Last night during basketball this new guy showed up I like to call… “Mr. Clapper.”
Mr. Clapper is a tall, lanky aboriginal Taiwanese with pockmarked maroon skin and deep dark eyes who bounds up and down the court with these long loping skips and strides like a gazelle running from lions and every time his team scores or steals the ball or does anything remotely positive… he stops dead in his tracks and smacks his palms together in a rapid succession of thunderous claps and lets out this wild barbaric “Yelwp! Yelwp! Yelwp!” which fills the gym with savage abandon.
The first time he did it I stopped in amazement. We were already five or six games in and I’m drenched in sweat riding out the last night of my lucky gray shorts and cerulean blue Cambodian t-shirt combo that has served me so well over the past year with incredible games of swooping lay-in drives and raining threes and impossible crossovers that I can attribute to nothing other than…my lucky gray shorts and cerulean blue Cambodian t-shirt.
I like believing in these things. Believing in a fire inside. Even if it’s nothing more than a pair of lucky gray shorts and t-shirt I picked up in a market while trekking some far off temple like Angor Wat.
So it’s the last game and in comes Mr. Clapper and I can tell right away he’s going to be trouble. First, he has a long scraggly ponytail held by a pink scrunchy that flops and bobs up and down the middle of his back. Believe me, nobody wants to play with scrunchy ponytail guy let alone guard him. I watch in disgust as it takes him five minutes to coif his perfect black mane atop his head with a hand mirror then tuck his uniform precisely into the hiked up waistband, pull a pair of white tube-socks over his knees, and start clapping and howling in an incomprehensible war cry. Yelwp! Game on.
So the very first play I come up baseline and catch a pass and turn swiftly to fire a no-look to Peg Leg… (Yes, Peg Leg and his wooden sidekick are still on my team) and Mr. Clapper comes out of nowhere to steal the ball. What? I reach down and unstick the material of my t-shirt from my soaked skin and race back on defense. I’ve been having problems all night. Short on my jumper. Missing bunnies. Now a turnover to Peg on the first play of the game. I can feel it’s definitely NOT my night. When suddenly Mr. Clapper gets right up into my face and starts howling.
“Yelwp! Yelwp! Yelwp!” Then a bursting rapid fire of applauding gyrations and war cries. What? I attempt a steal but the ball soars over my head down to the end of the court for a streaking lay-up. My legs are tired. I’m spent after two hours of sprinting but am ready for this final game. I cross half court and demand the ball, which I get, turn right, patiently dribble to the top of the key, jab and step back. Shoot a quick three. Brick! Mr. Clapper grabs the rebound and tosses it down court again for a streaking lay-up. This time, his hand clapping is even more intense, getting right in my face and shouting.
I shove past him, a little chin music with some extra relish he doesn’t appreciate. It’s all part of the game. But what I do mind is his breath. A lot of Taiwanese have rancid teeth and gums. This is attributed to the fact that teachers give out copious amounts of candy to pacify dissent and so kids grow up with these brown stalactite formations in their mouth or worse…a bright orange gingivitis that resembles a toothless Jack-O-Lantern grinning with bright flaming gums. Totally frightening. Mr. Clapper had one of these mouths on fire. I can see it burning as he screams at me on defense. Slapping the floor and clapping wildly in my chest.
Peg Leg attempts to inbound the ball by throwing it directly to the other team. He backs this up by dribbling off his foot out of bounds. Great. In a matter of minutes were already down 8 points. One more to game point and I’m going to lose my last chance at a tribute farewell to my good luck charm gray shorts and cerulean blue Cambodian t-shirt. Time to get serious or be sent packing.
I come off baseline again, catch the ball at the foul line, spin and shoot. Swish. Then get a steal at the other and go coast to coast. Then assist on a three pointer. Block a shot and assist on a fast break. Just like that we’re back in it. Maybe it's going to be my night after all.
Mr. Clapper’s face is in a murderous scowl and his thunderous hand displays are even louder. Of course, I should mention that I’ve also started being antagonistic by clapping louder than I’ve ever clapped before after each of our plays. Staring right at his ponytail and, “Whoop! Whoop! Whooping!” This obviously, had a dramatic attempt. For now, you see, there are two completely idiotic over-aged buffoons battling for no apparent reason as time on the clock expires. One team headed for victory the other to the showers.
I walk up to the old man and nod, dump my bundle into the small fire opening of his religious pyre, step back as the sparks shoot out, heat blazes, and my bundle burns. The old man looks at me strangely.
Why is this big nosed white foreigner burning his clothes? It was the same look Mr. Clapper gave me the night before when I buried the final shot right in his clapping hands and walked off the court in total silence.
I knew right then I what to do. How to say goodbye. My lucky gray shorts and cerulean blue Cambodian t-shirt, I’d throw their spent luck on the flames. Keep the fire forever inside. Rely on whatever fortune was around the corner and headed my way.