hands down, it’s that everybody gets to know your face, and you always get stuck taking somebody’s package. Sometimes I keep my lights off so that the Fedex guy won’t ring me. I could move. I’ve done a fair amount of moving already, but the truth is I’ve gotten used to these characters in my building, they’re chattering in my head at the oddest times. They’ve become my writing fodder.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Churros



Crunchy cravings are serious business. When you have your heart set on that precise sensory experience nothing else will do. Maybe I’m alluding to some sensory issues that have long plagued my inner jib, but I’m not going there right now. What I’d like to share instead is my first bite into a churro. I was fifteen and still had Prince Valliant locks, flowing off my shoulders, and a red Wilson tennis racquet flung on my back. I’d just finished a long, grueling workout at the National Tennis Center (this is before it was dedicated to Billie Jean King) and my rally buddy Albert and I decided to get some extra exercise. We spurned the 7 train and schlepped along Roosevelt Avenue, across from what was then Shea Stadium. Albert lived in Jackson Heights and I lived in Forest Hills. We were walkers.

We were pretty hungry from all those suicides (line-to-line running drills), King of the Court battles, and baskets of kick serves. We needed a snack. Albert had introduced me to dulce de leche a few weeks earlier and I wolfed it down so when he suggested another Latino treat, I thought “Por supuesto.” He was waxing poetic about the deep-fried churro, how he once packed away 12 of them during a car ride to Coney Island, without even a burp. They sounded delicious. I had this cockeyed notion that they would taste something like khrustyky, the Ukrainian powdery-sugared cookies my mom made for Christmas. Once that yummy crunchy treat popped into my head I had an irrevocable analogue and an unwavering craving to contend with. No Scooter pie, Ring Ding, or Macaron was going to satisfy me.

We passed over more than a few churro-stocked shopping carts. Albert kept insisting, “Chill man, I know the best one.” Maybe we were going to a bakery.

He hadn’t steered me wrong with the dulce de leche or the sweet concha bread. My belly was crumbling though and we were in the heart and hub of Corona, crossing Junction Blvd. when Albert stopped us under the deafening roar of the 7, pulling into the station. Stringy Chinese men were hawking dollar batteries, blank TDK tapes, and other rewrapped regalia. Street meat wafted from carts and small shop windows. I was a little taken back when we didn’t enter the Mexican Bakery, but instead lined up behind a chunky woman’s shopping cart.

Churros, churros,” she said, her siren song call.

They were lined up like free tickets to see Juan Miguel or Marc Anthony.

Churros, churros.”

They bought bags of the stuff. Mothers, toting pig-tailed toddlers grabbed churros, spiky-haired boys grabbed their snacks, unhelmeted construction workers seized their spoils. What fun, to have this privilege to be in the know, part of the churro cognoscenti. I was happy to pay for Albert’s bag since he included me on this junket.

Albert was already through his second one, when I bit into my first. It was more buttery than I imagined and chewy. The cushiony feel and subtle graininess of the fried skin was much more like a zeppole than a khrustyky. I was bummed. Zeppole was fine at the San Gennaro Festival, but was crummy substitute for my crunchy craving.

Did I stop for a second to brood over the plight of these heroic women who risked their lives to haul sugary treats up and down innumerable flights of subway stairs? Nope. Did I even realize that these street peddler-cum-entrepreneurs were constantly harassed by cops because they didn’t have permits to sell their goodies? Nope. My only concern as a fifteen-year-old twerp who still wore clip-on ties to school and smacked away his weekend on the tennis court was that the churro didn’t agree with my Chips Ahoy-reared palate. Needless to say Albert got to gorge on the rest.

