|Full-court pressure points|
By Rob Ryder
Special to Page 2
Pookey's got Rasha pinned back -- half out of her chair, shoved up against the wall. Her face terrified as he screams, "94 feet of hell! This is it, right here! Can't pass, can't dribble! Where you gonna go, huh!?"
"Pookey ... !?" wails Rasha.
"I body you up like this, where you gonna go!?"
Rasha tries to wheel away, but Pookey bodies her up even tighter.
Pookey looks over at me and grins maniacally. He's 5-foot-3, a once-outstanding baller. Rasha is his beautiful, long-limbed, exotic, Egyptian-American employee.
Sexual harassment? I think not. Pookey is the most respectful guy I know.
He's just out of his mind.
And Rasha knew that when she signed on.
We're up in his office on Melrose Avenue. The "94 Feet of Hell" that he's acting out is the script to my basketball movie (one college game), the one I'm trying to package. I need name players -- LeBron, Carmelo ... how about Luke Walton? That's an interesting call.
Pookey knows everybody. Hence, my visit.
"God, there was one game," says Pookey, finally releasing Rasha from the full-court pressure. "Playin' against Providence -- Rick Pitino."
"When you played for Seton Hall," I say as Rasha recovers in her chair and rolls herself to safety.
"Yeah. They called me the press buster, right? You give me any full-court pressure, I will dribble and twist and squirm and bust my way through it. Then came Providence."
His face contorts at the memory. "That was 94 feet of hell. Nightmare pressure just gettin' the ball inbounded, right? Then when that trap comes ... I swear, man, it felt like they had six, seven guys on the floor. I died out there. Turned the ball over, threw it away, dribbled off my foot. P.J. benches me. Finally, it's halftime. In the locker room, I call my Dad, 'cause we're on TV, right? And I say, 'You watching?'
"And he says, 'Stop thinking. Just go. Get the ball and go. It's what you do.'
"So I get myself settled down. Go back out there thinkin' 'Okay, my Dad's right, I'm good, everything's good.' And guess what happens?"
Pookey breaks out laughing.
"They killed me again! Slaughtered me! There was blood on the floor, man!"
Rasha says, "That's nice, Pookey, you calling your Dad like that."
Pookey smiles wistfully.
"So, Rob, this movie you're doin' ... if you can capture that, that's cool beans."
I leave with his promise that he'll help me any way he can.
My life is turning into a roller-coaster. I've got paper flying everywhere, a hard drive crammed with emails, producers to call, agents to meet, contracts to be negotiated.
But I'm prepared. I'm ready. You think all those games of solitaire were in vain? All those times I could've thrown in the towel, walked away from the computer, abandoned the mouse like a quitter. But, no, I persevered. I played until my eyes grew bleary, until my hand cramped and my deep veins clotted. I know what it means to hang in there.
Last week, I wrote about getting hassled by a cop on the Venice Beach walk. I got emails from a couple of cops. This stuff stings. They want to be understood, a few bad apples ... you know the drill.
Look, this country is filled with maniacs. Alcoholic, drug-addicted, gun-toting, spread-sheet cheating, anti-social time bombs of every stripe, color, religion, ethnicity and socio-economic status there is, all lurching, flailing, or laying in wait, just itching to go off on someone.
As citizens, every day we try to slide past these people so they don't mess us up. For some, this means checking the hidden costs of their mutual funds. For others, it means ducking bullets when they step outside their doors in the morning.
I once caught a comic on BET. He was talking about driving his date home, and parking in front of her building. She asks, "Aren't you gonna walk me to the door?" And the guy answers, "Yeah, baby, but then who's gonna walk me back to the car!?"
It's hairy out there. It's nuts.
We've got two million people locked up, which is insane in itself 'cause half of them did nothing worse than buy drugs for their own personal use from a cop. (And they say drugs don't make you stupid?) But for this, they're in prison learning how to be really, really bad. Most of them are going to get out. Plenty of them are out already. And I'm talking about the hard-core criminals, too -- the violent ones.
