About the Author
What We Choose to
Swan's Way, 1998
The Elephant Gang
on the Job
Web Del Sol
The man slowly ratchets his head to the right until he faces the teenager in the red Chicago Bulls jersey with #23 on the chest. The boy is thirteen and skinny, just like his father, but possessing physical grace his father will never know. When the man in the wheelchair thrusts the world toward him, the boy knows instantly the toss is short. Without bending a knee, he lifts one leg, tilts forward like a red flamingo, and plucks the plummeting globe off his shoetop with a single hand. Then, after righting himself, he smiles at the man and suddenly whips the ball to his own left, a no-look pass to his younger brother, a shorter boy in baggy, sagging britches and a black Green Day T shirt.
The looming world catches this boy by surprise. Sensitive, awkward, embarrassed by his own desires, he will soon ask me if he can learn to play the saxophone. When I answer yes, if that's what you really want, he will look at me askance, wondering what the game is. But for now, he quickly shifts his feet, recovering his composure even as the world spins toward him. He catches it cleanly with both hands, and gives his brother a look of resentful triumph.
Now toss it back to grandpa . . . easy.
Green Day nods, refocuses on the music of the sphere in his hand. With a sweeping, underhanded motion, he loops it above our heads like a single amplified guitar chord thundering over the mosh pit, shaking the whole frenzied stadium, until at last it crashes with a black puff . . .
. . . into the coal dust-encrusted palm of a cocky young apprentice automotive mechanic in his mid-twenties, swaggering along the old Burlington tracks in the railyard on the West Bottoms side of the tough town Tom Pendergast still ran. The sack of coal for the castiron cooking stove in the young man's tiny third floor walkup on Summit Street leaks black dust down his bare back as he stops beside the rails to examine his catch. Hey, Mister!a boy with a splintered stick bat calls to him. Throw it back! It ain't yours! But the young man hesitates, rotating the battered sphere in his hand, examining it carefully because he believes that it is his, that he deserves every cubic inch of itevery seam, every scuff, every soiled, worn spotand that he will earn all these things and more in the curve of years ahead, even though Hitler is already sweeping through France, and no young man's future is certain.
OK, now toss it over to Superman.
The man in the wheelchair aims the earth at the Man of Steel. Superman appears nervous; the broad red S on his blue chest flutters like a sparrow's heart. The Man of Steel is seven, and hasn't yet mastered his superheroic powers. He wants to move his more powerful-than-a-charging-locomotive muscles with the soaring grace of Michael Jordan, the unrestrained cool of Green Day. He wants his two fellow superheroes to leap and cheer with fraternal pride when he captures the fugitive planet the man in the wheelchair is about to release into space. But at seven, Superman fears a collision with the blue alien world will be too brutal, even for a man of steel. I can see this concern in his shifting shoulders and his X-ray eyeswhich are not steel blue, but a hesitant hazel. It's only a game, I want to assure him, knowing full well that for a superhero every game has cosmic consequences.