A few years later, I had a different kind of churro, one that had a creamy goo in the middle. I wasn’t crazy about that one either. Then I tried the old standby again. Eh. I’ve had churros in Mexico City, in all 5 boroughs, and New Jersey. They’ve grown on me a little bit, but, unfortunately, I’ll never be a big fan. That first impression headstrong elephant. Gimmie any other Mexican treat. Love tacos, tortas, molletes, huaraches, and bags of tuna (the cactus fruit not the fish). Then, there is the ne plus ultra crunchy craving goto— the king of salty snacks, yes, you guessed it, the pork rind: lime-squeezed and peppered with chili powder. Nothing beats it, nothing so long as I’m packing Tums and my trusty Pepcid AC.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

It's Fantasy Baseball Season: Batter Up


Most boys would rather be Giancarlo Stanton or Clayton Kershaw, but since that’s such a longshot many have decided to become Pro Fantasy Baseball Players. No, I actually didn’t flip my MLB fitted lid. Becoming a Pro Fantasy Baseball Player is probably the next best thing. It’s what modern adolescents have been pining for. Okay, so maybe some of them would like to slip into their Xboxes and splash onto the screen of their MLB 15: The Show. You do know that quite a few players participate in Fantasy Baseball too. Pretty cool if you asked me. How awesome is it that you can find pundits analyzing sabermetric data.

Yes, I know sabermetrics seems to have gotten out of hand, and maybe it’s not as sexy as a video game, but the growing popularity of this uber-geeky enterprise has been morphing baseball into something more like Big Bang Theory (the sitcom) than The Natural (book or movie). I can’t get enough of it myself and this season I’ve added a 3rd league. I’m covering all the bases, so to speak. I’m in a live auction/NL-only keeper league, a bare-bones autodraft on Yahoo, and a Mixed Keeper League/Head-to-Head format.

You may be asking, how do you hold down a job? It’s not easy. I try to pick my faves and apply them to multiple leagues so I can minimize my stat-scrutinizing, but that’s not always easy, especially since I am now in 2 Mixed Leagues.

What’s really awesome about Fantasy Baseball is not the vicarious thrill of logging dingers and RBIs as if you were notching them to your own major league record. Although we all know, at least, one or two guys in our leagues who fit that profile. Taking home the championship is pretty sweet, but even better than that is being able to uncover talent, hidden gems from nooks and crannies that others have missed. This is especially true in Keeper Leagues. You grow attached to your finds, nurturing them for seasons until it’s time to send them onto greener pastures.

Fantasy Baseball is scorecards on steroids. It’s the hypotenuse of homerun derby. It’s the ne plus ultra way to commit to the great American pastime. I am really looking forward to this upcoming season, and I’m beginning to break a sweat as if stepping into the batter’s box. See you at the cage.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

US Open Qualifying 2014



So far the Qualies have cooked up a slew of nail-biters, plenty of 3-setters, and a good chunk of tiebreakers. Since the home of the Open is in my backyard in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, I take advantage (pardon the tennis pun) and head out to this beautiful four-day binge.

Day one is balmy, an SPF 70 Aveeno Suncreen day if ever there was one and you can feel the endless possibilities for these 256 hungry players, vying for 36 spots into the main draw in the last leg of the Slams (128 men and 128 women). The tournament is single elimination, think gladiators with racquets and headbands instead of swords and maces. Since word broke that last year’s champ, Raphael Nadal, would have to bow out of the tournament, there’s been a big sigh of disappointment. Djokovic and Federer
have bumped up to the 1 and 2 seeds, and a lucky loser will get to take Nadal’s vacant spot.

I’m watching Roberto Marcora from Italy who is currently ranked 221 in the world. He has amassed a whopping $19,309 to date for singles play and $587 for doubles. At this rate, he’ll be lucky to clear $35K for the year. Peanuts. Consider this: tennis, unlike team sports (baseball, football, and basketball) you are responsible for your own transportation, housing accommodations, and sunflower seed addiction. In his first match, Marcora up 4 – 2 in the 3rd set, is serving at 30 all, he blasts his first serve into the net. His second serve is an offspeeder into the box and wins a sweet rally only to have the line judge reverse the call. They replay the point and it’s an awesome one, Marcora makes an unbelievable get, outstretched, driving the ball down the line. He follows it up with a service winner. The next game the Serbian holds and Marcora has a chance to serve out the match. At 30 all they’re trading monster forehands as a 747 soars overhead. Although the groundies are muted by the plane, the grunts are still audible. Marcora cranks out an 129 mph ace down the T and then lets loose a barbaric yawp to celebrate his victory.