The numbers are frightening. According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Statistics, in Los Angeles County, there are enough parolees to fill the Rose Bowl. Over 100,000 mostly young men out on the streets after doing years of hard time. Nationwide, 4.5 MILLION on parole or probation.
And who do we ask to protect us from the ones who haven't been rehabilitated? Who protects us from the criminals who haven't yet served their time?
What was the old saying? -- Don't like cops? -- next time you're in trouble, call a hippie.
The phone rings. It's sports-talk radio in Atlanta. Oh, s---, I forgot I'd agreed to do a phone interview. Suddenly, I'm on live to over 100,000 listeners (felons all, I'm sure). Ten frenetic minutes with two moronic sports-jock Howard Stern wannabes, and their half of the interview goes something like this: "Who'd you bang? Who'd you see naked? Is Jamie Lee Curtis a man? Who'd you bang? Who'd you see naked? Who's a jerk? Woody can't jump, can he? Who'd you bang? Is Whoopi a jerk? Who'd you see naked? Who'd you bang? Who'd you bang?"
I hang up, take a long hot shower and return to the computer. Another email -- this time, I'm getting called out for referring to "94 Feet of Hell" as a war movie.
"You're disrespecting the guys fighting the real war -- bodies piling up in Iraq -- just the way Kellen Winslow did."
I disagree. War is the ultimate human pressure cooker. Everyone knows that. By comparing sports to war, you're granting respect for the soldiers fighting the real deal.
Here's a reality check. I'm flying back to D.C. with my wife and kids at Christmas. It's a chance to spend a week with my mother-in-law (who, my wife insists, didn't mean anything with her hardcover Christmas present to me: "My Life as a Fake").
On the plane, my six-year-old spots a soldier - young, tired, red-eyed, his uniform stripped-down basic, his boots scuffed. To my son, this uniformed young man is a God (then again, so is Mussolini, and half the members of the Village People). But my kid's too shy to say hello. So he just stares.
Later, somewhere over Oklahoma, I'm standing in the back of the plane, stretching my legs, keeping the blood flowing, when the soldier wanders back.
"Where you headin'?" I ask.
"Iraq. Dulles to Frankfort. Then Baghdad."
A flight attendant looks over. The moment goes tender, because some women have that way about them.
"How is it there?" she asks.
"It sucks," he says. "The people hate us. They hate each other. Now they got us working to train the new Iraqi army. These guys, they're walking away. They got a gripe, they walk away."
"How much time do you have?" I ask.
"Three months. I got a wife, man. We wanna start a family. But now, with this stop-loss thing, they can keep me forever."
According to the Washington Post (Dec. 29, 2003) the new stop-loss order can retain active military personnel and reservists for years past their contracts. Army spokesman Maj. Steve Stover said, "We're all soldiers. We go where we're told. Fair has nothing to do with it."
Props to John Kerry for winning Iowa. I don't know about you all, but for me, if we're gonna send our young people off to war, let's have someone making the decision who's been there himself.
Enough. Stay focused. You've got a movie to produce.
I scan through more emails. A writer friend. This guy has done it all -- novels, journalism, movies, TV (good TV). This guy writes like there's no tomorrow. This guy is as masochistic as a writer can be. How masochistic is he? Season tickets to the Clippers.
His email reads:
"Rob, with this column, you have power. Be not afraid to use thy power, O Rob! Smite them mighty blows with thy terrible swift pen!
"Will they still hire you? Yes. Why? Because they'll be afraid not to! Before, you were just another writer. Now you can crush them in print! They can't afford to offend you!
"Rob, be not afraid. Do not grovel. Rather, crush! Kill! Maim! Destroy, O Rob! Plunder! Pillage!
"Your Humble Servant, B ... "
I email him back. "I don't want to pillage, man. I wanna get a friggin' movie made. By the way, I'm putting your email in next week. Can I use your name?"
"Hell, no," he answers.
NEXT: WARRIORS, COME OUT AND PLAY
Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and works as a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.