His second match is another nail-biter, but this time the #4 seed Facundo Bagnis is pushing him to the limit. The Argentine has a solid ground game and he is pinning Marcora to the baseline. They trade corner shots, but Marcora miss-hits a crosscourt forehand. His backhand doesn’t have the same zip as the day before. Bagnis also looks hungrier and takes it in 3 sets and will have one final challenge. He will face the American Ernesto Escobedo.

I had the chance to watch the old-timer, 36-year-old Michael Russell. The American has been a staple on the ATP for the past 14 years and reached a career high at #60 in 2007. Michael holds the dubious distinction of being the all-time USTA Pro Circuit singles champ with 24 titles. That’s like being the all-time Triple A homerun champ. Russell doesn’t waste any time in his first hurdle, dispelling Enrique Lopez-Perez of Spain in straight sets 6 – 1, 6 – 4. They play on Court 11, which is something of a mini grandstand. Russell is decked out in his Day-glo green and black top and is bouncing around like a clubber in the Meatpacking. Lopez-Perez is fast and has a wicked forehand, but Russell doesn’t seem impressed by it. On the changeover, Russell sits under the umbrella the ballperson has opened, and appears deep in thought as he sips his Evian. The ump intones, “Time” and both players spring from their movie director-style chairs. The Spaniard is adjusting his strings as he walks to the baseline. He cranks out a big serve down the T and Russell blocks it back. They trade 5 or 6 crosscourt forehands before Russell goes the other way and Lopez-Perez sprays a backhand wide. They seem to be even, trading winners and Russell will only barely eke out the Spaniard in that department 22 to 19, but Russell exploits his opponent’s weakness, the backhand. Lopez-Perez goes on to fluff 18 of those suckers. He makes 29 unforced errors in all to Russell’s 17 unforced errors. Russell also breaks his opponent twice as many times 4 – 2.

In the Second Round, Russell squares off with Belgium’s Steve Darcis. This is less a continuation of where Russell had left off and more of an uphill battle. He never seems to find his rhythm and ends up getting spanked by Darcis in straight sets.

Two Americans face each other in round 2, the up-and-coming Rhyne Williams and the seasoned journeyman, Rajeev Ram. Williams, a 23-year-old, qualified for the Australian Open back in January. His biggest show to date was in Delray Beach where he reached the quarterfinals. This guy looks like he has some promise. Ram, on the other hand, has been around for a while. He’s been to the quarters of Wimbledon, French Open, and Australian Open. His forte is doubles and he’s been in the top 50 for some time. Doubles is not singles and now Ram is scrapping it out in the singles qualies. Both players had fairly easy first-rounders.

It’s hard to watch two Americans battling it out. Who do you give your heart to the youngblood from Boca Raton or the seasoned doubles’ pro? Maybe you want to pull for Williams, hoping he can improve on his 1st round loss in the main draw of the 2012 Open. Ram has another idea. He comes out of the box with great composure and is really clocking his serves. He’s got great flow and is in control. Williams never really gets the upper hand. Not that he makes a lot of errors, but he is clearly outplayed. Ram doesn’t outgun his opponent, he outplays him without making a double fault or an unforced error. He’s off the court in little over an hour 6 – 3, 6 – 2. He will have to face the 7-seeded German, Andreas Beck.

As the gate shuts on many talented players, the gate opens for others. It’s a lot of fun watching these rising stars because who knows who for sure will make it to the next stage. Who will be the next Gilles Mueller, the first Luxembuorgian to advance to the Quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event back in 2008? He did it as a qualifier.

It’s time now for my banana break so I can take in the second half of the grueling day’s schedule. I hear Sharapova is practicing on Louie Armstrong. See you courtside

Friday, August 8, 2014

Open Your Piehole and Say Ahhhh



Mary Roach writes about science the way I eat my Chunky Monkey ice-cream. She has a marvelous sense of humor, and could decorate Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree with her myriad factoids. If you enjoyed her previous book Stiff (about cadavers), this follow-up will totally knock your socks off. Again, Roach answers many interesting questions about our innards, and although some of the subjects might’ve seemed dry in Bio 101, our talented author makes you regret the fact that you don’t wear a lab coat to work.



Her chapter “Liver and Opinion” really cuts to the heart of our cultural predilections for food— why we eat what we eat, and why, for example kidneys and liver got packaged under the splendid moniker “variety meats” back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. She gives examples of how cultural food bias can be taken to extremes when on the Burke and Wills expedition in the 1860s, some of the British explorers were so repulsed by what the Australian Aborigines ate that the British explorers ended either getting scurvy or starving to death.

There’s an awesome essay on the Pre-WWI “Chew Freak”, Horace Fletcher, who suggested that efficient mastication could help trim the National Debt. Kafka, apparently was a Fletcherist, and took painstaking efforts to prolong his meals by excessive chewing so much so his father was said to have “hid behind a newspaper at dinnertime to avoid watching the writer Fletcherize”. Today chewing is still an important area of research. Andries van der Bilt leads a research team at the University Medical Center at Utrecht. Mary Roach describes the man as resembling a tooth. To give you an idea of her sense of humor. Van der Bilt spends his days working with comfort putty and experimenting with various aspects of oral physiology. He uses emotion-recognition software to ascertain whether people are happy, sad or ambivalent when they are chomping away at their meals. Did you know that our jaw muscles are the strongest muscles in our body?

Jonah zealots might be put off by the chapter Numero 8 “Big Gulp”, debunking the myths of fisherman surviving after being swallowed alive by whales. Roach deftly notes that it is not simply a matter of “spatial accommodations,” but physiology and chemistry that factors into equation. What about all those gastric juices swishing around inside our big beluga? She also delivers these delightful bon mots “would a man in a whale forestomach be crushed or merely tumbled? No one to my knowledge has measured the contraction strength of the sperm whale forestomach, but someone has measured gizzard squeeze.”



Who should pick up this book? Anybody who is interested in really delicious questions about our masticatory apparatus, anybody doing due diligence before getting their next colonoscopy, and, perhaps, anybody dying to know whether the eaten can eat back? Do you want to know if Elvis died of constipation or more about flatulence research? Roach doesn’t leave any gallstones unturned, this is a thoroughly researched, but highly accessible science book for those that wish Tina Fey or Stephen Colbert would give a diatribe or a treatise on gastroenterology.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Give Consider the Lobster Some Whatchamallit, Consideration


The Footnote King really delivers with his kickass essay collection, Consider The Lobster. He knocks John Updike on his duff (supposedly one of Wallace’s big heroes), he posits that Kafka was really a misunderstood humorist, and that tech crews are the real brains behind political campaigns. He goes out of his way to be a likable agitprop. He succeeds. And it doesn’t hurt that he is a master craftsman of the potent sentence. It’s not all about pretty prose, he loads his lines with philosophical polemics. This ain’t no beach read.

I love his essay “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” because it’s so frustrating to be such a huge fan only to have a crappy book written about the ex-champ. His argument is really interesting and it reminds me of how disappointed George Plimpton was when he found out that Vladimir Nabokov was a big fat dud in person. Now, Wallace is fully aware that Tracy Austin, his childhood heroine, didn’t even pen her memoir, but rather had a ghostwriter do the dirty deed. Wallace himself admits that though he is a sucker for these sports stories, he usually tries to hide them under something “highbrow” when he’s at a bookstore’s checkout counter.

We all have curiosity about the rich and famous and sometimes we couple this up with a craving for something saucy, something that we know is really, nothing more than junkfood. Boy, does David Foster Wallace know how to pull us in. His opening essay, smartly titled “Big Red Son” is about Hollywood’s evil twin the Porn Industry. The characters are really characters is an understatement, but he doesn’t treat them in a pathetic way. You never get the feeling he is there, leering at the jugs of the porn stars. You can sense how important it is for him to see their humanity. He offers an objective tone, providing a fairly detailed analysis of the key players in the industry: camera men, production companies, journalists, and fans. Because he has such keen insight into what makes the various players tick— petty gripes they’ve had with each other and interests (beyond the screen) you believe his authorial voice.

What makes this collection so appealing is that it covers such a breadth of topics that you have to scratch your head and wonder how the hell this guy does it? You know he’s a meat-eater through and through, but he seems to, convincingly, plead the case for protecting the lobster from its vicious fate of being dumped into scalding hot pot. The lobster hangs on for dear life (by the claw) when he’s tossed in a pot. The lifelong loner is the type of animal (I use this word in its broadest sense) that hates, absolutely hates to be claw-to-claw with other crustaceans and that is how he spends his last moments before you point to him and choose him for your surf and turf dinner.

The sort of book review/romp on John Updike is classic, and it clues us into what D.F Wallace is all about. Wallace takes umbrage with the GMNs. The Great Male Narcissists. He includes Updike, Roth, and Mailer as the 3 horsemen of this enterprise. Wallace admits that he’s always been a big fat fan of Updike, but knows too that there’s a wee bit of misogyny going on between the covers. He’s not against the Updike obsession with penises and desire to roam free and be one’s own man, but that this is the overwhelming theme of pretty much everything the guy has ever written. Surely, a protagonist could be better-rounded. So maybe there’s a boatload of sentences that deserve lots of oohing and aahing, in the end, you want to smack some sense into his protagonists.

Love him, loath him. David Foster Wallace can write some stretchy sentences, but he's got lots of pop, and is always engaging.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sneak Peek at My New Soccer Mystery Thriller Called Disposable Heroes


[photo by Robb Hanks]

I am offering a sneak preview of my brand new novel Disposable Heroes. This standalone short story was first published in issue 5 of Botticelli Magazine back in May. Disposable Heroes is something of Sports/Mystery/Thriller/Love Story. The main character Gil Reyes has mistakenly thought to be the Soccer Super Star, Rolo Peña who has gone missing. When Gil is offered a handsome bribe to pose as the kidnapped star, he doesn’t shy away. He needs the money, and is intrigued by the challenge. For the first time, he feels like he’s making something out of his crummy life. He thrives on the cheers and sometimes even believes he’s Mamajauana’s big hero. Curiosity drives him to find out what happened to the real Rolo so Gil begins to pursue the missing player’s trail, all the while honoring his commitment to the crooked officials. When he meets Rolo’s girlfriend, Millie, at a charming beach town, Gil knows he’s doomed. He falls in love with her, and his conscience goes into a tailspin. Then he meets the real Rolo Peña and fireworks spew.



The Inner Stitches


Welcome to Mamajuana City. Bask in the belching fumes, tiny smog monsters, as cars shoehorn through lanes and the constant, horn-blare suggest the sound of vuvuzela marking the rush hour. By Avenida Lijares, crusty-nailed men whisk off orange vests and cruddy helmets. Stray dogs prowl the rubble-ridden streets.

At the foothills, they make the finest furniture: solid pine dressers, bookcases, and wicker chairs. The hills behind are dotted with mountain people trying to stitch a better life. They weave scarves and blankets then return to their squalor in the hills. They’re happy.

In the open market, a young mother slumps on a stool, breastfeeding her baby while shoppers buy mangoes and frijolitos. Scattered on the floor is a rainbow of fruit and nuts. Chunky women weigh bags of grain and rice. Flies buzz in harmony. This brings us to the sun-baked boy, stitching soccer balls. He sits Buddha-still on the dirt with bloodshot eyes, zeroing in on his rubber meal ticket, whisking tight loops with his needle through the ball between his knees. He’s got surgical precision. His lithe fingers belong to a gifted pianist, but his raw knuckles are crooked, two nails spliced.

Shattered huts, trash, and the stench of decay stretch languorously. While the boy takes a moment to rub his eyes, some punk snatches the ball, tucks it underarm and blazes off. He heads toward the hills. The boy jumps up, stutters two steps and slips on a mango rind— #%@*#. He wipes his soiled hand on his shirt, leaving behind smudge. Then he grabs a few more strips of rubber and stitches anew.

Across the street, spindly boys kick a tattered ball back and forth. They bully each other, their hardened eyes and bruised cheeks have the deft touch of fine patina. Blur of dirt, and dreams so near, make them squint and scramble. They push, shove, kick and cajole. They carry on until a purple wound splits the ashen sky. Rain pelts the earth with unbridled malice.

Two intrepid boys stay put while the rest rush for cover. A frazzled mother, clutching a tin frying pan, shouts indignantly from her unguarded window. She seizes a dishrag and wipes wet bangs from her hair. Her boy refuses to come home.

“Chucho,” the small boy screams.

Chucho turns.

“Chucho,” the small one shouts again. The ragamuffins, who haven’t had the chance to escape, loiter by the street and watch the showdown about to unfold.

“I got you Manito,” Chucho says, bouncing on his chicken legs, future warrior.

“Spread out,” Manito says to his invisible teammates.

Chucho crackles his knuckles and Manito pumps his legs, waist level. Chucho leaps, bringing his knees, kangaroo-high to his chest. They spit, snort, and kick dirt.

“You shoot first,” Manito says.

“No, you go,” Chucho rebukes.

And they size each other up, two dripping boys fringed with pride. Manito guards the goal, lets Chucho take the first crack. Chucho kicks the ball a yard over the goal line, scrawled in marker blue on the wall. Then he nails the second one into the right corner. Manito dives, cannot get a finger on it and the boys, huddled underneath the tree, cheer. Chucho pumps his fist and Manito staggers, punch-drunk. Manito wipes his chin and rubs his heartache.

Manito blocks the next kick, but misses the fourth, right between the legs and the kids howl, shattering the goalkeeper’s dignity. His blinking eyes, crackling into myriad pieces. He slaps his own cheek. Chucho teases, dribbling the ball between his mud-crusty inseams. The crouching Manito stumbles on the slick street. Chucho races to the ball, takes a wicked roundhouse kick. Manito stops the ball with the filthy tip of his toe, stares in wonder. They laugh it off, slapping hands. They blow raspberries at each other. Then Manito switches positions with his pal. Chucho takes over as goalie. He bends down as if ready to embark in strenuous prayer then leaps up. He wipes his soiled cheeks and chin, pulls snot from his nose and flicks at his jittery pal. Manito flinches each time Chucho snaps a flake of snot even though it merely melts into his fingernails. Manito dances around until he’s good and ready. He has more meat on his calves and hamstrings than his chicken-legged chum. There’s a vicious cut below his right knee, the sloshing rainwater makes it look like fruit punch.

He peers over at the tree where his cowering compadres huddle, protected from the pour. Manito grits his teeth, flaunting his bottom canines, shark tips. He fires the first shot for a goal then follows it up with another. To celebrate, he does a whirly dance, nearly breaks his neck. When he finds his balance, he wipes his dripping wet hands on his waterlogged shirt and shakes the rain from his floppy hair. Manito scores a fourth in a row and Chucho slumps off, rubbing blotchy eyes, but Manito yells,
“Send it back.” He fires again. Five goals. Chucho slinks off, head hanging, and Manito blasts into the unguarded goal. The kids stare in disbelief and horror. Manito goes into a frenzied spree and makes an obscene, loopy dance each time he pummels the wall. The wet thud of the ball, caroming off the wall makes a tortured plea. The stitches sheer and air slowly fizzles out.

Manito keeps firing. With each shot that smites off the wall instead of smashing through the bricks, Manito seems heart-broken. He kicks with fury, hard enough to cleanse his soul of whatever sin his pint-sized body may’ve committed. His sharp eyes narrow in reckless ardor and his mouth shrinks into a slimy rictus, not a speck of joy. He winds himself tighter and tighter until he snaps his last stitch, tumbling over as a deflated ball.

The sky sighs with relief, but seems to keep drizzling for the hell of it.